As a producer/director at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I have had some personal experience with this scenario in our unique working environment. Not that I'm keeping track (although someone is), but we have more Nobel laureates than all the Ivy League schools combined. As a result we have the double-edged pleasure of shooting a lot of very important people. It is amazing how non camera-friendly these VIP offices can be!
We could spend a lot of time taling about all of the different shooting scenarios and the various tools needed to achieve a great look, but we'll defer that wild tangent to another day and focus on the "traditional-style" interview that is set up in an office location. This column will focus on lighting options in less-than-ideal situations.
I'm not sure to whom its invention is attributed, but we should all hail the founder of professional flourescent lighting. Mind you, we are not speaking of what you might find in a doctor's office or grocery store, but gear made for, and designed by, lighting demi-gods.
This is a serious call to action: if you haven't assembled a pro-grade fluorescent lighting kit, you should bump it up towards the top of your to-do list. As technology has marched forward, more manufacturers have thrown their hats into the ring, which means there are lots of options to choose from. Even so, the price and quality can fluctuate as much as the NYSE, so it'e best to gert some reliable third-party feedback before making a purchase.
Fluorescent lighting is an invaluable tool for our quick-setup, "traditional" interview. For starters, fluorescents give off great light for a key and yet they're soft, providing a good wrap (in some situations you may not even need a bounce/fill). Additionally, the fluorescents give off perfect 3200k color, without fail. They can make a complicated lighting setup simple, even for the beginner. They are also incredibly easy to use, which helps take some stress away from a quick lighting setup.
Fluorescents emit very low heat and are slimmer than most conventional lights. Their efficient use of space can be very important when filming in a cramped office. Fluorescent lights are not the answer for all illumination challenges, but they can be a lifesaver when time and resources are limited.
Another lighting solution that sometimes gets overlooked is the colored backlight. It, too, can be a valuable tool when time and resources are in short supply. To some, this may seem like a foolish overindulgence, but no one can dispute the fact that if well-placed, a backlight can change a plain office into a colorful atmosphere. This means using gels. Without getting into various light types or styles, they can be used with just about any light.
Throwing some color in the background of your shoot can really help the look of it. If you're not sure what gels to buy, start off with some reds and blues and work your way out from there. I like to pre-cut all my gels for specific lights. This allows me to experiment with different colors and looks without spending a lot of time onsite. I've gone so far as to categorize and print out a list of all the gel colors/types we have, so I can quickly look to see if I have the color I'm thinking of. But be warned: using too much color can quickly replicate a '70s game show set.
Beyond the lighting recommendations mentioned here, if you find yourself in a recurring VIP nightmare, it's probably time to speak up for the sake of quality and explore ways to improve the situation. Continuing to churn out mediocre footage only perpetuates the problem. Make the client aware that the end product will be vastly improved with a more flexible timeframe and/or change in location. While it may geel like an uphill battle to convince an academic to give an extra hour for a shoot, it will yield a better overall production.