Magazine article American Cinematographer

Music Video That Looks like Film

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Music Video That Looks like Film

Article excerpt

Video has always been judged as a medium in itself; lacking the rich texture, depth and color field of film, tape has rarely been the medium of choice for high end productions. However, Cherry Coke's latest TV campaign, recently produced by New York based Charlex, was lit and shot by film oriented director of photography John Kraus. The project clearly proves that the infusion of cinematic influences can take the medium to new heights in quality. This film-video crossover makes the Cherry Coke piece unique. Kraus' complex and detailed lighting and lensing scheme (filmed on'the Charlex 15' x 15' blue stage with an lkegami EC35 and a selection of primary lenses) is not an attempt to disguise the video format. It is a breakthrough revealing the strengths and potential of video when it is combined with lighting expertise borrowed from the film genre.

Kraus' diverse cinematic experience brought a new level of film conciousness to the Charlex production. He worked as an assistant cameraman, gaffer and lighting director until lighting became an obsession. "I've always admired the Magnum Group, and other still photographers," Kraus confides. "Irving Penn was a major influence as well in terms of naturalistic lighting that was evocative of mood and feeling." Kraus watched lighting styles evolve dramatically in the past two decades of commercial production.

"At one point in the sixties, commercials started to look alike," he notes. "Still photographers and European directors influenced a highly stylized and enhanced reality. In the seventies, commercials returned to a more natural look, one which had to be rich and dramatic, but also motivated by realism. That's when it began to get exciting to me. I've always loved images that were not only theatrical and stylistic, but also believable." Kraus put this dichotomy to the test when he succeeded in bringing in a unified and penetrating ambiance to disparate elements created and controlled by combining Charlex' live action and Paintbox and ADO images which compose the Cherry Coke spot.

Kraus' film-style lighting offers filmmakers with a bias against video the opportunity to reconsider. "I think the prejudice against video is completely unfounded," he explains. "Video hasn't been handled properly by top level film oriented people. As more quality work is produced, filmmakers will realize that anyone who can make video look good can make film look wonderful. There needn't be a gulf between video artists and cinematographers."

To overcome video's "flat screen" look, one of the medium's most frequently cited hazards in an advertising campaign, Kraus used lensing for depth. He also used "shared" light to convey realism. "You want to know where the light is coming from, and have it feel real," he explains. "The more motivation you have, the easier it is to build up the look of reality. We had some motivation from Cherry Coke, but we wanted to light other people and didn't want it to be a down lighting, which is one of the differences between commercials and features. Commercials tend to light up to enhance reality, while features almost always underlight. My esthetic, or part of it on these jobs is to create a feeling of magic that is not unreal.

"I wanted a lot of the motivation to come from the street lights below, which meant working in the area of straws, and oranges, using soft bottom light that's been used as a glamour light for years."

Kraus had worked on the Charlex Emmy-winnmg Saturday Night Live intro, which inspired Cherry Coke's opening dolly down the Cherry Coke Boulevard, so he understood the effect of street light. "This time, however, we went beyond Saturday Night Live," he explains. "I played with the saturation and de-saturation of a light to create the feeling of space and depth. For example, cast members a couple of frames back from the jukebox get some orange glow, but not as much as those standing next to it. I also wanted to have more color shifting. …

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