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Independent Feature Lighting


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#1 semery

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Posted 02 July 2005 - 10:04 AM

I am writing an article for Production Update magazine about lighting considerations for independent films and would appreciate feedback on a few questions from DPs, Gaffers, or Producers who have worked on indies.

What unique challenges or considerations are there when putting together a lighting package for an (low budget) indie film? Versatility? Power consumption?

What lighting instruments are popular for independent work?

Any anecdotes of lighting successes and/or pitfalls of lighting an independent?

If you want your name to be used in the article, please provide full spelling and title.

Thank you to all that reply,

Shawn Emery
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 July 2005 - 11:55 AM

For the extremely small productions, the big question is simply whether you'll have access to more than household power coming from an outlet (i.e. will you have a generator or be able to do a tie-in safely and legally.) If you have to rely only on house power, nothing bigger than 20 amps let's say, then that determines a lot of what you should rent. And even on a bigger shoot with a generator, you occasionally run into scenes that have to be lit with house power only.

I find Kinoflos to be very useful in these situations because of the limited amount of power they need, plus they are switchable from tungsten to daylight to ordinary fluorescents.

I also carry 1200 watt HMI PAR's and tungsten PAR 64's (1k's) for this reason to -- they are under 20 amps and are fairly bright.

You always need the smallest light and the biggest light you can carry because they create entirely different effects.
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#3 Robert Morein

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Posted 03 July 2005 - 11:40 AM

As Dave Mullen says, amperage frequently provides a severe limitation on small indie shoots. An interesting lighting option is the theatrical PAR, which can be rented for dirt, around., twelve bucks a week, and have the greatest light output per watt of any incandescent light. These lights put out so much it's actually possible to gel them full blue, and have useful light output. Not as bright as as a 1200 HMI PAR? Hook up two!

PARs have an undeservedly bad reputation due to misuse, ignoring the many legitimate uses they have. If you have a large diffusion hanging from a jib arm, the least efficient light is a Fresnel. An open-face is better, but only the PAR, with its built-in, vacuum sealed parabolic reflector, efficiently collects all of the lamp light and throws it at the gel. We've even used these on balconies to add punch to windows covered with diffusion. By changing lamps, the throw can be set to wide, medium, or spot, allowing positioning the light distant from the diffusion.

One could almost say a PAR should never be pointed directly at the subject, though that's exactly what Fellini did with his "visible light tower" shot in LA DOLCE VITA. However, I have seen a very creative, tricky setup that does just that. The subjects were positioned in a large room, backlit by half a wall of glass doors 25' feet away. The background light level was high, but it dropped off near the camera. How could the foreground be brought up to match the background? The power of sunlight is tough to match. The DP had theatrical PAR cans, but could the hardness of their light be disguised? He arrayed one on each side of the camera, like a copy stand, and - voila! the light appeared soft, even though no diffusion was used. The result is mystifiying to look at, since it looks soft, but was lit with hard light.

Bob Morein
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#4 aartaxx

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Posted 04 July 2005 - 07:13 AM

As mentioned, the ability to recreate daylight on a low budget film is a big hassle. Kino's and HMI's are pricey compare to tungsten units. Tungstens large enough to do the job are usually too expensive as well and or require too much power.

As for other situations, China lanterns work really well for providing a soft source in a large area such as a banquet hall. Clip lights with blackwrap work great in the opposite scenario when you're in a really small space like a bedroom and you can't get a lot of C-stands and flags, nets, in the room. They are great for throwing pools of light anywhere without a lot of spill or shadows and they can literally be gaff taped to a wall, allbeit carefully.

Outside, beadboard works great. If you're shooting, say, a house exterior and it's backlit by the sun you could use a broken mirror and throw a pattern back at the front of a house which can break up the darkness and look really nice.

I bought white rip-stop nylon at a fabric store and sewed together a 10x10 silk punched some gromet holes in it and bought a lightweight aluminum frame for it from Home Depot. It works great, cost $100 in materials. It's like, $125 a day to rent a 12X12 and it's about $1,000 to buy one.

I also bought skateboarding grind rails from Kaybee toy and hobbee. They come in 6 foot sections and they link together forming dolly track that is elevated from the ground. Much better than PVC pipe. Lightweight and collapsable. 18 feet of straight steel track for about $60. But that's grip I guess. Anyhow, there's always a cheaper way.
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#5 Paul Bruening

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 10:59 PM

Hello,

David and Robert mentioned the usefulness of PAR64s in theater cans. They also come in near daylight levels as a dichroic coated bulb. They lose only about a half a stop through the coatings as apposed to two-plus stops when gelling 3200K PARs. They have the highest light output per electrical unit consumed. Oddly enough, it is not their light efficiency or chepaness to rent and buy that makes them attractive to indies, it is their no-flicker-hassle factor. HMIs can make flicker troubles insurmountable in the indie levels. Many newbies find themselves shooting on anything that can roll film. That often does not include motor controls that run at the odd fractional speeds needed to accomodate HMIs.
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#6 Fredrik Backar FSF

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 02:45 PM

When working in sweden it is very common for homes to have a threefase 32amp outlet for the stove with a special socket. I always carry a jumper to usual 32 amp threefase and hence enabling the usage of three 4k hmis. Very handy!

Edited by fredrik backar, 11 July 2005 - 02:46 PM.

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