Exploring available light for feature film "Concussion"

Director: Stacie Passon

Director of Photography: David Kruta


Meet Abby - a bored, wealthy, lesbian housewife from the suburbs who, by day as her kids sit in school, becomes a prostitute for women. The piece is actually a character study of a woman who, given every advantage, still finds herself lost in life. She has made every choice in her life, she's been able to educate herself and to fulfill her potential. Still she sits alone in the suburbs folding laundry - hidden - devoid of passion and purpose.


Starting in a spin class, as we hear the punk rock song "Connection" by Elastica. Over the course of the film, we meet our Abby's family, her contractor, and her friends. Her female-only clients range in age, some funny, some quirky – all mirroring her in a specific way.


Abby is played by Robin Weigert, a Emmy-nominated actor for her performance of Calamity Jane in HBO's Deadwood. She has been featured prominently in movies by Suzanne Bier, Steven Soderbergh and Charlie Kaufman. Supporting cast includes Maggie Siff (Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men), Janel Moloney (The West Wing), Ben Shenkman (Pi, Requiem for a Dream), Julie Fain Lawrence (Law & Order), Emily Kinney (The Walking Dead) and a slew of other great talent.


The most interesting part of how this film came to be from the a cinematography aspect was the growth in scale. In my earliest talks with director Stacie Passon, it was meant to be an extremely low-profile, guerilla filmmaking adventure. I took a lot of inspiration from the films of Terrence Malick not only for the aesthetic, but to learn as much as I could about what shooting only available light meant. And although the size of the production grew very rapidly, we had created a look that we would pursue throughout the film.


The story of Abby starts out with her living in a cage - a modern housewife locked at home with the laundry. The lighting and framing choices reflect her claustrophobia in the use of long lenses, closeups and foreground elements to show her obstructed on all sides. As she finds more freedom in the city, the framing widens and camerawork becomes more playful and dynamic. Finally, as her two lives collide, the aesthetics start merging and overlapping.


We shot on the Red Epic camera using Zeiss Superspeed lenses. The lenses have fantastic coverage of the larger sensor, all the way down through the 18mm. I chose the Superspeeds because they were the fastest lenses we could get within our budget range, and although I hesitate to shoot at a T1.3, due to our limited equipment we had to use it several times throughout the film. However, the imperfections in glass this old meant that we got a very beautiful, organic look on a camera that can sometimes feel very cold and unforgiving.


Although our mantra was to use modified available light (modifying meaning using negative fill, light grid, flags, etc) we did do quite a bit of lighting to wrap the sources around our actors. Gaffer Jordan Parrott, Key Grip Omar Addassi and I developed a few methods which enabled us to set up quickly and get great results. Our daylight wrap came in the form of a Joker 400 bounced into a 4x4 Light Grid, or if space was tight we would put the Joker in a chimera.


For nighttime, I took inspiration from the film Hanna and created what we termed the Hanna-light: a 2x3 sheet of foamcore with Christmas lights taped to it. Depending on how much setup time we had, it would be softened with Light Grid. The beauty of the Hanna-light is that it acts like a much larger source and thus creates a no-light scenario in which you can get exposure without making it look like there's a light somewhere. Key Grip Omar Addassi also constructed what we called the Omara, a frosted 150w bulb in a Chimera. We would use this in conjunction with the Hanna-lights to bump up one side of a face and give it some shape.


In addition to the available light approach, Stacie and I set some rules for the visuals. I was adamant about staying away from "light sandwiches", a rule I borrowed from Tree of Life. This meant light would come from one angle, and we would eliminate any bounce or edges on the opposite side. I also tried to seek out mixed color temperatures and lens flares for Abby's liberated life, while keeping her home life monochromatic and clean.


Overall I believe we achieved a fantastic look in a short schedule on a meager budget, and working with Stacie was a fantastic experience. If you would like to stay updated with what's happening on Concussion, please like the Facebook page or follow @ConcussionMOV on Twitter.