We’re all stuck at home, finished watching Tiger King, and looking to find some way to get back to our normal lives. Fortunately, this short time of reflection can help all of us hone in on our skills as filmmakers. But you don’t need a large crew or expensive equipment to experiment with and build on your craft.
Simple house-hold items can be used to create stunning practical effects that can add a level of sophistication to your future projects for when things are up and running again. In fact, many of the tools we use to make movies were invented by repurposing tools that were originally designed for other purposes. These are 7 video hacks you can mess around with at home to kill the time.
ONE: DIY PATTERENED ILLUMINATION
Normally referred to as a cookie, cucoloris, or sometimes a gobo, anytime you place a stenciled pattern in front of a light source to intentionally shape the light for a dramatic effect you can add a visual dynamic to an otherwise flat scene.
Before cool running LED lights were widely used these cookies were made of metal so the 1000+ watt lights wouldn’t set them on fire during a shoot, but now almost anything can be used to produce an interesting pattern in a scene.
Try rummaging through your kitchen cabinets for an old collider or pasta fork, cast a light through it, and see for yourself how some simple shadows can add to the visual impact of your footage.
TWO: TOILET ROLL MACRO LENS
You can get some wild effects by increasing the distance from the rear of the lens and the imager in your camera. *Referred to as the flange distance.
In this instance, using a toilet paper roll as a spacer to physcally hold the lens at a further distance from the camera’s sensor can turn an ordinary lens into a macro or super macro lens.
You can use scissors to cut the roll to different lengths, or go completely without a spacer and experiment with ‘Lens Whacking’ – which produces some awesome flaring effects as well.
Be careful to not scratch the rear lens element or the image sensor.
THREE: DOOR DOLLY
No, I didn’t type ‘DOOR-WAY’ dolly. This hack uses a standard door on hinges to produce a dolly-like effect in a pinch.
For this trick, grab a super-clamp, screw your camera onto it, and tighten it onto any sturdy door. Simply moving the door will give you a stable dolly-like effect. *Just don’t get angry and slam the door shut… that could get expensive.
FOUR: CLOTHING IRON SMOKE MACHINE
For extreme close ups, you can use an iron with a steam function to simulate a smoke machine. There isn’t much to this trick, just be careful to unplug the iron when you’re done so you don’t cause a real fire.
FIVE: THE CHAIR DOLLY
Harkdening back to the time of 1960s French New-Wave, the chair-dolly is a tried, true, and inexpensive method of getting cheap and practical dolly shots. This is actually how Jean-Luc Goddard filmed the tracking shots in Breathless (1960).
It is as easy as placing your camera in a chair, and pushing it through your scene to get smooth, dynamic shots. You’ll be impressed with what you can achieve with this low-tech trick.
SIX: HAIR DRYER PARTICLE CLOUDS
What scene couldn’t use a little dust, dirt, or grim to add a little grit? Try placing a thin layer of flour or powder off-camera and blow it around with a hairdryer when you start filming extreme close-ups for a dramatic effect.
SEVEN: LOW-TECH ZERO GRAVITY PRODUCT SHOTS
Set your camera to slow-motion and pile up some blankets, pillows, or padding and let gravity do all of the work. If you drop your camera at the same time as whatever object you’re interested in highlighting it can have the effect that the object is floating through air.
I would wholeheartedly advise against attempting this hack. Nothing escapes the gravitation pull of Earth, and you’ll surely find yourself with a busted camera after 2 or 3 takes.
How are you dealing with social isolation? Have you dreamed up any practical tricks you’d like to share? We’d love to hear how you’ve been using your time creatively while staying safe.