"A finale sequence with a really big rock and roll look" is what lighting designer Emanuel Treeson was hired to provide for the Paramount Pictures' release Rat Race. An unofficial remake of the 1963 comedy extravaganza It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,Rat Race concerns the attempts of several desperate souls (including Cuba Gooding Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Lovitz, Seth Green, Dave Thomas, and Rowan Atkinson) to retrieve a $2 million jackpot hidden by a Las Vegas casino owner (John Cleese). At the climax, a double-decker bus commandeered by our greedy heroes, who are pursuing a hot-air balloon towing the loot, crash through the backstage of a Live Aid-style concert headlined by Smash Mouth. Treeson, whose credits include the Fantasia 2000 world tour and the site-specific Pearl Harbor premiere event in May, was called in by gaffer Dwight Campbell to contribute the proper concert lighting.
"The job was to create a large-scale picture of this huge festival-size event--enough of a wide shot that you get the sense that this wasn't some little shed tour," says Treeson. "Dwight and Tom Ackerman, the DP, wanted it to have a huge impact on film, and they were shooting anamorphic, so that aspect ratio came into play as well. Because of the anamorphic lenses and where Tom likes to expose, we had to be extraordinarily bright for this kind of shoot. I've done these before where you expose somewhere around 2 or 2.8: pretty wide open. Tom wanted front light to be at 5.6, which is, for night, pretty darn light. On top of that, we're talking about backlight two or three stops over, when we're within the music segment of the shoot.
"In storytelling terms, we were doing two aspects," the LD continues. "The straight-up rock-and -roll music part of the look; and then, after it comes to a grinding halt when all of our cast collides into the concert, this sort of frozen look that still tells the story of where we are, but gives us what we need for exposure. Dwight still wanted it to have a live rock and roll feel, and key all the talent with followspots."
For the stage, which was erected at the Disney Ranch in Antelope Valley, CA, production designer Gary Frutkoff created a box with few set elements other than two framing "Feed the Earth" banners and a large LED screen on the back wall. "He said, 'You've done this before, what would it be?'" Treeson recalls. "So I gave them some ideas for the structure, and built this spider kind of truss coming down into the rig." It's actually a six-legged spider, slanting up to a central point of convergence over the stage. Two more "Feed the Earth" signs upstage became followspot platforms. In addition, Treeson's crew created a followspot scaffold out in the field, 125' away from the stage.
"I populated the whole structure of the set with lighting," says the LD, who used a large Vari*Lite package for his automated rig. "This was November 2000, and I used 64 of the VL2416s™, the new wash lights from VariLite at the time, because I needed the output. Tom Ackerman kept going on that needed to make sure he had enough backlight. Since it was anamorphic and they wanted the LED wall to be pretty straight in exposure with the talent--and those things are so ungodly bright--that dictated our exposure being high. I looked at what was available, and the issues I had were intensity, finesse, and, most importantly, sound. The 2416 is so quiet that the choice became very easy very quickly."
The rig also included 87 VL5™ wash luminaires, plus 19 VL2C™ and 31 VL7™ spots. "I put the VL7s directly over the stage, right in the heart of the shot, where I needed the most effect and the most control and the most finesse. Essentially, we were lighting one song, but we cued it pretty extensively, and I needed a lot of versatility," says Treeson, who programmed the number on a Virtuoso™ control system, which was run by Christian Hibbard. "I created this whole spider structure based on the idea of color coming from the top and fading down in waves, and going from left to right in waves. There are a lot of big, bold, wide-shot sorts of chases."
He adds that, especially with the lighting coming down the legs, "half the rig was what I considered scenic lighting, creating a lighting architecture around the scene. They didn't hit anybody, they either shot into the ground or over the heads of the talent. But because of the long, short anamorphic format, I wanted to make sure we had lights in the shot, and that you could see the chases. We also did a layer on the downstage structure of the set, a whole series of lights like rim lights that went all around the set for master shots. To a degree, we used that for lighting the audience"--about 1,000 extras, digitially multiplied in postproduction.
Though Campbell's crew installed several Condors equipped with 21kW HMIs and 20kW tungsten film lights for ambience out in the field, and a large soft source in front for ambience on the stage, Treeson says, "Most of the lighting for the talent onstage was handled by the spots." Therefore, out front, he used four Strong Super Trouper IIs®, which gave the DP and gaffer their 5.6 stop, color-corrected for tungsten. From the back, he used two Lycian 1,200W spots. "The back spots worked only in the song, un-color-corrected," says the LD. "They look nice on a wide shot, but you can't get them to read on film in a consistent way."
The shoot for this sequence was done in several parts, often out of sequence because of the various actors' clashing commitments. "We cued the entire song from start to finish, even though we were going to have it come crashing to a halt," says Treeson. "We loaded it in in two days, cued it in a night, and then set about doing a prelight with Dwight and Tom. Then we shot the whole intro of Smash Mouth." The song is interrupted by the bus crash, which was done as a stunt without Treeson's participation. "They left the structure up, but stripped out all the gear, because they wanted to do it without the contamination of the stage lighting," he says. During the climax, all the actors scrambling around on stage are lit by the followspots, and then, at the close, the Smashmouth song continues.
Things didn't go off without a hitch, however. "We didn't get everything," says Treeson, "so we had to rebuild the rig a week later in a studio." About 2/3 of the rig, that is--four of the spider's legs, 36 VL2416s, 21VL7s, the two Lycian spots, and so on. "We just shot with a bunch of close-ins that Dwight lit more conventionally. But he matched what he'd done out in the field in terms of color and tone." The experience was instructive for the LD: "In the television that I've done," he says, "you create a structure and you leave it alone and let the camera do the work; in film, you push everything so that the fixed frame that you've chosen to create for that given moment is fleshed out in the best way. Each scene, you tweak it a little--a little left, a little right."
Rat Race opens August 17.