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Feb. 28, 2024

Gaffer Guillaume Lemerle and his passion for lighting with ARRI tools

From feature films like “John Wick 4” to commercials for major brands, French gaffer Guillaume Lemerle always has a place for ARRI lighting equipment in his work.

Feb. 28, 2024

Guillaume Lemerle is part of a young generation of gaffers who are as comfortable on big productions such as “John Wick 4” or “OSS 117” as on independent films such as “L’envol” or “My Brothers and I”. Educated at the French private film school ESRA Rennes, Lemerle has always been passionate about lighting while supporting cinematographers on feature films as well as prestigious commercials for major brands. In this article, he talks about the diversity of his projects and his use of ARRI lighting tools on set.

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Gaffer Guillaume Lemerle and DP Laurent Tangy on set of Nicolas Bedos’ film “OSS 117: From Africa with Love”

“After ESRA Rennes, I started to work on a lot of short films,” explains Lemerle. “I even lit cartoons in volume. It’s a very good school, you see right away what you’re doing. At the beginning of my career, I worked as acamera assistant and an electrician, until Italian DP Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci asked me to work with him on François Favrat’s ‘La Sainte-Victoire’ as an electrician. This meeting was decisive for me. Two years later, Giovanni suggested I take a job as chief electrician on ‘Cloclo’ by Florent-Emilio Siri. He trusted me and allowed me to prove myself on a big production. In the end, I only worked as an electrician for five years.”

The ARRI LED range has a color quality that is hard to find elsewhere. Today, I don’t work on a movie or commercial without SkyPanels.

Guillaume Lemerle

Gaffer

“Since 2011, I’ve been working on feature film projects as a gaffer. In between films, I do commercials, notably with cinematographers Mathieu Plainfossé and Ross Richardson. I like doing commercials as much as I enjoy working on feature films. The exercise is different. In commercials, we often shoot in a studio with substantial resources. But I love feature films, because it is exciting to work with actors. I like to start from directors’ and cinematographers’ visions and translate them into light, to create something that corresponds to them. This job allows me to blossom, to do what I love. As a gaffer, I collaborate a lot with DPs, set designers, and directors. It's very rewarding.”

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For a Chanel commercial, Guillaume Lemerle created a softbox with 50 SkyPanel S60s

“In 2022, I worked on a beautiful US project, shot in France: ‘The Substance’ (DP Benjamin Kracun), directed by Coralie Fargeat, with Margaret Qualley, Demi Moore, and Dennis Quaid in leading roles. It was an exciting shoot on which I spent almost 110 days. The director had a real desire for light. She likes American cinema from the 80ies and 90ies and wanted a sunny look for this film, which takes place in California. It was her vision of the city.”

“The main set was built at Epinay studios, with a large 36 meter x 12 meter discovery on Los Angeles, which I lit with SkyPanels. I had fifty S60s for the background and four S360s to create a re-entrant light on the sky. We also had top lights on set, but we didn’t use them much. To recreate the sun coming into the main set, I used two ARRI T24 Studio Fresnels. Both 24Ks were mounted on MaxMover. It was exciting to be able to stay on one set for so long, creating differences in contrast and light direction for each scene. For the lighting in front of the actors, I chose SkyPanel S60 for its quality of light. For close-ups, I often used a 2m x 1.5m softbox mounted on the S60, in order to give both softness and direction to the light. I would sometimes use a round OctaPlus Chimera on an S60 to bring even more softness to the skins.”

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Four SkyPanels S60 on set of “Les Sentinelles,” shot on ALEXA 35 by Matias Boucard AFC and Mathieu Plainfossé AFC

“The work on the discovery of Los Angeles was very interesting,” adds Guillaume Lemerle. “Printing on Rosco canvas allowed us to see the city by day when we lit from the front and by night when we placed lights behind. For the night scenes, I used twelve ARRI Orbiters, some with long snoots without optics that allowed us to illuminate certain parts of the city, to make sodium effects by playing on the colorimetry, to work a little on the sky. The other Orbiters were equipped with cut-outs in order to be very precise on the areas we wanted to light.”

“To avoid seeing the projectors in transparency, we put them a little to the side, to not make the lenses visible. Given the limited distance we had behind the discovery, the Orbiters were a real plus. Without them, we would have had to make an installation with flags everywhere to hide the projectors. I had already used the Orbiter in advertising, with domes or shaped. It’s a versatile tool that allows you to manage beauty on the face with a softbox, or to be very precise, very focused, with an optical snoot. On exteriors shot in Cannes and the Paris suburbs, I used ARRIMAX on MaxMover and M90s to create powerful, focused lighting.”

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Six ARRI M90s on set of a commercial shoot with DP Marco Graziaplena

“I like to work on big budget productions, but also on French films with a smaller cast,” says Lemerle. “Both types of projects have interesting aspects. I found it quite exhilarating to shoot ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ (DP Dan Laustsen) on which I worked for three weeks, on large exteriors in Montmartre, at the Trocadero, and interiors at the Louvre. We were shooting mostly at night, but I had a day crew working on installation and pre-light, a total of about 30 electricians. Stéphane Bourgoin was the main gaffer on the French part of ‘John Wick: Chapter 4,’ while Helmut Prein managed the lighting on the German part of the shoot.”

“Previously, I had made two independent films with DP Marco Graziaplena: ‘L'envol’ and ‘My Brothers and I’. Marco likes to do light installations that allow the director to shoot in all axes and provide a real freedom of play to the actors. For interiors, we often used ARRI M-Series lights from the outside, with M90, M40, or M18, depending on the size of the set. Inside the set, I installed very thin LEDs on the ceiling so there was nothing in the field. On ‘My Brothers and I,’ as we were shooting in Sète, a very bright area, we used mirrors to play with the sunlight in addition to the M-Series fixtures. Marco Graziaplena is a very intuitive person. If he sees that the light is there, he can shoot very well without using a spotlight. He has this ability to work quickly to keep as much spontaneity as possible on the shoot.”

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Three ARRIMAX 18 kW on set of a L’Oréal commercial

“I really like to work a lot with tungsten lights, especially on 35 mm films,” explains Lemerle. “I’m thinking of ‘The Man with the Iron Heart’ from director Cédric Jimenez, captured by cinematographer Laurent Tangy. When we were preparing the film, I had just come from a film project where I had been disappointed with the LEDs. I suggested to Laurent to illuminate the film with tungsten, except for the scenes where we needed power and used M-Series lights. I find tungsten light very beautiful and rich in color. It works perfectly with 35 mm.”

“When we found ourselves with Laurent Tangy on Nicolas Bedos’ ‘OSS 117: From Africa with Love,’ we opted for the same approach. All interiors were shot at Epinay Studios on 35 mm and with tungsten lights, except for exteriors in Kenya. Tungsten went well with the magnificent sets from set designer Stéphane Rozenbaum that had a very 70ies and 80ies look. We had to get all the old tungsten projectors from rental companies. As the film was supposed to take place in Africa, we needed overexposed light inputs, so we girdled all studio sets with white drapes. We lit these backdrops with 10K or 20K Fresnels to get very bright discoveries. Laurent Tangy and I know each other very well. I know his way of working. He often shoots handheld and sometimes with several cameras. Whether it was ‘Sink or swim,’ ‘Bac Nord,’ or ‘OSS 117,’ he likes to have a 360-degree light to leave as much freedom as possible to the director and his mise en scene.”

The arrival of the SkyPanel family really changed things. These fixtures combine high-quality light with the possibility of color, but also provide versatility and efficiency. The ARRI LED range has a color quality that is hard to find elsewhere.

Guillaume Lemerle

Gaffer

“Concerning LEDs, things have changed a lot since ‘The Man with the Iron Heart,’” says Guillaume Lemerle. “The arrival of the SkyPanel family really changed things. These fixtures combine high-quality light with the possibility of color, but also provide versatility and efficiency. It was the first truly professional product available on the market. That's why the SkyPanel has become so popular. In addition, the ARRI LED range has a color quality that is hard to find elsewhere. Last year, I worked on a Chanel spot with DP Ross Richardson in the studio at La Cité du Cinéma. I created a 20 meter x 12 meter softbox with fifty S60s to light this lunar set. This allowed me to create a very soft and modelling light. Today, I don’t work on a movie or commercial without SkyPanels.”

Opening image: Christophe Brachet