Tutorial: Assemble Your Own Low-Budget Light Kit, Part Two

added 28 January 2004

Assemble Your Own Low-Budget Light Kit,
Part Two by Scott Spears

Gels and Diffusion

At some point you’ll want to add some color or soften your lights, so you’ll need something to put in front of the lights. Things to remember are that gels add color or correct color temperature, and diffusion softens the light.

First, how do you attach these gels to your lights? C-47 media attachment clips, otherwise known as clothes pens. Get wooden C-47s, not plastic. The plastic ones will melt. The wooden C-47s can burn, but won’t catch on fire. Gels are fairly heat resistant, but you can melt them if you get them to close to the light, so use caution when attaching them to lights.

Gels come in all kinds of flavors. Number one are color correction gels. These are used to make your movie lights match daylight. You’d slap a blue (CTB, color temperature blue) on your light so it matches the daylight streaming in through a window. (Without going heavy duty into color temperatures, just remember that daylight is blue and tungsten light is orange.) If you have a small window, you may place an orange gel on the window to get daylight to match your movie lights.

For other colors, sometimes called theatrical or party gels, you can find about any color under the sun available. Horror film directors are always asking for red. James Cameron must go through a ton of blue gels. Green can be used to make everybody sick. It’s all a matter of taste. A single sheet (3×3) of gel can run around $6.

You may want to talk to local production houses and rental houses to see if they have scrap gel laying around they’d give you. I’ve snagged plenty of gels this way. In LA, when features wrap, they dump tons of gels.

If you can’t snag some for free, camera stores and theatrical supply stores carry them. A cool thing is to buy small packets of gels. Bogen has put together small packets with different groupings of gels. They offer color correction(lots of blue and orange), diffusion and multi-color packets. They run around $20 a piece, which seems a lot for some colored plastic, but if you’re careful, you can use these gels for a long time. I recommend the color correction pack and diffusion pack.

Odds and Ends

Extension cords, or as they’re called in Hollywood, stingers, are a must have item. Get lots of them. I’d have at least one 50 foot and a couple 25 foot stingers handy. I like the ones with multi-plugs on the end. Some come with a LED in the end so you know it’s plugged in. Get black cords if possible because you can hide them easier in shots than the bright orange ones which seem to overrun hardware stores. I’ve had to run cords through shots and found if I run them along baseboards or natural lines in the set most of the time you can never seen them, if you’re careful. Plan on spending about $40 for the above allotment.

Power strips are a great little item. Make sure they can handle 15 or more amps; cost is about $4-$8. Cube taps are handy little boxes you plug into an outlet which triples the amount of plugs, for about $4. You can also get a 3 Prong adapter (2 for $2) for those times in older houses when you run into 2 prong outlets.

Screw in socket to plug adapter -– these are handy little things to have. They screw into a light socket and turn it into a 2 prong , so have a 3 prong adapter handy, into a plug. I shouldn’t admit to this, but a couple of time I’ve been shooting outside a building and had no place to plug in my lights. Well, the outside of the building had a light, so I unscrewed the light bulb and screwed in my adapter, thus making it into an outlet allowing me to “borrow” some power for my lights. ($3)

Spring clamps – get a couple decent sized ones. (2 for $10)

Gaffer tape. Get some 2 inch black. It runs around $12-15 per roll, but is worth it. Duct tape is cheap, but leaves residue everywhere you stick and can pull paint off the walls. Gaf tape leave very little residue. I’ve built props out of gaf tape, like a bandanna for an actor and numbers for a door.

A cheapie circuit tester. Usually around $2. You can use these when you’re location scounting to test if plugs you thing you want to use are working or not. Nothing is more a pain in the butt than setting up all your lights and finding out that the outlets you’re using are non-functioning.

Hand dimmer: You can find these for household lamps and they will handle around 300 watts. You can run 500 watts, but not for long or you will burn it out. These are great for china lanterns. $10 You can build your own which will handle more wattage.

Gloves: Get a decent pair of leather gloves because these lights get very friggin’ hot. You’ll learn after frying you hands a couple of time that gloves are a must item. $6

Black Wrap/Cine Foil/just plain old aluminum foil – black wrap is heavy duty foil painted black and is great to attach to scoop lights and the 500 watt work lights which will allow to shape the light coming out. You can use regular aluminum foil, but the reflections off it can cause problems and it’s not as durable as black wrap.

Plastic tub for all these goodies. ($6)

Wrap Up

This doesn’t cover everything in lighting on the cheap by a long shot, but I hope it gives you some ideas that you can use on your sets. Just a little lighting can go a long way to making you movies look better. Get some lights and play around a little bit.

Price Breakdown

500 watt work light $20
China Lantern(complete w/cord) $22
Halogen light (complete w/cord) $20
One light stand (used) $40
Gels (packet if no freebies) $20
Diffusion (packet if no freebies) $20
Stingers $40
Cube tap $4
Power strip $5
Gloves $6
Gaf tape $15
C-47 (bag) $6
Spring clamps (2) $12
Tota Clamp $12
Circuit tester $2
3 Prong adaptor (2) $2
Screw in plug adapter $3
Hand dimmer $10
Plastic storage tub $6
Total: $265

Wow, that added up to a big figure, but you can build it over time. Again, deals can be had. If you find a cheapie used stand for $20 and freebie gels, then you cut $60 off this total. Also, remember instead of asking for DVDs for Christmas or your birthday, ask for gift certificates at Lowes or Home Depot.

Scott Spears is an Emmy Award-winning Director of Photography with 14 features under his belt. He’s also written several feature screenplays, some of which have been made into movies. You can check out his site at www.scottspears.net and his filmmaker listing on the Internet Movie Database.

Go back to Part One of Scott’s article.

Written by Scott Spears.
Thrown together by Chris Hurd.

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