Into The Badlands, a “genre-bending martial arts series,” is an action drama hit for AMC that showcases more than innovative fight choreography but also a complex range of visual styles. Set in a dystopian future where a feudal society has taken shape after civilization has collapsed, the series is loosely based on a 16th Century Chinese story, Journey to the West. The plot follows the journey through the Badlands of a trained assassin and the young boy he rescues after a deadly attack as the two seek enlightenment. The setting of the Badlands, the differences between the feudal barons, the mix of close interiors, and sweeping exteriors all offer a wealth of visual possibilities.
The show has a very stylized look and feel, due in no small part to the masterful work of Director of Photography Shane Hurlbut, ASC. The show is shot in a variety of locations, with a mix of color temperatures—bright, day lit exteriors; flickering nighttime in the rain; warm and colorfully lit interiors, to dark and dangerous spaces. The full range from bright to dark and everything in between is used to great effect with rich saturated colors used often to support the characters’ traits and their place in the plot itself. Hurlbut had multiple lighting units on the shoot and the Fight Unit lighting team includes Gaffer Jeff Stewart and Best Boy John Gorman, who had served as a U.S. Marine, is known to most in the industry as “Jarhead.” The Fight Unit lighting team quickly realized that shooting Into The Badlands would prove to be very complex and chose an array of Cineo Lighting products to illuminate the non-traditional shoot and to ensure that they perfectly match the First Unit’s shots which are done with a more traditional film lighting rig.
Stewart and Jarhead need to think through a lot of variables when arranging the lighting to get the illumination needed and the match to the First Unit. “When you’re shooting a show that’s as darkly lit as this; with a lot of fire effects and things like that, it’s very crucial that you get the lights in the exact position necessary, so that you can get the costumes, the distinct facial features, etc,” explains Jarhead. “It’s a challenging show to work on, it has you thinking every day. We don’t shoot a normal day scene; we’re shooting a day scene inside of an old fort or factory. When Jeff and I found out what the lighting for Badlandswas going to be like, we knew we wanted to get Cineo involved, because that’s the lighting that we were going to need to pull this off. We could not have done this shoot without the versatility of the Cineo products. My first purchase was the Cineo Matchstix and I have just expanded my inventory of their products from there.”
Hurlbut felt the selection to use Cineo Lighting products made sense, especially considering the need to light in a challenging array of locations. “What I loved about the Cineos were their small size that packs a wallop,” says Hurlbut. “You can hide them in small places as well as their light weight nature fits in small soft boxes that can move quickly and deliver the perfect quality of light I am looking for.” Jarhead and the rest of the lighting team agree with Hurlbut and really appreciated the fact that they could use the Cineo Lighting products just about anywhere. Ideal for both interior and exterior shoots as well as in the elements; there were no limitations to where they could be used. “The Cineo products helped out because the lights are so compact in design, and their versatility makes them amazing,” Jarhead comments. “We liked using the Cineo Matchstix in some of the trickiest locations. We used that light in in a lot of places, especially when we were shooting in an old abandoned power plant. When there wasn’t a place where we could easily put an HS light, I would use a Matchstix. I actually used rare-earth magnets and added a pin receiver on the magnets. That allowed me to mount the lights inside of an old boiler, in tunnels, and places like that. That worked out really well.”
The team also relied on the Cineo Maverick and the Cineo HS units. “Those lights have so much punch. For example, there’s a scene where you’ll see a character running through a series of tunnels,” says Jarhead. “If you look at all that lighting, those were all Cineo HS lights. We would run HS lights in every tunnel. I would say by far that the HS was the most used light on the entire shoot. The rain was our biggest challenge for many of the scenes shot. When it comes to HMIs, all it takes is one drop of water on that glass and the lens will crack. You’re talking 18,000 watts; and the lens gets up to about 300 degrees. The Mavericks and the HS don’t have that issue but they give you the punch. Another nice things is with the different capabilities of the Cineo products you just change a panel or dim it down, where with an HMI to cut it down, you are putting scrim after scrim, after diffusion in front of the light.”
Not needing to haul the large and heavy HMIs around all the time was another plus. “We shot a lot of locations where it came in handy that the Cineo lights are so compact and come in their own cases,” points out Jarhead. “Instead of having the guys push HMIs fitted onto rolling stands out into an open field for a half mile; it’s easier for the guys to transport the Cineo gear in a cable cart.”
With the wide variety of colorful costumes and sets, accurate color rendition is important. With a wide varieties of ethnicities amongst the cast, accurate skin tone reproduction was equally important. “Skin tones were very important,” Jarhead says. “We have a great cast with many Asian and African American actors and there is a wide array of skin complexions. One of the things we did was use a custom-made gold and white checkerboard that we put on four by bounce card. Basically what that does is just give a great warm light against the Asian complexion. That skin tone on camera looks completely different if you don’t use a bounce. We take an HS and bounce it into the custom checker board for a lot of the close up profiles. Especially in the first episode, when the lead is sitting in his character’s little cabin, the only lights we used inside that cabin were the Cineo HS and the Mavericks; they gave us this great light to work with doing that scene and throughout the shoot.”
Appreciation of the engineering and design that went into the cold phosphor technology behind all of the Cineo Lighting products and their reliability over time is why Jarhead wants them in his the lighting inventory. “The problem with most LED panel lights is that they’re great for the first two years that you own them, but then the color temperature starts to shift. When Cineo came up with the HS light and the phosphor panel they solved those issues. It’s just amazing the way that light is designed with the phosphor panels, those panels make the lights completely versatile as you can go all the way up to 6,500K with the panels. They are by far my favorite light that’s out on the market right now.”