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DIY Filmmaking Comes of Age

by James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

RØDE Blimp – $319, shockmount included.  Or, you can build one for under $20 after a trip to a dollar store.  A Steadicam Merlin around $800, or you can build one for about $35. How about a Glidetrack camera slider … about $400, or you can build one for a tenth that. DIY Filmmaking has really hit its stride.

For many amateur filmmakers, trying to get professional grade results has often been dependent on how much money they’ve been able to spend.  Not anymore, as the next generation of digital filmmakers are turning to the Internet, and their local hardware stores to build the equipment they can’t afford to buy, or rent.

“I’m a filmmaker with a lot of ambition and very little money. We look at ways to stretch your microscopic movie budget without sacrificing quality.” – Scott Eggleston, The Frugal Filmmaker

When I went to film school, the average cost was about $1,000 a minute for a decent 16mm film.   Then video arrived and changed the game. But it was still difficult to put out a quality image because you had to deal with inferior quality, the need for high end sound and lighting, and film equipment to get closer. HD Video has made it much better, but amateur filmmaking was still wanting to create more production value.  Then someone discovered the flexibilty (no pun intended) of PVC pipe. When the help of the internet, youtube, and ambitious filmmakers like Erik Beck (Indy Mogul)Ryan Connelly (Film Riot)Scott Eggleston (The Frugal Filmmaker), and Vincent Vasquez (The $20 Filmmaker), willing to hash out the particulars, suddenly, there were ways to make your own homebrew film gear that provides just as much bang, for very little buck.

But amateurs weren’t the first to build their own gear. The Steadicam was invented by cameraman Garrett Brown who was looking for a better, smoother way to go handheld. Director Mike Figgis took a stearing wheel out of a junk yard jalopy and made a camera rig out of it that bears his name (The FigRig).   But even these have been “DIY’d.” CStands, Mic Blimps, dollies, even cablecams have all gotten the PVC treatment with pretty impressive results. Check out some of these videos …

Boom Mic Pole and Blimp






Frugal Floater (DIY Merlin Steadicam)









$5 PVC LightStands



Now, would you trust a 100 pound studio light to schedule 40 PVC? Of course not. That would be suicidal. But if you’re on a micro budget, odds are you’re looking to trim every penny you can as well. Home brew gear here and there gives you that capability to funnel money where it counts … in paying actors, getting permits, food, and special effects.

And they’re making money at it, too., founded by Erik Beck, started a film series called Backyard Effects, which showed how to do many of this low budget, DIY builds and turned it into a network on YouTube. His success also inspired others like Eggleston, Knop and others to make their own YouTube channels providing tips on how to get the job done for as little money as possible. Even high schoolers like Parker Maimbourg of Parker’s Tutorials seem to be forsaking the typical “would you like fries with that” after school gig for cashing in as a YouTube partner and doing quite well for themselves (although even Parker confesses his grades have taken a hit because he spends so much time making films).  And for the amateur filmmaker who is just starting out, the result is that there is now a valuable resource for putting together the equipment you need on a shoestring budget, rather than simply say it’s out of reach because filmmaking is an expensive passion.