New Year's resolution: build more DIY filmmaking gear!
The best thing about building your own film equipment is that it almost always saves you some cash. If you're finding yourself totally broke after this holiday season but still wanting to add to your arsenal, it might be a good idea to take on a few DIY projects.
We've collected 10 of our favorites from the past year that'll help you do almost anything, from charging your camera's batteries with solar power to stabilizing your footage with LEGOs.
How do you keep your batteries charged for two weeks in the Himalayas? Well, you could carry a ridiculous number of extra batteries with you or use a solar backpack or power bank... or you could do what filmmaker George Thengummoottil did and make a DIY solar battery charger out of a 12-volt 1-amp solar panel, a car cigarette lighter USB converter, and USB-compatible battery chargers. This DIY charger managed to charge a 1000MaH battery in 4 hours in his car. To find out how he built it, head on over to on his blog.
If you don't have the budget to buy a C-stand to hang your light modifiers, this little DIY project might come in handy. Photographer Joe Edelman shows you how to build your own reflector/gobo holder out of $10 worth of PVC pipe, a $15 super clamp, and a few pieces of hardware. You're also going to need some tools, like a rubber mallet, a saw, PVC pipe cutter, and a drill; it's a little more labor-intensive than some tutorials, but it's worth it.
The end product is a DSLR that has some of the functionality of a cinema camera.
Why would you want to build this wooden camera housing? Well, filmmaker Caleb Pike designed it specifically to allow DSLR users to simulate some of the desirable features of cinema cameras, like audio, mounting, and power. Essentially, the housing keeps all of your batteries, preamp, cold shoe mounts—and, of course, your camera—all in one place. This particular DIY project is a little bit more expensive than others, requiring about $250 worth of materials (and some woodworking skills), but the end product is a DSLR that has some of the functionality of a cinema camera. Not bad!
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=kooFWBoKbJU
Lighting a scene that contains a crackling fire can be tricky—and expensive. There are LED lighting units that will do the whole job for you, but they cost upwards of $5,000. You can set up any pro light and attach it to dimmers/light effects equipment, but then you'll have to use a ton of modifiers to control the light. Or, you could make your own fire effect light out of a trash can and a Magic Gadgets Flicker Box like DP Shane Hurlbut! It's fairly simple to build and is portable.
Everybody hates misplacing their lens caps, but The Film Look has found a way to make yours harder to lose. All you need is some spray paint (preferably a bright color), velcro, and a label maker. After taking apart your lens caps, tape off the sides that touch, sand the parts you're going to paint, apply your primer, and then spray a light coat of paint. From there, you can add labels to indicate which lenses they go with, and even add velcro so you can stick them to your gear bag.
If you're a LEGO nerd, this DIY project is totally up your alley. Filmmaker Ali Mohamed designed a 3-axis motion control rig for his GoPro completely out of LEGO Mindstorms nxt 2.0 and Technic pieces. It can do it all: slide, pan, and tilt, both individually or together in different programmable applications and speeds. If you don't own either LEGO Mindstorms or Technic, this isn't one of those DIY builds that will save you money (they cost quite a lot of dough). But if all you want to do is build something cool for filmmaking, it doesn't get much cooler than this.
BONUS: If you don't have Mindstorms/Technic pieces, but just can't get over the idea of building a piece of film gear out of LEGOs, you can try your hand at making your own handheld GoPro stabilizer out of LEGOs and rubber bands.
7. Zoom H1 hack
Once again, Caleb Pike shows us how to make our gear even better. This hack allows you to upgrade one of the best and cheapest handheld recorders out there, the Zoom H1, with XLR inputs and two outputs for monitoring for only $20. This is great, because while the H1 is a damn good recorder at that price point, its major downfall is that it doesn't come with XLR capabilities.
Whether you own a small production company or are just a shameless gear hoarder, this semi-DIY project from Lixi Studio will help you keep all of your tripods organized and off of the floor. By repurposing snowboard racks, you can hang up tripods, C-stands, and any other long, heavy, unwieldy pieces of gear you have lying around. A quick note: the padded ones are best. Also, bike hangers work well, too.
Turns out there's a DIY tutorial for everything! If you're in the market for a robot dolly but can't quite scrounge up enough cash ($18K, to be precise), then you can make one for $650. Indy Mogul's Erik Beck walks you through the build in the tutorial below, but be warned—this is what I'd call an "advanced tutorial." It's certainly not for the faint of heart or DIY-challenged.
This program is still in the prototype phase, but we thought it was too cool to leave off this list. If you're interested in building your own drone with fully customized features, MIT's CSAIL (Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) program has developed a first-of-its-kind interactive system that makes designing, testing, and building your own UAV simple enough, even for those without a technical or computer science background. All you really have to do is choose parts from a database; the program does all the work of coming up with a concept for you. It's not your traditional DIY project, but it's definitely one way to build your own drone. You can read all about this program here.
If 10 DIY hacks just weren't enough for you, check out our coverage of other DIY filmmaking projects from 2016 and beyond here.