DIY Film Projects: Six Thoughts

A reader of this blog recently emailed me about a DIY steadicam he had seen online. Though I'm still suspicious of a steadicam without a gimble (i.e., the little ring that's used to control pans and tilts), the sample footage on the site looked okay, all things considered. Anyway, this got me thinking about how the internet abounds with DIY projects. Most of them are variations on one of the following:

a. skateboard dolly: 1, 2, 3

b. home-made steadicams: 1, 2, 3, 4

c. jib arm / crane: 1, 2

d. car mount: 1, 2, 3

e. the aforementioned Depth of Field reducer

f. other: 1, 2, 3

I'm not necessarily advocating any of these projects, much less one plan over another. I just thought I'd post links to a few and people can explore them (or not). Besides these links, those that are interested should check out Nuts and Bolts Filmmaking by Dan Rahmel, which has a lot of DIY projects, as well as other useful information.

A few thoughts:

1) Pros that pooh-pooh DIY equipment would do well to remember that many now-standard pieces of film equipment (boompole, steadicam, etc.) were handmade innovations before they became mass-produced professional tools.

2) Sometimes building DIY projects is not more cost effective than spending the money on a professional tool. Example: A new C-stand costs less than $200. The amount of time and money it would take for me to build some inferior imitation out of pipe I bought at Home Depot simply isn't worth it in the final cost-benefit analysis.

3) An inexpensive homemade tool that doesn't get the job done is less of a bargain than an overpriced mass-produced tool that does get the job done.

4) Conversely, it's simply ridiculous what some companies charge (and what some people will pay) for the most simple tools that could just as easily be homemade. If you know how to use a sewing machine, or know someone who does, you should not be paying $50 for a sandbag.

5) Judging from some of the projects I've seen made with DIY tools, the time spent building the tools would have been better spent working on the script. Of course, the same could be said of many Hollywood products produced with the best tools money can buy. As Agnes Varda once said, "The technical [aspects] and the frames are only a means to go through what has to be felt."

6) Often, the biggest advantage to making homemade tools is not the savings in money -- it's that you can tailor the tools to your project's specific needs. (Cf. the Crafter's Manifesto.) And as long as making your own tools doesn't distract from the real work -- making films -- the peripheral benefit of DIY is that the geeky fun had in making something is often, as Mastercard would say, priceless.