A 100W Lightbulb and A Piece of Aluminum Foil

In Notes From the Set by Rod SantianoLeave a Comment

Not too long ago, I shot a short film for a friend of mine called Face to Face.  It was an interesting project that was basically about a guy who comes home to a stange—yet familiar—man in his home.  It’s quickly learned that he is talking to his alter ego.  Played by one actor (and his brother for some over-the-shoulder shots), we shot the project in one room in one day.  Well, with one exception: there was one night exterior scene at the opening of the film that introduces the character arriving home.

There was no budget at all.  I think the actor got paid a few bones, but there was no money to rent anything or pay anyone.  The director, Spanky Ward, had a very small light kit which we really only used for the exterior night scene mentioned above.  The main part of the film was shot in the kitchen with a single 100-watt frosted household lightbulb as the main source of light—with the exception of a practical low-wattage florescent fixture under one of the cabinets and the occasional use of a tiny, scrimmed-down fixture for an eye light.

The setup was this: I hung the lightbulb socket and 100W bulb directly above the center table.  I think there may have already been a hook—or maybe we screwed one in—I don’t remember.   I used some aluminum foil to create a sort of china hat to taper off the light on the walls and then tore off little flaps in the foil that I could use to open up and let some light through for parts of the wall I needed lit or, in one case, the actor who stood up at one point.  I turned on a small florescent light that was underneath the cabinet directly behind the “good guy,” let it naturally go green and used black tape on the fixture to flag the light off from the camera and also limit its spread on the counter.  The only other light I used for the closeups was a 200W unit from the director’s light kit to kiss the shadows and give a little catch light in the eyes.  I think I used all the scrims and even put some 216 diffusion on it so it was barely present.  That’s it!

On the camera side, we just used my Sony EX1 without any lens adapters or anything.  I shot wide open and used the longest focal length I could with the room we had—which wasn’t much AT ALL.  I exposed for the actor’s face, timed it darker in post and sucked the color out of it.  I also added a vignette to darken the frame edges to help with the gloominess and creepiness of the scene.

For the shot where the darker alter ego crosses behind the other, we did a quick and dirty bluescreen effect and used the only other lighting unit we had to illuminate the bluescreen—leaving the lighting of the scene unchanged.  The director wasn’t too sure this would work but I assured him it would.  The composite, done in Final Cut Pro, worked well and I added some minor camera movement afterwards to help hide the fact that it was a locked off composite shot.  I think it turned out pretty well.

Click here for an excerpt from the film. I had a director recently comment that he liked the look of the film.  I thought, “Cool… Not bad for a 100W lightbulb and a piece of aluminum foil.”

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