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Building Your Own Car Rig — Commercial Insider Edition

In this budget car rigging video, we’ll break down the mission control setup inside the car — and our experience with these techniques.

In two previous tutorials, we’ve gone from building our own car mounts to learning how to use them. There are five basic equipment functions to consider:

  1. FIZ control
  2. Trigger control
  3. Monitors and video feed
  4. Equipment rigging
  5. Lighting and power

Each one has various solutions, based on your equipment and budget. In the end, breaking down your specific vision into detailed goals — and how equipment can help you solve those challenges — will save you the most resources.

1. FIZ Control

FIZ Control

Focus, iris, and zoom — the three critical axes of control.

FIZ stands for Focus, Iris, Zoom, and each refers to a separate axis of control. Wireless control over these functions from your setup is ideal — that way you spend less time around to make adjustments. However, you probably don’t need top-of-the-line functionality — at least not yet. There’s a lot of great DSLR-aimed technology — like the DEC LensRegain — at a reasonable price that covers a single or double-axis.

I currently use a single-axis (focus only) Cinegears Rattlesnake Follow Focus. But, let’s say your shot doesn’t need all this dynamic FIZ ability and you already own prime lenses. Then, simply staying with a wide angle and balancing your exposure at higher f-stops (f4+) will help keep everything in focus.

Plan time to do lens swaps into your schedule or shot list. If you’re using an active lens made for your camera, you could possibly take advantage of your camera’s control application. It covers many functions, including focus, iris, and our next category: triggering the recording.

2. Trigger Control

Record trigger

The record trigger can save you a lot of trouble while shooting.

Trigger control is a deceptively simple concept but can come to mean a lot of different things. Of course, you can always hit record on the camera and jump back into the car. But, dealing with wasted card space and skipping through useless footage in post could be an issue.

My Aputure DEC Lens Adapter has a trigger feature, but it can be difficult to confirm on the camera when you’re sitting in the car. The camera app is a great option, but it can also be frustrating due to unreliable connectivity. A good solution is an external monitor since there are currently plenty of budget-friendly options. By pressing record on the device doing the actual data saving, we can be certain of recording, save some camera battery, and keep track of how much time we can capture — all while monitoring a live feed. Among other many useful features like waveforms.

3. External Monitors and Video Feed

Monitors and video feed

Monitors are essential for just about every car rig scenario.

Monitors (both with external recording functionality and not) are a must for just about every scenario. You can use a camera app for locked-off framing. However, when you want the camera to move and hit focus points, latency (the time it takes a transmitter to send data to a receiver) can be an issue. Even the largest budgets rely on cables instead, due to their reliability and speed.

For instance, if I wanted to be able to record a 4K source on my Inferno, I’d currently have to use a cable. After all, mobile-friendly 4K wireless video units are new to the market.

I now own a Cinegears 600MP, which is ten times more versatile than my previous pro-sumer system and has been worth every penny. For instance, I can use an HDMI output from my GH5 and then a SDI input to my monitor. If you’re ready for a wireless professional monitor solution that could be useful on any set, Teradek, again, wowed this year at NAB with a relatively affordable option. It might seem like a steep price tag initially, but it’ll save you a great deal of pain in the long run.

4. Equipment Rigging

Video car rigging

Rigging should always make sure your driver has clear sight and ease of motion.

Rigging all this equipment is the next issue. This could require more specialized tools — like suction cup mounts, clamps, and rig arms — but they’ll be useful for years to come.

Setting up next to your driver might be ideal, or maybe carefully hidden in the backseat if necessary. With a little patience, we can reuse our dual suction cups (from the earlier tutorials above) on the inside windshield. Then, use our clamp and arm to place the monitor, which we can adjust later. Long HDMI, SDI, and P-Tap extension cables are a must when working inside a car.

I don’t recommend setting up in a chase car with a wireless video unit unless you have a secured location route with no public interference. This is due to the degree of coordination that’s involved with the driver. I had interference issues on my commercial in a chase car due to driving through downtown buildings. I also could’ve used my longer, yet more fragile, antennas.

Having trouble with a stiff cable? Cut off the rubber where you need flexibility.

5. Lighting and Power

Lighting and power for your car rig

An inverter is a good way to power your lights and equipment while shooting in the car.

In our last category, we need to consider powering all of this gear — potentially for a full day. Luckily, a car is also like a rolling generator. With a proper power inverter, we could power the monitor and some lighting to see our equipment or our subject. Check the manufacturer’s rating on the wattage you can draw and compare it to the total combined wattage of the equipment you plan to use, plus twenty percent. Your devices shouldn’t exceed the total wattage of the inverter. Do your research when choosing an inverter before going crazy with lights.

But, as we begin to discuss lighting, techniques for capturing a subject in a car can be tremendously different. Control over the location, having permits, and being safe can all affect your approach. This is where two really well made videos on the Shutterstock Tutorials channel can fill you in. The first video covers what to do when you need an actor to act, not drive . . .

But let’s say you just want to get a shot of someone driving, with no dialogue or other distractions. The next video helps breaks down how to shape light in a small area . . .

But, when the subject is in a car — actually driving on public roads — your major consideration needs to be the driver’s ability to see properly. If your actor is hesitant at all to confirm they can see, you’re pushing it too far and should personally confirm visibility. Any direct light source aimed at the actor’s eyes will cut down their visibility greatly.

Remember to check your local laws regarding what you can attach to a vehicle before entering the public domain.

In Conclusion

In closing, I’d like to quickly comment on the ancient debate of talent vs. equipment and how it relates to becoming a better professional. Equipment can’t teach you how to convey a good story or land a joke, but it can certainly help you move faster and safer — as well as reinvigorate your personal excitement and the enjoyment of tackling the process as a professional.

It’s taken me years to build up the arsenal of equipment I own. Each was a planned step in giving me more freedom to explore my abilities. Each a carefully planned move in tearing down the next glass ceiling. You may not own an ALEXA LF, but you can keep its functionality in mind while making upgrades to your gear set to make it a more viable rental option. Learn to find a balance between cost, functionality, and what you can endure. Always keep pushing your limits!

Here is one last article with some helpful tips on getting gear at great deals. If you’re saving up, perhaps plan your purchase for holiday specials or events like Black Friday. There are also many local camera shop expos and clearance events you could keep an eye on.

Interested in the track we used to make this video?

Looking for more filmmaking tips and tricks? Check these out.

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