Wednesday, 23 April 2014


MJ Dixon is an Award Winning Filmmaker and Director of Low Budget worldwide releases including Slasher House and Legacy Of Thorn. He has also seen over 30 music videos and shorts appear on major TV channels around the world as well as running filming workshop The Micro Budget Massacre. He mostly spends his time leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap, will be the leap home.

READ FIRST!! Once again, please understand that this is just my outlook and opinion on aspects of filmmaking, Im not saying its right or wrong, it's just how I do things and how I view things, Filmmaking is about listening to everyone, your peers, professionals and everything in-between. This article is here to be nothing more than helpful to people looking to make movies, hopefully thats you.

CAUTION : Obviously working with any electrics that create heat is dangerous, make sure any lights you get have the required protective glass and caging and of course just like tungsten lights be aware that, if not set up correctly, then it can, like anything on set, be very, very dangerous.

Last week I talked about my standard light set up, using tungsten worklights. Tne set up itself cost very little and is extremely useful and very bright. However it does have draw backs, mainly in regards to how hot these kind of lights get. Although trust me, shooting in the winter in Northern England you'll apprecaite that a little more.

However our set up has evolved over the last few years to include LEDs. LEDs are cooler, lighter and most of the time safer than having lights that intergaret hot glass and Sensetive bulbs. This being a low budget filmmaking blog though, I have a duty to look at the cheapest alternative first and of course that is certainly tungsten worklights. 

The problem with these lights is that they each run at 500w each ( that's just work lights, we're talking 800w upward for pro lights) so if your heading out to location you're suddenly talking, large loud expensive generators and when you are running and gunning, like we have to do 50% of the time, you need something much more reliable and subtle to get the job done.

This is where I employ Led worklights. We picked up 3 of the brightest we could find (I think 108 LEDs) they cost about £50 each and they are rechargable, making them a great portable solution at about a quarter of the cost of 1 professional led panel. They fit to most light stands and last about 3 hours of constant use, so if you are careful with your usage you can get a full nights shooting out of them.

They have some drawbacks like anything, but low budget filmmaking is about jumping over hurdles in order to bring costs down. Now first of all, led lamps are not quite as bright as you would like unless you start moving into spending a few hundred, so most of the time you have to double the light source. These particular lights are rechargable, making them very portable. Downside is that they can't run off the mains without damaging the battery, so they need to be fully charged after they die out, which takes 3 hours. 

Heres an ebay link for the model we use HERE

And just for price comparison heres the same size tungsten (They are about £5 more with a stand) which is twice as bright HERE

Now the simple solution to this, is to have them on charging rotation. But of course that doubles the price of your set up. If your after something to rival the brightness of of a standard tungsten light you'll want to double that again. So we go from a £150 set up to a £600 set up. This however is still about the price of one pro led panel. So it's still a great option on a low budget production and an option I recommend can you afford to shell out a few hundred pounds/bucks on lighting.

However bare this in mind, no lighting solution is the best solution for every situation. Some days LEDs just ain't going to cut it. Sometimes you need something more powerful. We use anything from homemade LEDs to plastering lamps to pro stage lights depending on the job. Knowing what the best tools to use for each job is what will make your films look better, not the fact that you spent $7000 dollar on lighting panels. 

A lot of our pickup outdoor scenes in Legacy Of Thorn had to be quick, All of them were lit using this portable set up and available light and that is really the secret to make LEDs work in large areas. Using them to highlight what is already there. This way you can still have control over what your film looks like, whilst utilising the light around you. Especially if you do your research into the locations lighting ahead of time.

The trick with lighting is understand the strengths and weaknesses of different types of lights, tungsten lights are still cheaper and in my opinion give a warmer, nicer, brighter light despite thier drawbacks. But I certainly can't deny the usefulness of LEDs and I certainly intend to replace my tungsten kit with them eventually, but for the level of light you need on a film set you can be looking at some serious money.

But a few hundred pounds is still a lot of money for low/no budget filmmakers. However there is a slightly cheaper option when it comes to portable LEDs if your willing to put some time in, but I'll talk about that next week ;)



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