Tag: movies

7 DIY lighting essentials for low budget filmmakers

So you’ve raised the finance for your project, chosen your camera, cast your actors..and you suddenly find that your budget has disappeared in a flash. Where did it all go? Film making can be a seriously expensive affair and sadly certain departments sometimes get neglected as a result. Lighting is one of these departments.

No matter how low your budget is, lighting should never be neglected if you want to create cinematic visuals to be remembered. In fact, here are a list of reasons why good lighting is so important. In this article however I’m going to identify 7 lighting essentials that don’t cost the earth but every low budget camera operator or DOP should be armed with. Sometimes you need to spend good money on kit and sometimes you don’t, but if you’re keen to increase production value economically then read on.

  • Gaffer Tape

gaffer tapeA ridiculously obvious one but gaffer tape is something that should go with you on every shoot no matter how big or small your budget! It can save your life (in a creative emergency, I have yet to prove this medically!), whether it’s used to rig lights or modifiers onto unusually shaped objects or into areas that are inaccessible for light stands, gaffer tape really is essential. It can also be used to make DIY french flags to avoid lens flare and teamed up with some trusty cinefoil/blackwrap makes a perfectly functioning LCD cover for operating in bright sunlight. Trust me, don’t leave this behind!

And the award for best DIY rig goes to..

And the award for best DIY rigging solution goes to..

One item you can't afford to be without is cinefoil. This, along with your gels is worth spending good money on.

Gaffer and cinefoil = budget french flag. Cinefoil is one item you can’t afford to be without on set. This, along with your gels is worth spending good money on.








  • Halogen work light

Revealing an indHalogen worklightustry secret here. Or maybe not. This item is ridiculously obvious and cheap but the likelihood is that most of us low budget filmmakers probably don’t use them..or at least not yet. If you pop down to your local B&Q you’ll find these useful halogen work lights. At about £10 each these little lights give out a fair amount of light considering their size and use tungsten balanced bulbs which means their colour temperature matches the expensive Arri equivalent. If you have the right colour correction gels then armed with a few of these you could in theory light your whole film.

Of course being cheap means that these little fixtures do have their drawbacks; short power leads, a lack of any way to control the spread of the light and the fact that they won’t attach to normal light stands are the main ones (because obviously film making isn’t what they were designed for) but, if you purchase one of these, and I recommend you get several, you could potentially fill decent sized spaces for little money. What’s more, their handles allow for easier rigging at height than some lights. With a bit of problem solving, and lets face it – that’s what film making mostly is, you’ll be able to find ways to rig, hide and control the output of these lights.

  • Polyboard & foamcore
bounce board on roof

Polyboard is common even on the biggest of film sets

While you’re down at the DIY shop why don’t you pick up some of this too? Polyboard is a perfect and cheap way to bounce light in order to create flattering soft light and fill in shadows on your subject. It often comes in fairly large sizes and in various thicknesses and can be easily cut to size to meet your needs, or at least to fit in your car! What’s more, if you have any black paint lying around then paint one side and bob’s your uncle: you now have a large, lightweight flag to use for cutting light and creating negative fill. Two for the price of one (almost!).

foamcore flagIn addition to this your local craft shop will probably stock black and white foam core; both of which can be useful for smaller, more portable bounce boards and flags. Once again this is inexpensive, easy to cut to size and easy to rig. The only downside is any thin layers of card on these boards will be flammable, so be careful using them near hot light sources.




  • Spring clamps
spring clamps

Top tip: buying multi packs on sites such as eBay can make these accessories even cheaper for you.

Cheap and cheerful, but where would I be without them? These large spring clamps are cheap, lightweight and a must have for anyone doing any sort of lighting. Use them to attach reflectors or boards to stands, flags and tarpaulins to backdrops and for making green screens taut. Do yourself a favour and get some now.

Diffuser reflector spring clamps

A quick way to hold up your reflector

spring clamp reflector






  • China ball lantern
china ball

A beautiful quality of light for certain applications.

China ball lanterns can create beautiful soft light for use in close ups and as practicals. Inexpensive and by using regular household bulbs, china lanterns are a cost effective option over the dearer branded soft fixtures and combinations offered by the likes of Arri and Chimera. They do have a specific use however, their main drawback being that regular 60W or similar household bulbs don’t give out huge amounts of light, at least not for cinema use. To the naked eye their light output is fine but on camera the lanterns reduce a bulb’s output a fair amount. Adding to this, their size and the fact that they’re made out of paper means significant fire hazards are present if too powerful bulbs are used, so you need to stick to the recommended wattage. For larger areas of soft light an Arri/Chimera combination is a much more suitable option which understandably you will need to pay for.

Despite their drawbacks if you’re able to find use for them still china ball lanterns can provide wonderful results. Rig them off C stands or mic stands, ensure you have long enough extension leads and you’re good to go. Watch out for that colour temperature though; some bulbs rate lower than 3200K (tungsten) so will appear warmer than you may like. Once again it pays to have a good selection of colour correction gels!

  • Tin foil & baking paper
tin foil

Tin foil: cheap as chips!

Who’d have thought that every day items around the home could help you in lighting your cinematic masterpieces? The highly reflective surface of tin foil can be used in the same way that the silver side of a reflector is used; to fill in shadows when a white surface isn’t cutting it or to create a bit of ‘pop’ to the image through introducing highlights. Attaching sheets of tin foil to your foam core boards (see above) or even just a sheet of plywood can give you another way of applying contrast quickly, cheaply and without having to hire anything!

No product placement here..

No product placement here..

Baking/parchment paper is a good option for when you need to diffuse hard light sources to soften their shadows and reduce the contrast. It’s designed to withstand heat so is ideal for using with hot light sources without risk of burning. So if you’ve run out of diffusing gels and need a quick softening solution, go have a look in the kitchen cupboard or run to the shop!


  • Tarpaulin
tarpaulin night shoot

Protecting a 2K arri fresnel from the rain.

There are many uses for a tarpaulin, many of which may appear to have nothing to do with filming, however the long days on location and the unpredictability of the weather (especially in glorious England) mean that a tarpaulin lends itself to being pretty useful in general on set. For DOPs a tarpaulin can provide suitable protection to lights (and camera) from the rain and from dusty or wet terrain. More importantly, they can also be setup and rigged to act as huge flags, with a host of uses. From blocking out large windows in order to control interior lighting to providing a huge source of negative fill on location, tarpaulins are inexpensive, reusable and portable. If you decide to rig one up on location then make sure you remember your spring clamps! (see above)

tarpaulin over windscreen

Flagging the windscreen of a car to eliminate reflections and any changes to ambient light levels.

These are just some of the useful lighting accessories that can be used in low budget film making. However, as you climb the ladder in your film career, you may find yourself using some of these items on the bigger budget productions too!

Remember that there are certain items you’ll need regardless of your budget; lighting gels and cinefoil are the big ones here. Don’t cut corners on your gels, buy the real thing (I recommend Lee filters) so you know you have high quality, accurate colours and so you can avoid setting anything alight. If your budget can stretch a little or if your professional image concerns you then get yourself a few 5 in 1 reflectors; you won’t regret it.

Hopefully you’ve found this helpful and if you have any suggestions of your own for DIY lighting do tell us in the comments!


Christmas films: Our top 10 picks for the festive season

Hopefully by now you’ve done most of your Christmas shopping (if you still need some ideas, check out our 12 stocking filler ideas for filmmakers post) and you can put up your feet, grab yourself some mulled wine and put on the telly. Christmas is a wonderful time for catching up on the latest blockbusters, seeing the ones you missed and reliving the classics. Here are some of our favourite Christmas films we’ll be watching this festive season, in no particular order. Have you seen them all?

1. Jingle all the way (1996)

This is without doubt one of the best Christmas films to have ever existed. Period. What’s not to like about it? Arnie plays a struggling father as he tries to get the latest trendy action figure ‘Turbo man’ for his son after repeatedly disappointing him. But when every single action figure in town has sold out on Christmas eve will he be able to make it up to him? If you don’t like this film, well, ‘GET OUUUT!’

2. Die Hard (1988)

OK so you’re seeing a familiar theme here. Action heroes in Christmas films! Yes this is a Christmas film, whether it was intended or not, and it’s one of the best! Anyone who has ever watched TV at Christmas knows that this is always on, so there’s no chance that you’ll miss it. Bruce Willis plays John McClane, a tough New York cop who has to save, amongst all others, his wife from a bunch of German hostage takers at a Christmas party in LA. Move over Professor Snape, this is one of Alan Rickman’s finest performances as the particularly wicked leader of the group, Hans Gruber.

3. Home Alone (1990)

A Christmas film list wouldn’t be complete without this title. Amazingly I hadn’t actually seen it until a couple of years ago. How on earth did I grow up in the 90s and miss this, I hear you ask? Obviously my childhood was deprived. And I was probably watching Die Hard. Even still, no matter what age you were when you first saw this, it is undoubtedly a classic.

Macaulay Culkin plays the 8 year old Kevin who is accidentally left at home alone (as if the title didn’t give it away) when the rest of his family go on holiday without him. After the initial fun of having the place to himself he discovers two burglars are trying to rob his house and so he sets up a series of booby traps to stop them. A bit of fun for all the family. It’s particularly awesome because it obviously inspired Skyfall.

4. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

We do like our 90s films at Flycreative. This one is another absolute gem retelling the popular Charles Dickens Christmas Carol story but with a Muppet twist on things. Starring Michael Caine as the bitter Eberneezer Scrooge and all of our favourite Muppets including Kermit, Gonzo and of course, Beaker! The ghosts of Christmas past, present and future visit Eberneezer (did anyone else find it a bit scary in places as a kid?) and try to stop him from being such a miserable old git. Brilliant stuff.

5. Black Christmas (1974)

Talking of scary, here’s one for the horror fans out there. Black Christmas (the original, not to be confused with the 2006 remake) is a terrifying and suspenseful slasher film that supposedly inspired Halloween. A sorority house is terrorized by strange phone calls over the Christmas period and things quickly becomes much more sinister when one of the girls goes missing. With shots from the point of view of the stalker and some of the creepiest maniac rambling I’ve ever heard, this film is certainly not for the faint hearted!

6. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

If you don’t fancy having nightmares this Christmas then perhaps this classic will probably be more up your street. This version is actually a remake of the 1947 version (we’re a little biased when it comes to 90s films though!) and is a classic in its own right. It’s about a little girl called Susan who thinks she has found the real Santa Claus and it stars Mara Wilson as the girl, Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle (or is he actually Santa?), Wilma from the Flintstones and that guy who would’ve made a great James Bond. Magical and heart warming, it’s one of our faves.

7. Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-3)

We couldn’t possibly choose one Lord of the Rings film, they’re just all too damn good. So we chose the entire trilogy. Now they may not be very Christmassy but every year the trilogy seems to be on and I make a habit of watching it every time. These films are pure escapism and fantasy with some of the most gorgeous landscapes and epic battle scenes ever to be shown on film. It’s difficult summing up these films in a small paragraph because they are just that grand, so if you haven’t seen them yet (and if you haven’t then I would like to know where you’ve been hiding all this time) then maybe this Christmas is the time! Indulge yourself!

8. Elf (2003)

After growing up at the North Pole, Buddy is distraught to find out that he’s not really an elf and goes to New York City to find his true identity and hilarity ensues. Will Ferrell has us roaring with laughter here as Buddy and stars opposite the brilliant James Caan who plays his quite serious father and has trouble accepting his childish son into the family. If you’re up for a bit of silliness and a giggle then this flick’s for you.

9. The Lego Movie (2014)

Oh my word, a fairly recent film?! Well yes, everything is most definitely awesome here. This film was a big surprise to me when I first saw it and I can safely say it will become a Christmas tradition. A family friendly adventure about Emmet, a construction worker who becomes destined to save the world from the evil Lord Business who is trying to glue the Lego universe into eternal stasis. Behind this concept is a very clever script, some of the best animation ever seen (supposedly nearly every piece of lego in the film was real), an all star cast (including Morgan Freeman’s first ever role in an animated film) and more references to those special moments from a lego lovers childhood than you can shake a stick at. This film is undeniably a Christmas classic and it’s not even Christmassy.

10. Die Hard 2 (1990)

Because one Die Hard isn’t enough. And it snows again. Delightful!

So, there you go. When the weather outside is frightful, stay in and put on one of these classics. But if we have made a mistake and have forgotten to include your absolute favourite Christmas film in this list then do let us know in the comments!

So from all of the team here at Flycreative we would like to wish you a very merry Christmas and we’ll see you next year!

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