You know how I know I’m on a pro set? I mean the real deal where there’s gaffer who knows his stuff and an AD who’s got an eye on every detail? It’s not the big lights—anyone can rent those. It’s not cool props. It’s not even name actors…okay maybe name actors. But frankly, I’ve seen some great actors sign on to less-than-worthy productions. No, the way I know that I’m on a pro set is, I see safety cables on every light.
These days, not only is every filmmaker a director, editor, and DP, but it seems that a lot of us are having to be electricians as well. With little lights and high ISO cameras, I see a lot of people playing gaffer and lighting their own sets. That’s fantastic, except when it’s dangerous.
I’m no electrician. I know maybe two things about electricity on a set, but they’re biggies so here goes:
- Never hold one light in each hand.
- Make sure any circuit you plug into has a ground fault circuit interrupt (GFCI).
Here’s my understanding of why you never hold a light in each hand: Something, something, something, electricity can shoot through your heart. There might be a more thorough explanation on Wikipedia, but really, do you need one?
Put your footage somewhere safe
One of the ironies of filmmaking is that people will work all day moving mountains to capture footage—which is then stored on the flimsiest format imaginable. At the end of the roll, everyone’s hard work is at the mercy of the guys unloading the camera and taking the film to the lab. And even with all the changes to the film world over the years, this remains the same. Your hard work is stored on strips of exposed negative, a hard drive, or a little memory card. Better keep your eye on it! (continue reading…)
One of the tricks for making the most of your lights is to use gels. The typical way to use gels on smaller shoots is to just clip them to the barn doors. This works fine for color gels, but not for diffusion gels. Diffusion gels soften light, scattering the rays so that it seems to wrap around objects. However, to really get this effect, you need to not only scatter the rays by punching the light through diffusion, but also enlarge the apparent size of the light source. To do this right, you really need a gel frame.
I don’t own any big film lights—my biggest lights are a couple of 1,000-watt Fresnels. With today’s fast film stocks and digital sensors, you can easily illuminate a medium sized set with a couple of 1,000- and 650-watt lights. Often on a location you can’t go above about 2,000 watts total without blowing a circuit, anyway. So, like me, many smaller producers keep their personal lighting packages constrained and rent bigger lights like HMIs only when they need them and know there will be plenty of power to run them. (And enough man-power to haul them around and set them up. Big lights can be a lot of work!) So the ‘big’ lights I carry are pretty standard (boring) stuff. What I really dig are the little lights.
I own—and highly recommend—a complement of little Fresnel lights in the 100 to 300-watt range. These are miniature little Fresnels, with barn doors and scrims that can flood or spot like any other Fresnel, but rather than keying or filling a scene, these add texture, style, and focus. In my mind I think about the big lights as the ones that light the scene, and the little lights as the ones that make it look cool. (continue reading…)