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Lighting Breakdown: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Today’s episode will be dedicated to this magnificent masterpiece directed by the Coen Brothers with the legendary Roger Deakins as Cinematographer and it is moreover Mr. Deakins himself who, in a way, gave us these lighting Breakdowns.

Before we start, know that I took these lighting breakdowns from Roger Deakins‘s official website. He’s really doing great stuff there so I recommend you to visit his website for more lighting breakdowns like these. Now let’s get started:


No Country For Old Men

Roger Deakins; The Hospital scene looks really simple but the lighting rig proved one of our most testing challenges. I wanted the scene to appear very bright and sunny, even happy looking, as a counter to the threatening tone of the dialogue. And this was the problem.

The windows of the location faced north so there was no chance of using natural sunlight. Besides, although we were on the second floor, there was a high building across from the widows I needed to light through. There is an alternative insert on the enclosed sketch, which uses an 18K HMI bouncing off a reflector attached to the wall opposite. This was a possibility but one I felt would be a little bland. The roof opposite was far too high so the only answer was to gain access to the windows of the building opposite and use direct light from there. I had dismissed this initially because of access and that it was a very long throw for any lamp. I wanted to shoot at a decent camera aperture, as I don’t like the ‘look’ of artificial sunlight when there is a shallow depth of field. It just doesn’t seem natural that way to me so I wanted a 4.0 at least.

The other issue was that the windows were high above the floor we were shooting on and the angle of the light would be very steep. However, it worked out that shooting a lamp across the alley but to a widow that was at an angle would create the hard sunlight I was so keen on. The sketch at the bottom shows the lighting angle I imagined but there was no way of getting such a square angle without a large scaffold rig, which was beyond our budget. Of course, hauling the 18Ks up into the building was also a challenge and the window frames had to be removed as well, but I did indeed end up shooting at 4.0 on a 200T stock. Just!

No country for old men lighting
Made with the Ci-Lovers’ Lighting Diagram Toolkit


Roger Deakins: This was very bland but in a good way. The scene outside was a simple two-handed dialogue between the two Sheriffs so it was not really about the location. We had originally storyboarded it with a number of shots but it was a Friday night and we were getting restricted for time. There were also reports of thunderstorms coming in, which added pressure for us to shoot quickly. I had done a preliminary sketch of the lighting I intended to employ and this was all rigged whilst we were shooting the interior dialogue.


Looking at this lighting, and whilst rehearsing with the two actors, I suggested we could, maybe, play the majority of the scene in the one silhouette profile shot without shooting any other cover. Both Joel and Ethan were on board with this but the actor’s positioning was key for this to work and they left it to me. We also decided that the scene should end with a close shot of Tommy Lee as he makes his decision to return to the Motel.

Shooting this one angle allowed me to light the scene using just the downlights on the rear wall of the Coffee Shop. Otherwise, I had some small sodium floodlights that we added on the roof to give an orange edge to the main shot and to light the final close shot, as can be seen in photo reference 2. And we did just beat the thunderstorm to get the shot but it rained immediately after that. They call it wrap rain because it happens so often that the crew has to wrap in the rain.


Roger Deakins: This was a terrific location in Albuquerque and the Motel is still as it was when I was last in Albuquerque for the shooting of ‘The Goldfinch’. But the night work did prove difficult to light, as the parking lot and pool area were large and the practical lighting fixtures were few and far between. Knowing the staging of the scene well in advance, I felt I could use what practical lamps existed on the Motel to delineate some details of the building in a warm light but wash the characters in a soft sidelight as if coming from mercury street lamps beyond the Motel confines.

I see the sketch I did for the rig denoted 200watt bulbs in the practical fixtures but I think we used either 60 or 100watt household bulbs. I was hoping we could have used 200watt quartz bulbs so that the light would have been very sharp, but the wattage was just too much without rewiring all the fixtures.  

The wash of sidelight was created using two tight arrays of HMI lamps rigged on 80’ condors. We used the condors not so much for their height as for their reach past some existing power lines and to get around a tricky roof configuration. The HMI lamps were rigged very close together and heavily wired down to balance this light with what practical sources I had. I could have used smaller lamps if I had only been concerned with the amount of light I wanted but the larger Fresnel lamps gave me both a wider and a smoother spread. You can always reduce the intensity of a lamp with a wire so to err on the safe side is not a bad thing.

I am sure that there was an extra ¼ blue and a light green gel added to these HMIs but I don’t have an exact record of this the result is seen in the variation of colors in the photos above. The palm trees are uplit using dimmed mushroom bulbs and various fluorescent tubes were added to the Office Lobby.

The close work at the door of the Motel room (see the photo above) was lit using two 650watt Fresnel lamps, which are dummying the headlights of the truck. I tried to keep a clean shadow on the door on the exterior (photo above) but inside (see the photo below) I used both lamps with equal intensity to create a more fractured look. The double shadow was something I struggled with because normally double shadows are anathema to me. I had been thinking a lot about the scene during prep and only settled on the fractured double shadows as I was lighting the shot through the viewfinder.

Again, I recommend you to visit Roger Deakins‘ Official website for more lighting breakdowns like these.
And, if you are searching for tools for lighting plans, you’re in the right place. Check out my Lighting Diagram Toolkit.

I hope you guys enjoyed this article, if so, share and follow me on Instagram so you never miss any updates. See you in the next episode. Tchaouuuuu!

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