July 28, 2014

Build Your Own Cheap & Easy Film Set from Scratch. This DIY Tutorial Will Show You How

DrillAs indie filmmakers, we're used to making do with what is easily, readily, and/or inexpensively at our disposal, and many times the locations we need don't fit within those criteria. However, with a little bit of know-how and a few bucks (about $170), you could construct your own flats (the fake walls used on films and theater sets), which would not only allow you to film in the location you want (a mock version, at least), but it will take the stress away of having to shoot in someone else's space. Matt Brown is here with a tutorial to show you how to saw, hammer, and drill your way to making flats that'll be perfect for any project.

Knowing how to build flats is a great piece of information to know off-hand as a filmmaker, because the possibility of needing one eventually is so high. How many times have you shot scenes in your friend's mom's house, tiptoeing around, feeling like an unwelcome guest, all because you needed a living space that looked nicer than your crappy one-bedroom duplex? (Sorry, was I projecting, again?) Knowing how to construct flats relatively cheaply and easily (perhaps not as cheaply as shooting in your friend's mom's house for free, but whatever) will open up new possibilities in storytelling for future projects, and could even up the production values, too.

Now, I'm no Bob Villa-esque charpentier with a perfectly sculpted beard to match, but the construction of these flats is simple enough for pretty much any skill level as long as you know how to safely operate a saw -- and a hammer -- gotta watch those phalanges, guys. Making the jacks, the pieces of wood that'll hold your flats up (Brown likens them to the little bit of cardboard on the back of a picture frame), will probably be the most complicated thing about this build, since you'll have to cut out a gouge for hanging sandbags. As long as you have a jigsaw (you could probably get away with using a Sawzall, too, but be careful), this should be too much of a challenge, though -- it's not like it has to look pretty.

Check out the tutorial below:

Now, knowing how to build flats is only the beginning. You still have to dress it up and make it look like whatever location you're aiming for, which is a much more challenging task than merely sawing and nailing pieces of wood together -- but at least you're off to a good start.

[Drill image by Flickr user cactusbeetroot]

[via thesubstream & Filmmaker IQ]

Your Comment

8 Comments

Matt's technique is just a little off here. Traditional design places the stiles on top of the rails so they don't snag. He's put the rails inside the stiles instead, which risks pulling the flat apart as it's moved across a floor. You can also add key stones for strength across the center and corner blocks (set in an inch) to make sure the flat doesn't twist under stress.

July 28, 2014 at 9:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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K No

I've worked with flats over 30 feet high. The support, the jack as he calls it, is a real waste of wood. For example this is much better but it needs a weight on the lower edge.

http://i1.squidoocdn.com/resize/squidoo_images/400/draft_lens17874938mod...

With higher flats than the one he's working with when you construct it where flats meet you can place rope cleats that can hold the flats together tight. Also I recommend NOT using nails. This makes for deconstruction more dangerous. Screws are much safer.

Another tip is that I've managed to get huge amounts of wood for free. How? I break down other peoples film and theatre sets. Get paid to do it and get yourself some free wood at the same time!

July 28, 2014 at 12:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JPS

The link is broken. There is no image there.

July 28, 2014 at 1:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rodrigo Molinsky

Hmmm, that link didn't work. Try this instead. Imahe a bit down from the top.

http://www.churchstagedesignideas.com/what-are-stage-flats/

July 28, 2014 at 1:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JPS

Thanks! Nice link! Also like the website, there is a lot of other very interesting stuff!

August 1, 2014 at 1:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Interesting video. Thanks for the info. I like the flat idea and I may use something similar in my current project. His set is more expensive than it needs to be. I build my sets using 1x2s and cardboard. mattress boxes can give you large free sheets. Most of the time a set doesn't have to be very strong as it's just temporary. Scrounging old building materials people give away or using Freecycle to get scrap lumber. I could never have made Space Trucker Bruce (www.spacetruckerbruce.com) for less than $10,000 with a bunch of lumber from home depot. I built eight sets in my house over three years. He should have used more screws. It's a lot easier to reuse materials when you don't have to pull out all those nails and deal with wood glue.

July 28, 2014 at 5:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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The "jacks" made in the video is a HUGE WASTE of wood.

July 29, 2014 at 6:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Joonas N.

I couldn't agree more - the "jacks" are just a big waste of wood & time if you want to make them that way. I was taught that french brace type supports are more stable and with a sand bag - the best position for it is as close to the floor as you can get this is so the it acts almost like an absailor putting as much weight below as they can.

and yes screws are far easier to construct this with... the flats I have helped to construct used pvc (wood strength) glue as well as "staples" to hold the ply or whatever he chose to use to the frame no screws there... unless running repairs were needed.

all up if you know how to brace flats together properly just do it that way he's obviously never been filming on a proper set and had to hold one of those things when it comes detached from the others... "lightweight" yeah right!

July 31, 2014 at 8:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Bryce