RSS Blog
Get this RSS feed

Hulu Summer Film School Course Syllabus

August 5th, 2014 by Kelly Lin

Whether they’re transporting us into a world of fantasy or revealing a deeper truth of our present moment, great films have a way of touching our hearts and changing how we look at the world. Using elements such as sound, cinematography, and lighting, filmmakers are able to tell powerful stories and create moments that are unforgettable. This summer, we’ll be examining these elements of filmmaking through some of the films that employ them best.

Miss a lesson or looking to review one from the past? Well look no further! Here you can find links to all our articles from previous weeks of Hulu Summer Film School. We’ll also be updating this post regularly as the new lessons are released. Happy learning!

1) Introduction to Story Structure and Screenwriting by Hulu Staff

2) The Three Act Structure: The Repeating Phantasm of Story by Jonathan Katz

3) Famous Screenwriters: Not Always an Oxymoron by Christopher Rowe

4) Links and Additional Resources for the Aspiring Screenwriter by Kelly Lin

1) Introduction to Cinematography by Hulu Staff

2) A Feast for the Eyes: Dissecting the Cinematography in Jiro Dreams of Sushi by Kelly Lin

1) Introduction to Color Theory and Lighting Selections by Hulu Staff

2) Lighting Persona by Michael Koresky of the Criterion Collection

1) Introduction to Soundtrack, Score, and Sound Design by Hulu Staff

2) Setting the Score with Source by Jonathan Katz

1) Introduction to Costumes and Set Design by Hulu Staff 

2) Valley Girls and Alien Hunks: The Cool Costumes of Earth Girls are Easy by Rookie Magazine writer Marie Lodi 

1) Introduction to Animation by Hulu Staff 

2) The Secret of Animation: An Exploration of the Guiding Principles behind The Secret of Kells by Kelly Lin 

1) Introduction to Post-Production by Hulu Staff

2) Making the Cut by Jonathan Katz

And that’s a wrap! This project was put together by a bunch of passionate film buffs at Hulu and we really appreciate you tuning in each week to learn about film. We hope you’ve looked at movies a different way and learned something you didn’t know before!

The Hulu Summer Film School Team

Last comment: Oct 13th 2015 3 Comments

Lighting “Persona”

August 1st, 2014 by Michael Koresky Staff Writer for The Criterion Collection

Editor’s Note: This summer, Hulu’s taking you behind-the-scenes on some of your favorite films to explore how filmmakers use elements such as sound, cinematography, and lighting to tell powerful stories and create moments that are unforgettable. To celebrate Lighting and Color Theory week, Hulu Summer Film School is excited to bring you a special guest post from Criterion Collection staff writer Michael Koresky. Visit the Criterion website to learn more about Persona and the work of cinematographer Sven Nykvist

Simply put, cinema is light. Every recorded moving image in every movie you’ve seen from the earliest Thomas Edison experiment to the most recent Hollywood blockbuster is impossible without the light it takes to illuminate it. The camera lens is a device for capturing light. So light—as well as the more abstract notion of time—is what defines the art of cinema and sets it apart from other mediums such as music, literature, and theater—aligning it most with painting. It’s important, then, to pay attention to a given film’s lighting choices and notice how much they reveal about that film’s characters, story, and overall artistic point of view. Look closely, because with movies what you see is what you get.

One of the cinema’s greatest cinematographers, a true sculptor of light, was Sven Nykvist. He worked with such varied directors as Woody Allen, Nora Ephron, Bob Fosse, Philip Kaufman, Louis Malle, Bob Rafelson, and Andrei Tarkovsky, but he is best known for his collaborations with fellow Swede Ingmar Bergman. And perhaps none of their projects together is more strikingly lit than their extraordinary 1966 film Persona. It’s a master class in the delicate art of lighting for film, nearly every image expressing something sharp and distinctive about the human condition. This story, about an actress, Elisabet (Liv Ullmann), who one day decides to stop talking, and the nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson), assigned to take care of her, is so visually compelling it could be watched with the sound and subtitles turned off and still communicate so much.

Said Nykvist in an interview:

“Sufficient time is rarely taken to study light.  It is as important as the lines the actors speak, or the direction given to them.  It is an integral part of the story and that is why such close coordination is needed between director and cinematographer. Light is a treasure chest: once properly understood, it can bring another dimension to the medium.”

Persona typifies this sentiment, and throughout it also displays the variety of ways a cinematographer can light a scene resulting in constant emotional impact. From scene to scene there is lighting either hard or soft, natural or ghostly, realist or surreal; illumination can come from the front or the back, it can fill a room or only brighten certain corners. It’s a visual tour de force; it’s no surprise the original title of Bergman’s script was Cinematography.

One of Persona’s most famous images is near the beginning, nested within an abstract prologue largely divorced from the proper narrative. A young boy reaches out to grasp elusive, enlarged images of the film’s two main characters. This is an example of high-key lighting, which usually comes from three sources and minimizes shadows to create an even look. In this case, as a result, the boy appears wise and innocent.

In contrast, look at this amazing flashback insert of the moment when Elisabet stops talking, during a stage performance of Electra. She is in dramatic close-up, her pained expression filling the screen, but her face is half in shadow, giving it an eerie quality. This technique, implying there are two sides to her—a light and a dark—will be a recurring motif throughout the film.

Sometimes the light can be adjusted and toyed with during the course of a shot for dramatic effect, as in this intense close-up of Elisabet lying in her hospital bed, the main source of light growing increasingly dark until she is all but obscured by shadows.

The lighting can come from any part of the set, of course, and the way it is aimed will subtly alter the mood of a scene. Here, Elisabet watches a violent news segment on television in her hospital room, and she is lit from below, which gives the scene the aesthetic of a horror movie.

Prioritizing of illumination on one character over another can create implicit drama and say much about character. In this scene, Elisabet is in shadow even though she is in the foreground of the shot, while a hospital psychologist in the background is more evenly lit. Since the doctor is speaking harshly to her, accusing her of intentionally playing the part of a sufferer, this lighting emphasizes the cold nastiness of the doctor and the negation of Elisabet.

Conversely, later, when Elisabet and Alma have gone to the summer island home where the latter will help the former recuperate, Bergman and Nykvist often illuminate and make Elisabet the visual focal point of a scene. This is fascinating because, as a mute, she is always the listener, while Alma is always prattling on. Our attention is directed to the passive Elisabet’s subtle facial responses. In this scene, there is a diegetic light source on Elisabet, as a lamp next to her bed serves to make her the center of our attention while Bibi tells her a dramatic story.

In another of the film’s most famous scenes, Elisabet approaches Alma’s bedroom during what looks like very early morning. This is an example of soft light, so diffused it looks like a dream; the light source from the background is so soft, in fact, that Elisabet seems to materialize from and dissolve back into the light.

Of course a good, old-fashioned glare of sunlight aimed directly at the camera can produce a wildly dramatic, natural effect.

At one point, we see the women’s profiles nearly silhouetted. This is because the main source of illumination here is harsh backlighting, directed toward the camera.

Above all it’s those close-ups half in shadow that are Persona’s claim to fame. Its climactic confrontation between Alma and Elisabet consists of a succession of amazing shots of the women’s faces all but split in two by darkness.

Said Nykvist about working on Persona:

“One of the more difficult tasks for me on Persona was to light the close-ups because they involved such incredible nuance It’s very important to me to light so that you can sense what lies behind a character’s eyes.  I always aim to catch the light in the eyes, because I feel they are the mirror of the soul. Truth is in the actor’s eyes and very small changes in expression can reveal more than a thousand words.”

Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to view Persona and learn more about Lighting and Color Theory. 

Last comment: Oct 9th 2017 4 Comments

Hulu Summer Film School Week 3: Color Theory & Lighting

August 1st, 2014 by Kelly Lin

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Greetings Hulu Summer Film School students! One of the most powerful tools in a filmmaker’s arsenal is their lighting kit. Through light and color, a cinematographer is able to enhance the mood of a scene and draw the viewer into the world of the character. Even the subtlest changes in light or color can give the most ordinary of objects an entirely new meaning. Explore the role of light and color through the following visual masterpieces. 

Required Viewing: 

1) The Red Balloon

Cinematographer: Edmond Séchan
Winning both an Oscar for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) and the Palm d’Or for short films in 1956, writer-director Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon is among the most endearing children’s films ever made.  Its elegant and nearly wordless story tells the tale of a young boy named Pascal and his wayward balloon as they navigate the streets of Paris. From early on, it becomes apparent to Pascal (and the audience) that the balloon has a mind of its own — one that is mischievous and surprisingly headstrong – as the pair’s adventure through the city draws bemused looks from adults and the envious gaze of local neighborhood bullies.

Rather than photographing Paris in its traditional beauty, Lamorisse and his cinematographer Edmond Séchan focus on the city’s drabness, highlighting the contrast of dank buildings and alleyways against the vibrancy of the balloon’s deep red color.  Lamorisse composes the action in such a way that the balloon is always at the viewer’s center of attention, bobbing and weaving past glorious backdrops as it hovers above Pascal.  In one memorable and charming scene, Pascal and his red balloon pass by a little girl with her own balloon, a blue one.  As Pascal keeps walking, the red balloon floats towards the little girl and begins to “flirt” with her blue balloon before Pascal ultimately manages to wrangle it back.

The film takes a darker turn when the neighborhood bullies catch up to Pascal and ensnare his red balloon, subjecting it to abuse at the end of a slingshot.  But that tonal shift is essential, as it sets up a magical finale that won’t be spoiled here.  The Red Balloon achieves rarified air, capturing the essence of childhood innocence, heartbreak, and joy in such little screen time.

-Naveen Singh

2)  Eraserhead

Cinematographers: Herbert Cardwell and Frederick Elmes
David Lynch’s first feature film is a surreal meditation on the anxieties of becoming a father, of living in an alienating and dehumanizing world, and of feeling trapped in a life that is fundamentally fated to tragedy. The stark black and white photography and low-key, high-contrast lighting create a world that is apart from reality. Eraserhead might draw formal comparisons to other works and may have influences that inform its technical execution, but the film is timeless in its depiction of Henry (Jack Nance) and Mary (Charlotte Stewart) as they give birth to a child that seems completely alien.

Eraserhead’s cinematography and lighting help create one of the most self-assured, visually-compelling, and visceral portraits of an abstraction ever put on celluloid, and for that alone, it has a place in cinematic history.

-Christopher Rowe

3) Electrick Children 

Cinematographer: Mattias Troelstrup
A critical darling at the 2012 SXSW Festival, Electrick Children 
tells the story of a young fundamentalist Mormon who believes she has been impregnated by a rock song and ventures off to Vegas to find the singer on the tape, whom she believes is her baby’s father. While the plot may seem outlandish to most, the innocent idealism of our main character coupled with the film’s symbolic use of color and light make the whole “pregnant-by-cassette-tape” deal a bit more plausible than it initially comes across.

Throughout the film, a sharp contrast is drawn between the landscape of Rachel’s countryside compound and the urban sprawl of Las Vegas. Cinematographer Mattias Troelstrup capitalizes on the countryside’s natural light, giving each frame a subtle desaturation to reflect a sense of comfort yet also boredom towards the surroundings. The softened grading provides the perfect contrast to Rachel’s subsequent experience in Vegas, a world of bright lights and big personalities. There’s nothing conventionally glamorous about the slacker musicians and the “bummin’ it” lifestyle that Rachel encounters in her Vegas adventure, but through her unexposed eyes, and the subsequent cinematic interpretation from Troelstrup, everything is bathed in a technicolor glow to reflect the child-like wonder that Rachel feels towards this brave new world.

-Kelly Lin

4) Persona 

Cinematographer: Sven Nykvist
“Lighting Persona by Michael Koresky

Supplemental Viewing: 

5) Take this Waltz
Cinematographer: Luc Montpellier

6) Red Desert
Cinematographer: Carlo Di Palma

7) Wild Strawberries
Cinematographer: Gunnar Fischer

Extracurricular Resources: 

1) No Film School – A must-read blog for any aspiring cinematographer, No Film School has tons of great tutorials on how you can achieve the perfect lighting set-up for your own film. Check out these recent articles on how to create a three-point light set up with flashlights and magnifying glasses and the tools professional cinematographers use to light their scenes,

2) If it’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die: The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling – Besides having the best title in book history, this book has some valuable insights on how color is used to evoke emotion.

3) Sparkles and Wine Teaser – This music video is a testament to just how much lighting and color can affect tone, mood, focus, and perception.


Last comment: Feb 10th 2018 1 Comment