The gaffer is the movie crew's chief electrician, reporting to the director of photography. A lot of the concern expressed by the producer for keeping a movie on schedule and on budget falls upon the broad shoulders of the gaffer, as his crew of electricians and grips move lights and cables, secures them on the set, and maintains or operates electrical equipment. It sounds like a pretty straightforward job, but in practice a resourceful gaffer can be critical to the overall visual artistry of a film, because moviemaking is, as much as anything, the art of the possible: What can we do with the materials at our disposal in the time available? A gaffer who can work fast while still exercising a subtle sense of the atmospheric possibilities of lighting can make a crucial contribution to the impact of a finished film.
The Job of Lighting
"After reading the script to find out where light changes take place, and after looking at the locations, the DP and I use the set drawings, layouts, and blueprints to determine where each room is and how we're going to shoot the scenes that take place. We discuss colors with the production designer: White walls are out of the question, obviously; things like that."
"During rehearsal, my job is to map where the action takes the actors on the set. The camera assistant will mark the spots. Then we put the stand-in in that particular spot, I light that particular spot, go to the next mark, light that particular spot. So when we are actually shooting the scene, each spot is correctly exposed."
"For The Old Settler, we brought a little more warmth to the lighting to create a period look. People look at warm lighting and they think older. Sepia tones and black and white are associated with a period piece. We decided to go with an overall ambience, and then we brought in lights from the windows to create our harder sunlight coming in. That's how we created that 'old' feeling. We used the kinoflo in the bathroom to give it a colder look, making the living room feel warmer by contrast."
High-Definition: Pro and Con
"I was happily surprised how well High-Definition Video held up compared to Beta or VHS or mini DV, in terms of how well it held the blacks and the highlights, the whites. With mini DV or VHS or Beta, if you overexpose or underexpose it, the whites become noisy. We had more latitude with High-Definition."
"Shooting on High-Definition has its pitfalls. With film, you can light by eye or use your meter to set your exposures accordingly. With High-Definition, you have to run to the monitor every time you light a scene because it's harder to know what the video is going to do. And all the lights have to be on dimmers to make sure you don't blow out on the screen -- meaning the whites go so white there's no detail left."
"There's really no one secret to doing a close-up. It's individual to each face. Skin tone is very important, and what kind of scene it is -- dramatic or happy. When we light close-ups for women, especially if they're a little older, we try to make them look younger. We overexpose them a bit so it burns out the pores. You can't see the wrinkles, and that makes the women very happy."
Tool of the Trade
"Light meters are essential to my job. They tell you the f-stop or foot candles which correlate to the aperture on the lens of a regular movie camera. A spot meter tells you how much light reflects off a certain subject. An incident meter tells you how much light hits the meter. A color temperature meter tells you the color temperature of a particular light, which ranges from 2000 to 7000."
Edwin Schiernecker is a fine arts graduate of the Pratt Institute. He has used his talent with lighting on "American Revolution," a six-part series on the Learning Channel, which was a 1996 Cable Ace Award winner. Mr. Schiernecker's work as staff editor for Ancient Mysteries and Biography shows on A&E garnered a Cable Ace Award nomination.
Mr. Schiernecker's feature credits include A Job at Ford about the life of industrialist Henry Ford, part of the award-winning series "The Great Depression"; Sing Faster -- The Stagehands' Ring Cycle, winner of the Filmmaker's Trophy at Sundance in 1999; and Conscience and the Constitution, winner of the Audience Award for a feature-length film at the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival 2000.
Mr. Schiernecker also worked on New Worlds, New Forms, a film shot in North and South America to trace the roots of African rhythm in dances such as swing, hip-hop, samba and candomble for the PBS "Dancing" series.