"Ask Me Anything" with Gaffer Mike Bauman
  • Travis Ward

"Ask Me Anything" with Gaffer Mike Bauman

A still from "The Master" (Source: www.evanerichards.com)

I can across this thread on the r/cinematography subreddit: Hello /R/Cinematography, I am Gaffer Mike Bauman. Ask Me Anything

An "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) like this is an incredible opportunity to talk to film industry professionals about their craft. I'm a day late posting this, so it's not exactly "live", but there is a lot of great discussion related to lighting, industry trends, breakdowns/setups for certain films, and more.

Bauman's list of gaffer/lighting credits include:

Basically, he has had a major hand in lighting some of the best-looking movies of the past decade+.

Here are a few of my favorite responses from him:

On homogenized conventional lighting trends:

That's a great question and one that there's been a lot of discussion on. It is pretty damn easy to get amazing looking stuff and the tools to do it are engineered to provide gorgeous soft light. But it reminds me during the 90s when KinoFlo tubes were the hot ticket and were being used to light everything. It looked gorgeous but also sort of all looked the same and had the same feel to when you eat a lot of potato chips and you get the funny taste in your mouth.
On Phantom Thread it was a lot of discussion because PTA loves to use incandescent. And things like the incandescent par have a great signature to the light which LED pars don't create as well. However on that project incandescent wasn't practical due to the locations being so tight, we couldn't fit conventional lighting gear into those spaces without compromising a lot of the framing he was looking for, so LED sources were pretty much the only solution. He wasn't a fan of the LED beautiful soft thing, so we had to figure out ways to create a different look out of the LED rather than beautiful light. Again it was a lot of testing, trying different stuff. We looked at using different diffusions which were painted and treated in ways to make it "less beautiful:" What also helped was shooting film that was pushed a stop, using Lowcon filters, ambient smoke so with that mix there was a lot of texture to the image. Also PTA is big into hand picking his own lens sets and working closely with Panavision so there were a lot of lenses which also helped with creating texture on the image. interesting flares, warmer tones, etc.
There are certainly a lot of discussion about different ways that LED generate light and DPs prefer different options other than just skypanel which is really the most popular LED fixture out there in motion picture lighting. Digital Sputnik makes light differently than skypanel, which is different from Rosco Mix or Kino Freestyle, Certain cinematographers prefer how some of these fixtures produce light vs others.

On making mistakes and crew etiquette:

Hell i still feel like i don't know what i'm doing but i've learned to love that feeling. To me it means i'm trying to do something new. People are always gonna try and dominate. It's like when i take my dog to the dog park and eveyone has to figure out the pecking order! But i usually keep my head down and just do my job. You do it well and people will get on board. At the end of the day if you make it happen (make the day and come on budget (mostly)) people don't care When i was at AFI, Conrad Hall came in for a screening. So this is Conrad F'ing Hall! Considered one of the greatest cinematographers of all time. And he fires up In Cold Blood, shuts off the sound and starts talking. He talked about how he loves making mistakes. Harris Savides was the same. "Let's screw up." So mistakes and errors can reveal some really cool stuff. So part of not knowing what you are doing is an asset. as long as you don't blow up the lights.

On using practicals for a night interior:

Any set thats a night exterior, practicals are your best friend. The good news is they are cheap to get. It's pretty impressive the amount of visual bang for the buck you can achieve with things as simple as clip lights and a collection of different light bulbs.
There's all sorts of easy flos, stringlights, etc. which are great to have as out of focus highlights deep in the background.
I can't speak to the red shift unless you mean the incandescnet being too warm and usually that can be adjusted by type of bulb used or white balance on the camera if it's digital.
In our shop we have tons of sodium, metal halide fixtures which you can put way deep down the frame. There's also a collection of out cobra head style streetlamps cause every streetlamp nowadays is LED. It's all part of the stuff that has been acquired over the years and becomes super helpful on night exteriors when you need to add depth.

Check out the reddit thread for more.

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