Micro-Budget Light Kit

Here’s an article written by Cinematographer Scott Spears about assembling a very thorough light kit with very little money, compared to a Hollywood or even some indie film budgets.  In the end it comes out to about 265 bucks, however, if you find deals and buy in a state where there’s little or no sales tax (like New Hampshire, as far as I know), then you’d cut down on some prices.  Light stands can be made (though I’d recommend having at least one professional one, used probably, since it’s much cheaper), and lots of diffusion and gels can be made or improvised for free as well.  I’d also like to point out that gels aren’t crucial anymore in this digital day and age where you can do almost anything with a computer and some decent software in post.  I’m not in anyway telling you to wait until post-production to think about your shots, that would be suicide, but plan out your production down to the last little snack break so you know everything about every shot and you can save time and money (if you’re paying cast or crew, heh) by not spending a lot of time on set fiddling with settings and angles of lights with gels and stuff.  While in one sense this can be useful, if you watch the extra feature on Robert Rodriguez’s DVD for Once Upon A Time In Mexico on working fast and cheaply but staying organized and in control, it’s most important to do just that – stay organized and in control so that you can move very quickly, cheaply and efficiently, but also get all the footage you need to the project before you wrap shooting.  It’s a bummer to have to go back and do reshoots, but it happens, and it’s best to be as organized as possible so you not only don’t have to, bu you can add easily and quickly to the shots you did get while in your super-productive phase of organized low-budget filmmaking.

Going back to the article, it describes quite a few different types of lights that can and should be used on sets and locations, many different ways of plugging things in, adapters, cables, diffusers and all types of stuff related to lights and getting you to light your stuff well so it looks good in the final edit.  It’s a very good read for anyone interested in lighting, or filmmaking at all, and it’s definitely a must read for those of you who are making a film or going to make a film soon.  Keep it all in mind for your next film and try to budget in a lot of the things on the list.  Search around for deals and tips for DIY solutions on the cheap or for free, since there are definitely some for some of the things on the list.

The thing that got me the most excited was the spirit of “We don’t have the money but we’ve got the creativity” that permeated this article.  It’s all over the place in independent filmmaking, since most indie films are low-budget, done quickly and with as much creativity as possible.  It’s not really a communal thing exactly, but it’s the fact that lack of money doesn’t stop people from doing what they love to do.  That’s the coolest part.  It’s so fun to read an article like this and watch low-budget indie movies because they represent, to me, what filmmaking should really be all about and what Hollywood’s been losing in the past years.  There are so many good low-profile movies coming out and so many huge-budget effects-driven trophies paraded around the marketing world that are just so obnoxious to me.  Spending as little money as possible, getting the utmost in results and solving any and all problems creatively is the best way to do things, I think.  This spirit is not completely lost in Hollywood, I know I’ve mentioned him before but I’ll do it again, Robert Rodriguez finished one of the Spy Kids movies in about six months, and can’t even keep track of the number of setups he does in a day.  That is cool, I think, because he’s working as quickly and efficiently as possible so he can get the most done in a short amount of time and still have fun and get some awesome movies out there when they’re done.  Typically, films take almost six months just to shoot, in Hollywood, but in the indie world, in my world, I took 4 months with cast and crew to make LATENT(CY), from concept to completion.  It was a hell of a ride, and incredibly stressful, but it was my first feature, and it was with a crew of five and cast of about four, with a lot of learning curves all going at once.  Next time, I’ll know a lot more about what I’m doing, and so will the rest of the people involved.  Hopefully that means a more productive, faster, better piece with high quality, low or no budget and some huge efforts on the parts of both cast and crew.

The spirit of do-it-yourself(-with-no-money) in my version of filmmaking I think is what makes it so exciting for me.  I spend as little money as possible making as good a product as possible, and when it’s you and your friends who all love to make a movie, that’s easy, and it’s even fun.  I don’t understand the Hollywood way of thinking they can solve problems by slapping money on the budget for some enhanced effects work in post or something when they could have just organized or done it right on set and not had to worry about it at all.  Also, one thing I think is kind of funny, and this is very unrelated, in the fact that a lot of indie actors are often, I’ve found, as good as or better then big-time Hollywood actors who get all the attention, and the indie actors don’t get anywhere near as many jobs.  Doesn’t really make sense to me but hey, it keeps them available to the small-timer who wants a good movie made with barely any money… like me.  Bruce Campbell said something once, comparing indie filmmaking to Hollywood filmmaking, “indies can always slow down with more money, but Hollywood can’t speed up with less money,” and I think that’s perfect that he said it, but really, really stupid that it’s true.  How sad is it that Hollywood can’t creatively solve their problems in production on a movie and save tons of money while indie filmmakers do it all the time, creating just as good of a final product, but they don’t get even half the distribution deal at the end.  I guess now it’s just name recognition, but that’s a pretty depressing world then.  If we depend on names to watch a movie, that’s pretty sad.  Sometimes it’s nice to see a familiar face in a new role, or even a sort of familiar role, since actors nowadays are becoming more and more typecasted, but I’d personally rather see someone I’ve never heard of before pull off the performance the character they’re playing deserves.  When that happens, it’s awesome to watch a film, even if I don’t know about anybody involved in the movie, it’s worth it.  I think it’s the talent and the effort that counts, the final film doesn’t matter if there’s no point, if there’s no value in the story or there’s just a lot of flashy effects with a really weak storyline to it.  If it’s got even the simplest of plots, like Cashback or The Big Bad Swim, it can be told in a way that makes you just love the entire thing, simply because of the obvious effort that went into the whole project.

As for the article, it’s definitely worth reading and thinking about and remembering on your next project, for all you filmmakers out there, definitely read it and keep it in mind.  Best of luck, and keep on making things nobody’s ever heard of, that’s when it gets cool.

Link: http://www.microfilmmaker.com/tipstrick/Issue1/lighting.html

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