Greening the Film Business

Author: Bill Zarchy
Published: May 30, 2011 at 6:17 am

It's a vicious cycle in the film business. We use scads of energy to light our sets, usually trying to make them look as natural as possible, then we use scads of energy to cool them. If we can reduce the power required for lighting, we can save money two ways.

In the olden days of production, when I was starting out in the business, most movie lights (except for big arc lights) had tungsten or quartz lamps. These lamps employed a simple technology, like Edison's light bulb, pushing so much electric current though a thin wire filament that it glowed and gave off light—and heat. Tungsten is still the most mature, least expensive, hottest, and least efficient lighting technology available.

Advances in green technology have brought energy-efficient fluorescent and HMI lights into film and video production for a couple of decades now. And over the past few years, professional lighting units using light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have become an important part of the production world, using as little as 10% the power of conventional lights. But these new LED units are primarily broad light sources, difficult to control, and in many cases they throw multiple shadows when not diffused.

Last month at the NAB Show, I was heartened to see several manufacturers investing time and money into fresnel lights with LED lamps (see Arri lights above). Lights with fresnel lenses, originally invented for use in lighthouses, feature distinctive concentric-circle patterns in the glass. They have long been a mainstay of professional film lighting, because of their controllability and flexibility (their beam angle can be adjusted from a concentrated "spot" to a wider "flood" setting), and for their consistent intensity across the width of the beam of light.

I found it difficult to assess the performance of the LED fresnel lights at the Show, given their positions among many light sources in the various booths. The Arri lights seemed to throw an even pattern, from what I could tell on a wall 20 feet away. The Lite Panels booth had too many sources mixing together to assess any one of them critically, but I did manage to cast some hand shadows with the DeSisti lights, and I was not impressed by the multiple shadows I saw. And it was impossible to evaluate color at all.

Continued on the next page

About this article

Profile image for bzdp

Article Author: Bill Zarchy

Bill Zarchy ( is a freelance director of photography, writer, and teacher based in San Francisco. He has shot film, video, and HDTV projects in 30 countries and 40 states, including interviews with three former presidents for the Emmy-winning West Wing Documentary Special. …

Bill Zarchy's author pageAuthor's Blog

Article Tags

Share: Bookmark and Share