You’re making a film, but your budget is low. You can get great quality video from the family DSLR as a video camera, or even a smartphone camera (the iPhone can make particularly good movies, as can Microsoft’s high-end Lumia devices), but putting together well lit and smooth motion shots can be tough without costly accessories.
But budget doesn’t have to mean no movie. With a bit of invention, lighting issues can be resolved and Steadicam-style camera work can be introduced, for very little or even no money, using tools and equipment that you may already have in your office, shed or workspace.
No Steadicam? No Problem!
One of the big problems facing amateur and low budget film makers is the price of a Steadicam. The genuine article will set you back $320 on Amazon, while low budget alternatives can cost anything from $20 to $130.
Now, you might find that making your own Steadicam is something you’re interested in doing, and with the right equipment this is achievable. Online DIY sites are chocked full of home-built Steadicam alternatives, but this is one of the best we’ve seen:
DIY Steadicam, Without the DIY Skills?
Just suppose you’re completely useless at DIY. You may have the ability to screw and unscrew things, but when it comes to putting materials together, you prefer to pass. Well, this might just be the solution to your Steadicam dreams.
Known as the Merricam (named after its inventor, Will Merrick) this Steadicam alternative utilizes the physical properties of a standard camera tripod, and requires you to remove a single screw. Note that this may not work so well with cheaper, lightweight tripods, but is perfect if you have a standard tripod to the same or similar design.
(And if you are completely bereft of DIY skills, you can always learn them on YouTube.)
Smooth motion is an absolute must-have for amateur movie making, and at the same time very difficult to achieve. While Steadicam hacks are one way of achieving this, you might also want to track and zoom slowly, something achieved in film production with a dolly, a small platform on wheels upon which the camera is mounted.
Typically these devices have track along which they are pushed. But given how much smaller scale your movie project might be, you could construct a DIY dolly using parts you have in your shed, or that are easily affordable.
Built using an old skateboard and two lengths of aluminum, this DIY dolly gives great results.
Drive by Shooting
If some wheels and a DIY track aren’t quite big enough, why not employ a car?
The truth is, shooting from a car can give great results, not just as a dolly substitute for tracking and zoom shots, but also for elevated camera work. You might mount your camera on the side of the car (although this can be expensive) or you might prefer to wind down a window or sit in the boot to get the right shot.
As you can see from the video, you can shoot footage inside a car safely, and use the vehicle to record some impressive stunt shots too, with zero expense on stuntmen!
If this isn’t an option, you can also manage in-car video shooting using just a smartphone mount. Like this…
Let There Be Light
Lighting is almost always a problem for amateur and budget moviemakers, but if you’ve got the right skills or personnel, you can take advantage of affordable equipment and build your own lighting solutions.
These might be as simple as adding some extra bounce to your flash, or building an entire lighting rig.
DIY lighting solutions don’t have to be a stop-gap, either – they can create results that might otherwise prove very difficult or expensive. Here’s a bonus example, which demonstrates how to achieve subtle, scary lighting with an IKEA trash can.
Doesn’t that look great? Repurposing IKEA furniture is great for DIY projects – take a look at our budget standing desk built from IKEA tables.
Keep Up With the Film Making Hacks
These videos are just the tip of the iceberg of DIY film making tips that you can achieve with little or no budget. But where can you find more?
A good place to start is Indiewire, the first stop for independent filmmakers online, which has a section dedicated to DIY filmmakers. Indeed, there is very little reason to avoid this site as it is full of useful articles and features.
Several online video channels are worth following too, such as DigitalRev TV who produced the first lighting video above, and the Vimeo Video School. For a more in depth discussion on DIY video techniques, the DIY Filmmaker’s Podcast is also a good choice.
Meanwhile if you have a Lynda.com subscription, you can take your movie making further with some courses compiled and hosted by professionals.
What are your favorite DIY film making tricks? Perhaps you have already produced a stunning movie on a low or zero budget that you would like to share? Tell us about it in the comments.