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Lights, camera, corona: Hollywood embraces the eclipse

Lights, camera, corona: Hollywood embraces the eclipse
August 18, 2017

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The sun is getting ready for its closeup. Producers of feature films and TV commercials will set up at key locations to capture what they hope will be unique scenes using the natural spectacle of Monday's total solar eclipse.

For filmmakers, the most-coveted backdrops sit within the "zone of totality," where the moon will cover the sun and expose a glowing corona around its perimeter for up to two minutes and 40 seconds.

Camera crews, directors and actors are staging rehearsals and preparing to act quickly, as the brief period of totality will give filmmakers little time to record the perfect shot.

"One take only," said director Alvin Case, who aims to shoot a roughly six-minute scene in western Nebraska for his independent feature film "In the Moon's Shadow." "That's all you get with the sun."

Case's project, about a pair of estranged sisters who travel together to watch an eclipse, is one of at least three productions scheduled to shoot in Nebraska on Monday, said Laurie Richards, the state's film officer. Another feature film and an automobile commercial also are set to record footage there during the eclipse.

Richards said she has been busy fielding last-minute inquiries from people wanting to shoot scenes for movies, TV commercials and documentaries during the rare event.

Eclipses have figured into previous Hollywood plots, including that of "2001: A Space Odyssey." In most cases, visual effects experts recreated the phenomenon for the screen. An exception was the 1961 religious movie "Barabbas," which used actual footage from a solar eclipse in a climactic scene depicting Jesus Christ's crucifixion.

Case plans to aim one camera skyward to film the eclipse and keep another focused on the reaction of three actors watching it unfold, he said.

"You want the viewer to experience what they are experiencing, the moment of awe," he said.

Several producers of TV commercials have requested permission to shoot in Oregon and Wyoming during the eclipse, local officials said.

In Oregon, authorities granted permits weeks ago for a handful of projects to film on Monday, the executive director of Oregon Film, Tim Williams, said. Recent requests were denied because officials are focusing on the expected influx of tourists, he added.

Another filmmaker who will be shooting in Nebraska, Maria Dyer, said she plans to employ four cameras and a drone to capture eclipse footage, particularly the changing light over the state's Sand Hills, for a forthcoming movie. One challenge will be adjusting camera settings to account for the change in exposure. Another is the chance of clouds or rain.

"It feels like a worthwhile risk to take," she said.