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Gaffer Franck Barrault shares his passion for light with ARRI tools

13/12/2022

As a young electrician, Franck Barrault was part of the lighting team for Delicatessen and La Cit des enfants perdus : two legendary films, directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who shook up French cinema in the 90s and brought out the immense talent of Darius Khondji AFC, ASC, a young DP at the time.

Darius was really my mentor during all these years, explains Franck Barrault. I started with him as an assistant in 1986. He accompanied me, nourished me and allowed me to evolve. As I could not see myself spending my life loading magazines with film, I turned to the lighting team, first as electrician and later as lighting director. Since my student days, my passion has always been to work with light. But my true sensibility in this field was built on Delicatessen' and City of Lost Children,' with Darius and gaffer Bernard Gemahling, who has great knowledge and a true sensitivity. That's where I learned the most: Worlds of pure fiction where you could invent anything, and a pool of talent at all levels. DP Philippe Le Sourd ASC, with whom I started out as a gaffer on Cantique de la Racaille' in 1997, was also Darius assistant.

ARRI Orbiters illuminate a commercial shot by DP Philippe Le Sourd ASC

Philippe Le Sourd, who later established himself as a great international DP, working with Sofia Coppola, Wong Kar-Wai, and Ridley Scott, remained loyal to Franck Barrault on his French productions. They collaborated on Peut- tre, an ambitious film directed by C dric Klapisch, and Atomik Circus by Didier and Thierry Poiraud. With Philippe, I have a certain complicity. We have the same references, and we understand each other with very few words. He is a very demanding person. He always pushes to the maximum until he gets what he wants. He doesn't compromise and I have to live up to that in terms of lighting.

With Darius Khondji, Franck Barrault has only worked once as a gaffer, on Stephen Frears' Ch ri in 2006, but the experience was memorable. What I like about working with Darius is that he completely integrates the lighting director into the creative process. During the prep, he took me to see all the sets, right down to the choice of wallpaper, the color of the curtains or the material of the costumes. He invited me to tests and projections, so that I could discuss all the lighting details with him. This adds a vision to my work. It's fascinating and, above all, indispensable if you want to do the lighting right on a feature film. Ch ri' was a founding film for me. Suddenly, I was shifting into high gear.

Since that time, light sources have changed with the arrival of LED fixtures. Franck Barrault quickly realized what ARRI SkyPanels could do for his craft. I was one of the first to use them. I immediately understood their potential. The simple fact of being able to dim without changing the color temperature: It was a real joy! No need to lower the lights and change the gelatins to adjust the colors. Not to mention that everything could be controlled from an iPad or a console. It was a true revolution that completely changed my job as a gaffer. ARRI brought a stable product to a market that was a bit of a jungle. The SkyPanel immediately became a standard of quality, a sure value. Today, I would like to see ARRI develop the product further, including an IP64 version and integrated power supplies. That would save us installation time. At the end of the day, the real benefit of LEDs is that they allow us to work much faster, which is important with the reduction in turnaround times. It gives us more time to fine-tune the light on set.

The ARRI Orbiter and SkyPanels on set of Netflix series D tox

In his career, the gaffer has regularly worked on genre films that require the creation of unusual lighting atmospheres, far from the ambient naturalism. It interests me to get the image as close as possible to what the director has in mind, Franck Barrault explains. On How I became a superhero' (Netflix), a fantasy film where we had to create improbable atmospheres, we built the villain's hideaway in an old, abandoned racetrack. DP Nicolas Loir AFC had this idea to have very dense green curtains installed all along a large bay window. On the outside, I had a scaffold built with eight SkyPanels that lit the window a little bit below, so that the light would come up through the curtains. Inside, I used SkyPanels to reduce the contrast of the image which was quite dense. It created a very interesting atmosphere.

On Seuls,' another fantasy film I worked on, we had a sequence with children driving an armored van they stole at full speed. In the studio, I had set up a lighting installation with thirteen SkyPanels S120 dedicated to the green screen and sixteen SkyPanels S60 illuminating the interior of the van. All of them were connected to a DMX console and all I had to do was to program them. With SkyPanels, it's very easy to create traffic effects for chases while integrating flash effects of police cars-all with the same light. SkyPanels have really brought that speed of color change, even within a shot. I could create effects that were previously complex with ease now. Suddenly, a lot of things became possible.

A shot behind the scenes of Seuls from director David Moreau

For Franck Barrault, creating the lighting on a set not only consists of adding lights. The gaffer has developed an original method to create light subtraction without deploying installations that are too heavy. On Le Semeur,' a beautiful feature film shot by DP Alan Duplantier in the C vennes mountains, we had little resources, and 70 percent of the film was shot on location in summer. Rather than trying to bring the light in a soft mood (shadows or clouds), I suggested removing light to create contrast on the characters. It's a
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