Shooting in Small Spaces: Hotel Room / by Kristen DiLiello

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Yesterday I had a shoot for a promo for web series in the process of raising funds through Kickstarter. We shot a 6 page episode in a half day in a hotel room. Having to be discreet, we showed up with a four person crew, my Sony FS7, Kino Gaffer's Kit, household bulbs, some Milano cookies and successfully shot a hilarious episode while leaving a small footprint.

 

  1. LIGHTING: Practicals, practicals, practicals! With a small space, low budget, limited time, and numerous in-scene lighting queues I knew the best way to approach lighting the room was using practicals. I brought along an extra standing lamp and a bunch of 71w and 100w Type A lightbulbs to switch out in the fixtures already in the hotel room. Usually lighting in hotel rooms use the new halogen or compact fluorescent light bulbs. If we had used these the light would have a green color-shift. Sometimes this can be corrected in post or balanced to with the camera, but I think it's always best to play it safe and switch out the bulbs to something I know will not have problems on the actors skin tones.  When the actors turn off the practicals I created a soft moonlight fill underneath so the actors could turn the lights on and off as needed. For the moonlight, I bounced a Kino with daylight bulbs into the ceiling. It looked a little too blue, so I added a 1/4 CTS. This worked well as the moonlight look when all of the lights were out.  
    Challenge: The comforters on the bed were white and had reflective satin stripes. This made it difficult to keep the actors faces exposed properly while trying to mute down the brightness of the bed so the moonlight did not look overpowering. 
    Solution: I moved the light around the so that the source was coming from further away and less near the comforter, but it did not completely solve the issue. Next time I would ask if production could bring dark-toned (or if it needs to be white, then an eggshell or off-white tone) comforters to switch out with the ones provided by the hotel. As a DP, you could also bring a bunch of flags and stands to try to flag it down, but in a tight space and no extra crew this could eat up your time between set-ups and even start to become dangerous.

     
  2. FRAMING: Shooting in a small place can be limiting, but can also provide the ability to frame shots in layers. In order to make the hotel room look more dynamic (and because this scene relies on tension between two actors) I was able to include many foreground elements in my shots. Creating layers helped build the illusion of depth in a small space and also worked out really well in some comedic situations where we can see one actor sleeping, while the other is a force in the background. For shots looking down on the actors, we brought a decently high step-stool which was crucial to getting the high angle shots without stepping on the actors or the bed. 
     
  3. MONITORING:  Since this was a low budget shoot, a great way to let the directors see the framing without having to climb up on furniture was to connect the camera to the hotel TV with an HDMI. This was super helpful, but also can be distracting if left on in view of the actors while they were performing. 

 

Because there was no budget for large grip equipment and because it was motivated by the script, we shot this episode handheld. This was great because it freed up space in the small room. For many shots I also held the camera loosely onto a tripod, which helped me have more control over the focus as I did not have to hold the camera with one hand while focusing with the other. 

Frame grabs of a single shot with foreground elements and a lighting change.

Frame grabs of a single shot with foreground elements and a lighting change.