Creating Weather Conditions in Video Production

Dealing with hot weather

For warm-blooded mammals that have been evolving to be perfectly suited to our surroundings for a while now, we do spend a remarkable amount of time trying to adjust those very surrounding conditions to make ourselves comfortable. We need air conditioning and heaters, umbrellas and sunglasses, we need blinds to shade out light but also need to wire in bulbs so that we can see, and then we pop a shade over that bulb just in case that is too bright. We are needy and fragile. We can’t handle dust. DUST! There are mammals that can survive weeks without food or water or shelter or sunglasses, while being hunted by other ferocious mammals that want to kill them. Kill them and eat them. They survive all of this. They survive all of this while being in a perpetual state of pregnancy. If I inhale in the same room as some dust I am immediately bed bound. In short – we are delicate. We need stability and consistency. We need nothing less than a record-breaking heatwave. In fact, we need one thing less than a record-breaking heatwave and that is a record-breaking heatwave when you are trying to shoot a Christmas commercial!

While as a nation we’ve been overwhelmed by the uphill battle of adjusting to our microclimate, this is actually one of the continuous struggles of video production – wrestling with nature to create fake weather conditions for a shoot. Summer ads can’t be shot in summer. The commercial to launch your spring range needs to have been picture locked before winter ends. Easter promos being shot any time after Jesus is born are way behind schedule. So if the challenge of changing seasons on command is an uphill battle, the past few weeks of forty-degree heat have made that hill seem positively Himalayan. To make us all feel a little better I’ve taken a look at one example from TV and one from film which demonstrates the lengths we will go to create the perfect, if entirely fake, weather conditions.

Fake Weather in TV – Fargo

While shooting season 2 of Fargo, the TV reimagining of the Coen brothers film of the same name, the production was halted due to lack of snow. Synonymous with howling whiteout blizzards and the anxious fervour of a small mountain town hit by a crimewave, without snow there is no Fargo. Executive Producer of the show Warren Littlefield told Vanity Fair “We were sending trucks into the mountains to load them up with snow and bring them down to our locations. They’d bring back these huge blocks of snow and then we had kind of a wood chipper that worked through these blocks of snow and ice and then just spit it out into a spray.” Anybody who has seen the second season of Fargo would concede that the snow looked nothing less than pristine and fresh from the skies, which it was, only it was delivered from the skies by dump trucks.

Fake Weather in Film – The Revenant

When shooting Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant (2015) production was halted for five weeks due to the plummeting temperatures. This film has been widely discussed for being incredibly challenging to produce and shoot. Iñárritu decided to shoot the film in chronological order which makes no logistical sense! There is a six-minute one shot, one-take scene which means it has to be performed and captured on camera as though it were live AND it included a bear attack. The cinematographer decided to use only natural light meaning that there was a window of opportunity that could be measured in minutes for each specific scene on any given day. Most interesting to those of us who have sweltered in the heat is that the production employed its very own meteorologist tasked with predicting the weather and cloud coverage to the tiniest detail but equally importantly to find snow. Snow is prevalent throughout the film including one scene where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character along with his horse dominate the shot while a stunning avalanche cascades and crashes down a mountain behind them. An entirely practical man, Iñárritu decided against popping in the avalanche in post-production and decided instead to choreograph an actor, a horse, natural light, Hollywood scale crew and a helicopter full of explosives for a one chance only take to create a real-life avalanche for the scene.

And I get frustrated co-ordinating the turning circle of my oscillating fan with the width of my bed.