12 Do-It-Yourself Projects for Camera Assistants

12 Do-It-Yourself Projects for Camera Assistants

As a camera assistant, you know the value in being resourceful and there's nothing more emblematic of that attitude than a solid do-it-yourself project.

Do-it-yourself isn’t always about pinching pennies and saving a few bucks, sometimes it’s about making good use of your free time and building a custom tool.

So with the summer heat just inviting you to whip out those power tools and build something great, here are 12 projects designed to make your life easier on set.

1. Frontbox

DIY Camera Assistant Frontbox

A front box is a wooden box that attaches onto tripods and holds items like your tape measure, camera reports, and even the slate. Buying a frontbox will cost you a good chunk of change, but if you’ve got some tools and the motivation, you can build one (and customize it) for much cheaper using 1st Assistant Camera Chris Keth’s wonderful diagrams at Cinematography.com

2. Film Slate

DIY Slate Finished Product

When I challenged myself to build a film slate for less than $15, I didn’t think I would be successful. Lucky for you, I ended up with a clapperboard sturdy enough for set work that came in under budget. Learn how to build your own slate for less than $15.

3. Slate Tagboard

DIY Slate Tagboard

If I am walking onto a set, my tagboard is always coming with me. Tagboards are extremely useful slabs you attach to the back of the slate that hold tape for marks, camera reports, and filter tags. It is the most utilized do-it-yourself projects I’ve ever done. You can make your own with this tutorial.

4. Camera Reports

RED One Camera Reports Download

When it comes to camera reports, you have two options: you can purchase premade books of them or you can make your own template at home. The first option is easier, but the second option is best because it affords you the flexibility to tailor the reports to whichever camera you’re shooting on. You can use my RED One Camera Reports as a starting point to customizing your own.

5. Filter Tags

Slate Filter Tags on Camera Tagboard

Having tags to slap on the Matte Box whenever you change filters is essential to making sure you aren’t swapping out that ND9 when you meant to go for the Polarizer. FilmTools will sell you them for $2.00/each, but there’s a way to make them at home for free.

6. Actor and Focus Marks

Actor and Actress T-Marks for Camera Assisting

When marking actors, the paper or gaffer’s tape you use doesn’t stick to every surface — especially on outdoor surfaces like cement or grass. With some supplies available at any local hardware store, you can make some solid and dependable outdoor marks for actors or for focus.

7. Follow Focus

DIY Follow Focus Hose Clamp

If you want things in focus, it’s best to use a follow focus. But if you can’t afford one or want a cheap backup solution in your kit, you have many options for do-it-yourself follow focus systems.

8. Hoodman/Hoodmen

Shooting exteriors in bright sunlight, or in a brightly lit set, makes it difficult to see monitors. This is especially true on DSLR’s where the LCD screen is comparably tiny. In comes the Hoodman: a shade designed to help you see these screens. When all was said and done with these DIY Hoodmans, they worked perfectly and cost only tape, time, and a few inches of Velcro.

9. French Flag/Eyebrow

DIY French Flag

Whether you’re shooting run’n’gun without much equipment, or you need to make an eyebrow in an emergency, this DIY tutorial from Fresh DV shows a smart way to make a french flag out of a few relatively cheap parts.

10. RED One Shoulder Mount

RED One DIY Shoulder Mount

Shooting handheld with the RED One camera is always a feat. The camera is bulky, heavy, and will cripple most small handheld rigs. When I was tasked to make this shoulder mount for the camera, I came up with a big, soft block of leather — but it worked. This story isn’t a tutorial necessarily, but it has plenty of pictures and mentions of “How-To.”

11. Bottle Buddy

Bottle Buddy Water Caddy

Juggling your department’s water bottles gets to be a bit of a hassle and the Bottle Buddy understands that. It was designed quickly to solve a simple problem, but it lasted to become a favorite of the Below the Beltway camera crew. The Bottle Buddy really shines when you’re shooting quickly outdoors and don’t have time to lug water bottles to each new setup. Find out what a Bottle Buddy is.

12. Camera Cart

Crap on the Camera Cart

You know what’s better than renting a camera cart? Owning your own. You know what’s better than owning your own camera cart? Building it to your specifications and designing the layout how you want it. Of course, it takes time and effort to make a camera cart, so customizing a purchased one isn’t a bad idea either. Here’s some recommendations at Cinematography.com to get you started.

Why DIY Projects Are Good for You

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, then you already know I’m a big fan of do-it-yourself projects. There’s just something about the challenge to create something that is practical and useful that excites me.

DIY projects are also good for you because they force you to find available resources and utilize them to their fullest potential.

Countless times you’ll find yourself in the midst of production needing to fix a tool, solve a problem, or address an issue and having the DIY mentality where you can whip anything up with the right amount of time and creativity is an invaluable skill to bring with you to set.

So now that you’ve got 12 projects to choose from, get the tools out and start making something!

  • http://twitter.com/EvanGarcia515 Evan Garcia

    Some one told me that golf tees with little flowers glued to the top is another good ground marker for actors.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Hm having a hard time visualizing that. Do you have a picture?

  • hamid

    Thanks Evan for post !
    very useful .

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      No problem! Glad you liked it

  • Datasmurf

    This reminds me about the time one of my fellow camera assistants made a softbox out of an old shirt, duct tape and some twigs he found outside the house we were filming in. It was great. We dubbed him MacGyver. :D