HeadcamFun Filmmaking Tricks: Okay, at least they’re cool and helpful

We wouldn’t be worth a can of beans if we also didn’t offer you some our best tricks and tips for making your film production fun and easier – and much more affordable. As you’ll see, innovation and a limited production budget can in fact become the mother of invention. Feel free to adapt these tricks to you own needs and materials.

  • Carry an empty nylon bag with a drawstring in your gear. Any camping store has an assortment. If you’ve videotaping in windy locations, you can put rocks or sand in the bag for weight, then tie the string under the center post on your camera tripod to make it “rock” solid even in high winds. You can also use the weighted bag as a counter-balance for a makeshift crane.
  • Now fill that empty nylon bag with sand, rice, or beans to use as a makeshift tripod to hold your camera steady when you don’t have a tripod on hand.
  • Or try something in between by getting an inexpensive mini-tripod. They sell them at most “big-box” stores for less than $20. Unlike big tripods that weigh heavily on your shoulder and wallet, these are super lightweight and surprisingly handy to use.
  • If you do a lot of tripod work outside where you’re hiking to different scenes, make your tripod more comfortable to carry by getting some foam pipe insulation from the hardware store and taping it around the upper sections of the tripod legs. Now when you carry on your shoulder, it will feel soooooo nice.
  • While many camera suppliers sell expensive custom rain slickers for your videocamera, a clear plastic bag can work almost as well. Simply cut a slit the size of your camera lens in one side and slip it over your camera. A couple of rubber bands can secure your new “custom” rain slicker. Jonas usually steals shower caps from motels and uses them because he likes their built-in elastic band, plus he sometimes gets ones with flowers.
  • If you’re look for a fancy “dolly shot", try using either a kid’s wagon or a portable cart with larger wheels. The trick is finding a smooth surface to have someone pull it across so you don’t have camera “bumps” in your shot. Go slowly and it should turn out pretty cool.
  • For panning using a tripod, try loosening the resistance on the tripod head so the head turns easily. Now use a bungy cord attached to the arm of the tripod. Pull the end of the budgie cord to get an “elastic” smooth motion to your pan. Rob swears it works.
  • How about trying that crane shot that you always see in the opening scenes in big budget movies? Ha, who needs Spielberg? Simply get a 10-foot long 2x4 and mount it with a bolt it securely to your tripod head with about 2/3 of the length of the board to be used for the camera end. Screw in an eyebolt on that end and tie a short rope to the bolt and the other end to the top handle of your camera. Put counter-weights on the other end until the camera and weights are about balanced. Presto, now you have a crude but very workable crane. We used one just like this making a music video. On the next one we upgraded to a Cobra-crane.
  • Ball LevelerTransporting your expensive videocamera in humid rainforest, Arctic coastlines, or dusty desert environments might cause it to malfunction at a critical moment. So to keep your camera dry, dust-free and clean, try this simple combination. Get a large zip-lock type plastic freezer bag, or just a sturdy plastic bag slightly larger than your camera. Now get a soft cloth to place in the plastic bag to help absorb any dust and moisture than might get on the camera. That’s your first layer of protection to slip your camera inside. Next, get one of those handy nylon insulated tote bags with the self-closing top to put your camera in. The insulated bag keeps your camera at a constant temperature to prevent condensation plus, the bag’s padding helps protect it. With that double protection, your camera should be safe for whatever Mother Nature can dish out.
  • Extremely dusty environments can ruin you camera in a hurry by clogging up your recording heads. Many parts of Africa, the southwestern United States and South America are notoriously dusty and tough on cameras. So try these two tricks to help prevent that dust from creeping inside your camera. First, be sure to transport the camera in the above tip. Secondly, get either “removable” masking tape ½-inch wide or painter’s tape and tape the seams along the compartment where your tapes go. It only takes a moment and is a great way to positively keep out corrosive dust. Using a real or your makeshift rain slicker also goes a long way in keeping dust off your camera.
  • Get a ball leveler for your tripod head if it doesn’t have one. Check any of the bigger camera supply houses and you’ll find affordable Teflon ball levers that install between your tripod base and your head. This way you can level you camera in just seconds. Nothing is worse that coming back with killer, killer whale footage with the flat ocean horizon slanting at an angle. Sorry, National Geo would have to pass on using that footage.
  • What? You’re too much of a “run & gun” videographer to use a tripod? Okay, we’re cool with that gritty approach. But still, here’s a good compromise that won’t compromise the times that your footage that should look stable. Instead or wrestling with a tripod when you’re on the trail of mountain grizzly bears, use a shoulder stabilizer brace. They’re extremely lightweight and you can shoot with it attached to the camera when you’re runnin & gunnin. Yet when you need a steady shot, you can simply put it on your shoulder. A cool trick is to also get an extra extension arm and attach to the front end of the brace with a pad on the other end that can rest on your hip or stomach. Now, you’re really steady without the hassle of that big tripod. Oh yeah, don’t forget to turn on your camera’s OIS…
  • The guys at Bogen won’t like this suggestion but get innovative with using your tripod head on stuff besides your tripod. Simply loosen the three lock screws on the underside of the head stem then unscrew the head from the center stem. Now you’re free to make all kinds of cool little brackets to attach your tripod head and camera to all kinds of different stuff to get some rad shots. Drill a hole in a padded metal plate and bolt the head to the plate. Now use budgie cords or cinch-straps to attach the makeshift bracket to canoes, kayaks, mountain bikes, airplanes, car bumpers, the neighbor’s dog, you name it. Whoa dude, those are the kind of wicked shots we’re talkin about… yeah.

Now before we sound any more as if we can’t afford one piece of good gear and we have to duck tape everything, let’s call it a day…but wait, duah, don’t forget to toss in that roll of duck tape into your gear bag. Now you’re good to go.


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