Article by: Cinematographer Max Brandhorst-Satzkorn
Max is no stranger to the film world, shooting music videos, corporate videos, commercials, short films, and more. On a recent project, he was trying to figure out how to make a stable car rig without having to spend tons of money for it. His goal is not unusual for the indie film crew, and neither is his journey for perfecting the setup. Fortunately, Max documented his process for finding the best car rig in order to help others better their methods, check it out below!
I’ve been working on a short film with a group of actors who are producing it independently, out of their own pockets. This means that the budget for the film was in the lower (or non-existent) micro budget range. We had a scene taking place in a car that cross-cut with another scene at a hospital. I wanted to get the scene inside the car to be something more dynamic than just sitting in the passenger seat and shooting the driver. However, since there was no real budget to speak of, getting a grip or any sort of “real” car rig was out of the question. I started thinking about how I would get the camera mounted on the outside of the car. And most important, how I would do this with minimum setup. I talked to a grip and lighting reseller in the area and had the idea that if I shoot it on my Panasonic GH5, a couple of suction cups should be able to hold it steadily. Together with the people at BBS Rental Support I put together a small rig with 9.Solutions parts. A very simple rig.
And that’s it. A very simple solution to get a firm mount on a car hood.
Original rig with Zhiyun Crane 2
My original idea was to use my Zhiyun Crane 2 mounted on the car to get smooth shots. The advantage with using the gimbal is that it automatically keeps the horizon level, and panning and tilting is very easily controlled with a joystick. I could even do it remotely using my phone.
Mounted for initial test
Here’s a short clip showing how well this worked:
No, that pan was not intended. Apparently, the gyroscope gets somewhat confused when the car starts to turn, so that didn’t work. Maybe if it had a GPS built in it could combine the data from the gyroscope and the GPS to stabilize on top of a car hood. To be fair, as long as the car was going in a straight line, the stabilization worked well and I could control the gimbal from my phone.
Ok, let’s get rid of the gimbal and just mount it directly on the cheese plate!
I could have mounted a tripod head on the cheese plate and then the camera, but in an effort to keep it as light as possible, and to keep the center of mass low, I chose to mount the camera directly on top of the cheese plate using a screw. Like this:
Second iteration – no gimbal
This is a simple setup. A cheese plate mounted to three suction cups using rods. The camera is mounted with a screw and extra support with the rods going around and on top.
Like expected, the new rig can handle a turn without any issue, but it does get bumpy on uneven roads. Fortunately for us the scene in question did not involve any high-speed pursuits or racing on unpaved roads! So, we avoided the worst of the shaking. I was going to go handheld inside the car as well, so for this specific scene I knew the solution would work well and I knew that I could set it up myself in under 10 minutes.
Here’s how the final version looked when shooting the scene. (BTS-photos by @andreasfreds on IG)
And here’s a short clip of the shot. The film is not released yet, so can’t give you too much!
Of course, If you want to imitate this, make sure it’s on a road you can control, we don’t want any accidents caused by a camera flying off your car on a road in operation.