Lighting For HD Television Pilot


Hey guys,

First time here, great info so far, though.

I'm in a bit of a bind. I co-own a little amateur production studio. There are only a couple of us here, but we have access to other PA's, etc. Now for the major question; we have a client who wants to do a half-hour television pilot for a script he wrote. It's a drama, for the most part, about the stories that take place within a record store and a coffee shop (they are two separate stores, but they share a half-wall, so it's almost one big area). The budget is around 20-30K and a good 10K of that went to purchasing TWO Sony HD cameras (the new hvr-v1u coming out in December). The rest of the budget allows for, get this, only $3,000 for lighting, and that's being generous. Stylistically, we don't want anything too difficult (a relative term in lighting) - something "gritty" but not too dark. Think CSI or ER.

Same type of camera movements/shots as well. Handheld on a stabilizer at times, sometimes on a tripod. Probably heavy on medium shots, but always a variation. Usually at least three people at a time, sometime up to 5 or 6 (there's a scene with band playing at the cafe with a crowd, but we can light that similarly). We'll be SHOOTING at night mostly, but only because that's when the space will be available to us. Some shots need to be set in the daytime, some need to be at night, but generally, it's time-ambiguus (so kinda daylight). I know I put myself at risk for saying this but, we're more experienced in setting up shots and shooting things than setting up the lighting, SO, that said, take it easy on us.

What in Gordon Willis' name do we use to light a space 40'x100' (?) per room - ceilings are 16'-20' high (with pipes and vents adorning said ceiling, no drops, or nothing - except the fluorescents that come with the building).

I hope that's enough info. just keep in mind, there may be a lot of moving camera. Thanks.

Evan Pease
Director of Photography (novice - still learning)
Buffalo, NY

Hi Evan,

Without seeing the location, it's hard to give you any specifics, but here are some basic ideas.

Are there any windows to deal with? Is it a day or night setting (or both?)? What about powering the lights you want to use? Will you be using house power, or a generator?

In a low-budget situation such as yours, I can generally tell you the "low budget" lights I find invaluable, but they take a lot of finesse to make them look right.

1000 watt PAR 64 cans are some of my favourites. Super bright, really inexpensive, interchangeable globes, and they don't take that much power considering how bright they are. Best if you can get a set of scrims with them. You can also consider a variety of the PAR's smaller cousins, which take less power, all the way down to the PAR 16.

Chinaballs can be nice, but difficult to control. Cheap, though.

Kino Flo’s are more expensive, but they're both daylight and tungsten balanced, and they don't take a lot of power (if you're using house power).

Practical fixtures in the background will help out, too. Don't forget about a grip package, stands, stingers, cable, etc.

Happy shooting,
Graham Futerfas
Los Angeles based DP

>>Think CSI or ER. Same type of camera movements/shots as well.


These shows actually use a lot more lighting that you would think. Like Graham said, China Balls & Par can are going to be your most light for the least rental fees, however they both will require more work to get what you want. I like the par can because it is punchy and works very well as a bounced source. You may want to look into hiring a gaffer/key grip that owns/has access to a truck with some gear. If there are windows to compete with, your day scenes could be much more difficult/expensive (if you need to see what is going on out there)

Along with a few kinos w/ daylight and tungsten globes, maybe some smaller HMIs, 575w/1200 can run from house power. What is your available power like? Are you able to get a genny?

Jared Hoy
Los Angeles, California
Gaffer || Cinematographer || BBE

Hi Jared! Hope you're doing well.

>>Think CSI or ER. Same type of camera movements/shots as well.

Jared wrote:

>>These shows actually use a lot more lighting that you would think.

No Kidding! I used to work on CSI (seasons 1&2) as a lighting tech, and I can tell you we had a lot of 10K's full spot on the main sets, along with some 10K beam projectors, par cans, lots of 5Ks, Kinos, etc. Lots of colour, light grid, etc.

Par Cans need a lot of finesse, but then so do most lights. You can use them as bounces, push them through light grid, put VNSP bulbs in them and scream them through windows, etc. Very dumb lights, very rugged, lots of punch if you want it. Lamp placement is much more critical than with a softer light.

But then, I always find that I have to be much more creative with lighting when I don't have the budget to have the package I want, or even the package that I feel I need. Often, when putting together a lighting order, I do a pass through it at the end that I know will handicap me a little bit, on purpose, to force myself to be creative. The Par Cans usually stay on the order, though.

Another thought, you might consider gelling the windows to balance to tungsten, unless there's a door with in and out traffic during the day. Not only will it put you in balance with the colour temperature, but you can combine the 85 with Neutral Density to bring the exposure into line with the inside. This totally depends on the location, the blocking, and what's outside the window.

Best wishes,

Graham Futerfas
LA based DP

>>I'm in a bit of a bind. I co-own a little amateur production studio...

Is this for a studio and sets or for a location?

Jim Sofranko

>>The budget is around 20-30K and a good 10K of that went to >>purchasing TWO Sony HD cameras (the new hvr-v1u coming out in >>December). The rest of the budget allows for, get this, only $3,000 for >>lighting.

Perhaps you should consider renting the cameras you need instead of purchasing them, and use the considerable money saved by doing so to rent a sensible lighting/grip package. Or putting together some Home Depot DIY rigs.

Just a thought.

Mike Most
Chief Technologist
Cineworks Digital Studios
Miami, Fl.

There are 2 huge bay windows in the record store, and one whole wall of the coffee shop is windows, but we will be shooting at night so we don't have to worry about natural light. We are going to be shooting scenes that take place during the day, so we would need to light appropriately.

Yes, we will be using house power, so blowing a fuse would be an issue.

This is a kit we're considering purchasing :



Any feedback you can give us would be appreciated.

Evan Pease
Director of Photography (novice)
Buffalo NY

This is for a location shoot - two open spaces with an adjoining "half-wall" if you will.

Evan Pease
DOP (in training)
Buffalo, NY

Off the top of my head and out my ...

>>purchased TWO Sony HD camera, only $3,000 for lighting.

Make a deal with a gaffer or Key grip (with their own gear) and trade one or both cameras after the shoot wraps. Otherwise your real budget is 20k and you are using the production to buy toys for yourself. Put that money one way or another on the screen.

>>something "gritty" but not too dark. CSI or ER. SHOOTING at night

Agree with others on par cans. Another option ... Hire a rock and roller that has his own (24 min)lights (use 1/4 or 1/2 CTB for daylight, naked for night), dimmer packs and console. Rig them in the ceiling on the pipes (BE CAREFUL AVOID SPRINKLERS) Sight unseen, I can imagine four areas that you will be shooting a majority of the time (cash register is one that comes to mind). Hard to explain briefly, but you want to ring the areas with (6par cans) light and (hopefully) with minor adjustments and on/off/dimmed have a base light scheme to add from the floor. Two or three 1k's and a dozen mirrors will give you some extra Umph for a little $$. A good gaffer/Key Grip can make it happen or come back here to get this specific advise.

>>Some daytime, some night, generally, time-ambiguus (so kinda >>daylight).

Use the over head fluorescents and replace the bulbs with Daylight tubes. Chroma 50's (or Vita Lite's $19-20.00 retail, $10-12.00 from a lighting distributor) This will work great for day INT and will work as a ambient for the night when you will be using the tungsten’s (Par 64's) or 1k's. A bit more tricky but you will white balance for the tungsten and let the Flo’s go blue.

>>What we use to light a space 40'x100' ceilings 16'-20' high (with pipes >>no drops, or nothin - except the fluorescents in the building).

ADD a bunch of four foot shop lights to your purchase and buy the daylight tubes (with plenty of spares) for use on the floor and in other places. It is not going to be perfect but warm white Flo tubes and tungsten will work together fine for your pilot. I am thinking cheap here so no blow back on this recommend. It is the acting that will get the pilot picked up.

This is also likely to get me some heat but I would suggest photo floods and floodlights. CHEAP, easy to find and if you can get a few real Baby 1k's these can do all the highlighting, specials and kicks in combination with the more controllable Baby's.

How many amps does the building have available free? A tech scout is what you'll need to do. Again sight unseen, you may have 20 wall outlets that share five 15 or 20 amp breakers. That rock n roller or gaffer can do a tie-in to the mains, BUT make sure your are insured. If possible/required a licensed electrician to be safe/legal instead to tie-in and then remove at end of the production's run. That CSI style you are going for is going to need at least 100 amps for any medium shot. Ideally you want to dance 100 amps around the floor minimum and have another hundred amps in the ceiling not counting the buildings fluorescents.

One last suggestion, use track lighting with MR-16 units. I did a hidden camera project entirely with existing Flo fixtures swapped to Optima 32's and 10 four foot (40') track lighting and 60 units. 65-75% of the footage looked good enough to be broadcast. The rest was just not good enough, lost detail, odd shadows, or it just stank. Total cost of lighting a room 30X20X12 was under $1300.00

Hope this is of some help

D Shannon
gaffer/ rigging gaffer

>>This is a kit we're considering purchasing :



Why are you purchasing everything?

Yes for a production company to purchase items for future productions is good, but I'd suggest one piece at a time. You could get a pretty reasonable rate from most any rental house for an equal lighting package. Also, purchasing this leaves out a lot of grip gear and "unthought of surprises" that you could have on say a 1 or 3 ton grip truck. Most houses will give you a 3day week, if not a 2 day.

As far as power goes, is your best able to tie in to get that extra power? With no genny, the china balls, kinos, small HMI pars, par cans, and a few small tungsten heads would be what you're limited to. if the building is relatively new, you'll be regulated to about a 2k on any given circuit (assuming 20amp)

do you maybe have pictures of the locations?

Jared Hoy
Los Angeles, CA
Gaffer [] Cinematographer [] BBE

You guys are asking a lot of really great questions - thank you for the help so far.

I've looked at all this stuff, some of it is a little overwhelming to a (more or less) first-timer, but it's all greatly appreciated. One of the main questions to answer is why we're buying the equipment. It's a fairly long story, but the short skinny of it is that we're just starting out as a company and we, the core crew, agreed to do this project in exchange for the equipment.

I'm going to look over all the feedback once again and try to answer all the questions I can - again, thanks a lot, I'll have some answers soon.

Evan Pease
DOP IOHH (Director Of Photography In Over His Head)
Buffalo, NY

Evan Pease 3CStudio wrote :

class="style9" >>....the short skinny of it is that we're just starting out as a company and >>we, the core crew, agreed to do this project in exchange for the >>equipment.

Altman Mini Theatre 13 Light System Kit - consists of:

4- 37 Degree Ellipsoidal,
2- 55 Degree Ellipsoidals,
2- Fresnels,
4- Par 64 Lights,
1- Follow Spot with Stand and Pattern Holder, Barndoor Sets, Pipe Clamps, Bulbs -

10,410 Total Watts

Our Price: $ 2,699.95

What you've got here is a package for a small theatre with a pipe grid to support the instruments.

The instruments by themselves may be useful, but I have some major reservations about this package as something to use in your application. Especially the follow spot!

If you as a group of production people are going to take the gear in trade for your labour, you need to make sure its stuff you can use on the set now and in the future and/or re-sell without much loss in order to get something out of it.

Maybe you shoot with ONE camera and make THAT look great, but do more setups to get coverage...and put the cash from NOT buying the second camera into lighting gear... necessary sound equipment, and a good, aligned monitor on the set so you can see what you're getting.

(Looking back at your initial post, I see you've already bought or ordered the second camera? Can you cancel without penalty??)

That said... you CAN work with some pretty cheap stuff and get a "look." One of the tradeoffs in doing so is how much labour it takes to achieve the look and keep the continuity as you change shot angles.

Find a DP or Gaffer in your area to consult with... take them to look at the location and see what she/he says.

You might want to look in the New York 411

For gear, check production houses, DP's Gaffers, Grips... anywhere you think there's serviceable used instruments and support that would be appropriate to use in the location you're trying to light.

I have some more suggestions below...but bear with me a minute or two.

Working with a first-time director on a VERY low budget shoot intended to get his script sold... we ended up shooting in a barn in the woods adjacent to a main forest highway.

The barn's sides had a lot of gaps between the boards, there was NO electricity or functional lights in the barn and no opportunity to use some available generators you'd buy at the homestore because we couldn't get them quiet enough. We had to stop shooting for cars WAY off in the distance that were picked up quite well by our Sennheiser shotgun.

I mention the gaps in the boards, because the second time we shot interiors it was supposed to be day-for-night... gloomy... with pools of light from a few overhead fixtures as the actors walked around a small black import pickup.

Unfortunately, our director didn't get the point that we needed to hang black plastic over the sides of the barn to keep the light from coming in the cracks, BEFORE we shot... in spite of my efforts to convince him of the need. So away we went.

He saw the reason for blacking out the barn when I cut the non-draped daytime stuff with stuff we'd shot at night. Like night and day if you'll pardon the pun.

We ended up having to re-shoot the entire day's work AFTER draping the barn. Why mention this?

YOU may need to black out the windows at NIGHT to keep uncontrolled headlights and such from spoiling YOUR illusion of Daytime.

Secondly... I'd planned on lighting with a number of 1K Lowell DP units on the floor in addition to practical lights overhead that we created using cheap spring-clip reflectors attached to the barn rafters and cabled with household extension cords.

I couldn't use the Lowell’s because all the power we had came about 400 feet down the hill from the barn owner's house...on what was maybe a 12-gauge 2-wire extension. Not enough amperage available to keep from having a serious problem from a safety viewpoint, and because whenever I kicked a 1K on... we had a severe voltage drop and concurrent colour temperature change. Think orange colour. Not good.

I ended up shooting with the practicals, which had reflector floods or spots in them aimed at the floor to help create the "pools of light" he wanted. I taped circles of spun the size of the front of the flood to reduce the intensity n the center and spread the beam some.

Coupled with a couple of reflector floods with spun attached to C-stands with grip heads and gobo arms, I was able to pull off something that looked JUST like it was supposed to: A gloomy barn in the dead of night with four or so lights overhead and a actors walking around a black pickup truck in the middle.

We had to shoot wide open at 12DB gain (max on the Canon XL-1 I had to use) but I was able to set the F-stop to keep the actors from getting washed out right under a light, and have enough fill for a good, usable image and we moved on from there.

Among the things I learned was to not be afraid of using something simple and inexpensive.

You also don't have to light EVERYTHING... which can keep the number of instruments (and cost) down, and keep the set up time and complexity from becoming overwhelming. Not lighting everything also helps focus the viewer's attention on where the action is.

A 1K bounced into some foamcore held in a grip head may help simulate the look of daylight in your location for a two-shot. More people? Another light and more foamcore. Test it out to see whether it looks real. It may, depending on how far away from the windows the action is.

Other ways you can stretch your lighting budget yet get something of value :


Invest in some quality C-Stands with grip heads and gobo arms which will give you lots of flexibility on the floor.

They're also one of those things that you buy once and have around for years. They have lasting value, so you'll not lose a lot of your investment if your group opts to "cash out."


You might even see whether you can make use of some of the vapour-type outdoor lights to give you lots of lumens per watt and a colour temp near daylight.

The kind they use on night-time construction jobs (minus the noisy generator) might be something to consider for your Daylight scenes if you blasted four of those through a window covered with some sort of diffusion.

Check out how many volts/amps per light are needed to see whether the building will handle it. Also what gauge of wire is needed to get from your power source to where the lights are.

There's some math involved that relates to amps/volts/wire gauge/length of cable that needs to be calculated.

Maybe someone on the list can point you to that info on line or in a handy pocket book.


Make good use of the lighting section of the home-store.

There are 150 watt and 300 watt outdoor lights that would work as "broads." They can be equipped with a short length of conduit that carries a three-wire pig-tail to an Edison plug (standard 3-prong plug).

Grip heads will clamp onto the conduit and you use an appropriate extension cord to connect to your power.

Control the light with some of the suggestions below.


See how to make the suggestions offered in previous posts work for you.

If you have the camera already or as soon as you do, see if you can do some tests in the location with the fluorescent and tungsten lights... the home-brew ones, the purchased or rented par cans and such to see what they do in that space and how well you can make them work.

Check how well your camera can deal with a "mixed" tungsten and fluorescent and what happens when you add colour correction gel to the tungsten’s to get them to match the tubes.

D Shannon's suggestions about replacing the fluorescent tubes and using some on the floor as fill may pay off well for you.

Make sure the ballasts don't buzz or interfere with your sound equipment due to the magnetic field.


You can also use household reflector floods and spots as I did.

Note that they are available in various "widths" from narrow to wide, buy some and shine them on a wall in a dark room from the same distance to get an idea of what the differences are. See what happens when you put spun, frost or gel over them.

That might work just fine for the band area at night... with collared gels. If you need to make a light show, there are small dimmer packages that use Edison plugs... or you can rig your own with dimmers and knockout boxes from the home store.

Practice safe wiring! Make sure things are grounded.

Lights--pro or homebrew--can be shaped with black wrap (heavy foil that's black) to keep the light from going where you don't want it.


White Foamcore is often used to bounce light and keep it soft.

Foamcore covered with tin foil makes good and cheap reflectors.

A reflector in a grip head can bounce light where needed, sometimes substituting for a light. Cheap. Keeps the power budget from going over the max.

BLACK foamcore in a grip head can block light from an area or help remove unwanted reflections in eyeglasses or other reflective surfaces.

Test each to see what it does.


Along the lines of "measure twice, cut once..." plan and research and TEST what you're going to do so you don't waste time and don't have to shoot twice. You may not get the chance.

The project I was shooting in the barn never got finished because we ran out of time for the location and the actors.

Hope this is helpful.

Ted Langdell Creative Broadcast Services
Marysville, CA

Ted Langdell wrote :

>>What you've got here is a package for a small theatre with a pipe grid to >>support the instruments. The instruments by themselves may be >>useful, but I have some major reservations about this package as >>something to use in your application. Especially the follow spot!

I agree with Ted the package is not appropriate for a location kit.

The follow spot and the ellipsoidal are expensive units for what they would do for you on a film shoot.

I have noticed that the difference between good and great is lighting of the background of a scene as much as the light on the principals. Often I spend more time taking light from a key off a background or accenting a scenic element in the background as I do setting the front lights on the subject.

For the price of the ellipsoidal and the follow spot you could get some good used C-Stands and regular stands. The kit you were looking at has no support for the fixtures and as Ted pointed out is for a grid system. I find myself using more stands to support flags and stuff like bounce cards, etc. than I do lights themselves.

I have an entire kit made up of $7.00 small clip fixtures and an assortment of PAR 20 lamps in various beams and wattages that we use all the time for background accents lights. I have even used them for backlights on subjects as well.

Theatrical Fresnels will work for you as well as an Arri or Altman it is just a little larger for the wattage at 1/2 the price. The other thought is shopping Ebay if you are not in a hurry you should be able to accumulate most of what you would need.

The in closing I would second the thought of others you might be better off overall making a deal on a grip package it gives you all the little stuff that makes your shoot day so much easier.

Richard Bakos
Studio One Inc.
25833 State Road 2
South Bend, In 46619-4736
VOICE 574-232-9084
FAX 574-232-2220

Multi camera does not easily lend itself to gritty lighting but in a few instances ( cross-keyed OTS coverage or medium and a CU from within a dozen or two degrees of each other). You can light for one direction, but not the reverse, at the same time, as a grossly generalized rule. As has been said, pretty tough to make recommends without specifics...or a pay cheque

Lots of movement means lots of careful pre-light if I may assume you don't have time to re- light this large space as your coverage unfolds.

PARS and Chinaballs as has been said are cheap and of value; LanternLoks I find indispensable for paper lanterns as they solve the prior position control and skirting issues completely. Great skill and lots of electrical cords and nail plates might be the cheapest way to light this thing moody; for what it's worth.

Don't forget substantial Duvetyne ( $300 a roll ? ) to take down all the off camera surfaces that will fight your attempts to create dark shadows adjacent to brighter lights ( walls, concrete floors, etc).

New fresh paint goes a long way on most sets. White paint is evil when it comes to mood and grit and HD.

I think it is of note that you acknowledge your weaknesses and strengths ( shooting a plus, lighting a minus); one can learn to shoot without learning to light but not really the other way around.

Your budget is not really project appropriate; or more specifically, you are trying to buy stuff that should be rented. By the time you purchase a rudimentary kit and all the extras you'll require, $3,000 sounds like 2 basic lights ( Fresnels are nice in that they can focus or diffuse with Chimeras, or bounce), 2 stands, a set of flags and nets, a couple c-stands, a set of apple boxes, some stingers, squeezers, a couple furniture pads, and BAM you're over 3 grand already. And that assemblage will let you do a few things in a bedroom or bathroom sized set...

I consider myself a master of minimal, but I would decline an offer to pull
off what you are challenged with.

Good luck...

Royce Allen Dudley

Yikes. Sounds like another impossible project where the investors have put all their money in the wrong places.

Here's the limited advice I can give :

Light the background first. Find practicals or whatever is cheap to cast some light here and there around your set. You can always find a way to light the people easier and faster than you can light a huge background.

If your ceiling is white or bright you might take a unit with some punch and a narrow beam (a nice bright PAR) and put it into the ceiling it to create some sourcey ambience. Aim it into the ceiling behind the people you're shooting to give them a hint of backlight and bring up the background to a tolerable ambient level. Probably only works well for one direction at a time, might work okay for more...but just as ambient fill.

You could try to do as much as possible with kickers that you place in the corners of your set, out of the shot. I'd fill the people from the same side the kickers are coming from. I generally find that filling from the key or kicker side adds a ton of production value fairly quickly and easily. It cleans up a lot of light that otherwise would be pure evil on a face.

Bounce off the floor when possible. Bounce light from below looks very "ambient" and real in a lot of situations.

Something I've found that works well is bouncing big lights into walls out of shot in a U shape, where the walls directly in front of the camera and to the sides (but mostly on the far side of the talent) get lit just above and out of the shot. That can give you 270 degrees to shoot in if you're lucky and have a well art directed background to work with. I've ringed sets with lights and basically turned off anything behind the camera and on the camera side of the talent and had fairly good luck with soft wrap around light with some contrast. If the space is painted white you're going to have less luck with that.

If you've got pipes in the ceiling and you can clamp on to them...use them! Put some hard lights in the corners and some bounce light into the ceiling. If you've got a lot of furniture in the place that can be enough. The more crap there is in the shot the easier it will be to light that way. If it was an empty room, god help you.

You could use those pipes to put light across the set from one side, as if it was motivated by windows, and fill from the floor as needed from the same side.

I hope the walls are dark. As for the rest of it... day interiors at night with no lights... good luck. Think tight shots.

Art Adams
Director of Photography
Film | Hidef | Video
San Jose, CA, USA

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