You’re a filmmaker, you’re just starting out, you’re broke. We get it. But what if I said to you that you can achieve Hollywood production value for a very low cost. Own a pair of rollerblades? Great! You’ve got yourself a sweet tracking shot. Got some old CD cases laying around? Even better! You now own your own set of gels and diffusers! These low-budget filmmaking hacks are not only limited to film gear but using locations to your advantage as well. There are tons of awesome techniques and uses for filming in or around a car that you can beg, borrow, or steal. This also includes practical lights, windows and sunlight. Use these properly and you may not even need a lighting department.
As a filmmaker just breaking onto the scene, don’t be intimidated or discouraged due to your lack of fancy and expensive gear. There are always creative and ingenious ways to bring your ideas to the big screen.
Show the world what you can do. And remember… NO EXCUSES!
1: Rollerblade Tracking Shot
Dust off your old rollerblades because it’s time to film.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to filming on roller blades. With a little practice and balance, you can easily turn yourself into a multi-thousand-dollar crane or dolly setup. Use this technique for high-speed tracking shots, low angle dollies, or even slow and gentle tracking shots. What I like most about this technique is its versatility. You are really only limited to your arm length and body movement. High angle’s, low angles, dolly in/out, truck left/right, all these shots are more than possible on rollerblades. As long as your filming somewhere that can support rollerblades, you’re golden. This technique can be strengthened by having the camera operator use a steady rig or shoulder mount to enhance the smoothness of your shots. However, some shake in the frame might add the sense of action and movement.
2: Zip-Tie Follow Focus
This is so cheap and easy; you really should try it. All you need is a rubber band, a zip tie, and a straw. First, you’re going to want to fit the rubber band around your focus ring on your lens. Then, tighten the zip-tie around the rubber band. Be sure to leave some slack on the ends of your zip-tie so you can attach a handle (like in the picture above). A straw or short plastic tube seems to work best for this.
BOOM! Instant follow focus! This works great on DSLR cameras, as it is a huge assist when it comes to pulling focus while recording. Think about this next time you’re thinking of buying a $500 focus pull rig.
3: Use Your Car (Tracking Shots, Trunk Shots ETC)
A car can offer an array of unique perspectives and angles for filming. A car is usually available to crews most of the time, considering gear and crew transport. Often on small budget projects, it is perfectly acceptable to use your transport vehicle as a picture vehicle. A car can easily be turned into a dolly. By setting up in the rear of the vehicle, and having the driver creep forward slowly, you can surprisingly pull off some awesome tracking/dolly shots without much shake or vibration in the frame. However, you are going to want to avoid a tripod for this shot. The tripod will pick up, and transfer every bump from the road into the frame. Trunk shots (much like Tarantino’s) are also a great angle and use for a vehicle. Even stationary, the car can offer some great angles and filming techniques. By setting up a projection or moving backdrop, you can imitate driving, without actually driving. Add some fans for wind, move key lights back and forth for streetlights, and you can sell you scene as a driving scene. If you want to get more technical, place your camera on the hood facing the driver. This is an excellent driving shot. Especially when the frame is tight on the subjects face with a mixture of wind and passing lights. (Removing the windshield or windows on the vehicle will also remove any glare or unwanted smudges). Have fun with this, you will be surprised how versatile a car can be when it comes to filming.
Great Video Example –
4: Windows/Sunlight/Practical Lighting
Sunlight can be a filmmaker’s best friend, but can also be your biggest enemy. In some cases, you might find that practical lights and/or sunlight can give you a natural, beautiful scene, without the use of film lights. Filming inside a house or building is often your best bet for utilizing practical and natural light, as windows and lamps offer us an array of possibilities. Before thinking about setting up your film lights, turn on every lamp/light in the scene, open the curtains and see what kind of lighting you’re working with. The first picture above is a great example. Using shears or drapes is always a great idea. These act almost as a diffuser and softens the light coming through. They also add great texture to your scene and makes things more interesting rather than a plain clear window. Lamps with shades are also very useful. Never be afraid to switch around lamps and manipulate the direction of light within your scene. As seen in the second picture above, the scene is lit in three areas, using the lamp on the subject, the lamp in the background, and the fireplace. By positioning lamps and practical lights in such a way, you can create a natural and interesting scene. You are going to want to have cold spots and hot spots (dark and bright). Try not to flush out your scene. Shadows are your friend! Use reflectors to bounce lights or add small film lights in key areas to achieve a great looking scene.
5: Old CD Cases = Instant Gels/Diffusion
This one might seem a little cheeky, but it works very well!
An old CD case can easily be used as a diffuser or lighting gel. If you are seeking to use them as coloured gels, all you have to do is use a coloured CD case, or colour a clear case with a dry erase marker. For diffusion, cover a clear case in petroleum jelly, and there you have it! Instant diffusion! Be sure to keep them at least 4 inches away from the light source to avoid burning or melting of the cases. Use clothes pins to fasten your CD cases to your lamp or barn doors.