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Guy Holt

Indie Tricks-of-the-Trade, or how to get good production values on a modest budget

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Truthfully; why not just strap a 2000W suitcase genny into the back of the truck and power that way? or onto the trailer. .. and not muck with 12V power (and p.s. the hives, I believe, have better packs you can rent anyway)

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I just want to shoot an interior scene with a girl sitting near the window...Her face should be lit with the golden look of the sunset...I know we can shoot it naturally but I just want to know how to create it artificially...

:D

 

Its time to revive this thread of indie-tricks-of-the-trade with one that makes it possible to create realistic artificial daylight on a tight budget. The problem to using natural light to create the golden look of sunset is that both the light level and color temperature of a natural sunset changes so rapidly that when you get back to your edit suite you find that your shots don’t match. It is such a problem that big budget productions move the scene onto a stage where they have complete control.

 

When it comes to simulating natural daylight on a stage, it is important to remember that there are two components to daylight: hard direct sun and soft diffuse sky-shine. Because direct sunlight is a very hard source that creates crisp shadows, the traditional approach is to use a large Fresnel like a 20/24K to simulate direct sunlight. To create the feel of sky shine, the soft diffuse light bouncing off the atmosphere and back to earth, big budget pictures use large soft boxes consisting of 8’ Quasar Science LED tubes. Unfortunately this is also a very expensive approach.

 

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Left: 24kW Tunsten Fresnels create the feel of direct sun. Middle: Large soft boxes consisting of 8’ Quasar Science LED tubes creates the feel of sky shine. Right: smaller soft boxes consisting of 8’ Quasar Science LED tubes creates ambient light in the interiors of the set.

 

It is less expensive to shoot on location and use an 18kw HMI to bring light in from the outside. The head is big enough to reduce the contrast between the exterior and interior, but it too comes at a high cost because 18ks require large generators. The cost of blimped studio generators has got to be one of the biggest hurdles to obtaining good production values in low budget digital cinema productions. Not only are blimped generators expensive to rent, but they also come with hidden costs. Since rental trucks like those from Ryder or Penske are not equipped to tow, you quite often have to hire the rental house's grip truck to tow them or pay extra to have them delivered. And, since most rental houses require that one of their employees drive their trucks (for insurance reasons), the production has to hire a driver at roughly $575/10hrs - which is probably more than anyone else on a typical indie crew is getting paid. All of this makes the use of a 18kw to simulate direct sunlight very expensive.

 

This is another one of those situations where scouting, choosing the right location, and planning your production day is worth more than all the grip trucks, tow generators, and large HMIs in the world. The indie trick-of-the-trade is to choose a location with northern exposure so that the soft light coming through the window will be consistent through out the day. Given the low intensity of this soft sky-shine, a 4kw ARRIMAX M40 is all that is needed to create the feel of hard direct sunlight If you can’t find a location with northern light, the next best thing is to fly a silk outside the window in order to cut its intensity and take the direction out of the natural sunlight and then bring a M40 in from outside to create a consistent artificial sunlight. Since the hard direct artificial sunlight will be unflattering as a key light for talent, I suggest you use for the talent’s key source a smaller HMI, like a 1800W ARRIMAX M18, through a diffusion frame, upstage of the talent to create a soft reverse key. Diffusing the M18 will take the “source-i-ness” out of it and placing it between the talent and the window will give you a nice reverse key modeling of your talent and enable you to control its spread inside the room so that it doesn’t wash out the contrast of the scene.

 

This indie approach will give you very high production values at a fraction of the cost of the big budget approaches described above because this combination of a M40 and M18 doesn’t require an expensive diesel tow plant. Another indie trick-of-the-trade is to use a small transformer to step-down the 240V output of a modified Honda EU6500 or EU7000 putt-putt generator to create a large enough circuit at 120V to run a M40 plus additional lights. A nice final touch is to fly a branch-o-loris just outside the window to create a little leaf break-up on the interior set.

 

 

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This combination of an ARRIMAX M40 and portable Honda generator has become the standard approach for indie movies because it eliminates the need for dangerous tie-ins or expensive tow generators. In fact, a milestone of sorts was recently set on the north shore of Boston. The feature film Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game starring Martin Landau (Mission Impossible) and Paul Sorvino (Good Fellas) shot its’ principle photography with nothing more than a Honda EU6500is.

 

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Martin Landau and Paul Sorvino in a scene from Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game.

 

No low budget indie, Abe and Phil's Last Poker Game was produced by Peter Pastorelli, Marshall Johnson, and Eddie Rubin. Peter Pastorelli’s credits include the Netflix film Beasts Of No Nation, which he produced alongside Johnson, and The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby, which stared James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain. Johnson’s other credits include Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines with Ryan Gosling; Rubin’s credits include Love and Honor.

 

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Left: Honda EU6500is modified for 60A Output. Center 300ft cable run through the assisted living complex. Right: ARRIMAX M40 head creating sunny look on a rainy day.

 

Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game follows Dr. Abe Mandelbaum (Landau), who has just moved into a luxuriant assisted living facility with his ailing wife. After forming an unlikely friendship with a womanizing gambler (Sorvino), their relationship is tested when they each try to convince a mysterious nurse, played by Maria Dizzia (Orange Is The New Black), that he is her long-lost father.

 

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60A HD Plug-n-Play Transformer/Distro powering ARRIMAX M40 and M18 on the set of Phil & Abe’s Last Poker Game.

 

The principle location for the movie was a sprawling new assisted living facility in Newburyport Ma. At only 60% occupancy, the production was able to secure a whole wing of the facility, which was ideal except that the loading dock, where they could operate a generator, was on the other side of the complex.

 

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Paul Sorvino in a scene from Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game.

 

To compensate for the drop in voltage over the long cable run, the production used one of our 60A Transformer/Distros, which enables voltage to be stepped up in 5% increments. This feature enabled them to maintain full line level even after running out 300’ of cable between the Honda outside and set. To power additional lights off the generator, the production came out of the Transformer/Distro with a 60A Bates Siamese. They powered the M40 with one side of the Siamese. From the other side, they ran out 60A Bates extensions through out the wing, breaking out to 20A pockets to power smaller lights wherever they needed.

 

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Martin Landau and Paul Sorvino in a bar scene from the Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game.

 

This way they could run up to three 1.8kw Arri M80s, or a 4kw M40 when they needed a bigger source, without having to worry about tripping breakers. With ARRIMAX reflectors, these heads were plenty big enough to light scenes in the day room, dinning area, and lounge of the residence wing.

 

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ARRIMAX M40 powered by modified Honda EU6500 and 60A Transformer/Distro lights bar scene from Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game.

 

Using a small portable generator also enabled the production to save money by building out a rental box truck since they didn’t have to tow a large diesel plant. This also proved to be advantageous when the production went out on location in the streets of Newburyport. An old port city on the north shore of Boston, Newburyport is a warren of narrow streets through which it would have been difficult to tow a diesel generator. Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game is, as far as we know, the first major film to take advantage of the combination of improved camera imaging, more efficient light sources, and Honda generators customized for motion picture production.

 

Guy Holt, Gaffer, ScreenLight & Grip, Lighting rental and sales in Boston

Edited by Guy Holt

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... how do you attach lights to the ceiling? Is there any special rig that you can buy that you can attach light to? I know that sometimes its just practical light on location, but what if I actually want to attach my light to the ceiling, without using any c-stands.

 

 

Some ceilings have convenient pipes or beams that can be rigged to, otherwise, if there is a drop ceiling, there might be something behind a panel that can be rigged to. Or if the light is lightweight enough, like a LiteMat 2L or a 4' 2-bank or single-bank Kino, you might be able to use a piece of wood that spans the gap in a drop ceiling with the panel removed, with a baby spud nail-on plate attached to the piece of wood, and grip clamps to hold the wood strip in place at each end. Or use paper lanterns. Or rig a white card at an angle to the ceiling and hit it with a Source-4 Leko on a stand off-camera for a bounce light.

 

You can also use wall spreaders span a ceiling with a plank of wood or piece of pipe for rigging, or a goalpost rig of two big stands at each end of the space just outside the view of the lens, with a pipe between them. Or a "menace arm" rig, which is one big stand with a pipe extended from it with a lamp at the end of it, properly counterbalanced and weighted, etc.

 

Any of these rigs requires good grips to rig safely and should use safety chains and lines to keep anything from falling down on people by accident.

It time to revive this thread with indie tricks for rigging lights overhead. To David’s suggestions above I would add one more option for drop ceilings. One of the biggest challenges in situations like this is getting light into the eyes of your talent. If you don't, your talent's eye will look dark and bruised because the very toppy light of lights rigged overhead won't dig into their eyes. Unfortunately to get light into their eyes, you will have to hang lights below the ceiling. There are drop ceiling hangers (baby pins on scissor clips) available just for this purpose. However to hang anything larger than a 1k or to hang kino banks you will need something like the hangers pictured below:

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You may want to consider the approach we took in the production stills above, where we hung 4'-4 Bank kinos with Opal coved below the fixture to make a "Bay Light." Coving the Opal under the light, redirects it horizontally so that it will dig into the talents eyes. You may also want to consider using a combination of hard and soft light as we did here to create contrast in a situation where the practical lighting is usually very flat. As you can see here, with the right rigging equipment, you can use drop ceilings like a studio grid. Use this link for more pictures of productions that used drop ceilings on location as if they were a studio grid.

 

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

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“Don’t try to light your talent with only practicals“

 

Try telling that to Roger Deakins. He’ll do that whenever he can.

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Time to get back to the original purpose of this thread: to share the tricks of the trade that will add more to your film’s production values than all the big budget toys found on bloated Hollywood productions. If you can’t afford a generator, no one tool in your indie bag of tricks will improve the lighting of your film more than a live wire circuit tracer.

 

One of the biggest hurdles to obtaining good production values in low budget digital cinema productions is the high cost of the blimped studio generators required to power large lighting packages. Not only are blimped generators expensive to rent, but they also come with hidden costs. Since rental trucks like those from Ryder or Penske are not equipped to tow, you quite often have to pay extra to have them delivered or hire the rental house's grip truck to tow them. And, since most rental houses require that one of their employees drive their trucks and operate the generator (for insurance reasons), the production has to hire a driver/genny op at roughly $575/10hrs - which is probably more than anyone else on a typical indie crew is getting paid. All of this makes lighting a movie very expensive.

 

More likely than not you don’t need a generator. Most locations have plenty of power, you just need to know where to find it. The first step is to determine the maximum the location electrical service has to offer. To determine this look at the main breaker of the service head (main electrical panel.) Commercial wiring is almost always three phase, meaning it has three hot legs. If the breaker in the main service panel is 200A there are 600A available between the three hot legs. The second step is to figure out how much power the location is using, so that you know what is left over for your use. To determine this find somewhere safe to meter the current drawn on each leg with an Amp probe. Once you know what is available to you, use a live wire circuit tracer to figure out what outlets correspond to which circuits so that you can safely distribute your lighting load without overloading a circuit. Before we get into how to use a live wire circuit tracer, let’s first look at residential wiring.

 

Residential wiring is almost always single phase, meaning it has just two hot legs. If the breaker in the main service panel is 100A there are 200A available between the two hot legs. Again, you need to figure out how much power the location is using, so that you know what is left over for your use. There may be some large loads, like air conditioners or electric ranges, that you can turn off at their breaker to make more power available to you.

 

So that you don’t overload a circuit, the final step is to use a live wire circuit tracer to figure out what receptacles correspond to which circuits. I recommend the Scotchtrak Circuit Tracer. It will enable you to locate, trace and identify ‘‘hot’’ and neutral wires for feeder and branch circuit wiring, breakers, and outlets. Most circuit tracers require that you de-energize the distribution system. What I particularly like about the Scotchtrak Circuit Tracer is that it enables you to trace the circuits of an energized system. The tracer consists of a transmitter that draws a pulse current from the line that is returned on the neutral, and a detector that senses the unique electromagnetic field around the line created by the pulse current.

 

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Scotchtrak circuit tracers are easy to use. First, plug-in the transmitter to the circuit you want to trace. Then hold the detector to a breaker, cable, or outlet. If it is the same circuit, the detector will sense the unique electromagnetic field and emit both a visible and an audible signal. By tracing the magnetic field in this fashion you can locate the breaker, wires, and outlets that correspond to that circuit. As you can see by the wiring diagram for an apartment below, a circuit may supply power to outlets in more than one room. Now that you know what outlets correspond to which circuitw you can now safely distribute your lighting load over the house distribution system without overloading a circuit and tripping its’ breaker. Of course you may have to run cable a distance to find additional circuits so be sure to have plenty of stingers available. Use this link for more information on the Scotchtrak Circuit Tracer.

 

diagram-electricalng-schematic-house-agn

 

To power larger fixtures, like 5k Tungsten or 4K HMI lights, you can use a step-down transformer to convert the power from 208V/240V receptacles to a single large 120V circuit. Most locations will 208V/240V circuits to power motors, machinery, compressors, pumps, electric ranges, electric dryers, and special receptacles installed for Window Air Conditioners. If you look at the breaker for any of these 208V240V receptacles, you will notice that they use two pole breakers - either 30A or 50A. Each pole of the breaker is in a sense an independent 30A or 50A 120V circuit. That is, if you measure the voltage from each pole of the breaker to ground it will be 120 volts, and if you measure the voltage between the two poles of the breaker you will notice that it is 208v or 240 volts (depending on whether the building provides three phase or single phase power respectively).

 

If your location has a single phase service, the 120 volts of the two poles adds up to 240V because the 120V circuits are on opposing legs that are180 degrees out of phase with each other. In residential settings, this is how higher voltages are supplied to household appliances, like Dryers, Electric Ranges, Water Pumps, and Air Conditioners, that require more power than can be reasonably supplied by a single 120V circuit. If your location has a three phase service, the 120 volts of the two poles adds up to 208V because the three 120V circuits are on opposing legs of a three phase service and therefore 120 degrees out of phase with each other.

 

Transformer-Distro_Sam2.jpg

4k & 1.2ks HMI Pars powered from 30A/240V dryer outlet through step-down transformer/distro for Bose still shoot.

 

A step down transformer, like the one we build for the Honda EU7000is Generator, can convert the 208V/240V supplied by these receptacles to 120 volts in a single circuit that is the sum of two of the phase legs of 30/50 amps each. Now that you have a larger 60A or 100A 120V circuit, you can operate larger lights, or more smaller lights, than you could otherwise. If you outfit the transformer with a bates receptacle you can use standard film style distro like 60 or 100A Bates Extensions to run power around your set - breaking out to 20A circuits wherever you want. By giving you access to more house power through common 208V/240V outlets a transformer can eliminate the need for dangerous tie-ins or expensive tow generators (use this link for details.)

 

Guy Holt, Gaffer, ScreenLight & Grip, Lightng & Grip Rental in Boston

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Time to resurrect this thread with a low budget trick of the trade on how to maximize production value in an environment that might not be inherently cinematic. That was the question Mike Kozlenko faced in shooting a spot for a chain of gyms.

 

So I'm shooting a run n' gun little spot for a chain of gyms. Super guerrilla style with not much crew....Any... principles you guys think I can apply to make this look as intentional as possible and less like a shitty-looking doc? Any tips are greatly appreciated

 

 

How I approach such situations is to identify the one element I can’t change and then tailor the look and style of the shot to it. For example, on this location the one thing you have no control over is the high contrast created by the sun streaming in the open roll-up doors. Typically they blow out and look awful.

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Since you can’t net those doors, the way to deal with them is to go for a stylized look. If you white balance your camera under a tungsten light with full CTO on it, the daylight coming through those doors will turn a deep blue. If you then light your talent with tungsten lights with full CTO, you get a very appealing look where the foreground is under white light, while the deep background is bathed in blue light.

 

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

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Time to get back to the original purpose of this thread: to share the tricks of the trade that will add more to your film’s production values than all the big budget toys found on bloated Hollywood productions. Without a doubt night scenes are the hardest to light on a tight budget.  You must first story board and block out the scene so that you know exactly what you need to light (there is no point spending money to lighting an area of the location that will never appear on the screen.)  From there you can figure out an innovative approach to accomplish the look you are after. What tools who need and how you deploy them will follow. 

A good example is a scene I lit for a “low budget” feature called "Black Irish." It was a pivotal scene where the youngest son of an Boston Irish family crashes his derelict older brother's car setting off an unfortunate series of events.  Our biggest challenge was to create the feel of a car hurdling down the road at high speed.

 

BlackIrishfilmstrip1lg.JPG

 

The traditional approach of under-cranking the camera to increase the speed on screen was not an option because the scene was a pivotal one with extensive dialogue inside the car. And, without the budget for performance drivers, a Porsche Panamera chase car (like that pictured below), and the ability to light city block after city block, we had to settle for an old process trailer and a block of an industrial section of Boston. 

 

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The problem we faced was that even after lighting the equivalent of three football fields, the process trailer couldn't obtain a speed of more than 30 mph before it was out of the light. So, we had to create the effect of speed through the lighting.

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I came up with a concept that was, if I say so myself, as beautiful in its practical simplicity as in its psychological complexity. To heighten the sense of speed of the process trailer shots we rigged 500w practical fixtures along a four hundred foot wall on one side of the road. We spaced the practical wall lights twice as close together as they would be normally. This way, as the car passed by, areas of light and dark would pass rapidly by in the background and exaggerate the speed at which the car was traveling. When it came time to shoot the static wide establishing shot of the car racing down the road, we dismantled every other wall practical in order to reinforce the effect. On an unconscious level the viewer's mind registers in the establishing shot the wider spacing of the wall lamps. So when in the close up process shots the pools of light in the background are racing past at twice the rate because there are, in fact, twice as many lights, the viewer's mind registers the car is traveling at twice the speed it is, in fact, traveling.

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In addition to the wall practicals, I simulated car dash board light on the actor's faces with a 12v 9" Kino Car kit. The play of the passing wall lights on the actor's faces were created by a revolving 650W Fresnel with diffusion on its doors rigged on the process trailer. To light the long stretch of road, I simulated the pools of light that would be created by street lights by rigging 6kw space lights under the baskets of 60' condors that were spaced about 200' apart over the road. In addition to the Space Light, each condor basket also carried a 4k HMI Par that filled the stretches of road between the pools of tungsten light with a cool moonlight. To continue the moonlight down the road there was yet another 4k HMI Par on a Mambo Combo Stand. Because this 4K was further down the road than was practical to run cable, it was powered by a Honda 5500W portable generator. A 12kw HMI Fresnel with 1/2 CTO through a 12x frame of Soft Frost served to pick up the deep background from the front on one end of Marginal Street while a 6kw HMI Par lit the other end.

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To supply power on both sides of the road for a 1000' stretch was no small task. I used three generator plants strategically placed so that our cable would never cross the road in a shot. In addition to the Honda 5500W portable generator that powered the 4kw HMI Par light for the deep background, I used a 800A plant to power the 4kw HMI Pars and 6kw Space Lights in the condors, the 12kw Fresnel, and the base camp trailers and work lights. The 6kw Par, 12 - 500W practicals, and an assortment of smaller HMI's used to light the post crash scene were powered by a 450A plant on the far end of the roadway.

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This example, demonstrates that once you have a concept you can come up with an innovative approach to accomplish it on a low budget. Of course “low budget” is a relative term.

 

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

 

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  16 hours ago, pushparaj santhosh said:

we are planning to shoot a low budget flick predominantly on outdoors. I just want to know what are the different approaches to lighting daylight exteriors? Is 4K PAR has enough brightness capacity to light talents on daylight exteriors or do we want lights of higher capacity? How do you match shots as the sunlight drops in intensity? Thanks 

This is another example where forethought and planning can save your budget.  The problem shooting daylight exteriors is that the sun moves throughout the day, so lights are needed to maintain continuity between shots filmed at different times of day. If you plan your shots properly, you don't need as big and HMI as you may think to maintain continuity.  With proper planning you can get way with nothing more than a 4kw par and 1.2kw Par - which you can run on a modified Honda EU7000 generator with a Transformer/Distro that provides a single 60A/120V circuit. 

The approach that I find works best is to wait to shoot the establishing master shot until the sun is in a backlight position.  Up to  that point shoot the close coverage under a large silk (12x or 20x.) Shooting the close coverage under a silk offers a number of advantages.  The silk takes the direction out of the sun and knocks down its' level by two and one half stops so now you can use a smaller HMI to create consistent modeling in all the close-ups.  Shooting into talents' down side under a silk, I find that a 4K par through a diffusion frame is a sufficient key source for a good size shot. You need the diffusion because a bare par will be too harsh.  When shooting  close coverage under the silk, nets behind our talent will control the background from blowing out.

The advantages to waiting to shoot the wide master until the sun has moved around to a back light position are many. One, the background is also back-lit so the discrepancy in exposure between the background and our talent under the silk is not that great and so you can open up to gain exposure of our talent in the foreground without burning out the background.  Two, your background looks better because it is not flatly lit, but has some contrast. And three, with the sun in a backlight position, the shadows of the silk frame and stands are thrown forward, which enables you to frame wide without picking up the shadow of the hardware.

Finally, since the silk takes the direction out of the sun and knocks down its' level by two and one half stops a 4k HMI par has enough output to create the look and feel of natural sunlight. For more detailed information on powering 4k HMIs on portable gas generators, I would suggest you read an article I wrote on the use of portable generators in motion picture production.

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

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Posted (edited)

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Great thread Guy!

For the little guys this video shows how to use a single HMI on a tight budget. Also shows the difference a HMI makes with outdoor sun shots. 

 

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

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