Filmmaking: Posts

Green Screen "Smoke and Mirrors"

Ray DiZazzo, author of the newly released The Corporate Media Toolkit, shares a story for anyone involved in producing corporate media and a video interview about his book.

I ran into an interesting problem while directing a studio shoot for a large car company.

We were pre-lighting a sequence that included having a car on stage in front of a green screen on which we were keying a wide shot of a dealership showroom floor. The shot was framed so that we could see only the front half of the car (mostly the hood) with a salesperson, our actor, standing just on the other side of it “in the showroom." The scene then called for two customers to walk up and begin a discussion about the car’s amenities.

The green screen lighting was perfect and the key was clean and crisp. Having the car in the foreground, with us looking across the hood at the showroom, made the shot very convincing – with one unsettling exception. The lit up green cyclorama reflected on the hood of the car and that meant it, too, was keying the background shot. This made it appear that we could see the showroom floor through the hood of the car. The floor was an expanse of large white squares with thick black line separations.

As soon as I saw this, alarm bells went off in my head. I knew it could be a very big problem.

Though my Lighting Director was a pro I had worked with many times, he had not lit cars in studio situations, which I learned is an art in itself. After a discussion, we tried a number of solutions: partially flagging off the cyc, changing the position of the car, lowering the cyc light intensity, changing the key threshold, and changing the camera height and angle. Nothing worked. Finally my L.D. came into the control room and together we studied the shot on the Program Monitor hoping we might come up with something else.

After several minutes he said, “I have an idea." He left the booth, grabbed a roll of gaffer’s tape and carefully attached a thin strip along the edge of the hood and front quarter panel. The result was amazing. Separating the hood from the keyed background shot with the strips of tape gave the impression that instead of seeing the floor through the hood of the car, we were seeing a reflection of a ceiling above– which would have been expected and considered perfectly normal. The strips of tape registered simply as the edges of the quarter panel and the hood.

Again the L.D. and I sat in the control room. “That was way too simple!” I said with a relieved smile. The L.D. shook his head, laughed and said, “But look at that! It works!” We called in all the crew members and everyone agreed it was perfectly convincing. The client showed up later for the shoot and was never the wiser.

When the program was completed, I showed it in client, producer and audience meetings and no one ever noticed the trick or found anything questionable about the shot. So, thanks to a talented and creative L.D., what I first thought was going to cause a major re-think of a scene, turned out to be a problem solved with a simple bit of “smoke and mirrors."

Author Interview

Watch Ray talk about some of the key aspects of his new book!

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