The recent project to replace Los Angeles street lights with LEDs has come with some unintended consequences. Making movies at night on the streets of LA may never be the same. In the past, directors liked the look that LA’s high-pressure sodium street lights gave to their movies. The old street-lighting would lend a gritty, dark, film-noir feel to movies filmed on the streets of LA.
Here’s an image of an LA street before LEDs and after:
According to Dave Kendricken in No Film School, filmmakers like Michael Mann specifically chose Los Angeles as the location for the movie Collateral (2004, starring Tom Cruise) because of the antique aura the street lights brought the film. Collateral’s plot took place completely at night, so the feeling that the lighting gave the film was a prime concern for the director.
The project is important to the city for saving money and energy. LA’s 140,000 new street lights, a combination of Cree, Hadco and Leotek lights, are projected to save LA about $7 million in electricity savings. According to a press release, LA funded the project through a $40 million loan from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and a combination of rebate funds also from the LADWP a Street Lighting Maintenance Assessment Fund.
The city said the loan paid back through savings in energy and maintenance costs by over the next seven years. After the loan is repaid, LA will begin to save $10 million/year. The project in LA isn’t complete yet. And you can see a map of the project’s progress here.
But, what can filmmakers do to mimic the look of the old street lights in LA? They can choose a new city, select a different part of LA that hasn’t been converted yet, or use digital techniques and/or lighting filters to change the look. LED street lights present a challenge for filmmakers, but they’re worthwhile for the planet.
For Further Reading
No Film School, Why Hollywood Will Never Look the Same Again on Film: LEDs Hit the Streets of LA & NY, http://nofilmschool.com/2014/02/why-hollywood-will-never-look-the-same-again-on-film-leds-in-la-ny/
Daily Mail, Say goodbye to moody Collateral-style movie shots: How LED street lights mean films set at night in LA and across the world will now be bathed in gray, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2551923/Why-Hollywood-never-look-film-LEDs-cast-new-glow-streets-LA-New-York-City.html?ico=ushome%5Eeditors_choice_six_of_the_best
Gizmodo, How LED Streetlights Will Change Cinema (And Make Cities Look Awesome), http://gizmodo.com/led-streetlights-will-change-hollywood-and-make-every-c-1514840416