Lighting: Lighting Up The Hunger Games – Mockingjay
A look at some of the tools used to capture the Rebellion Against the Capitol in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
By Tom Inglesby
When Jo Willems SBC, director of photography, and his crew were shooting in Atlanta, Paris, and Berlin to create the “new world order” of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, they used an array of proven tools of the trade. Like most professionals, Willems and his crew had their preferences based on years of experience. To paraphrase the old cliché, they needed “Lights! Camera! Power!”
Belgium-born Willems, DP for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Mockingjay – Part 2 teamed up with Dave Thompson, SOC, on the three films with Thompson as A camera and Steadicam operator. Gaffer Walter Bithell is another key member of Willems’ crew for The Hunger Games franchise, as well as other features and TV pilots.
A film like Mockingjay, shot in many locations, indoors and out, requires a variety of lighting. Bithell included two of his own Litepanels 1×1 LS Bi-Color panels as part of the main lighting package for the production, plus one each of the MiniPlus Daylight Spots and Floods, popularly known as “bricks.”
A longtime Litepanels user, Bithell bought his fixtures nearly six years ago, and notes that they were well utilized on Mockingjay. “I had Litepanels or panel lights over 150 times in my notes for the film,” he says. “District 13 is all underground, and everyone uses light very sparingly. We used Litepanels in the Collective when President Coin addresses the residents of District 13, and in the bunker when District 13 is being bombed pretty heavily. They were used for close ups and for walk-and-talk lights. There were also a lot of elements on computer screens or wall monitors in sequences of the movie, and sometimes we’d use Litepanels to feel the light off the screens. We ran them using remote cables with individual mini-controllers so we could adjust the intensity on the fly to give the illusion of a screen with broadcast content.”
There’s a close up of Katniss (played by Jennifer Lawrence) in the cafeteria watching a promo video showing that Peeta (played by Josh Hutcherson) is still alive. The camera moves in on her to get a close up, and a Litepanels 1×1 imitates the light coming off the monitor screen. “It’s very subtle, but very effective,” acknowledges Bithell.
Litepanels MiniPlus bricks were used inside the hovercrafts where the tight spaces and extreme angles made it hard to accommodate any other type of fixture. “We also used bricks in the bunkers and the Command Center when they’re monitoring Katniss,” Bithell adds. “We used bricks and panels in the living quarters of District 13, including the Everdeen quarters, and the place where Effie Trinket lives. The lights are very fast, can be configured quickly and offer very specific and accurate control of intensity and color. We always had Litepanels ready to act as an extra light or an eye light. If we were ready to roll and found it was too dark and needed a quick solution, we just grabbed Litepanels.”
Willems, who calls himself “a longtime tungsten kind of guy,” began using considerable amounts of LED lighting on his last few films. “Litepanels are always part of our kit now,” he reports. “They’re flexible, small and don’t use a lot of power. They’re very easy to bring in at a moment’s notice. And I like the bricks for eye lights and close ups.”
Bithell had 12 Anton/Bauer DIONIC HCX batteries on hand to power the Litepanels 1x1s, which require six batteries each. “Light batteries have to run for a long time. I typically carry a dozen so I can instantly swap them out and keep the lights going,” he says.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 was shot with ARRI ALEXAs as A, B and C cameras, as well as for 2nd unit photography. Willems chose OConnor 2575 fluid heads for scenes requiring pedestals or dollies; the rest of the movie was captured either hand-held or with a stabilization rig. Willems notes, “I started using the 2575 in the late 1990s, and it’s been my go-to fluid head ever since. In fact, I can’t remember using anything else.”
Thompson, who has his own OConnor gear, adds, “The 2575 is a great head; it’s the only one you can do an absolute circle with.” He explains, “Frankly, I don’t even think about it. It’s the kind of equipment that, if well serviced, is going to perform flawlessly in any weather condition—and on Mockingjay we had the most extreme conditions: dust, dirt, rain, and freezing temperatures.”
The ALEXA is noted for requiring a lot of power. Thompson says, “It’s a power-hungry camera, that’s for sure. But we adapted. Our focus puller, Trevor Loomis, makes battery belts that are Anton/Bauer-friendly. We just snapped in their DIONIC HC 90s. The batteries are lightweight and durable. We traveled the world for Mockingjay, experienced every weather scenario, and finished the show with the same batteries we had when we started.”
When Thompson began working with camera stabilization systems, he originally deployed another brand of batteries to power his camera and sled. “I switched to Anton/Bauer because they were available around the world,” he explains. “I discovered that I didn’t have to think about my batteries; I’d just power up and go. There’s something about the battery—if it says it’s charged, it’s going to last.”
“Ninety-five percent of the batteries I see on sets are Anton/Bauer,” Bithell adds. “They’re the ‘Google of batteries.’ Everyone around the world knows them.”
“The biggest compliment for a piece of equipment is that it’s reliable and that you aren’t aware of it on set,” concludes Willems. “It’s important that your arsenal of tools can let you focus on the image. There are plenty of variables on a set that you have no control over, so I trust my crew to get the best equipment.”
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay saga
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 was in theaters November 2014 and on DVD/Blu-ray/On Demand in March 2015. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is due for theater release in November 2015.