Blackwrap is invaluable when you’re lighting a scene—and the cheaper your lighting gear, the more you probably need it. It’s sort of a Swiss Army knife of lighting—filling a lot of jobs. Just about any time that you’re working with a hot light, and you don’t have the right tool in your kit, blackwrap is what’s gonna save your butt.
For something so useful, it’s surprising that it’s often missing from very low-budget shoots. (But never missing from a pro shoot.) Blackwrap is basically aluminum foil that’s been sprayed with a matte black paint to keep it from bouncing weird reflections all over the set. You can bend it to any shape and put it right on a light without worrying about it catching fire. It’s a great way to block off any stray light that slips through. But it’s crazy expensive for tin foil—it costs 30 bucks a roll So, a lot of people skimp. But you should bite the bullet, buy a roll, and use it—and re-use it—judiciously. Because it’s awesome.
The main use for blackwrap is to block off light right at the light source. Take a sheet and wrap it around a light. Suddenly you’ve got a poor-man’s barn doors. Frankly, there are times when blackwrap is better than barn doors. You can really craft the shape you want to create. Of course, barn doors are very convenient and easy to manipulate and I think a light without them is of little value. But I’ve also seen people use shop lights in low budget videos and frankly they can be made pretty darn functional if you wrap some blackwrap around the face and then slit the corners to make barn doors for them!
Any time you need a single shaft of light or a spot of light on a specific thing but nothing else around it, blackwrap is the ticket. You can make a snoot (a cone for blocking off all the light but one spot) by just wrapping some blackwrap around the fixture or barn doors and squeezing it into shape. I have a set of drop-in snoots for a couple of my lights but honestly, I think they’re a waste. Manufactured snoots are perfectly round and I’ve never needed a perfectly round spot of light that was quite the sizes my snoots make. Blackwrap on the other hand is infinitely adjustable to give you just the right size and shape. In fact, I often use a manufactured snoot as a holder for the blackwrap snoots that really do the job!
The same thing goes for when you want to make pinpoints of light. You can put a sheet of blackwrap across the front of a fixture and just punch small holes in it. Done!
Blackwrap is not a total replacement for flags (unless you don’t have any flags). Flags can give a harder or softer shadow line depending on how close they’re placed to the source, so you get a lot of control in creating your look. Blackwrap, is made to go right on a light, so it always gives a harder shadow.
One great use for blackwrap is to create patterned shadows to suggest a more textured world just off screen. Patterned shadows are one of those grace notes that really improve a lighting setup and make a scene look like it isn’t just lit with some video lights. You can suggest that the light hitting the back wall is coming from an unseen window, or between Venetian blinds, or between the branches of a tree, just by cutting the appropriate shapes into a sheet of blackwrap and clipping it to the light
There’s a company that sells these premade foil gobos called ShadowFoils. To me, the product looks fine, but the price seems ridiculous. I made the same thing with a few sheets of blackwrap and an X-acto knife in just a few minutes and they work great. You can cut any shape you want, including a company logo for an interview backdrop.
I’m pretty frugal when it comes to production equipment, so you can find several pieces of flattened-out blackwrap gently folded in my lighting kit. It’s pretty beefy stuff and you can use it over and over again—which is good because I always feel like a chump when I have to shell out $30 for a new roll.
Blackwrap is the common industry term for this stuff, but it’s also a trademarked brand name of the Gam company. Other brands include Rosco’s Cinefoil and black foil from Lindcraft or Lee. To me, it’s all the same stuff.
Blackwrap comes in 12-inch or 24-inch widths. If you’re using smaller lights (not HMIs or 2Ks and above) then the 12-inch is going to be more useful for you.
Douglas Horn is a feature film writer-director and a creator of independent series. Douglas and Dan Southworth founded the web media company Popular Uprising. The company’s action/sci-fi series DIVERGENCE will release its first season in 2012. More information at: DouglasHorn.comandWhatIsDivergence.com