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It’s all about the color

Cinematographer Craig Kief

Written by Marshall Bissett

Outside the Cine Gear Expo at Paramount Studios, cinematographer Craig Kief has a confession to make: "I am a lighting nerd from way back and I love shows like this." Raised in Florida, Kief's fascination with lighting started early, even going to LDI while still in high school. From age 13 through graduation, he volunteered in local community theater before landing a job as an art department production assistant when a Warner Brothers film came to town. Later at Florida State University Film Conservatory, he shot his first feature with Roger Corman and picked up an ASC (American Society of Cinematographers) short film award. An inevitable move to Los Angeles gave him the chance to work for a few years as a gaffer, and collaborate with outstanding directors of photography (DPs) on features, commercials and music videos. This eclectic mix of styles and media remains his trademark, and his list of credits should belong to someone three times his age. Surprisingly he has never worked on a network TV show, but that is about to change as he prepares for a new Muppet series that airs this fall on ABC. 

No stranger to the Muppet world, Kief first used ETC Selador® Classic Vivid™-R luminaires on a 2011 Muppet relaunch video shoot with the Chicago rock band OK Go. "For a cinematographer, it's all about perfect color rendition, and I needed a fixture for lighting a pure white cyc. I had been very leery of LEDs up till then and thought of them as a necessary evil. We needed to create smooth, solid-color washes with instant changes - the seven-color LED hues in the Vivid worked out perfectly. It was so saturated and clear, it looked like a post effect." An ETC Ion® desk was used to control the 14 Vivid-R fixtures. Until that point, LEDs had been a hard sell for Kief: "In the world of film, we don't care about power savings, low maintenance or longevity; it's all about accurate color reproduction and the quality of light. Early LED fixtures were handy and could sometimes do the job but had flicker problems and low color spectrum." Despite his reservations, he used LED on concert shoots and discovered that not all LEDs are created equal. He explains: "Flicker is the enemy, and it can be bad especially when running cameras off speed. Using CMOS sensors with rolling shutters can even lead to scan lines on screen, and that is the worst." The solution in the form of firmware changes was provided by David Barton and the ETC team. "They stepped in and made the changes that were later incorporated into the D series. I couldn't be happier." So began Kief's collaboration with ETC, to the point where he sees himself as a mini beta-test site for new products. He was especially impressed by the ETC Source Four® LED CYC adapter , and used some on a Disney commercial.

Craig Kief and David Hilton

Bright daylight-rated fixtures are the staple of film lighting. "Until now, most DPs have been using the Joleko units because of their high output and size, but I have never been happy with their color quality," says Kief. "With the Series 2 LEDs, ETC can now compete in that market." In a time when more and more DPs are buying their own fixtures, the lower price point will be very welcome. Kief is already at the head of the line for Source Four LED Series 2 Daylight HD fixtures .

When asked if he thought there was a single gap in ETC's lineup, without hesitation Kief jumped on the idea of an LED soft light. "I am going to look at a couple of them at Cine Gear, but I already know I will be comparing their color rendition to ETC products." The soft light is the film equivalent of the theatrical Fresnel and they are used extensively in features, music videos and commercials. The sources can be tungsten, fluorescent or LED. 

So, R&D guys, if you really want to be discovered and get your big break in the movies, take Kief's advice and build the perfect soft light - the beta site is ready and willing.

The music video featuring the Muppets and OK Go is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiMZa8flyYY . The lighting by the Selador Vivid-R luminaires is best seen from the 1:40 to 2:39 mark.

For more information on Kief, visit his excellent website, www.craigkief.com .