Project Breakdown: Twinkle Light Interviews

Set Design and Cinematography

A detailed look into how we created the set design and cinematography for this testimonial series.

Before we get started, enjoy a little behind the scenes time-lapse preview:

Ok, now onto the project breakdown:

For these series of testimonial videos we were going to be filming back-to-back-to-back interviews for 2 days.  These testimonies were going to play at a conference later in the year and from a production standpoint there were a few interesting challenges to tackle:

  1. There was going to be no B-Roll at all, just talking heads which meant…..
  2. We were going to shoot on 2 cameras so the editor had something to cut to to trim the stories down (and to help keep the videos visually interesting)
  3. The video screens at the conference were going to be a 3:1 ratio, which meant for the videos to fill the screens, they were going to be suuuuuper wide screen.
  4. The art direction was to have an all black background with out of focus twinkle lights.
  5. We had to pull all of this off in a hotel living room.
  6. My amazon order of twinkle lights and black canvas backdrops didn’t arrive in time for the shoot (for the sake of this post I’ll spare you the details and we’ll pretend this didn’t happen….)

Having created this look before, my biggest concern was having enough depth in the room to pull this off.  I knew that in order to turn those twinkle lights into beautiful, out of focus bokeh blobs that we’d need to film on longer lenses.  If you shoot on a wider lens, you can still get the lights out of focus, BUT they will be tiny little specs in the background.  In order to make them big, you’ve got to shoot on a long lens.

Now if we were in a video studio or a sanctuary, etc. basically anywhere that’s a big, deep space this wouldn’t be too much of a problem.  You’d just set up the lights, put the long lenses on the cameras and do a little bokeh dance to figure out how far away the cameras need to be from the twinkle lights to get the right look and then have your on-camera talent sit where it’s just right.  But we were in a hotel room instead….

Now let me back up real quick.  Since we were doing a two camera shoot, that meant that both angles needed to be on longer lenses (in this case 50mm for Camera A and 85mm for Camera B) to get the bokeh right, but the angles also needed to look different enough for the editor to cut back and forth between them.  As a rule of thumb when doing 2-camera interviews I like to have the focal lengths double each other and also move one of the cameras off to the side more so that the B Camera angle looks different enough from the A Camera angle (because if they don’t look different, then why are you using 2 cameras in the first place?).  However, since we were in a small room and because our focal lengths weren’t quite doubled (50 & 85) I knew this was going to be an even bigger challenge.

The first thing we needed to do was to create as much space as possible, so we jammed as much of the furniture into the kitchen as possible.

Then we had to get the cameras and the background as far away from each other as possible and hope for the best.

Luckily for us, Camera A with the 50mm lens placed all the way up against the back wall was juuuuuust wide enough to serve as our master shot.  Remember, since the video was going to be 3:1 ultra wide screen it was even more important to get this angle as wide as possible so the video didn’t feel like two extreme close ups.

Getting this shot to work felt like a miracle.  The only drawback was that for 2 days it meant were glued to that back wall…

Lighting Set Up

We were lucky to get the angles working, so the next challenge was how do we light the on-camera talent in a way that looks great AND doesn’t shine a ton of light on our black backdrop and our ugly brown cords that the twinkle lights were connected to.  I knew that in person it would probably look pretty messy, but if we could control the light spill from the background and create enough of a contrast ratio between the key light on the person and the ambient light hitting the backdrop and cords that we could make the background go to complete black and make those cords disappear. Not to beat a dead horse, but this would have been infinitely easier in a bigger room….

To make the backdrop go to complete black we closed all the windows and turned every light in the room off.  Then for our key light for our interviewees we set up two China Flo’s (my nickname for our Chinese knock off Kino Flo’s) with full CTO gel to turn the daylight bulbs to tungsten.  We went with tungsten because the twinkle lights were tungsten and we put them on a dimmer which was going to make them even warmer.  If we hadn’t used the CTO gels on our key light, our talent would have been super blue, which would have been no bueno.

The China Flo’s are fluorescent lights so they are already pretty soft, but I like to make them even softer by shining them through a frosted shower curtain.  This helps make the light more flattering on people and it helps the light to wrap around the other side of the face so it’s still a little darker, but doesn’t make them look like someone is shining a spotlight on them.  The problem when doing this technique is that the big, soft light not only wraps around their face, it spills everywhere in all directions which is not good when you’re trying to keep all light off of the black backdrop.  To combat this, we used a couple of 4’x4′ floppies next to the shower curtain and had them stick out as far as possible (before getting into the shot) to block as much light off the background.

Since the background was going to be completely black, we also used my Falconeyes 2×2 LED light to serve as a back hair light to give each person just a little bit of an edge to help separate them from the background.  This was especially important when interviewing people with dark hair (and equally tricky when filming people with white hair….)

All in all, I’d say it worked out pretty good.  If you have any questions about the project, leave them in the comments below and I’d be happy to answer them.


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