Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996

Car Shots

Published : 24th October 2004


Pardon my ignorance here, but I have a basic query about car mounts/shots.

I've only used a “Hoodmount” and the Super Grip II on some car doors.

I have an upcoming feature that is a 'road movie', hence a large portion of it takes place in a car and I'm wondering what are some of the ways I can shoot this without using the same shots over and over and over.

I don't think four weeks of Shotmaker is realistic for this budget, but I could be wrong. What are some other ideas for car mounts, towing, platforms, etc. that I should explore for something like this?

Roderick
Az. D.P.
www.cinema-vista.com



>I don't think four weeks of Shotmaker is realistic for this budget

What is a Shotmaker ?

Matthew Woolf
London DOP



Matthew Woolf wrote :

> What is a Shotmaker ?

They're a grip company, but colloquially a Shotmaker is a flatbed truck designed especially to mount a car on for travelling shots –

http://www.shotmaker.com/

Gawd knows if there's any sort of equivalent in the UK.

Tom Townend,
Cinematographer/London



Roderick wrote :

>What are some other ideas for car mounts, towing, platforms, etc. that I >should explore for something like this?

Well, not knowing what type of car you're shooting in, I'd have to say "that depends." If you're lucky enough to have a convertible as a picture car - ya got lots of options.

Shotmaker, of course, gives you lots of options, but if it's not financially feasible, adapt and improvise.

If you can get to L.A. - drop in at Modern Studio Equipment in North Hollywood…Seno is the guy to talk to there. He has a huge quantity of rigging tools and hardware. Seno helped me select parts for a series of motorcycle rigs I've built.

I've built, on guerrilla budgets, plywood and lumber hoods mounts that were fully adjustable. I've also built homemade hostess trays that got the job done. I'm not talking about rigging a mini-DV camera, either. Some of these rigs supported an Arri BL-IV.

By far the coolest rig I've ever built was a "slider" for use inside a 1964 Chevy Impala - huge car, lots of manoeuvring room. We constructed a centre console support which ran from the front seat straight down the centre line of the car to the back seat. We equipped it with two steel pipe rails and the camera plate/ball mount slide on these rails on Teflon bushings. It was for a rap music video and since it was MOS, the slight scraping sound of the bushings on the steel wasn't a problem. Given enough time and support gear, I'd build the same rig with over-under wheels/bearings like a true slider plate now. I can't tell you how cool it was to be doing dolly moves inside a moving car.

Seno at Modern has an underslung slider plate with wheels, rails and plate that I would love to rig inside a city bus or passenger van. Long, smooth dolly shots that show the floor. We could have used that on a shoot this past summer in a very narrow antique train car, circa 1890.

My friend (and fellow AFI alum) Dan Farnam and I once built a 12' jib for $58 out of lumber and carriage bolts. Built it in the L.A. Dodger's parking lot after shooting all day. We needed to fly the camera over an actor's shoulder off the cliffs at Palos Verdes, California and the camera department had $150 left in its budget. So, we built the jib - custom cut to fit any Werner step ladder tied down with ratchet straps and C-clamps, counterbalanced with sandbags - and used that thing for something like 10 shoots. Anytime we needed a flyaway shot, a high angle on no budget, etc., we called it into use. It lived in my parking space next to the canoe and the motorcycle at my apartment. Yes, it drew stares and yes, it got us some great shots for very little money.

I'm not suggesting you've got to go that low budget on your shoot - it doesn't sound like it and bless you for that - but if ya gotta, ya gotta.

If the car has a sun roof and you can tow it – as indeed you should - you can get some interesting overhead angles from some speedrail rigs. You can rig up and over from truck and hood mounts and "cage" the car in, giving yourself a variety of angles. Again, more easily accomplished if the car is a convertible.

Suction mounts can work wonders for you, too, but I've always been a little paranoid about them for anything bigger than a Bolex. Also, talk to production about removable seats in the car. Buys you some room if the car is small. And if you need the shot, the "bungee cam" from the ceiling, wrapped up and over the roof might help you handhold. Have a small box for the camera's base plate built with 4 eye hooks or other contacts to attach bungees to - takes the weight out of your hands if you're operating. And, of course, a simple sandbag on your shoulder often helps more when handholding inside a car than does the whole handheld rig of many camera systems.

Hope that helps. If you can, please post what kind of car you'll have to work with - I'm the members of this new list will have all kinds of great suggestions. I'd like to know about them, too.

And always with car shots - be extremely safety conscious.

Christopher Lockett
Cinematographer
Los Angeles



> If you're lucky enough to have a convertible as a picture car

Actually - believe it or not - I get to help pick a car, and I was thinking about some big 'ol tuna boat convertible. An old Impala or Cadillac of some sort.

> If you can get to L.A. - drop in at Modern Studio Equipment

I definitely will!

>Suction mounts can work wonders for you, too, but I've always been a >little paranoid about them for anything bigger than a Bolex.

Actually, I've now rigged my 37lb. Ultracam three times with the Super Grip suction mount. Of course we used all sorts of ratchet strap safeties, but the suction mount proved quite durable.

>Also, talk to production about removable seats in the car. Buys you >some room if the car is small.

Yes, I love the idea of the interior slider and maybe removing the seats when necessary. Ugh. I hate working on cars nowadays.

Roderick
Az. D.P.
www.cinema-vista.com



>What are some other ideas for car mounts, towing, platforms, etc. that I >should explore for something like this?

Roderick,

I've found that a u-haul two wheeled trailer retro-fitted with small tires and attached to a pickup is a great process trailer alternative, especially when combined with a good key grip and a boatload of speed rail. The small wheels on the trailer are important because they keep the front end down so your horizon matches up through the rear window. I've even thrown a small Honda put-put in the pickup to run a couple 1200 pars off the bed. This worked great after we rerouted the genny exhaust under the truck.

Erik Messerschmidt
Cinematographer • Gaffer
Los Angeles



Eric Messerschmidt writes :

>I've found that a u-haul two wheeled trailer retro-fitted with small tires >and attached to a pickup is a great process trailer alternative, especially >when combined with a good key grip and a boatload of speed rail.

I don't wish to stifle creative solutions to an old problem, but with all the recent talk about safety you might want to give this very careful consideration. At the very least, in the unlikely event of a mishap, you might find that using commercial rental equipment in any manner other than its intended purpose will invalidate the rental insurance -- and quite possibly your own vehicle insurance, and the production's insurance leaving you without a seat when the music stops. Putting your own wheels on a "U-Haul" trailer would probably absolve U -haul of any liability.

Even if some drunk drives off the roof of a parking garage and lands on your rig, you might be held partially liable. If your insurance company denies liability, you might have to pay for your own defence.

In many jurisdictions, if you were to do this without permits (and therefore adequate production insurance) and police escort, you would be liable criminally as well as financially. LA, for instance.

I have a couple of letters from insurance companies that make for verysobering reading.

Brian "Dear Mr. Heller, It has come to our attention..." Heller
IA 600 DP



Erik Messerschmidt wrote :

>I don't think riding in the bed of any truck (whether your operating a >camera or not) is legal in most states.

Boy, it's sure commonplace down here in Alabama!

Then again, until recently, it was actually legal to drink and drive -- as long as you weren't drunk!

Jeff "open container law" Kreines



Brian Heller wrote :

>I have a couple of letters from insurance companies that make for very >sobering reading.

Probably from that time you attached a U-Haul to a Jet Ranger....

Jeff Kreines



Brian Heller wrote :

>I don't wish to stifle creative solutions to an old problem, but with all the >recent talk about safety you might want to give this very careful >consideration.

Brian -
I recognize your concern, but insurance aside, is a Shotmaker rig really any safer? I don't think riding in the bed of any truck (whether your operating a camera or not) is legal in most states.

I've rented hostess trays and hood mounts from rental houses often in the past and never been questioned (by the rental house or the insurance co.) if they were being used with a process trailer.

I've only used the solution I mentioned before to avoid the more dangerous alternative, actors driving picture cars with cumbersome camera rigs attached to them. I think the insurance company would have a far bigger problem with that situation then they would with the tow rig. Regardless I've only used privately owned trailers anyway (usually by the key grip), and always inform the local police department and appropriate agencies of our needs.

Best,

Erik Messerschmidt
Cinematographer • Gaffer
Los Angeles



Erik Messerschmidt writes :

>I recognize your concern, but insurance aside, is a Shotmaker rig really >any safer?

All things being equal, and since you ask, yes a "Shotmaker" is safer than any rig put together with a boat load of speed rail. First of all, Speedrail is the trade name of the fittings that are designed to be used with pipe, not the pipe itself. The pipe can be and often is anything that fits; it may be 6061 or 3003 or electrical conduit 1100, of varying wall thicknesses -- who really knows.

Shotmaker uses 2" OD, 0.125 wall, Drawn 6061 T- 6 Aluminium tubing, not extruded pipe. The fittings on the Shotmaker are incredibly strong castings specifically designed for the purpose and they are regularly inspected. To be sure, Speedrail is also very strong, but it is designed to make railings and racks, and it depends upon the proper torque setting's of the set screws.

The "Shotmaker" is the result of a great deal of experience and design evolution and is inherently safer than the back of a pick up by a significant factor. Furthermore, "Shotmaker's" drivers are among the best in the business and are not likely to be pressured into doing anything foolish and they are not concerned with anything on the production, but their rig. Having said that, no rig is any safer than the people operating it.

>I don't think riding in the bed of any truck (whether your operating a >camera or not) is legal in most states.

I don't believe I said it was. I certainly didn't intend to imply that. On the other hand, a "Shotmaker" is a piece of specialized equipment which when operated consistent with industry standards is legal to operate with crew members on its platforms, and is insured for that purpose. In the event of an accident, and provided that there is no negligence on the part of the operator, any resulting injuries to crew members on the vehicle are covered by workman's compensation laws.

>I've rented hostess trays and hood mounts from rental houses often in >the past and never been questioned (by the rental house or the >insurance co.) if they were being used with a process trailer.

I'm not sure what you mean. The rental house is not liable for misuse or any accident resulting from misuse. You, the equipment renter, assume all liability in the act of renting the gear. It is a matter of law that the owner of the motor vehicle, and the vehicle's insurance company, are liable for injuries and damages resulting from an accident.

>I've only used the solution I mentioned before to avoid the more >dangerous alternative, actors driving picture cars with cumbersome >camera rigs attached to them.

That may be good practice from a general safety standpoint; but if you have accident and try to say "this is a lot safer than the other ways we could have done this" it's not going to cut much ice with the plaintiff's lawyers.

>I think the insurance company would have a far bigger problem with >that situation then they would with the tow rig.

I'm not a lawyer and I certainly can't speak for your insurance company, but again I believe a defence consisting of saying that the way we did this is actually not as unsafe as the way we could have done it, is just not going to work.

>Regardless I've only used privately owned trailers anyway (usually by >the key grip), and always inform the local police department and >appropriate agencies of our needs.

Again that's all well and good. However, besides safety, the reason for having a police escort for these types of shots is to minimize your liability. If you have a police escort and you are towing a car full of people with cameras all over it and someone hits you, it's clearly their fault. Even if you hit them, it may be judged their fault. They did not heed a public safety officer, etc. Having an escort or a police officer present will also show your insurance company that you did everything you could to be safe.

If you don't have an escort and someone hits you, then they -- and their lawyers -- will try to show that your driver was distracted because of the filming process, etc., and that therefore, someone was negligent or at fault. And if you have crew members injured, and negligence can be shown, it could get very sticky and very expensive. If an "innocent bystander" is injured, then there could be a lot of pressure to bring criminal negligence charges.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP



Jeff Kreines wrote:

>Probably from that time you attached a U-Haul to a Jet Ranger....

It was a Sikorsky S-62 and it was a golf cart. This is how rumours get started.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP



>And if you have crew members injured, and negligence can be shown, >it could get very sticky and very expensive.

Point taken Brian. But when does the Cinematographer have to start thinking like a lawyer? I have always operated on the principle that offering as many options as possible to make the day, while maintaining the artistic integrity of the project, is the cinematographers first job. Making these options safe is what determines their potential as real solutions. I hate the idea of making things safe simply because unsafe sets are expensive, and I'm not sure that’s the best way to operate. I think the majority of key grips want to avoid injuries themselves, not the post injury lawsuits. Isn't it the producers job to think about liability and lawsuit protection anyway? How can crew members make sure they will not be held personally liable for damage or injury due to the failure of things built on set?

Just last week the local news covered a serious car accident in downtown LA. Two cars hit each other head-on in an intersection because they were "distracted" by Jennifer Lopez while she was sitting in a process trailer. I heard one of the injured was planning on suing her personally. Crazy world.

Erik "young and gung ho" Messerschmidt
Los Angeles



>I hate the idea of making things safe simply because unsafe sets are >expensive, and I'm not sure that’s the best way to operate.

There are producers who will take that chance, perceiving that if there's only a chance that something might go wrong, there's an equal and opposite chance that nothing bad will happen- and that saves them time and money.

Art Adams, DP
Mountain View, California - "Silicon Valley"
http://www.artadams.net/



Erik Messerschmidt writes :

>But when does the Cinematographer have to start thinking like a >lawyer?

These days probably from day one -- your final paragraph about Jennifer Lopez says it all. If she is sued, it's not because she was responsible for the accident, it's because she has a lot of money and would most likely settle a lawsuit to avoid the hassle.

>I hate the idea of making things safe simply because unsafe sets are >expensive, and I'm not sure that’s the best way to operate.

What do you think is a good reason to make sets safe. Sets should be safe because it is the right thing to do period. Unfortunately, experience has shown that some people do put profits over safety. Some will put "the shot" before safety -- that's fine if they are the only ones at risk. No one has the right to put others at risk for "the shot." Sure safety can be a pain or expensive, but it is a bargain, when measured against injury or death.

>I think the majority of key grips want to avoid injuries themselves, not >the post injury lawsuits.

Why not avoid both. If there are no injuries, there are no grounds for a lawsuit. Why just the key grips. Safety is really everyone's concern

>Isn't it the producers job to think about liability and lawsuit protection >anyway?

It absolutely is. But, and I know this may seem harsh, producers have been known to try to wheedle out of their obligations. A major reason for the permitting process is to protect the public and to make sure the production company has sufficient insurance.

>How can crew members make sure they will not be held personally >liable for damage or injury due to the failure of things built on set?

The simplest way is to be sure you are working safely. From a legal standpoint, be sure you on a time card and not billing, in other words you must be an employee and not a private contractor or an independent contractor or a sub-contractor. Don't worry just because you say you're a private contractor or the producer says you are, you're not; on nearly all movie sets all crew members are employees. Union members are expressly prohibited from being private contractors. Bill back companies are legal creations for tax and accounting purposes and do not change your employee status.

The IRS and most jurisdictions have rules that define who is and who is not an employee. The first test of independent contractor status is that the contractor sets his own work hours. If you've ever tried to get a plumber to show up at a specific time, then you know what this means. The fact is that on a movie set you must start work at a specific time, set by someone else, and can't leave the job until you are released. This makes you an employee. You cannot change that status no matter what agreement you make. It's the law; you cannot contract or agree to break the law. Producers know this, they learn it in early childhood :-), but they still try to do it.

If something does go wrong, the company is liable, not its employees. The trade off for this protection is that if you are injured on the job, you cannot sue your employer, you can only collect workman's compensation.

However, if the employer -- the company -- is found to be negligent, that is knowingly put his employees at risk, then the situation changes dramatically. Doing something illegal is often considered strong evidence of negligence. For instance, if the company makes an illegal electrical tie-in and it causes the house to burn down, the electrician who did the tie-in is not personally liable, the production is. However, because of that illegal act, the insurance company might not have to pay the claim. Moreover, if other employees are injured as a result of the fire, they may be able to sue the employer. If someone is killed, especially an innocent bystander, then it may become a criminal matter. It happens.

I believe this has been discussed before, but you can get very reasonably priced insurance called "a personal liability umbrella" that will cover you in case anyone tries to sue you. Having it may give you a little peace of mind.

Brian Heller



>How can crew members make sure they will not be held personally >liable for damage...

From a practical standpoint, necessary but not sufficient conditions for not being held liable might include (but not be limited to)

Working as an employee, not a subcontractor.

Being named as Loss Payee and Add`l insured on the company insurance policy

Working within "standard practice for the industry"

There are a lot of wild rigs I built for cheap on faith and I got away with it, but I own a house now (well the bank owns it by I am chipping away) and I would be much more careful now to make sure the paperwork is done BEFORE the job.

It’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt

Mark Weingartner
JFK lounge



Any further suggestions for faking a moving car? Rather than stick it on a car-mount and drive around, I'd like to use the project to experiment parking the car up, and faking it. Then cut it in with some exterior shots, out on the road, and shooting off the back of a pick-up truck.

Limited probably to 2x 2K's, 3x 800w, track/dolly, domestic fluoro's. It’s a ultra low-budget (£1k for equipment) music video for an unsigned artist, and
its my first time in charge of shooting one.

1) Rig two mirrors that can rotate 360 degrees on one axis - one gelled with CTO, another with Flame Red. These will be placed near the driver's side window with an 800w pointing at them. A grip can rotate either one of them, or both in sync to flash the colours on to the Artist who is "driving".

2) Keep the shots on sticks only, so that I can free the dolly and tracks. Lay tracks in an arc around the front, passenger side, and back of the car. A 2K can then move freely around, giving the effect of oncoming headlights. And at other times a car behind giving a very nice backlight through the car.

3) Rig two 800w together and have a grip move them sideways behind the back windscreen to imitate car headlights in the distance.

4) Strap some small domestic fluoro’s to a rotary clothes line, which will spin around and above the windscreen to give the reflection of the car passing through a tunnel.

5) A 2K at a 45 degrees from front of car, through some 4' x 4' diffusion - as basic fill / ambient? light. Can walk away or stop it down with ND, and close barn-doors to take it off the car body.

6) Partially frost the side/back windows, and corners of the front window with fake snow-spray.

7) Smoke making near the front of the car, and a Wind machine/Fan to direct it over the car. Hopefully, the 2K fill light will illuminate the smoke also.

What do you all think?

Jim Cox
Lighting Cameraman
Surrey, UK.



This might require larger lights than you have, but I wonder what happens if you put 4x8's of foamcore on the far side of the car, above window level where you might see them but at window level beyond that, and pan some bright but heavily-gelled lights across them? You might be able to get the feeling of changing colors and moving lights without having so many specular sources moving around. Maybe soft red fill from the front and your two-light headlight gag in the back. Maybe the soft red fill occasionally changes to green and yellow.

You'd probably have to have some pretty big lights to get that much bounce off of the foamcore through heavy gels. This might be a bad idea. Might.

I think Fred Elmes did something like that with large pieces of foam core for on "Night on Earth." That was a bit more complex, though, as the cars were moving. Nearly the whole film takes place in cars, and it is BEAUTIFUL. There's a back issue of American Cinematographer that talks about it.

Also...I'm trying to remember the Roger Deakins formula for sodium vapour lights from Fargo. That was in American Cinematographer as well. I think it was full CTO plus 1/2 straw.

Art Adams, DP
Mountain View, California - "Silicon Valley"



>And if you have crew members injured, and negligence can be shown, >it could get very sticky and very expensive. Point taken Brian...but when >does the Cinematographer have to start thinking like a lawyer?

I seem to recall a large studio trying to hold a department head and crew members personally accountable for an accident involving a crane and high tension power lines....

These days, it seems that employee status doesn't absolve an individual of responsibility for decisions that they've made - oops, I'm speaking like a lawyer for a large studio....

Ted "has lawyers in the family" Hayash
Los Angeles