I shot a short film this week for a good friend of mine. In the script there were two Night/Ext scenes set in a campsite, around 4 pages in total. We were shooting on a movie ranch in Simi Valley. Due to the extremely low budget, we were unable to have a generator, as that would have meant having a water truck in attendance, which costs nearly $1000 a day.
Instead, I rented a couple of deep cycle marine batteries and an 1800w inverter. My plan was to use kino-flos to light the scene, and to arrange the coverage so that there was always something in the background behind the actors to hide the huge unlit areas.
So far, so good. Except the battery/inverter combo was faulty. It wouldn't work with either the marine batteries or our car batteries. By the time we had exhausted every combination, it was completely dark, and the Director, who was funding the whole thing out of her own pocket was close to tears. There was no chance of reshoots, so we had to get it done, somehow.
After a little head scratching, this is what I came up with.
I lined up 4 of the crew's cars about 100 feet away from the set and turned on their headlights, full beam. Each car was facing in a slightly different direction. One was hitting the actors, another lighting a tent that was behind and to the right of camera in this shot. The other two were lighting the background. Where the light was hitting the actors, I put it through a 6x6 frame of 1/2 soft frost, just out of frame right. To get some light onto our actress's face, I had my gaffer handhold a silver pizza box and reflect some light back into her face as she moved around.
We shot two pages and 4 setups that way, then production was able to purchase a small camping inverter from a local walmart so the second scene I had a 60w tungsten bulb in a china ball as a key, instead of the reflector.
It was pretty stressful for a while, but I'm actually very pleased with how it turned out, all things considered. It was valuable reminder to me that you don't always need a truck full of the latest lighting technology, and it is possible to do a lot with very little.