MTI film recently provided a package of post-production services for How the Light Gets In, a cerebral crime drama about a New York City detective, under investigation for his involvement in a suspicious shooting. The independent film marks the feature directorial debut for Steven Fierberg, ASC, well known for his work as a cinematographer on such shows as The Affair and Entourage. The script was written by Jude Severin, who also stars. MTI Film’s Barbara Marshall is among the film’s producers.
Produced on a micro budget, the film was shot in an improvised manner in various locations around New York. Fierberg notes that much of the film was captured with a Nikon DSLR as it allowed him to work quickly and operate unobtrusively in Central Park, the subway and other public locations. The production also employed several other camera systems, either owned by Fierberg, lent by manufacturers or borrowed from friends. They included ARRI Alexa, Canon C300 Mark II, RED Epic, Sony A7, and Canon 5D Mark III. “the crew was typically me, our D.P. Nick Coleman (succeeded by Erin Henning for the second half of the film), a sound man, the actors, and, maybe a friend who’d act as P.A. for the day. That was it,” Fierberg recalls. “Nick and I would discuss the shot, then he’d set up the camera, while I set up the light. It was a tiny, tiny shoot.”
Having worked on mainstream television productions with hefty budgets, Fierberg says that he enjoyed the challenge of a project with lots of heart, but limited resources. “I’ve done a couple of shots on The Affair that cost as much as this whole movie,” he notes. “In shooting a party scene for television, you might have two cameras, 100 crew people and 150 actors. In this movie, I had one light that I had to carry up a flight of stairs and plug in myself. But there’s joy in that too. This movie was a miracle.”
MTI Film provided dailies services during production and later handled editorial conforming, color grading and deliverables. Colorist Tanner Buschman applied the final grade. “Tanner had the job of making material from all the different cameras and lenses look consistent,” Fierberg says. “He did a phenomenal job, not just technically, but creatively.”
Fierberg notes that How the Light Gets In was conceived in the tradition of classic New York cop films with their seedy locations and colorful cast of characters. During the grading sessions, he and Buschman worked to draw out the city’s quintessential vibe. “We captured the edgy, street-feel of New York,” he recalls. “The movie has a big fight scene in a parking garage and another fight in a bar in Harlem. It needed a gritty, realistic feel.”
Working in a theater environment, Buschman graded the film on a Digital Vision Nucoda system in P3 color space. That allowed him to achieve a filmic look, accentuated by the subtle introduction of film grain. Recurring flashback scenes, set in a bar, were pushed slightly further to make them stand apart from the central narrative. “We didn't want hyper-realism for our flashback footage,” Buschman explains. “So, we went in the opposite direction and made it de-saturated and smoky to distinguish it from the present and give the bar an uncomfortable feel.”
Fierberg has high hopes for the film as he works to secure distribution, but he says it couldn’t have happened without the support of many other parties who believed in the project. He cites the contributions of editor Phil McLaughlin, assistant editor, Jacki Trinh, and MTI Film Executive Producer Barbara Marshall. “Barbara, Phil and Jacki helped us take material that was shot over two years with different camera systems and form it into a coherent whole,” he says. “There would be no movie without them.”