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Ideal Lighting Pkg. for Indy Feature?


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#1 Isabelle Landers

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 08:28 PM

I'm gaffing a low budget ($200'000) independent feature on the Red and I am looking for recommendations for a lighitng package that will give me the most versatility. We have about $10'000 to rent lights for a three week shoot. The locations don't have alot of available power (its a period film set on a farm - mostly around the barn at night) so we will need a generator. Besides a number of Night exteriors, we have a number of Day Exteriors, as well as Day interiors. My biggest concern is the night exteriors because I want to be able to light the woods surrounding the farm so that it doesn't appear to be in a black void but we won't have a truck capable of towing a generator. What's the largest portable gas generator available and whats the largest HMI that we can power off it that will also leave us power to run other lights as well. Where it is a period film set on a farm I am looking to mix cool moonlight with warm lamp light. My second biggest concern is being able to match lighting for the Day Exteriors. Where we are shooting in November in New Hampshire we have to match shots filmed on both sunny and overcast days. Given our budget, what combination of lights will give us the most versatility if we are limited to a single portable generator?

Isabelle Landers, Nashua, New Hampshire
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#2 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 13 October 2009 - 12:52 AM

When I work in locations such as you've described, sometimes I like to get a couple of generators rather
than one larger one. This is especially helpful when you're lighting the woods or other night exteriors where
it is sometimes easier to transport smaller generators in opposite directions than make long power cable runs
over tough terrain from one central location, or say to get lights on the other side of a creek, river or anything else that could make it a challenge to supply power to equipment.

With your budget I would suggest seeing how many 1200W HMI pars you could negotiate. They put out a lot of light
and, the more that you have, the more units that you can spread around and of course if you need a lot of light in one
place then you can work them that way too.

If you wanted one generator, something like a 6500w Honda inverter generator works well for portability
and a small amount of lights.
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#3 Guy Holt

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Posted 14 October 2009 - 11:00 AM

When I work in locations such as you've described, sometimes I like to get a couple of generators rather
than one larger one. .... With your budget I would suggest seeing how many 1200W HMI pars you could negotiate. ....


I agree that you would probably be better served by a couple of small generators rather than one large one for the same reasons given by Tim. However, I want to add that it makes a big difference what generators they are and what type of HMI and Kino ballasts you use on them. If you use the right equipment you can do better than a couple of 1200s on a 6500W generator.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say at the outset that in addition to being a gaffer, I also own and operate a rental house that rents and sells a lot of the equipment I will recommend in this post. If it sounds like I’m hyping certain product lines it is not because we rent and sell them exclusively. We are dealers and rental agents for all the major brands. The equipment I am about to recommend, I recommend as a professional Gaffer of a lot of historical documentaries with similar budgets for PBS’ American Experience and The History Channel (see my “credit-entials” on Imbd). I recommend this equipment because I think it offers greater production capability for the dollar than anything else out there at this time.

My recommendations are based upon extensive research I have done on the use of portable gas generators in motion picture production. If one knows how, it is possible to take advantage of very recent technological advances in HMI & Kino ballast design and power generation, to create clean stable set power that is capable of reliably operating larger lights (HMIs up to 6kw or Quartz lights up to 5kw), or more smaller lights (7500 Watts), off of portable gas generators. But, given the wide variety of generators manufactured, it is important to understand the benefits and drawbacks to each when it comes to powering motion picture lights. Especially, given that the increasing use of personal computers and microprocessor-controlled recording equipment in HD production has created an unprecedented demand for clean, reliable power on set at a time when the trend in lighting is toward light sources that can generate harmonic noise and dirty power. For this reason, I ran a series of tests in order to analyze the interaction of conventional AVR generators (a Honda EX5500 with Crystal Governor), as well as inverter generators (a Honda EU6500is), with the prevalent light sources available today.

My tests came up with some rather startling results. They show that when your lighting package consists predominantly of non-linear light sources, like HMI and Fluorescent lights, it is essential to have Power Factor Correction circuitry in the ballasts and to operate them on an inverter generator. The combination of improved power factor and the nearly pure power waveform of the inverter generator creates clean stable set power that is capable of reliably operating larger, or more smaller lights, off of portable gas generators than has ever been possible before. I have compiled the results of my tests in an article for my company newsletter and it is available on our website at:
[url="http://"%20<a%20href="http://www.screenlightandgrip.com/html/emailnewsletter_generators.html""%20target="_blank">http://www.screenlig...ema...tors.html"</a>"] http://www.screenlig...tors.html[/url]

In order to maximize the light output that can be had from a portable generator, I have come up with a package of lights, based upon my tests, that offers the highest output (lumens/watt), the most feature style production capability, and the lowest line noise. The lights that make up this package capitalize upon the following technological advances in lighting and production technology by Mole Richardson, K5600, Power to Light, and Kino Flo:

1) More efficient and compact HMI, Quartz, and now Fluorescent Par Lights.
2) Brighter and more efficient "short arc" HMI bulb designs.
3) 120/240V Electronic small HMI and Kino ballasts with Power Factor Correction.

In order to maximize the number of these lights that can be run on a portable generator I have combined these lights with proprietary distribution technology I developed during my tests that enhances the production capability of the new Honda Inverter Generators. Here are my recommendations for lights that will give you the maximum production value from portable gas generators. I have also detailed my reasons for my choices.

I don’t recommend incandescent lights for two reasons. The first reason is that incandescent lights are the least efficient of all the available light sources. Since eighty percent of the energy consumed by an incandescent light goes into the generation of heat, they generate less lumens per watt of any other light source. Add to that, the fact that the Full CTB gel required to convert incandescent lights to daylight has a transmission factor around .3 (it takes a 1000 Watt incandescent source to generate 300 Watts of day light balanced light) make them the most impractical light source from an efficiency standpoint to operate on a portable generator.

The second reason is that you are shooting on the Red. Since the Red’s native color balance is 5000K, it would be better to use 5500K light sources like HMIs. But this will require you to take a different approach to creating the mix of warm lamp light and cool moonlight that you desire. In the past, it was customary to use 3200K light sources to create warm lamplight in night scenes because most high speed films and video imaging systems were balanced for 3200K. With this traditional approach HMIs were used to create blue moonlight and tungsten lights were used to create white or slightly warm lamp-light. In this approach CTO gels are used to either make the HMIs less blue or the tungsten warmer.

Using tungsten light sources for a night scene when the Red’s native color balance is 5000K doesn’t make a lot of sense. As mentioned previously, balancing tungsten to 5000K is not very efficient because full CTB cuts the output of the light by 70% in converting it to 5000K (a 1000W 3200K light becomes a 300W 5000K light.) A 400 W HMI will give you considerably more lumens/watt than a color corrected Tungsten 1k, and use up a lot less power available from your generator. For this reason, it makes more sense to use HMIs to create white or warm light on the Red because they provide more lumens/watt and require less filtration with gels. In this approach raw HMI light would provide white light, Half CTB gel would provide moonlight, and Qtr. CTO gel would provide warm lamp light. I personally believe you should always combine color temperatures in a frame. You can shift your overall color balance to the cool side in the camera or in post to create moonlight, but without a white light or warm light reference in the frame, your audience will subconsciously adjust and filter out your moonlight effect. Putting white light in the frame gives your audience a reference point and they will not filter out a color effect like moonlight.

One of the downsides to lighting for the Red’s native color balance of 5000K is that it requires an all 5000k balanced lighting package and HMIs are considerably more expensive to rent. A cost effective alternative to HMIs are florescent light fixtures because they can use either 3200K or 5500K tubes. When using 5500K tubes to light for the Red’s 5000K native color balance, you can warm the lights without losing output to CTO gels by simply mixing in 3200K tubes with the 5500k tubes. The drawback to using florescent light fixtures to light night scenes is that they generally not well suited to serve as Key sources in dramatic scenes. The one exception to that rule are the new Kino Flo ParaBeam Par Lights. For these reasons, I would suggest you use the new Kino Flo Parabeam fluorescent par lights in place of incandescent lights as a Key source. I will go into more detail on my next post.

Guy Holt, Gaffer, Boston
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#4 Guy Holt

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Posted 14 October 2009 - 11:10 AM

I would suggest you use the new Kino Flo Parabeam fluorescent par lights, over other fluorescent lights, as a Key source for the following reasons as well. In HD Digital Cinema, the quality of light is more critical than ever. In High Def every detail of on camera talent is rendered clearly on the screen – even the imperfections. Where traditional hard light can exaggerate textural details, soft light is generally better for lighting talent in High Def productions because it can subdue those same textures and render a more cosmetic appearance. I recommend the Kino Flo Parabeam fixtures, over other fluorescent lights, to replace incandescent soft lights as a Key source because they are more suitable for this purpose than any other conventional fluorescent movie light fixture.

What distinguishes the Parabeam fixtures from other fluorescent lights is their throw, power efficiency, and the innovative accessories Kino Flo makes available for the fixtures. Accessories include barndoors, a gel frame, a diffusion panel, and Honeycomb Louvers. These features enhance the production capabilities of the Parabeam fixtures and make them suitable to serve as a key or backlight source where conventional fluorescent movie light fixtures are not.

Conventional fluorescent movie lights (Kino Flo’s included) have a very broad soft light output that is hard to control. The light also tends to drop off rapidly which means that to serve as Key source, the units need to be positioned close to the subject they are lighting. These characteristics make them best suited to serve as Key sources in documentary interview set ups where the Keys are typically positioned close to the interview subject. In that capacity they generate a wonderful soft light that wraps around the interview subject without wilting them. But, given these characteristics, conventional fluorescent movie lights have only limited applications as Fill sources in dramatic set lighting – that is until the development by Kino Flo of their ParaBeam fixtures. 


The ParaBeam fixtures have computer aided designed (CAD) parabolic reflectors that focus the light output where it is needed most for lighting dramatic scenes - at a medium distance – making it an ideal Key source for HD Digital Cinema. If you compare the photometric tables of the Parabeam 400 and the Diva 400 (which uses the same four lamps), you will notice that at 16’ the Parabeam 400 puts out almost three times the light level (28FC) than the Diva 400 (10FC) even though they both use the same tubes. In fact a Parabeam 400 generates as much light at 16’ as the 4’ 8-Tube Kino Flathead 80 fixture, yet uses less than a quarter of the power (2 Amps verses 9.2 Amps.) While the seven amp difference is not a major consideration when using house power, it can make a difference when your power is limited (coming from a portable generator) because you can use four Parabeam 400s for the same power as a 4’ – 8 Bank Kino Flathead 80. Kino Flo Parabeam ballasts also include filters to reduce the return of harmonic currents into the power stream and improve their power factor. The Parabeam fixtures have power factor ratings of over .9 making them an especially suitable fluorescent light for use on small portable generators.

Not only are the Parabeam fixtures efficient, but they are also easily controlled – an essential requirement in a Key source. Parabeam fixtures are controlled by interchanging Kino Flos’ innovative Honeycomb Louvers. Louvers are available in 90, 60 and 45 degrees. Swapping louvers provides beam control similar to that of swapping lenses on an HMI Par. These features enhance the production capabilities of the Parabeam fixtures and make them suitable to serve as a key or backlight source where conventional fluorescent movie light fixtures will spill all over the set. And, the power you save by not using tungsten instruments for keys and backlights, enables you to power more lights on the generator than you could otherwise. These features make the Parabeam fixtures the best candidate of all fluorescent lights to replace incandescent soft lights in their roll as dramatic Key sources in HD Cinema productions in general. And the fact that you can lamp them with 5500K tubes, make them an especially good Key source when filming with the Red One.

As discussed previously, since the Red’s native color balance is 5000K, it looks best when the lighting package consists of 5500K sources. The Kino Flo Parabeam 400 fixture is similar to a 2,000 Watt incandescent softlight in both quality and intensity. But unlike a 2k softlight, they can operate both 5500K (daylight) & 3200K (quartz) lamps and use 1/10th the power of comparable incandescent soft lights. These characteristics make Kino Flo Parabeam fixtures a cost effective alternative to HMIs as a Key source for the Red. Not only do Parabeam fixtures provide beam control similar to that of swapping lenses on an HMI by interchanging their honeycomb louvers; they are even more efficient sources than HMIs. When using 5500K tubes to light for the Red’s 5000K native color balance, you can warm the lights without losing output to CTO gels by simply mixing in 3200K tubes with the 5500k tubes. Compared to LED Fixtures, Kino Flo Parabeam fixtures offer greater versatility. Able to interchange different color temperature tubes, and vary beam spread with their interchangeable honeycomb louvers, one Parabeam fixture can do what it takes four different LED fixtures to accomplish – Spot and Flood in both 5500K and 3200K. Offering great light quality, output, beam control, and versatility, the Kino Flo ParaBeams makes an ideal key or back light source for Red cinema productions.

Guy Holt, Gaffer, Boston
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#5 Guy Holt

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Posted 14 October 2009 - 11:25 AM

Even if the Red’s native color balance were not 5000K, you would want to fill out your lighting package with HMIs because their high output (lumens/watt) and daylight color temperature make them ideal for daylight fill and creation of cool moonlight. As long as there is a sun and moon in the sky there will be a place for a large HMIs (2.5-4kw) on interior and exterior sets because small HMIs, Kino-Flos, & LED panels don’t come close to balancing direct sunlight in daylight scenes or covering deep background in night scenes.

For powerful daylight fill on exterior sets, to create the feel of hard sunlight on interior sets, or to light deep background on night exterior sets, I would recommend that you rent one of the dual wattage (2.5/4kw) HMI Pars. Not only will the Par configuration give you more output but it will also be more versatile. When you need a lot of light for fill on day exteriors you can lamp it with a 4k globe. When you don’t need the punch of a 4k Par, like on a night exterior, you can swap the 4kw globe for a 2.5kw globe giving you more power to run additional lights on your portable generator. The 15 Amps you save by burning the smaller 2500W globe will power quite a few more lights when you consider that a Kino Flo Parabeam 400 uses only 2 Amps. For example, it is possible to power a lighting package that consists of PFC 1200, & 800 HMI Pars, a couple of Kino Flo ParaBeam 400s, a couple of ParaBeam 200s, and a Flat Head 80, in addition to a PFC 2.5kw HMI Par off of our modified Honda EU6500is Generator. Given the light sensitivity of the Red Cameras, this is just about all the light you need to light both the deep background and action area of night exteriors. The new Mole Richardson 2.5/4kw HMI Day-Lite Par is an especially compact 2.5/4k Par.

For versatility and high output in a small HMI fixture I would suggest the 800W Joker Bug Light. Its’ par configuration offers punchy directional lighting. Its bug configuration is ideal for soft banks and lantern lights. It can take a soft-tube for linear soft lighting. And, now an innovative Bugabeam Adaptor enables the 800W Joker Bug to be plugged into the back of a Source 4 Leko to create a controllable high intensity daylight balanced beam projector.

The 800W Joker Bug’s Bugabeam adapter is an accessory that I think you will find especially useful in lighting your Day Interiors. Plugged into the back of an ETC Source-4 Leko, the 800W Joker Bug will enable you to achieve production values beyond your limited budget. In the past, the effect of sunlight streaming through windows has required a fairly significant lighting budget because it required large HMI Fresnels outside windows, powered by large diesel generators. Now, a 800W Joker Bug plugged into an ETC Source-4 Leko can create a very similar effect. Used as a powerful daylight Gobo Projector from a corner of a room, a 800W Joker Bug plugged into an ETC Source-4 Leko can throw a window pattern onto the set creating the effect of sunlight streaming through the windows.

The lamp used in the 800W Joker Bug offers many advantages in this particular application, its "short" arc gap is punctual enough to be very well suited to the optical design of the ETC Source-4 Leko as a gobo projector. The 4 to 1 efficiency ratio of HMI versus Tungsten incandescent creates a gain in light output of two full stops. This huge increase in light level allows patterns to be visible even under the higher ambient light levels of day light scenes. The 800W Joker Bug plugged into an ETC Source-4 Leko will offer you big budget feature style production values on your shoe string budget.

The 800W Joker Bug’s lantern adapter is an accessory that I think you will find especially useful for your night exteriors. A Joker Bug Lantern armed out behind talent in a two shot with a 20’ boom arm will create the Reverse Key Lighting that is typically desired for night exteriors. In this approach, the one light does the job of two Keys and allows for rapid resetting for cross cutting singles because there are not light stands in the background of each single. With this kind of versatility, the 800W Joker Bug is an HMI light to have since your budget will allow you to have just a few.

To round out a HMI pkg. that you can run on a portable gas generator or safely plug into wall outlets, I would suggest the Mole 1.2kw HMI Day Lite Par. Mole has established a new standard with the introduction of their single ended HMI Day-Lite Pars. Mole took the opportunity to re-engineer the interaction of lamp, reflector and converter lens, resulting in better performance in a lighter more compact head.

So that you can safely plug a 1.2 HMI Par into 15A wall outlets (that you are more likely to find on the fram), I would make sure it has one of the new Power-2-Light Power Factor Corrected (PFC) 1200W electronic ballast. Drawing only 11 Amps (verses the 19 Amps required by standard electronic ballasts), the Power-2-Light PFC 1200W electronic ballast enables you to safely plug the Mole Day Lite 1.2 HMI Par into both 20A, as well as the more common 15A, wall circuit. Where you quite often don’t know the rating of the wall circuit that you are plugging into, the lower draw of the Power-2-Light PFC 1200W electronic ballast will ensure that it will work where a standard electronic ballast will not.

While a definite advantage when plugging into house power, the added efficiency of a PFC 1200 ballast can make a huge difference when powering a lighting package off of a portable generator. For example, when you consider that a Kino Flo Parabeam 400 draws only 2 amps, the 8 Amp difference between using a PFC 1200W electronic ballast and standard non-PFC 1200W electronic ballast, can mean the difference between running four additional Parabeam 400s on a portable generator or not – I think you would have to agree that is a major boost in production capability. More on the benefits of using Power Factor Corrected Small HMI & Kino Ballasts on portable generators in my next post.

Guy Holt, Gaffer, Boston
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#6 Guy Holt

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Posted 14 October 2009 - 12:11 PM

To maximize the number of lights that you can run off your Honda portable generators, I would suggest you run all your HMIs on Power Factor Corrected electronic ballasts. This will not be easy because until recently Power Factor Correction (PFC) has not been readily available in 800 or 1200 Watt HMI ballasts in this country (the EU countries are further along in this respect), and not always available in 2500 and 4000 Watt ballasts. A name brand to ask for is Power-2-Light. Power-2-Light is the only ballast manufacturer to include Power Factor Correction (PFC) as a standard feature in their 800w, 1200w, 2.5kw/4kw electronic ballasts. Formerly only available in the larger ballasts of other manufacturers, this advanced electronics reduces current spikes and harmonics in the power line and contributes to a more economical use of power than typical electronic ballasts. For this reason, Power-2-Light PFC electronic ballasts enable the operation of both larger HMIs, or more smaller HMIs, off of standard wall outlets and portable generators. Power-2-Light PFC ballasts, used in conjunction with a modified Honda EU6500is and a step-down transformer/distro, can go a long ways towards eliminating the need for large diesel generators, or dangerous tie-ins, in many situations.

Until the introduction of PFC circuitry in smaller HMI ballasts it was not possible to reliably operate more than a couple 1200W HMIs with non-PFC ballasts on a conventional generator because of the voltage waveform distortion they created. The harmonic noise that magnetic and non-PFC electronic ballasts kick back into the power stream has an adverse effect on the power waveform of conventional generators where it does not on grid power. Normally, when you plug an HMI light into a wall outlet you need not be concerned about current harmonic distortion producing voltage distortions. The impedance of the electrical path from the power plant is so low, the distortion of the original voltage waveform so small (1-3%), and the plant capacity so large, that inherently noisy loads placed upon it will not affect the voltage at the load bus.

However, it is an all together different situation when plugging HMIs into conventional portable generators. Given the large sub-transient impedance of conventional portable generators, even a small degree of harmonic noise being fed back into the power stream will result in a distortion of its’ voltage. Add to that, the likely hood that the percentage of the generator’s capacity taken up by non-linear loads (HMI or Kino ballasts) will to be very high given its small size relative to typical lighting loads, and given the increasing prevalence of non-linear light sources (HMI & Kinos) in production. Finally, add that the original supply voltage waveform of a conventional generator is appreciably distorted to begin with, and you have a situation where the return of any harmonic currents by an HMI or Kino ballast will result in significant waveform distortion of the voltage in the distribution system.

With the increasing use of personal computers, hard drives, and microprocessor-controlled video recording equipment in HD production, there is an unprecedented demand for clean, reliable power on set. The adverse effects of the severe harmonic noise created by non-PFC ballasts, can take the form of overheating and failing equipment, efficiency losses, circuit breaker trips, excessive current on the neutral return, and instability of the generator’s voltage and frequency. Harmonic noise of this magnitude can also damage HD digital cinema production equipment, create ground loops, and possibly create radio frequency (RF) interference. For this reason, when your lighting package consists predominantly of non-linear light sources, like HMI and Fluorescent lights, it is important to have power factor correction (PFC) circuitry in the ballasts and operate them on inverter generators. The combination of improved power factor and the nearly pure power waveform of inverter generators makes it possible to power larger lights, or more smaller lights, than has been possible before on a small portable gas generator. (For more details on why this is I suggest you read my newsletter article on the use of portable generators in motion picture production. The article is available at www.screenlightandgrip.com/html/emailnewsletter_generators.html. )

For example, the substantial reduction in line noise that results from using power factor corrected ballasts on the nearly pure power waveform of an inverter generator creates a new math when it comes to calculating the load you can put on a generator. In the past we had to de-rate portable gas generators because of the inherent short comings of conventional generators with AVR and Frequency governing systems when dealing with non-PFC electronic ballasts. The harmonic distortion created by non-PFC ballasts reacting poorly with the distorted power waveform of conventional generators limited the number of HMIs you could power on a portable generator to 60% of their rated capacity (4200Watts on a 6500W Generator). But now, where inverter generators have virtually no inherent harmonic distortion or sub-transient impedance and power factor correction (PFC) is available in small HMI ballasts, this conventional wisdom regarding portable gas generators no longer holds true. Where before you could not operate more than a couple 1200W HMIs with non-PFC ballasts on a conventional generator because of the consequent harmonic distortion, now according to the new math of low line noise, you can load an inverter generator to 100% capacity as long as your HMI and Kino ballasts are Power Factor Corrected.

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According to this new math, when you add up the incremental savings in power to be gained by using only PFC HMI ballasts, add to it energy efficient sources like the Kino Flo Parabeam fixtures, and combine it with the pure waveform of inverter generators, you can run more HMI lights on a portable gas generator than has been possible before. For example, on a recent independent short shot with the Red, I used our modified Honda EU6500is Generator to power a lighting package that consisted of a 2.5kw, 1200, & 800 HMI Pars (with PFC ballasts), a couple of Kino Flo Parabeam 400s, a couple of Parabeam 200s, and a Flat Head 80. Given the light sensitivity of the Red Camera, this was all the light we needed to light a large night exterior. The scene takes place behind a mall, rather than the woods, but the principles are the same: we used the 2.5 HMI par to light the deep background, the 1200 HMI par to light the near background, and the 800 Joker was mounted on a Source 4 Leko with a bug-a-beam adapter to create a window pattern on the ground from a building that doesn’t exist but you don’t see that in the movie. We used two Parabeam 400s to key the talent and a Kino Flo Flathead 80 to fill the entire scene.

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We balanced the color temperature of the lights to the Red’s native 5000K color balance as follows: the 2.5 & 1200 Pars were gelled with ½ CTB for moonlight. We put half CTO on the Joker 800 to create warm window light. We mixed 3200K tubes into the Parabeam 400 on the “window” side to create a warm key source motivated by the window. The Parabeam on the other side was gelled with ¼ CTB to create a cool key source motivated by the moonlight. Finally, we lamped the Flathead 80 with only 5500K tubes to create a slightly cool fill. So that you can see the set up and the final results I have posted some production stills here. Use this link - www.screenlightandgrip.com/html/hdfilmstrip4lg.html - to our website where we have posted more detailed information on the lighting package we used along with more production stills from the short.

Guy Holt, Gaffer, Boston
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#7 Isabelle Landers

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Posted 14 October 2009 - 08:03 PM

Power-2-Light PFC ballasts, used in conjunction with a modified Honda EU6500is and a step-down transformer/distro, can go a long ways towards eliminating the need for large diesel generators, or dangerous tie-ins, in many situations.... For example, on a recent independent short shot with the Red, I used our modified Honda EU6500is Generator to power a lighting package that consisted of a 2.5kw, 1200, & 800 HMI Pars (with PFC ballasts), a couple of Kino Flo Parabeam 400s, a couple of Parabeam 200s, and a Flat Head 80.


This is great information and very helpful. I recall a similar thread on CML not too long ago. But, I still don't understand how you are able to run so many lights off of a Honda 6500. How do you modify the generator and what is the point of the transformer you picture in the second production still? And, isn't generator noise going to be a problem if I use two generators?

Isabelle Landers, Nashua, NH
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#8 Guy Holt

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Posted 15 October 2009 - 10:16 AM

I still don't understand how you are able to run so many lights off of a Honda 6500. How do you modify the generator ….?


How we modify the Honda EU6500is is proprietary information. What I can say is that our Transformer/Distro is able to provide 7500 Watts in a single circuit because the capacity is already built into the machine by Honda. Because 120 Volts/20 Amps (2400 Watts) is the standard circuit for domestic power in North America, Honda outfits the generator for this market with a power output panel that is under-rated for the power generating capacity of the machine when you compare it to how Honda outfits the same generator for the European and UK markets where the standard circuit for domestic power is 230/240 Volts and 16 Amps (3680/3840 Watts). Where England and Ireland have not entirely conformed to the European Union Standard of 230 Volts, but still generate 240V power, Honda makes a version of this generator for the UK market (the EU65i) with two 240V/16A circuits (3840 Watts/circuit).

To support markets worldwide, including the UK market, Honda has designed the base model of this generator to generate 7680 Watts (2x3840W/circuit = 7680W). When Honda configures this same base model with a power output panel for 120 Volt circuits for the North American Market, it is not fully utilizing the power generating capacity they have built into the machine for the worldwide market. What we do is "tap" the generator at a point that gives us access to the 7680 Watt capacity built into the machine for the world wide market.

Guy Holt, Gaffer, SreenLight & Grip, Boston
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#9 Guy Holt

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Posted 15 October 2009 - 10:20 AM

…. what is the point of the transformer you picture in the second production still?


The purpose to the Transformer/Distro is to give you access to the enhanced output of our modified Honda EU6500is in a single 60A/120V circuit that is capable of powering larger lights or more smaller lights than was possible before. Without a Transformer/Distro it would not be possible to take advantage of the enhanced capacity of our modified Honda EU6500is because the load of a light would have to go on one circuit/leg of the generator or the other. For example, when plugging lights into the factory installed power outlet panel of a Honda EU6500is, you reach a point where you can't power an additional 1200W Par because there is not 11 amps (w/ a P2L PFC ballast) available on either one of the factory installed 20A outlets/leg of the generator. With a transformer/distro you can still add that 1200 Par because the transformer/distro not only accesses more power (7500 Watts) through a higher rated circuit (60 Amps), but it also splits the load evenly over the two legs (5.5A/leg) of the generator on the 240V circuit. The end result is that the generator is capable of handling a larger load and able to handle it more easily because it is a perfectly balanced load.

Another benefit to our Transformer/Distro is that it splits the load of what ever you plug into it automatically. Which means you no longer have to carefully balance the load over the generator's two 20A/120 circuits/legs as you plug in lights because the transfomer/distro does it for you. With our modified Honda EU6500is you simply plug in lights until the load wattage displayed on the generator’s iMonitor reaches 7500 Watts. An overload alarm on the iMonitor display will tell you if you inadvertently overload the Transformer/Distro. Now that you have access to the generator's enhanced power, you are able to benefit by the new math of low line noise and load it to 100% capacity (7500W) with larger lights, or more smaller lights, than you could otherwise.

Our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro will also enable you to safely access more “house power” on your location. It is likely that, unless the farm house uses propane gas, it will have a 240V Range Plug and/or Dryer Plug. The barn will also likely have 240V outlets for heaters, compressors, welders, or large motors. Our Full Power Transformer/Distro can also be used to step down these common 240V power outlets to a single 120V circuit capable of powering bigger lights, or more smaller lights, than is possible on the house 120V circuits alone. By giving you access to more “house power” through common 240V household outlets, our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro can eliminate the need for dangerous tie-ins or expensive tow generators. Use this link - www.screenlightandgrip.com/html/HDPP_Transformer.html - for more details on the use of our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro to access more “house power”.

Guy Holt, Gaffer, SreenLight & Grip, Boston
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#10 Guy Holt

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Posted 15 October 2009 - 11:06 AM

…isn't generator noise going to be a problem if I use two generators?


Not if you use Honda EU6500is inverter generators. Since Honda introduced their EU series of inverter generators it is possible to record location audio without picking up generator noise if you use them with a distribution system like our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro. To start, the Honda EU6500is inverter generator is much quieter than the older movie blimped Hondas like the EX5500. Part of what makes the new Honda EU6500is so quiet is it’s “Eco-Throttle.” The Eco-Throttle’s microprocessor automatically adjusts the generator's engine speed to produce only the power needed for the applied load. It can do this because the Inverter Technology of the Honda EU6500is enables it to run at different RPMs and maintain a constant frequency and voltage. Where conventional generators like the Honda EX5500 and ES6500 have to run full speed at a constant 3600 RPM to produce stable 60 hertz (cycle) electricity, a Honda EU6500is only needs to run as fast as required to meet the load demand. Since their engines do not have to run at full speed, and the fact that an inverter generator generates 20% more power per revolution of the engine, makes the Honda EU series of inverter generators substantially quieter than conventional models. (For more details on how inverter generators accomplish this, I suggest you read my newsletter article on the use of portable generators in motion picture production. The article is available at
my Website)

To make them even quieter, Honda has designed a new separate triple chamber construction and a new centralized intake/exhaust system. The net result is that the EU6500is is half as loud (ten decibels) as the comparable EM7000is and ES6500 generators typically found at lighting rental houses. Honda's EU Series generators operate at 34 to 44 dBA at 50 ft. - well below what is required for trouble free location recording and quieter than your typical Crawford 1400 Amp “Movie Blimped” Generator. With sound specs this good all you need is a distro system that will enable you to remove the generator from the set to record sound without picking up generator noise. That is where our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro comes in.

To record sync sound without picking up any generator noise, all you need to do is add 100' - 150’ of heavy duty 250V twist-lock extension cable between the generator and our Full Power Transformer/Distro. This is usually enough cable to place the generator around the corner of a building, or to run the it out of a van or truck - which is usually all the additional blimping you need with these generators. The heavy-duty 250V twist-lock cable eliminates multiple cable runs to the generator and the subsequent drop in voltage from line-loss from using standard electrical cords.

Our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro is equipped with the industry standard 60A/120V GPC (Bates) receptacle. The 60A GPC outlet can be used to power a 5kw Quartz or 2.5kw & 4kw HMI Pars. With additional 60A GPC extension cables, 60-to-60 Splitters, and fused 60A GPC-to-Edison Breakouts (snack boxes) you can run power around your set - breaking out to 20A Edison outlets at convenient points. The best part about using a transformer as a distro box is that no matter where in the distribution system you plug in, the transformer/distro automatically balances the additional load, so that you don't have to. You simply plug in lights until the load wattage displayed on the “iMonitor” of the generator control panel reaches 7500 Watts. An overload alarm on the “iMonitor” display will tell you if you inadvertently overload the 60A Transformer/Distro. It is so simple that you don’t need to be an experienced electrician to operate it.


Guy Holt, Gaffer, SreenLight & Grip, Boston
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#11 Guy Holt

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Posted 15 October 2009 - 11:21 AM

When I work in locations such as you've described, sometimes I like to get a couple of generators rather than one larger one. This is especially helpful when you're lighting the woods or other night exteriors where it is sometimes easier to transport smaller generators in opposite directions than make long power cable runs over tough terrain from one central location, or say to get lights on the other side of a creek, river or anything else that could make it a challenge to supply power to equipment.


As Tim O’Conner suggests, you might consider renting two of our gen-set systems. This would be an ideal set up for many of the situations you face. For night exteriors, you could use one generator with a transformer distro to power the 4k Par to light the deep background. The second generator with a transformer distro would power smaller HMIs or Kino Flos that would light your talent action area. And as Tim O’Conner points out, two generators would allow you to light both foreground & background (the sign of good production values) without having to run tons of cable. You might also consider renting our 18 Gallon Extended Run Fuel Tank for the EU6500is to supplying power to the 4K Par lighting the deep background. Our Extendend Run Fuel Tank will run the generator for a continuous 18 hours, so that you can set it and forget it, without worrying about it running out of fuel in the middle of a shot (use this link for more details.)

When shooting interiors, you can use one of the transformers on a 240V range or dryer receptacle to power larger lights inside; while using the other transformer to run a 4k Par along with a 1200 Par on the Honda 6500is outside. I have used this same combination of wall outlets, 60A step-down transformer distros, and Honda EU6500is generators to eliminate the need for tie-ins or a tow genny on many of the historical documentaries I have gaffed. For example, I have used this same package repeatedly at a historical mansion in Easton MA called the Ames Estate.

Posted Image

(Scene from "Unsolved History" powered from 50A/240V range outlet through step-down transformer/distro)


A popular state fee free location, the Ames Estate, like many historical house/museums, does not permit tie-ins and the electrical wiring in the house is so antiquated that it is unusable. Fortunately, they have a 50A/240 volt circuit in the carriage house for a welder they use to repair the mowers they use at the park. Our standard mode of operation when shooting there is to run 250V extension cable from the welding receptacle to a 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro placed in the entry hall of the house. Using a 60A Siamese at the Transformer/Distro, we then run 60A 6/3 Bates extensions, down to the library, to the second floor, and back to the maid’s pantry. At the end of each run we put another 60A Siamese. A 60A snackbox on one side of the Siamese gives us 20A branch circuits. The other side we leave open for a large HMI or Tungsten Light. Now we can safely plug 1200 & 2500W HMIs, or even a 5k Quartz, into our own distribution anywhere in the house.

Posted Image

(Typhoid Mary in quarantine on an island in New York's East River. Note the view out the window of the East River shoreline at the turn of the century.)


To maintain continuity between shots on these dramatic historical recreations, we usually bring a 4kw HMI Par in a window on one side of the room as a sun source and a 1200 par through a window on the other side as a northern light source. We usually power both heads off of a Honda EU6500is through a second 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro. Since the Honda EU6500is can be placed right on the lawn, we are saved from running hundreds of feet of feeder back to a tow generator in the drive.

Posted Image

(The exterior of the actual location used for the quarantine island. A 30' blowup of a picture of the East River at the turn of the century was rigged outside the windows of a house in Arlington MA.)


We have been able to use this same basic distribution package at numerous museums and historical houses throughout New England including Sturbridge Village. Fortunately for us, to make ends meet, many historical houses rent themselves out for events and weddings. For that reason, they usually have at least one updated service with 30 or 50 Amp 240 volt circuit for the warming ovens of caterers. I have included several production stills from these shows. Use this link - http://www.screenlig...ransformer.html - for more production stills of PBS and History Channel historical documentaries shot entirely, or in part, with our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro at the Ames Estate.

Guy Holt, Gaffer, SreenLight & Grip, Boston
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