Shane Hurlbut’s Illumination Experience Review: Get Thee to It, Now!

by Hugh Brownstone2 Comments

I didn't have a Canon C500, 5D Mk III, or Blackmagic Cinema Camera on me, but Shane Hurlbut & Co. had all that and much, much more at the Philly stop of Shane Hurlbut's Illumination Experience Tour.

On the other hand, I did have an old iPhone to capture one helluva learning experience courtesy of Mr. Hurlbut, an ASC director of photography whose work includes NEED FOR SPEED, ACT OF VALOR, TERMINATOR SALVATION, SWING VOTE, SEMI-PRO and many more.

What quickly became clear is that among his other credits one must now add: outstanding educator. The man has humor and wisdom; is generous with both; and knows his s**t (for those of you who might otherwise be offended).

I'd guess at least half the class went hands-on in this 8:30AM to 6:30PM marathon practicum, but opportunities for attendees to serve as DP, grip, 1st or 2nd AC, etc. abounded, and those among the audience who didn’t get to operate the high-end gear were the ones who chose not to (some of us were too busy taking notes!).



Shane moved quickly from the theoretical (why it’s still important to use handheld meters) to the real world, sharing with the group of about 40 dedicated souls everything from how to do a light study to determine the best angle for lighting lead actors, to recreating scenes from CRAZY/BEAUTIFUL and RAT PACK (at both Hollywood and Home Depot price points).


His stories and opinions throughout the day were stimulating and provocative — “NEVER use waveforms!” was just one, “Russell Crowe is one of the top 3 actors living today” (he stars in Shane’s most recent film, still in post, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS) another – but most importantly, all were profoundly well-informed.





And I swear Shane had the energy of my four-year-old Golden Retriever. I didn't know if it's simply the way he is; used a caffeinated IV just before we started; or chugs Red Bull the way a five year old pops Pez – though he later assured me “that’s just me, naturally.”



He was out there on his knees with the crew rearranging dolly tracks, booming lights — everything. All with good humor and encouragement.

He so clearly loves what he does (we did, too) that I thought he'd forgotten about lunch (we didn't break until 2:00PM).

Lest you think this was only(!) about the “how” of filmmaking, let’s put that to rest right now: a big part of the appeal to Shane’s seminar is his emphasis on the “why.”  He continually challenged us to think, showing us scene after scene from films he’d done and – going all Socratic on us – asking what we thought we saw, why we thought it worked (or didn’t), and then incorporating those answers as high improv (first rule of improve: “yes/and” rather than “no/but”) to build momentum and engagement.

It’s no mean feat to get people to commit themselves on equipment they haven’t used before, much less get them to volunteer opinions which many of them fear will be wrong.

Again, from Shane:

“I challenge you to fail, but then I’m there to catch you.”

It is high praise to say of a teacher that he creates a safe place to learn, even higher to say that he inspires.  Shane did both.

He is also an interesting man of uncommon tastes and experience, even as he is a family man, too.

He referred several times to his children and the instrumental role his wife Lydia has played in the development of his educational series (including Shane’s Inner Circle).

But I was particularly struck by the way he draws on still photographers for inspiration in his own cinematography (he worked with famed photographer Herb Ritts from 1990 to 1996).  He mentioned the work of everyone from Hiromix and Nan Goldin to the photographers commissioned by Farm Security Administration (later the Office of War Information) as recounted and displayed in the book Bound for Glory: America in Color 1939-43, by Paul Hendrickson, and we saw precisely how these inspirations translated into film.



In short, Shane’s a successful working professional and human being still in the prime of his career on a mission to teach people how it’s done — an extraordinarily rare combination.

Great for us, but it certainly begs the question: why?

Shane’s reply:

“I didn't have a mentor early on, and through the tour and online through the Inner Circle and the contacts you'll make with others here, I'm hoping to help the process for you all.”

My advice! GO!

My advice: attend the Illumination Experience Tour if he stops anywhere near you (though we had one person among us trekking all the way from New Mexico to Philly to see him, and even at that distance, I can’t tell you it isn’t worth it — it is.).

But he’s only got a few stops left, finishing up in LA on November 17th. Register now while you still can – though if you do miss it, you can also order the DVD’s.

I'd go for the real thing (clearly I did), but in either case you’ll get more out of this investment than any piece of gear at the same price.

BONUS: Lan Bui's interview with Shane

(for a more in-depth look at why and how Shane does what he does, we recommend listening to the one-on-one phone interview with Shane conducted by filmmaker and planet5D reader Lan Bui). Here's the “video” version

(cover photo credit: snaps from Hugh Brownstone)


  1. Hello, great post! I had attended another MZed seminar, “Directing Motion” in Brooklyn sometime last year.
    I was considering attending this seminar in Philadelphia as well, but missed out due to personal finances. However purchasing the DVDs is not outside of my reach today.
    Are you and your company located in Philadelphia? I may Philadelphia independent filmmaker myself; Cocreator of Wide Eyed Pictures

  2. DanielBrownWEP Yup, Greater Philly based! Wish I’d been in Directing Motion!

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