The Metalsmith

Facing blindness, metalsmith Andy Cooperman renews his commitment to making things worth seeing.

What would you do if you faced going blind?

This video is the second in our series about people who make things by hand in the Seattle area. Our next piece will profile a former college mate of mine who has chosen an unusual occupation: coffin maker.

A few people have asked me, so I thought I’d share a little, about how I lit this piece. Or rather, didn’t light. I achieved the dramatic, dark mood of this piece primarily by removing light.

I had intended to carefully light Andy with a couple of softboxes with egg crate. But after turning on one of our Arri 650s, it was clear that was going to way overdo it. I blocked off one of the windows entirely with black foam core, and partially blocked the studio’s skylight with a flag extended to the ceiling on a c-stand. I then closed all the partially opaque window shades. This had the effect of stopping down all the daylight two or three stops. I white balanced the camera for tungsten, which shifted the dim daylight entering the studio toward blue-green.

Then, depending on the angle of the shot in the studio, I selectively opened the shades for additional fill. The rest of the light, with a couple of exceptions (the shot of him hammering the molten metal and the shot of him walking under the cleaver), came from Andy’s practical lights in the studio. Those two exceptions actually feel overlit to me. That’s why I changed course and just went with available light.

Sometimes it’s really important to throw away your plan and do more with less.

Some BTS shots that my talented producer and sound recordist Lisa Cooper snapped with her iPhone show how much light we had to eliminate to get that mood:

5 thoughts on “The Metalsmith

  1. Glenn

    Hey Dan

    Greetings from UK, thank you for all the work you put into this great blog, it’s been a source of inspiration and information for many months now.

    Firstly, I was wondering about your pic profile, cam set-up, post workflow with your 5D? Some of the best low-light footage I’ve seen here!!

    Secondly, I love this video series that you’re producing; narrative driven character studies on interesting people and their craft. I have some similar ideas for films I’d like to make over here in the UK, my question is how do you approach this type of project from a commercial perspective? Basically I don’t think we can can apply our comercial rates to these personally motivated projects and I was wondering how you handled this.

    Any advice greatly appreciated.

    Keep up the good work!


    1. Dan McComb

      Thanks Glenn. What part of UK do you hail from? My brother-in-law lives near Oxford and I spent Christmas there this year.

      Regarding picture profile, I use the ‘prolost’ style. Begin with Neutral, then set sharpness: 0, contrast: -4, saturation: -2, color tone: 0. This is a slightly flat (but not too flat) style that gives you some options in post without too hard to work with.

      Regarding camera setup, for this film I shot pretty much everything off sticks (Vinten Vision 5AS) with the camera mounted on a zacuto mini baseplate with Genus Bravo follow focus. There were a couple of Glidetrack shots. SmallHD DP6 on a Zamerican arm. I used a set of old Nikon primes for the wider shots, and a rented Canon 100mm macro for all the tight stuff. Love that lens.

      Regarding the commercial aspect of this, I undertook this series because I wanted to shoot some visually interesting stuff, not because they could afford to pay me to do it. Most of my paying clients currently are in the tech space, and that field isn’t particularly visually interesting. Lisa my creative partner and I just sat down and said “what would we film if we could choose anything?” And we started finding people right away, just looking online and hearing about people locally. We also have to make a living of course so we continue to do our commercial work, but this series is a passion project. We also applied for a grant from the City of Seattle to help subsidize some of the expense of our time, but we’ll make the work regardless of whether it gets funded or not. It’s not too difficult for us to do that, because we limit our shoot time on these to one day: no going back after to re-shoot!

      The other nice thing about doing these for the love rather than for the money is you get creative control. So my advice is: find something that you are fully interested in doing, and find a way to turn it around quickly, and do a bunch of them. Your commercial work will be better for it, and who knows, you might even pick up some new clients as a result. Viewed that way, how can you NOT afford to do it?

  2. Glenn

    Hey Dan

    Apologies for the late reply, and thank you for giving me so much detail!

    Funnily enough, we’ve just returned from Chile where we were shooting our first feature documentary, “Searching For Light”, please take a look at our site if you get a chance. It was a great experience and we had finding for the trip but we’re now trying to raise completion funding, KickStarter may be an option.

    I’ve taken your advice anyway, and next week we are shooting a personally motivated piece about one of the UK’s largest second hand book shops. I’ll be sure to send you a link when it’s complete and would love to hear your thoughts.

    I’m from Northumberland, quite near the Scottish border and the Lake District… there are many stories I’d like to tell up here so thanks for the inspiration. Just get out and do it I guess!!

    Will stay in touch



    PS… I have the 100, favourite lens!

    1. Dan McComb

      Wow I just peeked at your Flickr page with shots from your shoot in Chile. What an incredible place. I am familiar with it via a film called “Nostalgia for the Light” that was shot in same vicinity a few years back. Let me know when you’ve got a trailer cut – can’t wait to see more of that otherworldly place.

  3. Pingback: Maker Faire Rome | “The Metalsmith” and the art of creating at all costs

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