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Old December 6th, 2004, 06:35 PM   #1
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Stage lights vs film lights

Does anyone know if there are huge differences between stage lights and film lights? I'm involved in a theater orginization at my college and we were thinking of a shooting a short film or two next semester because we're way under budget right now (by a few thousand dollars). I was wondering, could we actually take down a few of the stage lights and use them for lighting rather using work lights? I would think they would work better, since we have gels and what not for them. We have mostly 500W fernels and 750W lights (the name of the 750's I can't recall). I would think that a stage fernel and a film fernel wouldn't be TOO far off if at all. I was just wondering if anyone had any experience with this that they could comment on. Thanks
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Old December 7th, 2004, 02:00 PM   #2
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The short answer, is lights are lights. Anything that throws light on a subject in a controllable manner is fair game.

Theatrical lighting is typically designed for more long-throw applications, that is sending a focused beam a farther distance. You typically find more par's and leko's in theater than the wide-focusable fresnels and softlights that most people associate with "film lighting".

You also have mounting and power issues. The mounting yokes for theatrical units typically hang from a pole instead of having a recepticle for a light stand post. You may also find cam-lock style connectors for power instead of standard edison plugs. Take a close look at those theatrical fresnels. If you think you can take them on a location, by all means yank them out of your theater and go make your movie (with permission, of course).
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Old December 7th, 2004, 02:22 PM   #3
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While the lighting instruments in theatre and film are very similar, you do have to be aware of the color temprature of the lamps. Color temp. in theatrical lighting is not critical, but can be very important in film or video production depending on the effect(s) wanted.

If the temprature is very far off 3200K, white balance will be accomplished at the expense of other colors -- that is, the whites may look white but other colors won't look like you expect.

If you can find the lamp info you can look up the color temp for most lamps from most major makers on the Web.

If you have no idea what I am talking about take a look at
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Old December 7th, 2004, 02:25 PM   #4
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I really haven't done any video lighting, but have been working with stage lights for 40 years. Matthew is right about mounting and lens issues, but these should be easy to overcome with by choosing units with the right beam spreads and either buying or concocting mounting hardware.

Camlocks are usually only found on power distribution equipment (like dimmer racks). Stage lights generally have either 3 prong twistlock connectors or 3-pin plugs. If you have access to existing lights then you probably want to leave the connectors alone so you can also borrow some of the stage cable for wiring. In this case you would use adaptors at the male end of the cable to connect to ordinary grounded household outlets. You could easily rent these adaptors from a theatrical supplier.

But I think the real answer to your original question is that stage lights are designed to "paint with a broad brush;" in other words, they are intended to illuminate something for an audience sitting many feet away from the stage. Good quality video/film lighting instruments should produce a more even pattern of light that will look good in closeup shots. The ergonomics should also be such that they are easier to adjust without using wrenches or burning your hands.

But since you already have the stagelights and (presumably) a camera, why don't you shoot a few quick tests. If you like the results and you don't have problems working with the stagelights then go for it...
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Old December 7th, 2004, 04:32 PM   #5
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Some excellent points are made above.

(I've worked a couple of different theatre venues over the years, and the lighting instruments almost always have an uneven field, a problem even when you're lighting for the stage.)

If you or your lighting director are used to lighting for the stage, there's another thing to consider: video cameras can record a much smaller range of light intensity than the human eye can appreciate. So what makes a pleasant picture on stage may become quite stark when recorded on video.

Diffusion gels can be used to soften a long-throw leko, but gee, isn't a fresnel a fresnel?

Michael Bernstein, actor & film maker.
10 films in 10 weeks:
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Old December 16th, 2004, 03:20 PM   #6
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The main problem with shooting video of a theatrical lighting set up is contrast. The Lighting Director is lighting for the human eye which sees a much greater range of light than a camera does. The video camera can only see about four or five stops of contrast, where as the eye can see much more. You will have to work with the LD and soften the contrast and use fill light to help bring everything within the contrast range your camera can handle.

The ideal would be to have a special performance just for the camera, no audience and the camera most likely on the stage, or over the orchestra pit. Depending on the play, it may take more than a day. You would have to create a shooting script and choose what you want to concentrate on. The play would end up being shot like a film, a scene at a time and all the scenes in a particular "location" shot at once and then the flats moved and the next "location" is shot. So it would also be shot out of chronological order.

Trying to shoot a performance would suck. It requires multiple cameras and an adjustment of the lighting. Not to mention the coverage would be sorely lacking. Did I mention it would suck?

If you want to use the theatrical luminaires on light stands, you will need to switch out the C-Clamps for 5/8th inch baby receivers. As mentioned before, the fresnels may, or may not be 3200K. Check the globe tables and see. If they are 3400K, or 2900K, you can warm them or cool them using Rosco, or Lee gels. When you use heavily colored gels, you will loose a lot of light, so you may have to use more powerful lights. You can use most of the lights on the grid, but you will have to take a few down so that you can use them as fill lights.

Check the archives, I recall that some other folks had similar questions.

Also film acting is much more subtle. The director may have to adjust the actor's performances, since they are playing to a camera a few feet away, not the cheap seats waaaay in the back.
Mark Sasahara
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Old December 16th, 2004, 05:39 PM   #7
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Mark, the discussion in this thread actually relates to Matthew's question about using stage lights to shoot a film, he wasn't asking about filming a stage show. You're right, there are several good threads on that topic however:
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