Owen Roizman: Candle Light Strategies

From American Cinematographer, Demonic Convergence by David E. Williams (August 1998)

A sudden change in lighting strategies made a scene set in the home’s attic unexpectedly difficult. As staged, Chris was to search the spooky space by candlelight, seeking out the source of some strange and disturbing sounds. Suddenly, her candle erupts in a burst of flame.

"In preproduction, we hollowed out a candle and built in a little gas flame that would create that effect. Inside, near the top, we cut out a space for a little peanut bulb, which we would control on a dimmer for a nicely fluctuating light on Ellen’s face. By holding the candle correctly, she would be lighting her own face. Well, we got ready to do the shot, running a wire down the sleeve of her nightgown, and I said to Billy, ’Please just ask Ellen not to turn the candle, so we won’t see the bulb in there.’ He said, ’I can’t ask the actor to do that! We have to light the scene in some different way.’ We were just about to roll, but he insisted, although I knew Ellen would have done it. Besides her wonderful acting talent, she was very good about the technical side of filmmaking."

As a result, Roizman and his crew began quickly rigging the attic set with inky-dinks on dimmers, setting up a choreography to simulate the traveling candlelight effect.

"Every time I’d seen that technique used in a movie I thought it looked phony and I hated it... I hated it in this picture too. But I was caught by surprise and we had to do it in a hurry."

- Owen Roizman, ASC

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