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Old April 20th, 2017, 11:54 AM   #1
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Baltimore, MD
Posts: 3
Looking for suggestions on a starter grip kit for ~$1000

Hi all -

So I've recently been wanting to put some more emphasis into my lighting gear, and could use some input.

I'd like to first note that I'm not a working professional or someone who is making my career in film - I'm just someone who enjoys making narrative short films as a hobby, and would like to up their quality. I'm part of a local film group who enjoys working on projects for smaller online or local film competitions, with the hope being we can start making shorts that make it into some of the minor film festivals around us. Within my group, we've got ourselves covered with great DSLRs, lenses, camera support gear, and audio equipment, but none of us have any real lighting or grip equipment.

I am also trying to get some smaller paid work on the side as a way to fund this hobby of mine, which is part of the reason why I'd like to up the quality of my work to help attract some (smaller) paying customers. Again, not trying to make a career out of this, but it would be nice to get myself to a level where I could make some cash on paid side gigs to help me self-fund this hobby.

In searching online, it seems like there are tons of recommendations. You've got the DSLR YouTubers suggesting the latest and greatest cheap LED light kits. You've got the film school kids saying get some used Arris or Moles and that LEDs are garbage. Etc etc. However, most seem to agree that a good grip kit that can help you shape the light is the most important thing.

I'll often see people recommend to just rent the needed grip and lighting equipment on a per project basis, and I can definitely understand the logic in that. However, my group is always trying out small short film tests alongside whatever more major projects we're doing, and it just seems like a big hassle to rent them every time we want to try something new. Additionally, we just have so much to learn with shaping light, that I feel like we need to be investing a lot of time into trying things out, and renting on a weekly basis could get costly after a while.

If the financial side makes sense, we'd much rather just own a core kit of grip equipment that could be used on any project we go into, and then rent the more specialized items as needed for each project.

So my thinking is what would a $1000 grip kit look like? If you were to have to completely start over, and build a grip kit from the ground up, what are the essentials you'd pick for the type of projects I'd be doing?

We're not sure what types of lights we're going to be working with, so a grip kit that can be flexible between them would be great. It would also be nice to have equipment that we could use on our narrative shorts (which film indoor and outdoor), as well as any small paid gigs that we start to get (interviews, local commercials, videos for a customer's website, etc.).

I think we would like to invest in an LED light kit one day, but I don't think the technology is quite there yet for getting high CRI/TLCI LED lights down to tungsten and fluorescent prices. So I could see us renting used tungsten or fluorescent lights in the meantime, and wanting to use this core grip kit for those as well.

Any insight is appreciated!
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Old April 20th, 2017, 05:57 PM   #2
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Los Angeles, California
Posts: 1,913
Re: Looking for suggestions on a starter grip kit for ~$1000

You have to use the correct terminology. $1,000.00 of grip can buy a good amount of useful stuff. $1,000.00 of grip AND lighting, not so much. You could afford a few cheap LED panels like F&V, Dracast or Aputure 672s but that leaves you almost nothing for stands, sandbags, flags, stingers, gels, light control etc. $1,000.00 isn't enough for a good lighting kit.

You also need to specify the locations and conditions you are working with? Are you trying to blend your lighting with daylight? Tungsten? Fluorescent and mercury vapor? For a super low budget, you cannot afford lighting that will do anything in broad daylight so some of your money would be better spent on light control, rather than lights. If you shoot mostly indoors, with the ability to make a black box room to start with, then you can buy some pretty cool cheap LED panels. I would listen to Caleb about those.

Once you have lights, you need light stands to mount them on. You need a few C-stands to hold lighting controls on, like scrims, flags, fingers, etc. Your panels need either barndoors or you will have to flag off the spill using C-stands and flags/cutters/diffusion. You'll need a few AC power cables. Cinefoil. Diffusion. Clothespins, grip clips, reflectors/diffuser discs. etc. Can't really give a laundry list of grip stuff you'll need 'till you decide which lights and how many of them you are buying so we know how much you'll have left over.

Do you need fresnels? Open face focusable? Or only soft, broad sources like panels? Budget for some lights, then we can talk grip gear.
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Old April 21st, 2017, 06:52 AM   #3
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Baltimore, MD
Posts: 3
Re: Looking for suggestions on a starter grip kit for ~$1000

Apologies for my lack of clarity. I was looking at just grip gear (no lights) with my budget of $1000. My overall budget would be ~$2500-3000, and so I was thinking $1000 to grip and $1500-2000 to lights might be a good split for a starter set. I just didn't want the post to get too muddled, so I was trying to figure out the grip side first. (Although, I now get your point about needing to know the planned lights to properly spec out a grip package).

So every narrative project my group works on is going to be a little different, and we probably do filming in all four categories (daytime outdoor, daytime indoor, nighttime outdoor, nighttime indoor). To further break down those use cases:

- Daytime outdoor shooting. You're right in that even a $2500-3000 total budget will not get us daytime lights that can fight the sun. We'd be looking to mainly have a decent set of grip gear to shape it as best we can (reflectors, diffusers, bounce boards, etc).
- Nighttime outdoor shooting. For this one, we don't always have easy access to power outlets, so this type of work is why the idea of a LED kit (with batteries) entices us. It'd be nice for us to be able to just battery power a simple 2-3 light setup for shorter shoots. But lights are a whole different animal we need to think about more. And while I think some of the newcomers in LEDs are getting high enough CRI/TLCI, their prices still seem to be 2-3x that of an equivalent output tungsten or fluorescent.
- Daytime Indoor shooting. For this, we'll often try to leverage sunlight from windows, and just try to complement it. Again, we'd want a healthy about of grip gear to shape the daylight as best we can, but would try to have extra sources of light to add.
- Nighttime indoor shooting. This is where we'd be most likely fighting with tungsten sources, and would be closest to having our "black box room" to start. However, we usually try to use practical lights as much as we can first, and then would want to complement as needed. We likely won't have too many times where we're completely starting from a black box room.

So with all of that, my research on lights thus far has indicated that I should probably try to stick to harder lights that are daylight balanced, and have the standard mounts for barn doors, etc. With LEDs, going full daylight instead of bi-color would allow us to have the brighter light in daytime situations, and then we could just CTO as needed when mixing with tungsten. And then we would just use grip gear as needed to soften the hard light (since it's not really possible to go the other direction, right?)

In the LED department, the Aputure COB 120d seems like a really nice candidate as one of the lights. As does the almost out Wasp 100-C. The former could maybe fit into a $2000 light budget, but the latter would likely be pushing it. Our goal would be to get at least 3 lights (daylight balanced, I think) as a starter set.

So knowing that our budget will likely always mean lights that are 2kW or less in output (if we go the tungsten/fluorescent route), or would be lighter LEDs, I'm thinking getting stands with baby pins are our best bet. My thought was maybe 1-2 large C-stands, and 2-3 light/medium light stands? As for other grip gear that caught my eye, the following looks interesting:
- Lowel Gel Kit
- Matthews RoadRags II Kit
- Matthews Minigrip Kit

And then of course all the misc stuff like C47s, gloves, sandbags, stingers, gaffer tape, etc.

As for your question on fresnels vs open face, I'm not quite sure on the nuances between what we get with each. Part of the reason my team is looking to invest in some lights is because it's the one area we've been effectively ignoring and instead have focused on cameras/lenses/audio/etc. One thought I had was having a good grip set, and then renting different lights at the start to see what types we liked. We've got a lot of learning to do when it comes to lights.

Does any of my above seem like I'm on the right track? If you were to try and put together a $3000 complete light+grip kit, does $1000 to grip seem reasonable? Any core grip gear (that would likely get used on almost all projects) or lights that you would recommend with the budget we're looking at?
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Old Yesterday, 11:28 AM   #4
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Los Angeles, California
Posts: 1,913
Re: Looking for suggestions on a starter grip kit for ~$1000

I own a three ton pretty complete grip package. That said, here is some of what I have learned over the years. You trade robustness and durability for weight. If you are working with actual grips and gaffers who know this stuff, you need to invest in "real" grip gear, as in the stuff you would find on a real grip truck. This is the heavy duty traditional stuff from Matthews, American Grip, Norms, etc. It is heavy and expensive but it will last you and will stand up to abuse for dozens of years. I have a lot of this type stuff and it has been working for about two decades with hardly any break downs. I don't know the Baltimore market very well, I have only shot their once but if you choose to go this route, I would take your money and look for a package deal from someone who either sells used grip gear like a rental house flushing out older gear or look for a production company that is going out of business. You could probably stretch your budget quite nicely if you found the right motivated seller.

I am not going to give you an super detailed, itemized shopping list because it will all depend on what you can find but here is what I would be looking for:

1. C-stands - name brand, full sized w 40" arms, at least four, preferably at least six to eight. This is your foundation for all grip gear
2. Light stands? Do you already have or do you need to buy? I like the stacking stands that the Hillbilly Grip Truck talks about here
they are $99.00 ea. and are tall enough (12') and heavy enough to hold real lights at height. Even some used Arri kit stands wouldn't be bad. I would not buy 6' or 7' travel stands, they are fine for travel but generally leave you wanting to go higher.
3. You need light control. A used 24x36 flag set would be good, perhaps four solids, three silks and a couple each scrims (1/2 and full)
4. 4x4 floppies are incredibly handy but are big and require a heavier stand to deploy than a C-stand most of the time so if you found a killer deal on a used one, worth picking up.
5. Duvetine - I use a ton of Duvetine. Once again, find a crate or two of used 48" x 10' pieces cheap. Can be used to seal out light, for negative fill, to dampen sound reflections, Duvetine is so incredibly important
6. One or two Flexfills. I would buy a big one like 52" and a smaller one like 36". I like the ones that have a bunch of options, gold, silver, white, black, diffusion disc, etc. Not great outdoor unless it is calm with no wind but incredibly handy indoors.
7. One or two Mafer clamps will make your life easier. Get 'em with wire or safety chains, can't have lights falling on your crew and or talent.
8. C-clamps with a couple of 5/8" spuds on them are handy
9. Speed rail is incredibly handy but you need some heavy duty stands to hold it, which are not cheap so act accordingly.

Now you are beginning to see why $1,000.00 is not really for a real grip kit. $1,000.00 is barely a start unless you get lucky and find a killer used package deal.

The other way to go is to buy small, kind of more prosumer quality stuff. The advantage is that it is smaller and lighter. It is not much cheaper though. Road Rags are okay but are kind of small and kind of delicate. Scrim Jims are really cool and useful but IMHO, can be broken and beaten up pretty easily. If you baby them, they are great but if you have a crew who does not baby them, they self destruct quickly. Just one Scrim Jim eats up most of your grip budget though. If ALL I had was $1,000.00, I would buy three used C-stands, a few used flags, some Duvetine, Cinefoil, C-47s, a few gel packs, some stingers, a couple of good light stands and bam, a few milk crates to carry it all, boom out of money.

IMHO, you need about $5k to have a real grip package for small production. Not saying you cannot do it for less, but you need Apple Boxes, perhaps two full sets, lots of sandbags, speed rail, 6x6 and or 8x8 frames with lots of different rags, some high rollers, Beefy Babys, a few three risers, Mafers and Cardellinis, safety chains, a ton of various sized grip clips, etc. Big steel costs a lot but is important to being able to block the sun, block windows, hoist bigger, heavier lights 10' or 12' into the air safely. A small kit for $1,000.00 is pretty geared toward small interviews or perhaps a small narrative scene in a contained space. If you need to light up a whole room, a hallway for a handheld, gimbal or Steadicam move down a hallway and through a whole room, you need a LOT of grip gear to be able to light that effectively. Just trying to manage your expectations. Real production, especially narrative stuff, requires a lot more gear than you would think in order to set up and light relatively simple scenes. You can work with smaller and more minimal gear but it really limits how you can do stuff. Notice how most low budget narrative is a lot CUs and two shots? That's because they don't have the resources to setup and light bigger shots and sequences. Nothing wrong with that, but it is a limitation on how you can visually tell stories.

The smartest thing narrative filmmakers can do, IMHO, is to hire a three ton or small production van owner operator grip. You can often get them for a great package deal for a week or two and they will bring $200k worth of grip gear that you really need and you won't be beating your head against a wall because you don't OWN all of the gear needed. I have had my stuff for a long time and and it often is not used much because I mostly shoot doc/EPK/BTS and travel programming but three or four times a year, like yesterday, I haul out a good portion of it just to shoot interviews. I had to shoot medium to wide green screen interviews in a loft of a building of a well known record producer yesterday. Big windows everywhere. Small crew, just three of us but we had to set up an 8x8' green screen and then basically build an entire room within a room using Duvetine because there was sunlight everywhere. We used a dozen C-stands, lots of C-stand arms, dozens of grip clips, sand bags, rope, push pins for sealing off a skylight with Duvetine, I had to use C-stands just for my key source, an Aputure LS-1S through a Medium (36" x 48") Chimera, a few Apple boxes for a floor mounted other LS-1S as same side as key fill punched through 42" diffusion disc, another C-stand with an Arri 300 on the end of it as a hair/rim source, two more C-stands for my with the arms for my Kamerar Brightcasts to light the top of the green screen and two more Gary Coleman 20" C-stands below for my two Kino Diva 200s to light the bottom of the green screen. So just to light and set up two single person green screen interviews, I used about 2/3 of my three ton package. Granted, this was an unusual situation because it was an 8x8 green screen, which is larger than I usually use for a single person interview (Director and Producer wanted these shot in a true medium shot from the thighs up because this is for a film, not a TV show where everyone only wants CUs) and we did not have a light sealed room so it took pretty extraordinary grip measures to make the room work for green screen. But my point is, grip-wise, it takes what it takes to accomplish a given set up. You should view your $1,000.00 grip as a barely starter package on grip supplies, not as a real working grip kit because in my experience, you need a LOT more grip gear to accomplish even basic things like a couple of green screen interviews on location. Taming and working with ambient light is more difficult than you think and takes more stuff than you think.

I have never DP'd a feature film, but I have DP'd some small to medium TV and doc/corporate projects and it amazed me how quickly and easily we were able to come close to emptying a 10 ton truck. Your director/writer/producer will quickly grown frustrated if all you can do are tight singles that don't move around the frame. You will quickly grow frustrated too if you don't have the basic tools to do the job. Buy more grip and rent lights. Buy fewer lights and bigger sources that you can shape with your grip gear. Buy "outdated" lights like used tungsten and Kinos, you don't need state of the art plasma and LEDs to light well. I am thinking about picking up a couple of used Kino Four banks as they are getting really cheap and are immensely useful although they are really bulky to bring in a car. Lighting goes in trends but a good DP and gaffer can make any classic "outdated" gear work better than the newest state of the art because of talent. Heck, the more I shoot with LEDs, even good ones, the more I am tempted to pull out my tungsten lights, simply because they make people look better. A lowly Arri 650 or Arri 1k makes better skin tones than a $5,000.00 Arri Skypanel. Sure, the Skypanel can do some cool tricks and run cooler, use a lot less electricity, but the run of the mill tungsten LOOKS better. Personally I think low budget producers should re-evaluate their strategies, not everyone needs a multi-thousand dollars LED or Plasma. Those are for the rich who have real budgets.
Dan Brockett is offline   Reply With Quote
Old Yesterday, 05:41 PM   #5
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Baltimore, MD
Posts: 3
Re: Looking for suggestions on a starter grip kit for ~$1000

Thank you for the invaluable insight. I can understand how even small production grip packages can quickly balloon to $5k.

I'm starting to wonder if any grip package is worth it at all for the level of work we do. My group is just 4-5 guys who are interested in film, but we all have our own full time jobs doing other things. We aren't really trying to become full time workers in video production, but instead are just some people who enjoy making shorts for fun or submitting to competitions like 48 hours (or similar). Over the years, we've each individually invested $4-5k in our camera, lens, support, and audio gear already, so it's just tough to consider taking on a $10k grip and lighting package, when we're not trying to be professionals here. We were mainly curious to see what was possible in grip/lights, if we pooled another $3k together.

I'm definitely not trying to disregard your advice here. I completely see the side you're coming from. I'm just trying to re-contextualize the level we operate at and what we're trying to achieve in our personal "hobby" projects.

My hope was that there might be some very basic kit (whether we bought it or rented it for every project) that could help elevate our filmmaking quality just a little bit. A simple set of grip/lighting equipment that would allow us to start learning about the possibilities of how we can shape light - even if it wasn't some fully fledged grip/lighting kit that is measured in tons. ;)

Based on your suggestions, I do like your list you came up with if you were truly held to $1000. And I do realize that there will still be a lot that it cannot do. Do you have any specific suggestions on flag kits or gel packs that I should keep an eye out for? Also, if we were to try to make a small kit around 3 c-stands and 3 light stands, what types and quantities of mounting hardware would you recommend? I see you mentioned mafer clamps, but I assume we'd also want to grab at least a couple extra grip heads? Any other ones we should make sure get included in any sort of beginner kit?
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