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5 Killer Filmmaking Hacks

Caleb Ward

These filmmaking hacks are a great way to get epic footage while not breaking the bank.

When you’re shooting a video, there are a lot of different pieces of equipment that you need to remember. It’s not uncommon to bring dozens of pieces of equipment to your set. But if you forget an important piece of gear, you can still get good results with a few hacks. Here are a few of our favorite filmmaking hacks.

1. Zip Tie Follow Focus

Things You’ll Need: Zip Tie, Rubber Band

When it comes to smooth focusing, nothing can quite match a follow focus… but for a few small pieces of plastic and metal, a follow focus can cost a pretty penny. It’s not uncommon to see a follow focus north of $500. So what are you to do? Well, one quick hack that you can use is to simply use a zip tie and a rubber band around your focus ring. It looks like this:

Zip Tie Focus Hack

In this video tutorial, commentacious takes a look at how to do this hack step by step. The end result is by no means perfect, but it’s much smoother than using your hand.

2. Tripod Glidecam

Things You’ll Need: A Tripod

When it comes to shooting cinematic footage, stabilization is the name of the game. Unfortunately, stabilizers can be super expensive. So instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a specific rig, you could always use your handy-dandy tripod as a makeshift steadicam. Sometimes simply giving your camera a little more weight and changing the center of balance is all you need to do, and a tripod can pull off the trick. After you shoot the footage, you can then move it into your NLE and stabilize it even more.

This tutorial from icunowlibra shows us how to create a simple steadicam rig using a photographic tripod, but you can really use any tripod if you simply collapse the legs.

3. Lamp Light

Things You’ll Need: A Lamp and Possibly a Lamp Shade

Film lights are crazy expensive, but if you’re working on a budget you don’t necessarily need to get ‘production’ lights to get good lighting results. You can easily use various lamps and bulbs laying around your house to adequately light, if you know what bulbs to choose. The easiest thing to do is to simply go with Tungsten Balanced (orange) bulbs and a simple diffuser. To diffuse the light, you should use a white lamp shade. A few common household lamp choices are either china balls or the rectangular lamps found at simple home furnishing stores like Ikea.

The following video from FICTION is pretty simple, but it does outline the cinematic potential of using a simple lamp like a china ball.

4. Shower Curtain Diffusion

Things You’ll Need: A Shower Curtain, A Stand, and Clamps

Diffused light is often praised because of its versatility. Luckily, it’s incredibly easy to make any light softer if you simply go grab the shower curtain out of your bathroom. Using a simple stand and a curtain or sheet, you can easily diffuse harsh lighting and create soft, flattering light. This tutorial from Film Riot shows us how it’s done.

5. Car Dolly

Things You’ll Need: A Car

While you’d certainly be hard-pressed to fit a car into an indoor location, if you happen to be shooting outdoors, a car can be a smooth way to track alongside your subjects. Cars can be great for tracking or dollying. Plus, if you’re downscaling 4K footage to HD, you can stabilize your car-dolly clips to get ultra-smooth footage.

This staff-picked video from Vimeo shows us a few of the creative possibilities of using a car on a production. In the video, the hosts outline a few further ways that you can use a car for filmmaking beyond simply tracking and dollying.

Know of any other great filmmaking hacks? Share in the comments below.