Scrim jims, butterflies, overheads, 4×4 frames, whatever you want to call them, are a staple on most film sets – and for good reason. They can be used to turn almost any light into a large soft light source; they can be used to even out the light during outdoor shoots; and you can use them, with a dark fabric, as large flags. They’re versatile, they’re sturdy, they’re portable, and by building them ourselves, they’re certainly worth having one or two in your kit. Matthews and Westcott, among others, make these that you can pick up for $150 – 200, but today we’re going to make our own for around $80.
Materials you’ll need for this project are four ½” conduit elbows or corners, two ⅝” spigot / stud adapters (the ones I used have a ⅜” threaded hole and a 1/4×20 threaded hole, we just want the 1/4×20 hole), a couple ¼”x20 screws or bolts, some thumbscrews, a marker, a screwdriver, a tape measurer, a hacksaw, and of course our four 5’x½” pieces of EMT conduit. Other materials you’ll want to get are a pack of grommets, a handful of cable ties, fabric (I used some white rip-stop nylon I picked up from the local fabric store but you can find muslin or other relatively pro options for about the same price), and then some 2” wide heavy duty nylon webbing. All of this stuff is linked at the bottom of this post.
First you want to cut down your metal conduit into 4’ lengths – so measure 4’ and then just use a hacksaw to cut them each down individually. Then, get your elbows, we want to install two of them onto two of the 4’ pieces of conduit – use a screwdriver to tighten them down, and be sure that they are squared up and facing the same way – you can check this by laying it flat on the ground or your workbench. Then, so we can set this up and break it down easier, we want to replace the other screws with thumbscrews. Remove the ones in the elbows, and put the thumbscrews on. You should have two pieces of pipe still, and since we cut them we’ll want to just files the ends we cut down so there aren’t any sharp edges. After that take the two piece with the elbows attached, and measuring halfway down the pipe, make a mark. This is where we’re going to attach the ⅝” stud so that it’s easy to clamp into a grip head. I drilled a small pilot hole, then a ¼” hole, and then attached the studs using those ¼x20 screws we had. Now let’s work on the diffusion panel.
Lay your fabric out on a big flat surface. To give the panel a little extra durability we’ll fold over the edges before we sew the nylon strip on, so measure out roughly a 52” square shape. If you go a little over we can just trim it after we’re done. Cut your fabric, and then fold the edges over a couple inches on each side, and be measuring this to make sure you’re not going over 48” – we want it at 48” or slightly less so that it stretches tight within our frame. Then, cut some strips of the nylon webbing and lay them in on each side. Now, you need to sew. So another disclaimer is that sewing is a huge pain in the ass if you don’t do it regularly or don’t know how – I would suggest you find someone who knows how and see if they’ll do it for you – but what we want is for the nylon webbing to be sewn onto the outer rim of our 4×4 fabric piece, and for durability I recommend at least 2 seams – one near each edge of the webbing. I can be fairly tough on my DIY gear so I went ahead and put an additional seam down the middle too. Once your sheet is done, trim off any excess fabric, and then grab your grommets.
We don’t just want some open fabric holes to unravel, which is why we want grommets to wind our ties through when we’re setting this up. I like these ⅜” ones but ½” work well too and are just as easy to find. Follow the instructions for installing the grommets – they’re pretty easy to install but if you’ve never done one before practice on a spare piece of fabric before you start. You definitely want a grommet on each corner, and then I like having 3 more on each side. Instead of measuring constantly an easy way to find the middle is to just fold the fabric in half and make a mark. Repeat for each side. Then, we’ll want to find the middle of each half, so do the same thing again. All said and done you should have 16 holes in your fabric. If your nylon is fraying just singe it a little to seal those tears up. Then, grab your cable ties (here’s how to make your own!) and then simply thread them through each of your grommets. At this point we’re pretty much done so let’s go ahead and set this thing up!
Setting this up is SUPER easy, just connect your pipes together so you have a big 4×4 frame. Then grab your fabric and lay it in, and use your cable ties to fasten it to the frame. And now you should have your very own 4×4 scrim jim.
A few last things now that we’ve got this thing made. Connecting it to your grip heads is really easy, just set up your light or c-stands, and tighten it down into the grip head, and blast some light into it. These panels are great for turning fresnels, large single source LED lights, or LED panel lights into a huge super soft source of light.
All said and done you should be able to get all the materials for just under $80 and build this thing in just a couple hours. As with all my DIY builds I don’t look for the cheapest option, rather I want the best option (durable, reliable, professional, and usable) for the price – if you want to go super frugal just grab some PVC pipe, some corner fittings, and a white twin bed sheet from WalMart and go to town.
- 1/2″x5′ EMT conduit (x4)
- 1/2″ EMT elbows / corners (x4)
- Thumbscrews (x4) – I think I used #10 x 1/2″
- 1/4″ x 20 screws (x2)
- 5/8″ spigot / stud adapter (x2) **I’d recommend you just buy this pack though (lots of extra goodies)
About the Author
Adam Rahn is an award-winning producer, director, editor, and videographer with over 10 years of professional video production experience. He’s a part of the duo behind Droi Media. If you want to check out more of his work, sign up for Droi Media newsletter, subscribe to their YouTube channel, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter and Instagram. This article was also published here and shared with permission.