How The Crew At Margin Call Used Window Gel To Speed Production And Reduce Shadows, Reflections And Heat
As every film professional knows, it's a lot faster to affix Rosco "hard" gels - or rigid panels - to windows in order to reduce the intensity of light coming in from outside. That's usually the reason cinematographers, grips, gaffers and production managers ask producers for the extra budget money the panels may require.

The producers of the feature film "Margin Call", with a little guidance from cinematographer Frankie DeMarco and his team, saw that speeding up production was one of several reasons to use Roscolex panels instead of rolls of neutral density window filters.

"Margin Call", starring Academy Award winners Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons was shot in July 2010 in 18 days, mainly on location at an office building in Mid-town Manhattan. Other actors include Demi Moore, Stan Tucci, Paul Bettany, Mary McDonnell and Penn Badgely. It was apparent, even on the first day of filming, that the windows would have to be gelled; otherwise gaffer Radium Cheung would need to bring in additional 6K’s to balance interior/exterior lighting.

This would have led to some unwelcome problems:

Sync-sound recording required the air conditioning to be turned off, but if extra lighting were to be used it would produce a lot of heat and without AC the heat could become unbearable for actors and crew.

Additionally, the area the actors had available to move around in would be diminished by the space taken up by big HMI lights and their stands and flags. Besides creating unwanted shadows, the lights would be reflected in the windows as well---a lose-lose-lose situation for everyone involved.

Producer Neil Dodson and his team greenlit the acquisition of about ten Roscolex ND.6 and ND.9 panels after the first day. However, one more inventive step was required.

The windows at One Penn Plaza in Manhattan, where the filming took place, ranged in width from 50" to 52". Since the Roscolex panels are 48" wide there was a gap. DeMarco’s solution was to ask production designer John Paino to make removable pilasters to hide the gaps.

"Once we installed the ND panels, we could take these pilasters and Velcro them against the window", says DeMarco. "They not only hid the gaps, but they also looked great as vertical window dividers. As exterior lighting changed, particularly at the end of the day, it was a breeze for key grip Caswell Cooke and his crew to quickly change the panels."

In the end it was clear to the producers and the crew that the use of Roscolex neutral density panels ("hard" gels) provided welcome savings in time, heat generation and space availability. Three very good reasons to greenlight the extra cost.