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The making of Art of Glass

I had been planning to make an entirely different style of movie.
Meet ... Lester Redding
his film
Art of Glass won an International Standard Award at BIAFF 2007
It is also part of the UK's programme for UNICA 2007

Portrait of Lester Redding. Art of Glass was originally made for Westcliff Film & Video Club's set theme entry for the North Thames Triangle Competition. The theme had to fit "through the window".

I had been planning to make an entirely different style of movie for the set theme, one involving horror with kids who get caught up in voodoo, having been innocently kicking a football around. The ball goes over a wall, and when they go to retrieve it they peek through a window and…well the rest is just too terrifying!

Terry Mendoza and I had scouted locations and found a large rambling house due for demolition that had the right eerie feel. We had made contact with a local school and had got the teachers and pupils interested (some scenes took place in a school). We hit a brick wall when it came to the kids appearing in a movie where the location was off school grounds - it would entail a chaperone from the school, no issue there, and paying for taxis each way for the children, not to mention coordinating shoots to when the kids, their teacher chaperone and the availability of the house all coincided. Everything was starting to get too complex, and that was without a number of special effects we had planned to use. The deadline for the first round of the competition was only a month away!

We still had not got around to setting up any shooting dates when I happened to be in Southend buying fish food. As I left the shop I noticed the stained glass shop next door. On a whim I poked my head in and asked whether the owner might be willing to have a movie made of how he makes stained glass panels. Bingo! Ruben Caruana was immediately enthusiastic about the idea, as he himself had been wanting something he could show prospective clients or at trade shows - this could help us both.

Still from 'Art of Glass'. Still from 'Art of Glass'. Still from 'Art of Glass'. Still from 'Art of Glass'.

The first step was to get an understanding of the various stages in the making of these panels, so I sat in as Ruben worked away, explaining as he went. I watched him working, picturing in my head the various camera angles that could be used to show this art off to its best advantage. Obviously close-ups would be important, and careful lighting too. The logical way of structuring the movie was to follow the construction of a piece, using Ruben to explain the processes and something about himself along the way. A finished door 'in situ' could round off that sequence. However it was now three weeks before the deadline, and the making, approval and fitting of a door would not fit our timescale. So at this point I have to own up and admit that all the sequences of assembly and cutting were done specifically for the camera - but more about that later.

I decided to carry out the main interview with Ruben first, as that would give ideas on what shots would complement his narrative. I wanted to do the talking head piece in his workshop as that would let me use his panels as a backdrop. Unfortunately his workshop was hardly conducive to movie-making! It measured 11 feet by 11 feet, ( 3.4m by 3.4m) the centre dominated by the huge bench on which he assembles his work. And right outside his window is a main road with traffic rumbling past. All his decorative panels were hanging in the window of the workshop - they looked great backlit but the busy and distracting background also intruded. Lighting would be quite a challenge.

Still from 'Art of Glass'. Still from 'Art of Glass'. Still from 'Art of Glass'. Still from 'Art of Glass'.

We chose to do the interview in the evening as there would be no interruptions from customers and traffic outside would be lighter. The first task was to light the background. I hung a black cloth in the window to block out any street light, then placed a single 300 Watt halogen lamp in the window pointing through the stained glass panels and, indirectly towards the camera position. The final step was to hang a large sheet of diffuser between my light and the glass panels. This meant the glass panels were now back lit using a diffused light source to show their colours off really well. By experimenting, I found that using the shop window lights, which were mounted in the baseboard of the window display, enhanced the effect of the backlighting. A second 300 Watt was now introduced as the keylight for Ruben, up and off to one side; the white wall at the other side was ideal to use as a fill-in reflector. Sound for the interview was handled using the Sennheiser K6 with a tie-tack microphone; it allowed me to get the microphone in close enough so the traffic noise did not intrude.

After the interview I had a better idea of how to follow the progress of the making of the panel. I'd come up with an idea of wanting to shoot the cutting of the glass actually through the glass. When I mentioned this to Ruben he produced a large door-sized sealed double-glazed unit, which could be used as a workbench - he would mount this on trestles so I could get underneath to capture a very unusual viewpoint. And this is exactly what happened, except that once it was all set up I found that there was no room under this to accommodate both my JVC GY DV500 camcorder with its heavy duty tripod. Fortunately Terry Mendoza had brought along his Panasonic MX500, still a 3-chip camcorder but far smaller, and although there were subtle differences between the picture qualities, I was able to colour balance them on my Matrox RTX100 so they matched seamlessly.

Still from 'Art of Glass'. Still from 'Art of Glass'. Still from 'Art of Glass'. Still from 'Art of Glass'.

The 'glass workbench' triggered off ideas for other interesting shots that appear in the movie - the supporting bench behaved like a mirror by shooting just above bench level and I incorporated several shots that feature this reflection. Not only were the workshop shots mocked-up, so was the meeting with the client, he was a personal friend of Ruben's! It was really a case of creating a sequence of images that would be used to illustrate Ruben's voice-over where he discusses how each piece is conceived. I shot this with two cameras, my JVC as a master shot, locked off on the pair of them, with the K6, and short shotgun for audio. Terry used his Panasonic to capture the cut-ins, over Ruben's shoulder as he sketched, low angle close-up of Ruben talking and so on. I got them to repeat their conversation several times so we had plenty of material to work with. Once again lighting was kept simple - a single 300Watt key-light and a reflector.

Still from 'Art of Glass'. Still from 'Art of Glass'. Still from 'Art of Glass'. Still from 'Art of Glass'.

At the end of shooting this sequence Ruben mentioned he had to leave for guitar practice. That comment sparked the idea of getting him to play the music for the movie; it would be a way of showing him as a broader character, and it turned out to be a great way to get the music that fitted the movie! Lighting wise I was less pleased with the external 'interview with the customer'… it was already dark by the time we shot that. We first back-lit the door to best effect, then used another 300 Watt lamp as a key light on the interviewee. The 300 Watt in the street was just not really strong enough to light the interviewee well, so I ended up bringing it closer to him. This gave rise to a harsh effect. In retrospect a more powerful light, diffused and further away would have appeared more natural.

- Lester Redding

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Page updated on 08 October 2011
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