Lighting the Vietnam War on a Budget

I have had many questions regarding lighting for some of the dramatized battle re-enactment scenes in “The Crater”.
The lighting plan was simple, there were essentially no lights.


Screen shot 2014-06-13 at 3.02.13 AMThe concept called for very minimal lighting as Director, David Bradbury, wanted absolute realism and the nights of the battle, as described by the Vets who were there, “were pitch black, no moon, nothing, just black”. Helping keep to this plan was the fact this was being done on a vey tight budget so there was no financial room for condors with 12K’s, balloons, Musco, generators, etc. to light the huge battle field for the all night time battle scenes.Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 3.43.02 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 3.42.47 PM

The lighting plan involved playing the battle in “layers”, lighting, at very low intensity, the background and then allowing flares, explosions and muzzle flash to light the middle ground and foreground with no additional supplemental foreground lighting.balmoral_attack3Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 3.55.43 PMScreen Shot 2014-06-15 at 3.53.50 PM

Each sequence was staged by laying down smoke from explosive pots in the deep background. This was lit by the explosions themselves and by a single 5K backlighting the smoke at extremely low level. Next the explosions moved progressively towards camera laying more smoke and the middle ground and foreground was the charging troops and lots of muzzle flash. Essentially everything played in silhouette unless “soldiers” were captured on camera during an explosion or muzzle flash. The added benefit of this was no-one (particularly the camera operators) had any idea where anyone was except when there was light…..again, exactly as experienced by those who were there, and this, adding to the realism.

Ultimately the effect was to create as much disorientation and chaos as possible so nothing was evenly lit and only fleeting glimpses of the action were visible. Exactly as it was described by the Vets.

Everything was shot on the SONY F55 at 1600ISO, wide open at T2.9 on Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 lenses. As the re-enactment footage was to be intercut with potentially every other format imaginable (PAL-SD, NTSC-SD, 16mm, 35mm, color, black and white, and HD interview footage from several different camera’s) I decided to stay with HD resolution so we shot 1920×1080 in S-Log2. This allowed easier integration of the footage by keeping the resolution at a reasonable level. In post film scratches and “dirt” were added which made for an even closer match to all the actual newsreel and documentary footage from Vietnam.

The day ext of the Aussie soldiers after the bombing was shot about 30 minutes after sunset with only ambient light. The scene in the command center using only 100W Tungsten bulbs dimmed to about 50% to get the warmth.anzacshq_after

One lighting unit I was able to use was the searchlight mounted on the Centurion tank. These were used in an on/off fashion during the battle when the North Vietnamese soldiers were attacking. The actual light (part of the Centurion Tank) was a 1 million candlepower Xenon that was mounted just above the gun and provided some serious illumination on the battlefield. Of course during battle this light never remained on and was only used in occasional very brief bursts to locate the attacking soldiers. Screen shot 2014-06-14 at 12.01.18 AM silhouette_soldiers Screen shot 2014-06-14 at 12.03.00 AM

“The Crater” will be screened in Australia in April as part of the Gallipoli Centenary Celebrations and should be available for viewing on Vimeo shortly after.


Battle of Balmoral – Vietnam Anzacs

Just completed Principal Photography on battle recreations for David Bradbury’s Vietnam Anzacs where we recreated the Battle of Balmoral, one of the toughest battles fought by Aussie soldiers during the Vietnam War. Filming took place in Cobbity NSW on a property that has been the scene of multiple movie shoots including Wolverine. Editing is now under way and the film will be screened during the Gallipoli Centenary celebrations in April 2015.

Attack (Frame Grab from Dailies)

The morning after. (Frame Grab from Dailies)

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 3.53.50 PM
Attack (Frame Grab from Dailies)


We Were Only 19 – Preliminary Scout

Director David Bradbury (center) on preliminary location scout in Camden, NSW, Australia with 1st AD Jamie Cooks (L) and Visual FX/CGI Director Allan Moore (R). The film will recreate one of the most brutal battles ever fought by Australian soldiers during the Vietnam War. Many ex Vietnam vets (who fought in the battle) are on board as consultants. One of the goals is also to focus on PTSD. Scheduled for filming in June this year.

Director David Bradbury (center), 1st AD Jamie Cooks (L), VFX/CGI Allan Moore (R)

Director David Bradbury (center), 1st AD Jamie Cooks (L), VFX/CGI Allan Moore (R)


We Were Only 19 – Dramatized Doc with David Bradbury

Working with my old mate, Academy Award nominated doco filmmaker, David Bradbury on “We Were Only 19”. Shooting dramatized re-enactments of decisive battles involving Aussie soldiers in the Vietnam War.
I will be adding details as we approach the shoot in June this year.

Pic: David Bradbury and I finish up a Skype session this week.