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A little improvisation...

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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.

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Great job!


I'm always wary of using batteries for lighting for hours of a day, though I've had the batteries on a 1x1 LitePanel last pretty long. At some point, when a director says that he wants to shoot all night on location outdoors, you have to insist on a source for electricity, whether that means running extension cords from some outlet (and picking a location with this option) or using generators. Battery-powered lights are fine for short run-and-gun shots or as secondary lights, but to rely on them as your only power for 12 hours of shooting will add a lot of stress to the night...


But it sounds like it wasn't an all-night shoot, otherwise you may have been left with the problem of dozens of crew cars with drained batteries at sunrise...


What matters is that it worked and doesn't look compromised, so congrats!

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David, we were only shooting for 3 hours at night, so the marine batteries would have been ample, had they worked. If it had been a full night's work, I would have insisted on a genny. It's just a shame that even having a little 2kw putt-putt would have meant getting a water truck as well. I know we're right in the middle of the dry season, but I don't see how a portable genny is any more dangerous than allowing cars onto the location.


Igor, 800iso, probably around a f2

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What I do to maximize the running time on batteries in situations like this is to attach a jumper cable to the leads of a car’s alternator. That way I can use the car alternator as a generator to run the lights during set up and rehearsals. When it comes time to shoot, I shut off the engine and continue to run the lights on the silent inverter alone. Running the car engine between takes charges the batteries so that they will run longer. I have used this approach on numerous all night shoots and never run out of battery power.


Here are some production stills that show you two typical Battery/Inverter systems wired into the alternator of an airport shuttle bus. I built these to run Kinos to light the inside of the bus for the feature "Shuttle." The first is a 750W "Batt-Verter" rig wired into in Calzone case and mounted on a Exo-skeletal pipe rig that also held Kino Flos that came in the windows.



The production stills below show you an 1800W Battery/Inverter system that I built into the luggage storage area in the back of the bus to run 16 - 4’ kinos tubes inside the airport shuttle bus.



(1800W "Batt-Verter" Rig wired into the back of Shuttle)


Keep in mind that when voltage goes down, amperage goes up. All wire that carries 12V DC has to be sized accordingly. For instance to supply 12 volts to the 1800W inverter used on the shuttle bus required that we run 2 ought feeder to the buses' alternator. Also be sure that the alternator is large enough to take the load without burning out. On our 1800W rig we were able to run four 4' 4 Bank Kinos. If you were to use the new power factor corrected kino ballasts you could probably run eight 4' 4 Bank Kinos.



(1800W BattVerter powers 16 - 4' Kino Flo single tubes rigged

in the interior and on the exterior of an Airport Shuttle)


Use this link - http://www.screenlightandgrip.com/html/shuttlemailintro.html - for details about the production. Kinos require that you use a “true sine wave” inverter. The largest one I have seen is 1800W. So If you need more than 1800Watts the only alternative is a small portable generator.


Guy Holt, Gaffer, ScreenLight & Grip, Lighting Rental & Sales in Boston

Edited by Guy Holt
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I just built a set of lead-acid battery cases for this sort of situation, albeit on a rather smaller scale. The inverters are a bit of an investment, though, especially given the need for true sine wave types for maximum usefulness.

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