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Nothing ruins a take like blowing a circuit. Which is why all films (save small indies) hire a “gaffer” whose job is to (literally) keep the lights on, and take care of any equipment that runs on electricity that isn’t a camera. If you can’t afford to bring a pro gaffer on your set, be sure to keep these two key rules in mind:
Know the maximum load that you can draw from any one circuit. In North America, it’s anywhere between 1500 to 1800 watts for a regular 15 amp circuit. A common film technique is to use paper watts. Which is take your circuit amperage (15) and times it by 100. So a 15 amp circuit can safely handle 1500 watts. It’s not an exact science but it should keep your lights running.
Know what lights do what. There are soft lights, hard lights, incandescent lights, daylight balanced lights, lights that generate a lot of heat (ALWAYS wear gloves) and lights that don’t.
For a greater explanation of all the lighting tools and how to use them, celebrated Canadian gaffer Ira Cohen hosts this episode of Step & Repeat (above), a primer on location lighting using household power. Special thanks to William F. White International Inc.
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