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Setting the Scene

By Marcia Zia and Paul Priven

Tips from Hollywood film veterans on the adroit use of lighting to create the mood you desire.


“All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up.”


Would that notorious Sunset Boulevard “close-up” have been so horror-producing if Gloria Swanson’s ruined face hadn’t been bathed in dramatic, pitiless light? Would screen legend Greta Garbo have melted so many hearts if her directors hadn’t filmed her in flattering, soft-focus light?

Roxanne table lamp.

Lacking the luxury of color to express mood, the black-and-white films of yesteryear called up specific feelings through the adroit use of lighting. Homeowners tend to take light for granted — it’s merely something to be switched on and off — and yet illumination can create a particular mood and atmosphere in the home, just as it does in the movies. Lighting can be chosen to cast dramatic shadows, to make the setting seem tranquil, or to provide the kind of flattering, soft-focus radiance that made those old movie sirens so gorgeous.

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