I overspent. Not the first time, but certainly the most irritating. I fell victim to one of my late-night compulsions to scour eBay for a deal, coupled with a sudden burst of late-night excitement about the film I’ve been trying to make for about six months and will probably not end up making at all.
When I try to fall asleep, I usually just keep myself awake thinking about future prospects; usually when that happens, they’re so depressing and full of self-loathing that I end up exhausted, but this was one of the few night when I’ve actually worked myself into a tizzy about this film. And I was mulling over all sorts of logistical problems that would be created by my current lighting system, which right now is pretty asstastic (more on that later). What I decided I needed was something more portable—something like the lighting kits at school.
So, at around 2:30, I leaped out of bed after trying to fall asleep for the better part of two hours, flipped on my computer, and started searching eBay for a deal on a lighting kit similar to—if not exactly like—the lighting kits we have at school. Basically, cheap lights that are decent for my purposes. They’re actually somewhat of an “industry standard” for low-budget films. And then I found a perfect deal—a used kit almost identical to the D.P. kits at school (the only difference is this one had two key/fill lights and an exclusive fill light, as opposed to the three key/fills in the Columbia kits), for the low low buy-it-now price of roughly $750, which is basically half price for this kit.
That’s a deal. Last summer, before my sister convinced me to go the “cheaper” route, I scoured eBay for similar kits, but through ferocious bidding and excessive buy-it-now prices, the only “deals” I found would have cost me about as much as it would have to buy the kit new. I would have done that, knowing the value of this kit in comparison to other lighting attempts…but I didn’t have that kind of money at the time. Temp work had dried up (except for a whopping three-day assignment and a one-day sentence to hell, I didn’t temp the entire summer, and I’m currently employed by four different agencies in the area), and the job from Starbucks was in the distant future. So I was running low on cash, and I needed cheaper alternatives.
Enter the sister. With her bafflingly thorough knowledge of any and all lighting equipment and its usefulness in a variety of settings on the stage and screen, I was guided toward buying cheap but (theoretically) useful lighting equipment. Mostly, she said, because of the 3CCD chips in DV cams that don’t require buckets full of light to come out properly exposed, I could pretty much fudge decent lighting through DJ equipment. So I scoured eBay, as usual, looking for deals on par cans and accessories.
As it turned out, in order to get the par 64s to work properly, I needed to invest several buckets o’ money into them. The base units came as basically a shell of a light—no lamp fixture, no barn doors, not even a plug. Just the ground, hot, and neutral wires protruding from a black cable. I had to wire it myself, which I could do (but I hate it, so even now I haven’t gotten around to doing it), and the theory was to plug all of the lights into this doohickey from American DJ that carefully controlled the wattage distribution among each of the lights, so as to prevent blown fuses or tripped circuits. As it turned out, though, without some sort of mini-light board, that doohickey did not function.
So here’s what I ended up with: four light fixtures (with gel frames), three lamps, three standard stands, one backlight stand, three light switches (in metal boxes), and three extension cords. The thing that needs to be understood about the light stands—despite the claim that they were designed for par 64s, they are not. So I had to rig them—complete with safety cables around the light fixtures, as they were likely to fall at the slightest movement—so that they’d stay somewhat properly on the stands.
It’s a terrible set up, and it’s not specifically mobile. Not that there are many exciting action shots in this film that require mobile lights, but there are enough that it’s a necessity. And it’s just generally a good idea, in the grand scheme of things, to shell out some money for decent lights instead of spending hours fighting with the lights you have…I mean, whether it seems like it or not, I do want to get this film shot sometime before the end of the decade. So I, in a somewhat incoherent stupor that I would regret come morning, immediately leaped on the $750 buy-it-now so I could own a decent light kit and put the horror of the par 64s behind me.
It was only after that that I realized I don’t have any money. I’ve been burning money this semester like it’s going out of style. Part of it was grief, in a way. “Gee, your girlfriend broke up with you and you’ve got half a dozen birthday checks streaming in via the USPS? Why don’t you buy a Playstation and some games?” I bought a ridiculous amount of stuff I don’t need this month. My AmEx bill was ridiculous—~$650. The only thing in the list of charges that I actually flat-out needed were my textbooks. But considering the way this semester’s going, I’d debate the necessity of said textbooks. Hell, I didn’t even buy textbooks for two classes (and, fuck, it still cost me almost $200 in total), and those are the only two that I’m getting an A in right now.
But I got obsessive. I’d like to say it’s just the horrible aftermath of the relationship, but reviewing the charges, most of them occurred before that happened. I did splurge quite a bit after that happened—the Playstation 2 and games, as I mentioned, but also five script books from the greatest show in the history of humanity (i.e., Buffy), and all of the Juliana/Blake Babies CDs I didn’t have.
It’s not like I don’t have the money—I actually do—I just needed to not spend the $750 on a lighting kit right now. I should have saved it for next semester, because as of now, I’ve depleted all but $400 of savings. And while $400 will more than take me through the end of the semester if I just stop burning money, I’ve also got a car insurance premium to cover in December, and I have no idea if Christmas money will cover that. And there’s my cell phone bill (thank God I’m now using only about 30 of my 250 monthly minutes; at least I won’t have to worry about additional charges). And I owe my sister money for my parents’ Christmas gifts. And I need to get her a gift. And I really want to buy Bob Woodward’s new book, because everything he writes is gold. But there I go again, slipping into what I want to have as opposed to what I need.
I’ve got about two dozen textbooks to sell. Mostly, I’ve been too fucking lazy to sell them when they have their buy-back thing at the bookstore, but now I need the money, so I’m gonna dump them all off. I checked all of them but two, and they’re (fortunately) still the most current editions in print. That should bring me about $30. I’m also going to sell all of my current lighting rig on eBay. Usually that stuff sells like hotcakes, so I might be able to at least recoup the amount I wasted on it.
And then a friend of mine invited me to NYC in December. I’ve only been to New York once, but I was too young to remember it well. All I remember is that the Statue of Liberty is far less interesting from the inside. A week and a half ago, I could have gone with a clear conscience. As expensive as New York is, a weekend trip (…I think it was only supposed to be a weekend trip…) would have been at least slightly cheaper than this lighting kit. I’d hope so, anyway, but I’m going by Chicago prices. Just so long as we got our hotel in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and took a bus into Manhattan, we would’ve been fine.