February 15, 2015

Bludgeon People Safely & Realistically with This DIY Prop Crowbar

It doesn't matter what kind of filmmaker you are, at some point in your career, you're going to need to hit somebody over the head with a crowbar.

Assuming that this will occur during a scripted fight scene and not after your PA forgets to add sugar to your coffee, you're going to need to learn how to fashion yourself a nifty, and safe, prop crowbar, one that you can not only bludgeon someone with without causing any damage, but do so without making the whole thing look shlocky and unbelievable.

Our buddies over at Film Riot put up this tutorial on how to make a prop crowbar out of a foam pool noodle, some wire, and spray paint. (The FR guys also say you'll need Ted Danson, presumably for emotional support -- so -- Ted Danson: optional.)

If you saw the final result and were like, "That looks like s***," you're right. But, since most of us don't work in a studio where we make props all day, I think it's okay to use a little bit of our cunning to sell the illusion that that ugly piece of foam is really a dangerous piece of metal. Echoing what host Ryan Connolly says in the video, the key to being able to get away with using a prop that up close doesn't look realistic, whether it be a crowbar, gun, or anything else, is camera work, sound, and editing.

Hide it with camera work

Give your audience plenty of shots of the real thing -- show how heavy and unwieldy it is in your character's hand, get close-ups. Also, even though the foam crowbar allows your subject to actually strike someone, the blow is obviously nothing compared to that of an actual metal crowbar. You might want to try using these common cinematography tricks that are used in many fight sequences.

Sell it with sound

Include audio of your character picking it up, dragging it along the ground, or dropping it. Even if the script doesn't originally call for it, make sure that there are some actions with the prop that require audio. Try to avoid having the only sound during this scene be from the impact from the melee, because those audio cues will not only sell the idea that the prop is in fact real, but it'll drive home just how heavy, hard, and dangerous it is.

Disguise it with editing

Finally, editing brings it all home. Keeping edits tight and quick will help mask the fact that the prop is -- well, a prop, allowing for audiences to focus on the action instead of subpar prop-making abilities. (It's okay. We're all learning.) These editing techniques from Vashi Nedomansky should help make your crowbar bludgeoning a little more believable.

Do you have any tips on how to build a prop crowbar or any other melee weapons? Let us know down in the comments!     

Your Comment

5 Comments

great tip!

sound is also a huge factor here and id love to see more tutorials on sfx/sound design in the future!

February 16, 2015 at 5:36AM, Edited February 16, 5:36AM

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Great little tutorial! It's pretty amazing what kind of terrible, hokey props you can slip by an audience with the right framing, editing, and sound design.

I made a short video for a contest a few months ago where I ended up kicking a cell phone off a cliff. Obviously, I wasn't about to actually kick my cell phone off the cliff, so instead I made a few dummy phones. I cut some cardboard to roughly the shape of my phone, double layered it, wrapped it in black duct tape, and put a strip of white duct tape down one side of it to simulate a "screen." It took maybe 5-10 minutes to make half a dozen of them, cost nothing, and was utterly indistinguishable from the real thing on screen.

An even better example was a friend of mine's short film that I helped out on. In the climax, the villain (a home intruder) got clubbed over the head with a Louisville Slugger. For the actual blow, the wooden baseball bat was switched out for a cheap foam toy Louisville Slugger with a fake wood grain texture to the foam. It wasn't the same length, shape, or girth of the real bat, and to those of us who worked on the film that's actually fairly obvious, but with low light and the right sound and editing, an uninitiated viewer is never going to realize that.

February 17, 2015 at 4:20AM

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David West
Filmmaker
1312

And did you go clean up your mess? Leave places better than you found them if you want them to stay open and accessible.

February 17, 2015 at 8:10AM, Edited February 17, 8:10AM

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Michael Carney
Director of Photography, Commercial Video, Stills
237

You're pretty presumptuous, aren't you?

February 19, 2015 at 7:36AM

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David West
Filmmaker
1312

Slow the f#*k down.....

Slooooowwwwww......

February 20, 2015 at 3:01AM

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Willard
Director of Photography
160