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Need some advice on making my own camera-mount equipment (dollies, etc)


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#1 Brook K

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Posted 26 June 2015 - 09:39 PM

I have a dream of making a film. Problem is I have very little money. I haven't looked into any "crowd funding" or anything like that yet because the movie is just in idea stages how. Needless to say it will be a short independent. I would like it to be an hour but I'd have to get tons of film and then all the $ to do everyhing necessary TO that film to get it developed, processed and edited.

 

Anyway, I would like to get input and ideas from anyone who's had experience with making their own dollies, trailers, and even a Steadicam, and all other equipment, from scratch. IF there's even anyone on here like that!  I may just wind up being a "pioneer" of all that! LOL

 

Any other tips you want to give to a first time filmmaker, I will welcome all the way!!! I will suck it all in like a sponge! :)

 

I'm in photography school, but cinematography to me is a natural extension of still photography and just "feels right", and since I am learning to express myself through still images, I want to express myself through moving images also. There's a little background on me. :)


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#2 James Daggy

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Posted 01 September 2015 - 05:53 AM

1st tip, search google, DVXuser has a pretty good forum for DIY stuff, There is lots of stuff scattered about the place. Instructables.com has a few, Cheesycam also has some stuff to consider. Everything now goes to youtube so start there also-

 

My best advice is that you learn that not everything can be DIY'ed as a beginner, you need a workshop and need to be good at engineering to match what you can buy professionally.  For example somethings are worth building yourself because they're easy enough like a dolly system or even slider* but some stuff you will waste time and money and are better off buying the chinese knockoff and hacking that to work better. Start saving as eventually you will want proper equipment.


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#3 JD Hartman

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Posted 01 September 2015 - 01:16 PM

You'll need a shop equipped similar to those at American Grip, Matthews and Fisher to produce pro looking equipment.  Look at Ron Dexter's website, he's done a lot with very little, rondexter dot com.


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#4 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 01 September 2015 - 01:52 PM

I guess my first piece of advice is to forget about equipment, that's really the least of your concern. I know this is the "gaffing" part of the forum, but I'll post something long winded cuz I'm bored. ;) 

 

The first step would be to come up with a great screenplay, something that people really enjoy reading. That is actually the most difficult part because it's very time consuming to do right and requires skills a lot of people don't have. So maybe picking up a book on screenplay writing first, will get you started on that path. Write something you can make locally without much cost. Obviously, you could have someone else write the story, or make a documentary which doesn't require the same intensity of writing. Still, anything you see on screen, is generally pre-planned on paper. An understanding how that works, is probably the best first step. 

 

Once you've got something tangible that you can show people, the next step is to prove you can make it, which is the first step of raising money. Obviously people who have a long resume of work, don't need to do this. However, as a first time filmmaker, it's a smart idea to take your iPhone or a friends camcorder and start shooting micro projects. It's at this point I'd get a book on cinematography and lighting, this will help you   understand the language of cinema. You need to experiment with this language before you can even think about making anything serious. This includes not just shooting pictures, but also understanding how audio works because that's also very important. You will also need to learn an editing software, because that's really a HUGE part of making something work well. These little micro projects show people; "Hey I can frame a shot and make something look pretty as well". That, plus your fantastic script, will get people excited and that's where money comes from. I actually shot a prequel to a feature film in order to develop the history behind my lead character.

 

The next step is to find some money. Crowd funding doesn't cost any money, but also doesn't make much money for projects like this. I've seen random features that looked interesting, only make a few hundred dollars on crowd funding. The projects that succeed at making a lot of money, usually have big backers already attached and they use that money to help boost their crowd funding chances. It's a commonly used trick and it works well. So unless you have a long lost aunt or uncle who are willing to back your film with a few hundred grand, you can probably forget about making enough money to properly fund a serious project with crowd funding. So your money is going to come from friends and family, $20 here, $50 there and you'll probably have a budget of a few grand when it's all said and done. Between me you and the wall, the only thing you really need money for is expendables (tape/gels/hard drives to store your media, etc) and of course food. If there is one thing that makes people happy, it's food. You're job as a filmmaker isn't to make a movie, it's to make sure your crew is well fed. 

 

On films that actually have a budget, you would budget things like art/props, lighting/gaffing and camera/sound equipment rental. However, with something small like this, your "budget" is whatever you can acquire, which maybe a lot or maybe nothing. So what equipment you use, is really dependent on how much money you make, not the other way around. Guerrilla filmmaking is kind of what you'll be doing and part of that is being very clever, as you said earlier, with building/making your own bits and pieces to achieve certain shots. Lights would be the first thing I'd focus on and those old style aluminum work lights with the reflector behind the bulb, they work great. Just need some filtration and a bright-ass bulb and you're in business. Pretty much everything you need for production will be available to you at yard sales or goodwill stores. 

 

Now comes the shooting equipment, camera/lenses and sound. Most people shoot digital today and I would suggest doing just that. Yes, it would be awesome to shoot everything on film, but once you learn about the expenses involved; (raw stock, processing, transfer) you'll find it to be cost prohibitive, even with small-gauge formats like Super 8 and 16mm. Now, that's not to say it's impossible, I've made micro budget 16mm films for years, but we had our own camera, sound and lighting equipment. We were donated film stock through a Kodak program that's long gone and I found 50 rolls of film at a garage sale that was still good. We got killer lab deals and one light telecine, which gave us something watchable. Now I see your a student, so perhaps borrowing equipment from school is your ticket to success. If you can't and you need to find cheap stuff locally, I'd put an add on craigslist to see if you can find a cinematographer locally to supply you with equipment. You can also try www.sharegrid.com, which is a great place to hook people up with equipment.

 

As much as I love film and am an advocate for using it, you need to analyze your financial situation before contemplating. Digital is practically free to shoot (once you have equipment) and as a new filmmaker, you will see instant results to insure you've got the shot before moving on. On no-budget films, this is awesome because you can prove to yourself, you've got it in the can. With film, you could make a huge error and not know about it until that 12 minute roll is processed and digitized at an expense of around $500 (stock, processing, telecine, storage). We have these great digital tools today and for your first big short film, I'd use them. Ohh and don't ever forget about audio. You need at least a 4 channel recorder, wireless mic's on each person and at least one boom mic, with an operator. Just remember, one wireless and one boom per person in the scene. Record only in silence and make sure it sounds good before you move on to the next shot. Assume you will never get the actors back for ADR (automated dialog replacement) because you won't and if your audio sucks, you will not have a viable product. I always wear a set of wireless headphones on set, listening to the audio on my digital shoots because I can't afford to re-record anything. 

 

Cutting picture can be pretty easy, you can read about how to cut properly in books and watch lots of movies. Audio is the difficult part and it's hard because it's A LOT OF WORK. There are great online resources for things like effects and music, you will need everything you can get for free and make sure you jot down where you go it from so if your film does make it somewhere, you can pay the royalties. I suggest www.freeplaymusic.com and www.royaltyfreemusic.com to start with. Effects can be purchased on CD, but libraries are online as well, so I'd just do some google searching OR if your lucky, your school may have something as well. 

 

Ohh and one more thing… When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was make movies. So I saved up and bought a super 8 film camera, back when consumer video cameras were very expensive. I spent years learning my craft, experimenting with the medium, cutting it by hand, projecting final products, even if they were complete crap. I do think there is a lot of learning that can be had through just experimenting. Buying a Bolex 16mm camera, projector, splicer and viewer. You'd learn quite a bit about film and you may make some great products. However, that's an expensive first step and it will take a while to make an acceptable product. I wish the digital cameras we have today, existed back then because I could have afforded them and shot a lot of great stuff without the expense of film. I do love celluloid, but digital is the great enabler, so you should embrace it and make your film. 


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#5 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 01 September 2015 - 06:23 PM

I encourage the DIY approach with lights. (continuous. not strobes)  It's fun and you can really save a bundle.  I wouldn't go there with grip or camera support.  Best to rent or buy that stuff and to stick with trusted brands.  

 

I did make my own Dana Dolly like 10 years ago out of trash in my attic.  Old roller skates, angle iron and some wood.  It still works great.  Simple stuff is ok to DIY.  I'd avoid trying to DIY you're own steadicam.  


Edited by Michael LaVoie, 01 September 2015 - 06:24 PM.

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#6 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 01 September 2015 - 06:59 PM

I used to do video assist work - when 35mm still existed - using a system built into a peli case which I originally put together for portable editing. It went down on the call sheet of a major UK broadcaster as "Phil's Magic Box" and attracted a worthwhile rental, paying for itself many times over. It can be done.

 

As far as grip goes, we built a dolly which works fine and I've built rudimentary steadicams; it's possible to make something that works as well as some of the very cheap prosumer stuff. Naturally it's possible to make very high end stuff; someone has to make the damn things, but there are levels of complexity and involvement that don't make sense from the perspective of building one because you want one. Sure, you could spend years of spare time knocking up something very usable, but that would be a hobby project. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, and I suspect we've all done that too, but that's something you're doing because it tickles you to do it.

 

Homebuilt equipment suffers a legitimacy penalty that can make it hard to charge for. This is a sliding scale. I have some ETC Source Four PARs which I retrofitted with 150W ceramic metal halide and appropriate ballasts, approximating a small HMI for a lot (really a lot) less money. They are very serviceable and I have received small donations in return for their use, but I wouldn't call it a formal rental, and that's for something based on almost-real gear. Sometimes, it is possible to legitimise homebuilt or modified equipment within a certain circle of production people who may become willing to pay for it.

 

My favourite homebuild is undoubtedly a set of fluorescent lights which I started building about five or six years ago and still occasionally add features to. I use them endlessly. Fluorescent is very home-buildable.

 

P


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#7 JD Hartman

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Posted 02 September 2015 - 05:43 AM

What Tyler and other said......  Look for an indie film group that meets in your area, contribute to and learn from the group.   Your skills will progress much faster, than if you try to do everything yourself.  You can only learn so much from books and websites, hands-on is the real teacher.


Edited by JD Hartman, 02 September 2015 - 05:43 AM.

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#8 Ale Terro

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Posted 29 September 2015 - 08:22 AM

I have a dream of making a film. Problem is I have very little money. I haven't looked into any "crowd funding" or anything like that yet because the movie is just in idea stages how. Needless to say it will be a short independent. I would like it to be an hour but I'd have to get tons of film and then all the $ to do everyhing necessary TO that film to get it developed, processed and edited.

 

Anyway, I would like to get input and ideas from anyone who's had experience with making their own dollies, trailers, and even a Steadicam, and all other equipment, from scratch. IF there's even anyone on here like that!  I may just wind up being a "pioneer" of all that! LOL

 

Any other tips you want to give to a first time filmmaker, I will welcome all the way!!! I will suck it all in like a sponge! :)

 

I'm in photography school, but cinematography to me is a natural extension of still photography and just "feels right", and since I am learning to express myself through still images, I want to express myself through moving images also. There's a little background on me. :)

 

I am with you.

 

I want to build my own equipment for my next short.

 

And that's not out of arrogance, because I think anything can be done Yourself with the same quality: of course not.

Simply because I think I need to practice: I need to practice at how to light a scene, how to move camera and stage actors. But most of all I want to understand light, so I am going to build my own gear as much as I can: renting wouldn't be time/cost effective and buying original stuff wouldnt simply be possible (how much does a simple good quality light stand cost????).

 

And now I am going to post my first topic/request: I want to start with diffusion and fabrics.

 

I hope we can share our knowledge along the way

 

see you around

 

Edited by Ale Terro, 29 September 2015 - 08:22 AM.

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