Broke-As-A-Joke MICROBUDGET FILMMAKERS: How To Shoot With Only A Boring White Wall


Before I explain how you, fellow video producer or microbudgeter, can turn a boring white wall into something interesting, especially when you're so broke, the couch is richer than you are, I have to start with the origins story.

My son was born on in November of 2015. 

At a studly 7 lbs and 11 oz, this little guy came roaring into the world as a surprise; we're old-fashioned, so we didn't know he was a boy until we first held him.

If God saw fit to have us get this far in life (humankind) without knowing whether we're all having boys or girls, then for us, we were fine with not knowing. 

We did get an ultrasound before he was born - for the picture.

Needless to say, he was a pleasant surprise at 4:10 am that early November morning.

This little guy is a bundle of joy. 

The following weekend, when he was 8-days-old, I shot back-to-back videos for a series of care and recovery videos with some of my friends.

But the dilemma was I didn't want to leave my wife and newborn son for 4 hours straight while she was still recovering.

I had to think about this shoot on sanity, and since it was to be a companion piece to this short video on denial, I needed to focus on the message and less on the wrapper.

With my wife and son at home, I needed to be nearby in case they needed help. 

I had a very simple house here in Vegas. The best parts about it were outside where there were real patches of grass and even a few trees - IN VEGAS no less.

Inside? It was just an ordinary home. 

And what do most ordinary homes have?

white wall.jpg

But -- all of my gear was at home, so setting up a shoot wasn't an issue.

I took to the web to find some inspiration, and I found it. And this is what I will share with you: how to spruce up the boring old white wall so your video doesn't look like a cheap student film.

I'll also show you what it looks like in action.

Before we get there, try this on your next shoot - strip out all of the bells and whistles you want to do or use.

Start with a blank slate.

Add in what you need and what you need only. 

Then stop there.

Plan ahead (this bare-knuckles approach is in fact, actually planning - fancy that).

Keep it lean when you have to and don't invent excuses to not try a shoot just because you can't get a crane shot or a drone involved on the shoot or it's raining outside, etc.

You might just find a similar setup works for you.

Filmmaking is largely about a can-do attitude. If you're willing to solve problems (including how to avoid the ill-fated "I quit"), then you'll be fine.

Ask the Almighty for help in using this craft to bring glory to Him and get to it.

1. Set up your softbox. 

Option 1: You are super in the hole (hopefully not literally or even worse, in debt), and you can't afford a softbox. 

Solution: Jury rig your own setup.

Remember, people care about the finished product. They don't care about what gear you used.

Only gear heads worry about that stuff. You and I? We should care more about the final deliverables, for clients, for people looking to be entertained or inspired by the message of hope.

The latest Red gizmo? That is not what you're all about.

So accept that you have to be resourceful with the very little you have. 

At the very least, you need a phone to shoot. Check. 

No lights whatsoever?

Solution: Use the window light and box it off.

Use gaff tape, black sheets, and some cardboard to funnel the light from the window. Of course, if you had flags, this would be much easier, but you can do this without the professional gear.

Clamp light? Grab a daylight-balanced bulb (about 5400k) and throw a white tee over it, a shower curtain, bubble wrap - whatever you have that can diffuse the light.

Just keep on an eye on your DIY gear; the last thing you want is a raging fire in the house.

Option 2: You can actually afford a softbox or you have one. 

Regardless of whether you go with option 1 or 2, you can set this up the same.

Set up the light overhead. 

No c-stand?

Use the stand that comes with the softbox. 

No boom arm?

I once had to rig a mic boom pole to a regular ole light stand.

It wasn't pretty, but there's nothing a little gaff tape and counterweights can't cure. It's the duct tape of filmmaking; use it liberally.

Get the light up high and point the light down on the actor's head. 

But that's not enough. 

2. Get a bounce card.

Or a reflector.

Or a white shirt thumbtacked to a corkboard - and yes, Webster says it's one word: "corkboard." 

Take that all you Anglish majors (coming from the ex-math teacher here). 

Grab that reflector and slap it underneath the actor's face. You're going to use it to bounce light back up on his face and fill in the shadows that the overhead light creates.

At this point, you still only have one light source. 

You *could* do the shoot without a bounce card, but it's all in the details when it comes to film and video.

3. Put some distance between your actor and the wall. 

You should always do this anyways where possible because most of the time, you have a talking head in some context (whether that's narrative or documentary work), and you need to keep the background in soft focus. 

You'll note the compounded benefit of this *usual* step is that the light source - being directly over the actor - will create a gradient on the white wall. 

In-camera at that - no post-work is needed. 

Goodbye white wall. Hello gradient.

Powerless look (1).jpg

The completed image has a little bit of contrast, saturation, and a skosh of a LUT (as in 20%).


There you have it. If you're poorer than a college student eating Raisin Bran and Ramen three squares a day, then you're good to go.

Remember, creativity is a God-given gift. Throwing money at a problem isn't the solution. Rejoice in the fact you are broke and that God is teaching you to be more creative.

After all, you were made in the image of the ultimate creator, and He made everything good. 

So get to it. 

If you still need some help, that's what I'm here for.

Do you want to see this setup in action? 

I'll show the video where we used this exact same arrangement. You can shoot it by yourself if you had to (sound, camera, and onscreen talent), but more is always merrier with film and video.

You can check it out here. 


Original: Feb 12, 2016; updated: Oct 09, 2017

Jake the film guy

I want to encourage others and bring honor to the Almighty in everything that I do with film and video. My goal is to take the first 11 minutes of my tv pilot and seek out decision-makers who can further the conversation about developing it into a show. If my team and I can do that, then we can teach 100,000 other microbudget filmmakers how to do the same thing so that we might tell stories of hope to millions. In the meantime, I'm a son of the King, a family man, a lifelong student of film, and the author of two microbudget filmmaking books.