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Working on your next video production masterpiece? Keep production costs down with these inexpensive tripods, mounts and rigs.

The advent of cheap digital video cameras and accessible editing software has opened up the world of filmmaking to anyone with a few hundred dollars and an ample amount of free time. Of course, as is the case with most creative industries, the sudden influx of amateur footage has made the distinction between well-shot and poorly-shot film drastically more obvious.

The trademarks of the novice filmmaker are many: shaky footage, poor lighting, terrible audio, choppy editing, and that's to say nothing about the plot itself or the acting. Shooting high-quality footage isn't as hard as you might expect, and it doesn't require a second mortgage to pay for brand new, state-of-the-art video equipment. Well-shot video from a $250 camera is much preferred to crappy footage from a $18,000 Red One.

In hopes of teaching you how to shoot your own professional-grade video on an amateur-grade budget, we're featuring several posts that will highlight DIY projects to help improve your filmmaking. To kick things off, I thought we'd take a look at various DIY camera rigs and mounts. The first step in shooting quality video is to capture smooth, steady footage -- unless, of course, you're going for that in-your-face, cinema vérité look, where the more your camera shakes the better.

Following are eight projects that will help steady your camera, and give you the flexibility to shoot from a variety of unique vantages.


$14 steadycam - This simple device, made from little more than a few metal pipes and an old dumbbell weight, will do wonders for your on-the-go video shots. The purpose of a steadycam (if it's not already obvious from the name) is to stabilize the camera while the person holding it is walking, running, climbing stairs, or simply moving in general. This model allows you to mount the camera on top, for typical moving shots, or on the bottom, for unique low-slung shots. When used properly, this steadycam makes an ideal alternative to a bulky, more expensive dolly system. Make sure you check out the sample videos to see the $14 steadycam in action.

Body brace steadycam for less than $40 - This steadycam variation utilizes a body brace to help stabilize the camera. In comparison to the $14 version above, this model doesn't offer quite as much mobility, but for straight forward moving shots, it should be more than adequate. The bottom part of the brace rests on the user's stomach, which may cause stability problems from breathing, so a good work-around would be to increase the length of the body brace so the bottom portion rests on the waist instead. If you're working with a large, cumbersome camera, this steadycam will definitely save you a lot of energy.

$60 camera jib
- Many people aren't familiar with camera jibs (also called camera cranes), but they'll immediately recognize the effect one creates. In essence, a jib is basically a long stick (or arm), secured to a tripod or dolly, with a camera attached to the end. There are literally hundreds of plans for DIY camera jibs on the internets, but the one I liked best was the $60 "poor man's jib" from ClosetFilms.com. This particular jib's light weight and compactness makes it ideal for filmmakers who don't have a lot of space and are looking for ultra-mobile equipment, but if you're looking for something a bit more robust, you might want to give one of these a shot.

Back-seat-view car mount - I'm sure you've seen this shot before: two people in the front seats, chatting away as the camera captures their witty exchange from the back. The biggest challenge with getting a shot like this, however, is keeping the tripod from falling over when the driver takes a turn too sharply. Luckily, this tutorial demonstrates how to set up a secure camera mount to the rear dash (assuming your vehicle has one), making it much easier to film from this unique perspective.

Exterior car mount - This mount is perfect for getting shots of either the car in motion, or for capturing fast-moving action (i.e. filming alongside someone on a motorcycle or bike). The mount is incredibly sturdy (it's made from 2x6's) and requires a vehicle with luggage racks. With a long enough microphone, you could easily mount the camera so it's focused on either the driver or passenger, making for a cool "outside looking in" perspective on a conversation going on inside the vehicle.

Bicycle-mounted steadycam - If you'd feel more secure mounting your digital camcorder to something that doesn't go quite as fast as a car, then maybe this bicycle-mounted steadycam will be right up your alley. The footage is still a bit too bouncy for my liking, but I could see it coming in handy if the viewer knew they were watching video filmed from a moving bike (i.e. a documentary about a bike ride across the US). The design of this steadycam is also simple enough that it could easily be ported to other, less-bouncy vehicles... like a Segway... or... that's all I got.

PVC pipe Fig rig - At first glance, you might look at a Fig rig and wonder what purpose it serves. In fact, you may continue thinking that on your second and third glances as well. This stop-sign-shaped contraption's usefulness is hard to comprehend until you hold one in your own two hands and experience how fluidly it allows you to move about with a small digital camcorder. The Fig rig is named after director Mike Figgis, and is probably one of the easiest stabilization mounts you can build for your camcorder. If your camera weighs less than 5 or 6 pounds, this might even be a more economical solution than the $14 steadycam (by a whopping four whole dollars).

Underwater camera housing for $70 - If your film is begging for a cool underwater sequence, these two waterproof camera housings will save you from spending all day trying to find condoms big enough to fit over your camcorder. Personally, I think I'd go with the $70 model simply because it looks a little more watertight than the $50 version. I'm not implying that the $50 model won't work, I'm just saying I'd rather have two handles on my underwater camera housing rather than just one... and sticking your $400 camera inside a repurposed thermos is kinda asking for trouble.

If you're serious about shooting higher quality film, build one or two of these projects and see how your footage turns out; your audience will thank you for it!

And that does it for our first installment of DIY Film School. Join us again next time for a look at DIY sound and lighting projects.

  • Lisa33

    All i want is an HD camcorder.

    http://www.prankvideoz.com
    http://www.egold-directory.com (Get rich online)

    Reply
  • Farflung

    As much as I love the DIY film rigs and such, I have to disagree with some points. First, there is no way in hell that a $900 mini-dv cam is ever going to be able to replicate the resolution and clarity, or the versatility, of a camera such as the Red One. Also, as much as a blessing it is that production tools, gear, and software, are becoming cheaper, accessibility does not equate with quality. It merely solidifies the sentiment that, as things get cheaper and more accessible, any idiot with a camera thinks that they can make movies. Accessibility and resources is no substitute for knowledge, application, and elbow grease. To suggest so is folly.

    Reply
  • Rick

    Great article! I'll keep my eye out for your next filmmaking post on "sound and lighting projects."

    http://filmlinker.com

    Reply
  • filmfo

    Nice list of usefull items and for cheap

    check out :

    http://www.filmfo.comhttp://www.rubyfilmz.com

    Reply
  • Dan Chilton

    I agree with you whole-heartedly, Farflung, which is why I stated that "the sudden influx of amateur footage has made the distinction between well-shot and poorly-shot film drastically more obvious." Quantity does not beget quality.

    Reply
  • Stephen

    When you say crappy footage from a Red One, I presume that you mean shaky/out of focus? Because in terms of picture quality, RED ONE really rivals the quality of top-of-the-line digital SLRs. Plus, it has six or seven more times resolution, and several extra stops of dynamic range than a $250 camcorder...

    Reply
  • Bill

    Thanks for this article and the links. I hadn't seen a few of those.

    And for those of you complaining about amateurs filming, don't watch what they make. It's pretty simple. It's so easy to sit on the sidelines and throw elitist stones at the amateurs but many of these guys have a passion for film that will someday translate into something awesome. In the meantime, someone working two jobs to pay for school and a car payment can't spring for a $2,000 jib so leave them alone. Next thing you know we'll be hearing people say you can't be a REAL digital video producer unless you use a MAC.

    Also, you have to remember the audience for some of these amateur productions is different from the audience of a high budget film. Plus the lack of corporate sponsorship means the producer has more freedom to do what he/she wants.

    Reply
  • udijw

    diyphotography.net is another great resource for DIY and photography.

    Reply
  • Kel

    This is what I hate the most about living in Los Angeles and working in entertainment... everyone is a "film maker". It's kind of cool I guess. You can be your own boss. Shoot, direct, edit, and even STAR in your next "film" uh.. I mean video. and not make any money... unless you are doing reality TV, the production value is about the same as a DIY - they just found a way to peddle their product to television viewers.

    DIY video making should only be considered for you tube or for your myspace or facebook accounts. It is great to have a creative outlet.

    Also, for those of you who are "Film Makers" - It is not a film. It is either a "short" or a "feature" or even "movie"... it is NOT a film because you are shooting on video... maybe standard def or possibly high def.. either way IT IS NOT FILM. VIDEO AT ANY FRAME RATE IS NOT FILM QUALITY.

    All I ask is to please not bastardize the term "film" until you actual shoot with it. and use the term "Director" , "Producer", "DP", "Composer", "Editor" loosely when you are talking about yourself in public... others can hear you and they really are laughing, unless of course they are other "Film Makers' like you.

    Good luck!





    Reply
  • mike

    Great post, Dan :) Thanks so much for the mention too!

    Reply
  • Trevor

    Kel - you are a pompous asshole. It is people like you that give Film students a horrible name. Just because something isn't shot on Film doesn't mean it isn't a film and that the person isn't a filmmaker. Steven Soderbergh shot Full Frontal on the XL1, Zodiac was the first film without ONE FRAME being captured onto film. I could go on and on about films that haven't been shot on a Panavision or another type of film camera. I could also go on and on about how numerous acclaimed filmmakers have stated that the business is expanding because everyone can be a filmmaker these days, and that it isn't a bad thing. But if you want to make a film that is highly overbudget because you frown on those who know how to shoot using such things as DIY rigs, then go right ahead. But I know for a fact that studios are looking for a director that knows how to save a few bucks on a film because of their experience with low budget, DIY FILMMAKING, no matter what the medium. If you have a shitty film that we made under budget, you are more likely to find your next directing job.

    Reply
  • massedgadgets

    which is better for a steady cam shot? the fig rig, normal steady cam, or one with a brace?

    Reply
  • cubitfox

    Sorry farflung, but you're missing the point. The point is, there is plenty of talented teens out there without a lot of money. They can't afford films school, can't afford high end editing equipment, and can't afford expensive rigs, lighting fixtures, and sound equipment. Because of this, they can never get in the film industry. Since the birth of the youtube and sites like it, yes there has been badly made amateur videos that shame the world of movies, but it has also gotten great unknown talents out into the world where they can make their movies cheap. Who knows, maybe they might get noticed. Yes, being a film maker requires a lot of knowledge, but most of that knowledge can come from books, m aterials, actually working in the film industry, and movies themselves. William Friedkin, the director of the French Connection and the Exorcist, didn't go to film school. The only knowledge of directing he got was from watching Citizen Kane religiously.

    Reply
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