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About a year ago, I had a chance to film a long discussion with a Christian pastor and 3 Muslim American leaders to discuss 9-11 and the impact it it had on them. We wanted to do, literally, a round table discussion. This blog post is about how we filmed it.

After some preliminary brainstorming and location scouting that included everything from conference rooms to living rooms to a coffee shop, we settled on something a little more isolating: A single table, with the participants being very close to each other, in a darkened room. The conversation lasted an hour and a half. A 35 minute version of it is below. You can just jump to any portion of it to get a sense of the look.

So our challenge was, what’s the best way to shoot and light something like this? As soon as the shoot was finished, I made a quick how-to video.

The first time I saw a China ball used in lighting was in the Tim Burton film “Big Fish”. It was filmed in Montgomery, AL when I lived there, and it seems half the town got to be extras at some point or another. There was a scene in a big circus tent with Danny DeVito walking backwards, talking as he walked. I watched them do a number of takes, and noticed that there was this blob-like ameba of people (nine of them, to be exact!) moving in tandem to record this one actor walking backwards. There was the camera man, boom mic operators, and others whose jobs I couldn’t begin to guess. And one of the people had a China ball light on a long pole, held up over his head and as close to Danny DeVito as he could get it. It wasn’t a super bright light, but it provided just the extra little bit of kick the scene needed to make him stand out from the background. And it was much easier to just walk with the actor and move the light than trying to hit him with a light from far off and keep the light even.

T]he “Film Fellas” webisodes at Zacuto.com are what inspired my round table look, by the way. One thing I’ve found helpful when pitching ideas is making them as concrete as possible. I’m not a storyboard artist, so usually it means scouring the web to find a sample that comes close to the idea in my head. So even though we location scouted, I remembered these videos from Zacuto.com and suggested the look we ended up using, and it won the day.