DIY Filmmaking Lighting? There is a place for it.
This design for a DIY Vegas Light utilizes 41 globes at a recommended rating of 40 watts each which gives you 1640 Watts of warm, gorgeous tungsten light.
When you are first starting out and attempting to find cheap alternatives to the expensive lighting fixtures for filmmaking such as those from Arri and Mole Richardson, a lot of people resort to the classic work lights or the clip-on lights you find at every Lowes and Home Depot as alternatives for DIY filmmaking lighting. I remember when I was 14 years old and thought that my dad’s 1K work light was enough to make any night time location as bright as the midday sun. I guess I was a little too easily impressed back in those days:)
Yet, even as you are getting into serious filmmaking, there are a lot of DIY filmmaking lighting you can create yourself that somewhat equals the quality of light you can get from the professional gear. In fact, there are a few lighting fixtures you can create that really have no counterpart in the professional gear world including the covered wagon light that I previously wrote about and what is called a vegas light. Typically, these lights are built quickly using cheap materials that are intended to be expendable.
Over the past few months, I’ve been building a variety of DIY filmmaking lighting to add to the Grip & Electric package from Cine’ Foundry and decided I wanted to build a vegas light that was more durable and suitable as a permanent fixture on our G&E truck.
The quality of light from a Vegas Light fixture is unique in that when using clear globes, there is a slight softness yet it retains the hard cut nature of the direct light. This is particularly noticeable when you have the fixture painted with a flat black backing instead of something white or light colored which of course would bounce and soften the light. It really is a great tool to use as an edge/kicker light or even an eye light from the proper distance as the reflecion you get out of the eyes pops with all the different globes focusing toward the subject.
With my design, there are 41 globes, 40 watts each (totaling 1640 watts), tightly spaced controlled by a toggle switch. (you could easily ad multiple toggleswitches as I have left ample room in the wiring box so that you could quickly “kill” alternating rows of globes) Typically, the globes are just thrown on a piece of plywood or other backing and it can be a hassle to store and transport them so I have designed this with a wooden case surrounding the globes so you can easily throw the fixture on a shelf in the truck with out worrying about the globes breaking.
It’s a very simple design that requires a good amount of time to wire as it has so many sockets but its worth it even if the total cost, not including globes/bulbs, is around $100 depending on which sockets you choose to use. I would suggest purchasing them on Amazon or Ebay for the best price and I have often found numerous “lots” for sale on both sites.
Lumber (Measurements are in inches)
* I prefer Oak for durability but you can save on cost by using Pine or other
- 1 – 1/2X24X48 plywood
- 1 – 1X2X24
- 1 -1/4X3X24
- 4 – 1/2X4X24
- 41 – Candelabra Base Base Sockets (You can use standard medium base globes if you prefer but be sure to adjust spacing of the sockets to accommodate the globe/bulb size. Also, if using standard medium base globes, be sure to measure how deep the side walls need to be to safely enclose the globes and adjust the design accordingly)
- 1 – 20 ft Roll 14 Gauge Wire
- Assortment of Wire Connectors or Wire Nuts
- 1 – Toggle Switch (Rated 10A, 125V)
- 1 – Bottle Liquid Electric Tape
- 1 Box (40 Count) – #8 Stainless 1″ phillip screws
- 1 box (50+ count) #6 1/2 screws – for mounting sockets
- 2 Boxes (16 Count) – #8 Stainless Finish Washers
- 6ft cut of 12/3 wire
- 1 – minimum 15A 3 prong plug
- Polyurethane (optional)
- 1 – Chest Handle (optional)
- 1 – 5/8 baby spud (filmtools.com has the best price)
- Wire Cutters
- Electric Drill
- Drill Bits
- Adjustable Wrench
- Screw Driver
- Wire Stripper
- Sander (For a more polished look)
*REMEMBER to always pre-drill the screw holes to prevent cracking
1. Begin with the 1/2X24X48 plywood by measuring and cutting a 22X12 piece. This will become the back panel.
2. Using two of the 1/2X4X24 lumber, measure and cut both pieces 22″ long. Take the remaining two 1/2X4X24 lumber, measure and cut both pieces 13″ long
3. Attach the 22″ pieces to either side of the plywood cut with a minimum of 3 screws and finish washers, being sure to pre-drill the holes.
4. Attach the 13″ pieces to the top and bottom of the plywood cut with a minimum of 2 screws and finish washers into the plywood and 1 screw and finish washer in tho each corner as pictured. This creates the frame around the outside of the light fixture.
5. Cut the 1X2X24 lumber into two, 12″ long pieces.
6. Cut the 1/4X3X24 lumber into one 12″ long piece. This becomes the switch panel.
7. Measure 3″ from the bottom (It is up to you as to which side is the bottom) and mark with a pencil. Secure on of the now 1X2X12 pieces in line with this mark with 2 screws and finish washers. Secure by drilling and screwing through the side panel as pictured.
8. Confirm the proper diameter of the the toggle switch. (on the Servalight brand I used, it was a 3/8 hole) Using the 1/4X3X12 cut of lumber, drill the hole for the toggle switch slightly off center through the switch panel. Secure the toggle switch to the panel using an adjustable wrench.
9. At this point, if you desire to sand, paint and polyurethane the fixture, you should disassemble it and add 2 coats of polyurethane on all sides of the wood. I also highly recommend painting the interior walls in flat black to obtain the complete effect of a vegas light as previously described. Once you have sanded, painted and polyurethaned all of the wooden components and they have completely dried, reassemble the fixture.
10. PLACEMENT OF SOCKETS. The layout of the light sockets are really up to you but I suggest laying it out with 9 rows, alternating between 5 and 4 globes/sockets per row. See picture. Attach the sockets in your chosen layout.
11. Drill two 3/8 holes into the fixture in the 1X2X12 cuts of lumber where pictured. This allows you to pass the wire into the switch box and to attach the cable for the edison 15 amp plug later.
12. WIRING. Wire the sockets by attaching the 14 gauge wire to the furthest socket from the switch box then attaching it to the all other sockets being sure to allow at least 6 inches of wire between each socket and at least 12 inches of wire that will attach to the toggle switch. Once you have wired the sockets you can coat the bare wire with liquid electrical tape for safety and presentation.
WIRING BASICS: When wiring the porcelain sockets, keep note that you attach one run of wire to the “Hot/Black” terminal which will be the brass colored screw on the socket. The other run of wire should attach to the silver screw with indicates the “Neutral/White” terminal. If you have questions about wiring basics please do your research or ask someone. Note: This design and these directions are intended to wire a parallel circuit so that you may remove one bulb and all the others will continue to work.
13. Wire the Toggle Switch into the circuit being sure to place the toggle switch into the Black/Hot leg using wire connectors. On cable that has a ground wire, attach to the back of the fixture using a screw. Be sure to crimp, solder or secure your wire with wire nuts sufficiently.
14. Once you have completely wired the Toggle Switch, assemble the switch plate with 3 screws and washers as pictured being sure not to crimp the wires or cut into them when screwing in the screws.
15. Attach the 15A 3 prong plug to the end of the 12/3 cable being sure to wire the Brass/Silver to the Hot/Neutral legs appropriately. As you can see in the photo, I also use a fender washer and a rubber washer to create tension on the cable at the point in enters the fixture. This is completely optional but not a bad idea to help reduce strain on the cable.
16. If you chose to have a handle for the back of your light, this is the step to attach it along with a 5/8 baby spud. Drill a hole corresponding with the size bolt the 5/8 baby spud accepts attempting to place it as close to center on the back or the fixture and attach the 5/8 baby spud securely.
That’s it. I think this is the best approach to creating a solid, durable and attractive Vegas Light DIY filmmaking lighting fixture. The quality of light is gorgeous from the Vegas Light and I believe it is a simple and useful for and filmmaker regardless of budget. Feel free to shoot me any suggestions or questions here.