American Cinematographer - July 2018 - 14

SHOT CRAFT

I

Burning Down the House
By Jay Holben

There's no doubt that there is beauty in fire and the light that
it produces. But fire is also inherently dangerous and unpredictable,
and therefore difficult to tame. Cinematographers working with real
flames, either as a photographic element or a light source, must
proceed with great caution to ensure the highest degree of safety at
all times. Never let your guard down around fire.
My own education regarding fire began with this publication's coverage of Backdraft (AC May '91), directed by Ron Howard
and photographed by Mikael Salomon, ASC. Although I haven't had
to shoot a blazing inferno - candles, fireplaces and campfires are
more my wheelhouse - Salomon's approach to fire photography
has remained my go-to reference. Recently, though, a conversation I
had with cinematographer Jayson Crothers served as an advanced
class, taking my education to a higher degree.
Crothers has served as director of photography for the past
three seasons of the Dick Wolf-produced NBC drama Chicago Fire.
He joined the show two years prior, in its second season, as B-camera
operator and 2nd-unit cinematographer under Lisa Wiegand, ASC.
The series focuses on firefighters in the Windy City; therefore, as
Crothers explains, "every couple of episodes we have a big burn."
Exterior fires are shot on location, but interior burns are
always shot on a controlled stage, dubbed the "Burn Stage," in a
converted warehouse at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios. "It's
14

July 2018

impractical to put fire inside a real location," the cinematographer
notes, "so we save all of our interior fires for the Burn Stage."
The Burn Stage houses the "bones" of three different set
configurations at all times: a basement, an open room that has
served as everything from an apartment to an art museum, and a
multilevel set for when characters need to move from one floor to
another. All of the set construction is designed for use with propane
fire effects; all of the set dressing is also made of metal, and any
paint coating has been stripped off to avoid unwanted - and
potentially dangerous - chemical vapors from being released in
the set.
Additionally, the stage has been specially configured with a
custom ventilation system to help control the amount of heat and
smoke present in the stage at any given moment. The ceilings of the
sets are designed so that portions can be removed - without being
visible to camera - in order to channel the heat and make the
temperatures somewhat more bearable. Extra-large air conditioning
units have been installed to help cool the stage between takes.
"Shooting on the Burn Stage comes with its own unique
challenges and is exceptionally slow," offers Crothers. "On a typical
day on our show, we'll shoot seven to eight pages and might do 50
to 60 setups with two cameras [25-30 per camera]. On a Burn Stage
day, we might shoot two pages and accomplish 14 setups [working
primarily with a single camera] in the whole day.
"Every setup on the Burn Stage takes between 45 minutes
and an hour to set up," he continues. "We design our setups to get

American Cinematographer

Chicago Fire images courtesy of Jayson Crothers and NBCUniversal.

Firefighters battle a raging inferno on the series Chicago Fire, photographed by Jayson Crothers.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - July 2018

Contents
American Cinematographer - July 2018 - Cover1
American Cinematographer - July 2018 - Cover2
American Cinematographer - July 2018 - 1
American Cinematographer - July 2018 - 2
American Cinematographer - July 2018 - Contents
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