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The Best DIY Dolly Might Already Be Sitting in Your Garage (Yes, a Car)

09.28.12 @ 6:19PM Tags : , ,

You might already be thinking, yes, I use this already, or no, it’s far too dangerous and probably illegal where I live. Any of those things could very well be true, but a car can be very useful as a DIY dolly. I’ve utilized cars more times than I can remember just for this purpose, and they work great in a pinch or when a dolly would just be impractical. Even if you already know all of the benefits, there might be some ideas in this Vimeo Video School clip you haven’t thought of before:

Safety is unquestionably the most important factor when dealing with any moving vehicles, especially if someone is riding on them in a way not originally intended (like in the video above). It may seem obvious, but if you’re ever going to be doing anything where the camera person is not completely strapped in, make sure that the car is moving at walking speeds or a sudden stop could mean serious harm to the person (and possibly to your expensive DSLR).

It’s a great idea, and I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of it before, but putting some in a back seat and keeping the shot tight is brilliant. You can feel free to call me an idiot for not thinking of that, but it’s such a simple way to shoot a scene without having to worry about the actors driving the car. So there we have it, one way to make shooting more dangerous, and another to make it safer. I’ve had good experiences with cars, but again, the key idea is that you don’t want your camera person able to fly out of the car with a sudden stop.

We don’t condone anyone performing any illegal acts, so be sure to find out the laws in your area (and to what degree you’re willing to break them to get a shot).

Link: Drive-by Shooting: Using Your Car to Make Better Videos


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Description image 35 COMMENTS

  • john jeffreys on 09.28.12 @ 7:12PM

    I’ve sat in the open trunk of my car and filmed while my friend drove. It came out way too jerky. I was also scared for my life.

  • 60MPH. Camera on tripod flipped upside down and lowered to within inches of the ground. It was just a GH2 though.

  • The trunk of a car may be playing it a bit risky, but I’ve used a minivan before to great effect. We drove slowly (the subject was a jogger), and used both the hatchback and sliding door for different shots. It helped that the road was somewhat smooth and the van had very good shocks, but it turned out to be great footage. Definitely an option to take with extreme caution though.

  • I’ve not tried it, but I read that bungee cords holding the camera can act as a stabilizer.

  • Yup that’s how we did it in our Music video:

    • But we used 2 flycam dslr nano’s one on the right side of the car and the other in the trunk. Driving a Hyundai Accent (hatchback) 2005

  • I’ve heard good things about using wheelchairs too.

    • Yeah, I’ve used a wheelchair before. Someone pushed it from behind while I sat in the chair, holding the camera. The shot came out very smooth.

  • The opening sequence to this short film by my buddy Clint was shot while in the trunk of a car. He was hand-holding an FS100. Totally illegal but… he got a great shot.

  • Linuxdanish on 09.29.12 @ 1:50PM

    When we used a car. We had a Jetta and laid the back seats down. This allowed me (camera man) to lay down in the trunk with the camera on a shoulder mount (think prone position firing a bazooka). This method allowed me to brace myself, lower center of gravity, and smooth out some of the road jolts. Made it slightly safer than simply sitting in the back seat. Another option is a 12-15 passenger van. take the seats out. then you can strap down the tripod person… etc. plus gives your room for the rest of your equipment. :)

  • I’ve been using this trick since before I even knew what a dolly was. In fact, we found out quite early on that the engine can create a lot of vibrations at low revs. Having a couple of folks pushing the car while off makes for some incredibly smooth shots. An no, wheelchairs suck. Better to put a good steadicam to use.

    • Opening shot in this trailer (shot at 60fps) was done from the back of a pick-up, and at 13 seconds in there is another. Both had a number of people pushing the vehicle to create very smooth shots.

    • Daniel Mimura on 10.6.12 @ 3:37AM

      Steadicam and wheelchairs together are great. The problem most of the time with wheelchairs for walk and talks is that you’re too low. With steadicam, you can raise the center post so u can do shots at a more flattering angle.

      It’s great for low mode. Garrett Brown’s famous shots following Danny Lloyd on his big wheel in The Shining were done with a wheelchair.

  • I did an hour long rollerblading shoot from the back of a van that turned out great. I used a shoulder mounted camera and stacked some cases and pillows so that I had back support…which helped during turns. When I needed a side shot, I just moved to the open side door. For POV shots the Hero2 from GoPro works well, and the new Fish Eye Fixer FCPX plugin from CrumplePop makes the footage much more usable, and easier to cut with normal footage.

  • Rob Billlington on 10.4.12 @ 5:08PM

    I have used my motorcycle sidecar as the “dolly” so to speak, albeit at higher speeds. I would use it for other dolly shots depending on the shoot…..this video shows some of those clips, using a Go Pro Hero with suction cup mount on front of the sidecar. But in and around most venues I use my roller skate wheels and plywood riding a 2 1/4 inch PVC track for my dolly shots.

  • Next week we get to stand in the back of a pick up driving across a field shooting Sod Harvesting Machinery. We’ve done it before and it works quite well. Mind you, we are not driving very fast. It’s still cool.


  • Mick Winning on 10.5.12 @ 5:09AM

    When I was working for BBC Wales Sport some years ago, a few of the production team took a camera and BMW M3 and went out on a Formula 2 race track. The PA was instructed to stand up through the sun roof and shoot GVs as they ambled round. After a while, the PA felt a pair of arms reach around and firmly grasp both legs. The driver of the BM then proceeded to accelerate up to 140mph.

    Of course, this is before they got really serious about health and safety ; )

  • Daniel Mimura on 10.6.12 @ 4:03AM

    Nobody’s mentioned Jeeps or pickups. Pickups are great because you can shoot 270. A jib arm takes away a lot of the vibrations. (Steadicam takes away even more…although you need a good wind buffer or else you will replace the vibes with roll and pitch instead.)

    Shooting steadicam out of that side of a mini-van or truck is pretty common, although its hard to strap yourself in well on a pickup.

    The Jeep is my favorite (I’m biased thou, owning two.). You can take the doors off—if its cold or windy, you just take the door off of the direction you’re shooting and leave the others on. Also, it’s easy to get a claiming harness to strap yourself into the cage. Jeeps have the added benefit of having a front windshield that drops down…you can’t use that with steadicam (b/c of wind buffeting), but it works for tighter forward facing shots.

    Any vehicle that takes a 2″ receiver and is high enough off the ground can take an India mount, which is a chair complete with footpegs. They run about $2000. I haven’t seen local rental houses carrying them, but there are a couple owners in LA that will rent them out and ship them to you. Shipping isn’t cheap, but check with older seasoned steadicam ops in your area to see if they own one.

    • Good point. Actually, we used a pick-up truck to film the shots in which you see the Jetta. We didn’t want to show the truck, because having it gave us an unfair advantage. We wanted to make an instructional that anyone with any car could use. A Jetta, for this purpose, is possibly the worst car there is.

  • Daniel Mimura on 10.6.12 @ 4:19AM

    Why fake jumping out of a car like in the video? Just do it for real.

  • Chris Fata on 10.6.12 @ 1:58PM

    The Criterion DVD of Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law says they shot their tracking shots from a the back of a station wagon with the tires half-deflated, engine off, being pushed. That film looks amazing!

  • I´ve used both a Manfrotto 510 head and tripod on the open trunk of a car and the slide door of a van with an AG-HPX500 , and a car window clamp with a wide variety of handheld DV cameras and DSLR and Mirrorless cameras ranging from a tiny GF2 to a hulking A77 with a Rokinon 85mm lens and a battery grip. The car window clamp is far more stable than the standalone tripod, but it‘s limited in its weight bearing capacity. No RED, no ARRI, and definitely no ENGs. If you can get your hands on any car rig mount, that is by far the best option for using your car as a dolly.