Stéphane Bourgoin is a seasoned gaffer who regularly works on the many American productions that come to France to shoot. Most recently, after working on the two highly acclaimed series “Patriot” and “Emily in Paris,” his expertise was on call for Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” and Chad Stahelski’s “John Wick 4.” ARRI had the chance to sit down with Stéphane Bourgoin and discuss his work as head of the lighting team on these large-scale productions.
Released at the end of 2021, Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” is an undisputed cinematic success. For this medieval epic with very strong visual bias, the British director chose to shoot for six weeks in France, preceded by a long preparation period in Ireland on models. “Working with Ridley Scott is a childhood dream,” explains Stéphane Bourgoin. “Discovering ‘Blade Runner’ at the age of 10 with my father made me want to make films. Thirty-five years later, it was a great pleasure to work with Ridley Scott and his director of photography, Dariusz Wolski, to create the light for ‘The Last Duel.’ I had a smile on my face every day going on set.”
“A shoot with Ridley Scott means having a crew of 600 people,” says Stéphane Bourgoin. “It’s a different scale compared to French cinema. In the interiors, he shoots each shot with four cameras at the same time. This brings a continuity, a fluidity to his films. As a result, a sequence can be shot very quickly. However, for the lighting team, having four cameras is great hindrance; we have to find the right lighting solutions without taking up too much space on set. Because we were always on a natural set, the cinematographer created light directions by zone with spots of light. There is one that goes for a face, the other for a wider shot. Since the cameras are intelligently placed, all the shots are beautiful. One also must witness the speed with which Ridley Scott decides on the camera axes on set—It’s impressive.”
“In the medieval castles, the idea was not to install rigs everywhere to control everything,” insists the gaffer. “Ridley Scott and Dariusz Wolski like to leave room for things that imitate real life, like a ray of sunshine entering a room. At that point, they would move the whole set to take advantage of the occurrence. The foundation of the lighting was the ARRIMAX 18 kWs which I installed on Manitous with 6x6 frames to light brighter and farther while remaining soft. The ARRIMAX is a perfect tool for lighting large areas. In the interiors, I made some 2x2 m softboxes with SkyPanels. We also worked a lot on all the lighting effects with gas burners that allowed us to get a little shine on the face. So even if the film’s general tone is quite grey, the light is never flat. There is always a direction of light, stronger at some moments, less at others.”
Before working on American productions shooting in France, Stéphane Bourgoin had a long career in French cinema. Since 2005, he has directed the lighting team on such notable films as “Holy Motors” (Leos Carax), “Le mystère Henri Pick” (Rémi Bezançon).
His work on the series “Patriot” (Amazon Prime Video) in 2017 opened the doors to US cinema. “Season 2 of ‘Patriot’ was shot entirely in Paris,” explains the gaffer. “It’s a very high-end series, shot like a feature film, with a beautiful look. For American productions, you have to take all the equipment you need without trying to optimize what you have as you would on French films. You will get blamed for not taking enough material rather than the other way around.”
“On this series, DP James Whitaker was looking for absolute control of the light. In daylight, we had to build huge 6x6 m black boxes to create some negative space and a dark gradation on the main character’s face. Indoors, the biggest set was the Palais Brongniart (ex-Bourse de Paris) with its huge arches, which had been transformed into a bank. Behind the windows, I installed twenty ARRIMAX 18 kW, whose beam had to be adjusted in inclination to the nearest degree. SkyPanels were added to the face on 12x12s in Ultrabounce to give the image some shape. The visuals of the series did not go unnoticed in the United States. It gave me the credibility to work on other American productions, such as “Emily in Paris.”
Authored by Darren Star, the creator of “Sex and the City,” “Emily in Paris” became a worldwide hit in 2020, becoming Netflix’s most successful comedy series. Set in the glamorous French capitol, “Emily in Paris” features exquisite scenery, designer fashion, and the stunning Lily Collins. “I worked on seasons 1 and 2 alongside cinematographer Steven Fierberg,” explains the gaffer. “We worked together very closely, and I was able to gain his trust very quickly. His guideline was to get a pretty, glossy image while keeping the image soft at the same time. For the agency’s big set, built at La Cité du cinéma, we used ARRI STUDIO T12 tungsten lights to get that warm tint, sunlight coming in. They were mounted on rails so we could easily change the direction of the light and reproduce the different moments of the day. I also installed a lightbox on the ceiling to illuminate the set. For the faces, we used SkyPanels on large, diffused canvases. We worked a lot with the shine on the characters’ skins to give a glossy look to the lips and cheekbones. I also used the SkyPanels regularly on the night sequences. This allowed us to work on the colors very easily. We would mix a dozen SkyPanels with some Asteras to create renderings of parties in bars or nightclubs.”
“In 2021, I worked for several weeks in Paris on Chad Stahelski’s ‘John Wick 4’* with cinematographer Dan Laustsen” explains Stéphane Bourgoin. “At one point, we were shooting a green screen view of New York on a 1,000 m² set at the Bry-sur-Marne studios. We needed to create a uniform sky, and with my team, I installed 130 SkyPanels at great heights. It had to be as diffuse as possible and, above all, produce the same level everywhere. The SkyPanels were perfect. They give a very soft and wide light. I didn’t even have to use extra lights for the green backgrounds. For me, the SkyPanel is the first really good LED light on the market. It was a real revolution when it came out. It changed the way cinematographers work. Now they can fine-tune their image without disturbing the director and the set. It’s a monumental gain. It’s also a very well-designed system. We know that LED panels sometimes tend to get tired. With the SkyPanel, we do a software upgrade, we link the fixtures, and they correct each other. It’s very well designed.”
*On the French part of the shoot
Helmut Prein being the main gaffer
Materials provided by ARRI Rental