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Updated: Oct 18, 2017


This is a project I never realized that I always wanted to do: a Star Wars lightsaber duel on Hoth, in a blizzard. Having never really shot a fight heavy project before, I wanted to jump right into it. I was very lucky to have the wonderful Jan Bryant come aboard as the fight choreographer with two of her students. It was vital that we work together to figure out the fight sequences and where to place the camera. Jan filmed a reference video of every rehearsal and put it into chronological order. Her videos were key for me to really see the fighting and know where I could place the camera. They also helped because the actors didn't have to do the choreography five hundred times - I could watch the video over and over, day or night and come up with new ideas. These reference videos became instrumental on set for movement and direction for both the camera and the actors.

I originally wanted to shoot Kodak's 500T 5230. I haven't been shooting film for twenty plus years, but when I started, Kodak's Vision 2 200T 5217 was my favorite stock. It's just what I learned on and grew to like the look of, knowing it's possibilities and limitations. I thought there was something similar about 5230 that I wanted to explore. If anything, I wanted to feel the film. We were already shooting 2-perf and I wanted the grain there, mixed with the snow, in this wonderful grittiness. Unfortunately, at the time, Kodak was struggling. I don't think they're making any color negative stocks other than 5203, 5207, 5213, and 5219. So I took what I could get, and thanks to Lorette Bayle at Kodak, I walked away with some fresh, new 5219 and off we went.

For the blizzard, there wasn't a chance we would do green screen. It had to be on film, all in camera effects, no green screen, like the original Star Wars films. We ended up locking a small stage with a white cyclorama and unintentionally forced ourselves into shooting one direction (adding to the complication of screen direction and camera movement). Ultimately it was the combination of the white cyc, blowing fake snow from behind camera out onto the set (creating a nice depth as the snow fell), and the use of Fog filters to achieve blizzard conditions.

​Lighting wasn't too difficult; like every low/no budget project, you work with what you can get. There's a detailed overhead in the link below. The goal was to start the blizzard in a white out and transition to nighttime all within the scene. It's ultimately a five step transition as the story progresses, and this was my goal for the whole film. The story itself is about a Jedi who is tempted, enraged, and given the choice to turn to the dark side. It's really about the Jedi's plunge into darkness, and I knew that was something achievable simply in the lighting. As the Jedi plunges further into the dark side, we start losing more and more light.

The other amazing part about this transition to darkness, is that while fighting in the snow

with lightsabers is fun, it's really the darker scene that brings about the beautiful contrast of lightsabers and near silhouette figures. In my opinion, The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film, and the best lit scene and lightsaber duel is in that film between Luke and Vader. Beautiful work overall by Peter Suschitzky ASC, BSC, and a simple and fantastic design by Norman Reynolds. We really wanted to achieve something similar with that contrast.

Last note: the lightsabers. The lightsabers were battery operated, made of a heavy duty polycarbonate for actual contact dueling. The blades are clear with a special film on the inside, allowing the light from the Seoul P4 LED to be pretty constant down the entire blade. There wasn't exact specs on the LED, but after testing, I found the output was constant for an hour and would fade rapidly after that. From one foot away, rating at 500ASA, I would get an incident reading of 1.4/2 split, and the blade had a reflected reading of an 8 or just barely below it for the full hour. Lighting the scene was then dependent on our knowledge of how the blade would perform. Ultimately we knew we'd get a wonderful glow on our actor's faces, but the saber itself would need a little bump in post because it wouldn't blow out and have that nice white center with the latitude of 5219.

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