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It's pretty commonplace for someone to ask how a special effect shot in a summer blockbuster was done, but you don't often hear someone asking how an exterior car shot was done – though it can be just as difficult to do. The truth is, every great car shot starts with a great car mount.
So to help you with your car shots, we'll be showing you how to measure, cut, and assemble your own car mount using materials that are inexpensive and easy to find in any big box retail store.
In doing so, we're confident that you'll not only be able to shoot a car scene that fits your film's vision, but that fits within your budget as well.
Believe it or not, the average person spends almost 12 hours per week driving a car. So it's almost inevitable that a script will include a scene in a car. However, cars are notoriously tough to shoot in. They're often cramped, have very little room for equipment, and limit the angles in which you can shoot. That's why many shooters try to find ways to mount their cameras outside of the car instead. Some productions will hitch the car to a truck and shoot from the truck bed - but the cost of renting all of that equipment can add up quickly. The other, more affordable way, is to use a car mount. Car mounts allow for camcorders to be outside of a vehicle while it's actually moving, giving a scene added realism. Here's what the one we'll be building looks like.
To give you an idea of the kind of shots a car mount can get, we decided to place ours in several spots on a car. Here's a view from the front, from the back, from the front looking forward, and from the side of the car.
As you can see, using a car mount gives you the flexibility to make any car scene look great.
To make your very own car mount, you'll need:
A large clipboard,
Two large suction cups,
A small roll of tool drawer liners,
a one inch floor flange,
a two inch iron pipe nipple,
a one inch iron pipe threaded cap,
a Five eighth inch washer,
Four, one half inch, three sixteenth inch diameter bolts,
Four three sixteenth inch hex nuts,
Four three sixteenth inch washers,
Four, two inch, one sixteenth inch diameter bolts,
Four one sixteenth inch hex nuts,
Four one sixteenth inch washers,
a two and one half inch by one foot by one quarter inch piece of wood,
Four one quarter inch, three quarter inch long bolts,
One quarter inch, one and a half inch long bolt,
ten quarter inch washers,
Seven quarter inch nuts,
a three and a half inch long quarter inch thread.
Two ratchet straps,
Two small hot pads,
a can of spray-on adhesive,
and a ball head camera mount.
The first thing we're going to do is measure and mark the base of our unit. We'll be making marks for the place where our suction cups will attach to the clipboard, where the floor flange will go, and where our wooden supports will be placed as well.
Since the entire base of our camera mount is going to be this clipboard, we'll measure it first. After measuring, we found our clipboard to be 12 and a half inches long by 9 inches wide.
If your clipboard is larger, you may want to cut it down to the same size as the one we'll be using so that you can follow along more accurately.
Next, we're going to find the place where we want to mount the floor flange to our clipboard.
We'll do so by measuring half of it's length and drawing a line - which we found to be 6 and a quarter inches, and half of it's width - which we found to be 4 and a half inches. Where the two lines intersect, we will place our floor flange. After doing so, make a mark with a pencil at each of the four bolt holes in the flange. This will allow us to drill holes through our clipboard at the exact spot that the bolts will need to be.
After that, we'll need to measure the length of the handle on our suction cup.
We found ours to be 5 inches across. We'll be placing a bolt through this handle and the clipboard in order to keep the suction cups in place. As such, we'll want to leave a bit of wiggle room at the end of each handle so that we don't have to put our nut and bolt right at the handle's edge. So we'll take off an inch for each side of the handle which gives us a measurement of three inches. You'll want to write that number down. Then, make a mark on the handle at an inch in from each end and another mark halfway across it's width – which for us is about three quarters of an inch. This is where we'll be drilling our bolt holes into the handle. Moving over to our clipboard, we'll measure out an inch and a half from both ends and draw a line across it. Using the line we just drew, we'll make a mark at both the three inch and six inch marks. Where the two marks intersect is where we will be drilling our holes for the suction cups.
Another piece that we'll need to measure is the board that we'll be bolting along the sides of our clipboard in order to avoid bending and warping.
We left the width of our 2 and a half inch board intact but we want to cut the length of the board in half so we'll measure 6 inches and make a mark on each side.
We also need to find out where to drill the holes for the bolts that will be attaching our board to the clipboard.
This measurement doesn't need to be perfect, but we made ours at an inch and a half from the near end of the board and 4 inches from the far edges. This way our hole will go through the center of the board we will be attaching and through a solid part of our clipboard that won't crack over time. We also need to make four marks on our board so that it can fit on our clipboard. We'll need to make a line halfway across the board at the inch and a quarter mark, and then another mark one inch from the opposite side of the board. This is where we'll be drilling the holes in our rigid board.
Lastly, you may also find it necessary to have a softer, grippier surface for your ratchet straps and bungee cords to catch on. If you do, you may want to take a roll of tool drawer liner and cut it to the shape of the clipboard.
Since our clipboard was 9 inches by 12 and a half inches, we measured out a section of tool drawer liner at that size using a ruler and a silver marker. We'll be cutting along the lines we just made later.
With our measurements done, it's now time to move on to the cutting and drilling. For all of our cutting and drilling work, we'll be using both a miter saw and a drill press so that we can make our holes and cuts as straight as possible. If you don't have tools like these lying around the house, it's also simple enough to do with a hand saw and a cordless drill, but it would be best to expect slightly less than perfect results.
We started by cutting our clipboard down to the measurements we marked earlier using a miter saw. Then we took our rigid board and cut it in half. Next, we went over to our drill press and took out a quarter inch drill bit and lined it up with the marks we made for the mounting points of our rigid board and the marks we made in the clipboard. We also used the same drill bit to make a hole right through the center of our threaded cap. With that done, we changed our bit to 3/16ths inches and drilled each of our center holes where our floor flange will mount. Finally, we put on a 1/16ths inch drill bit and made the holes where we will be attaching the handles of our suction cups. We also cut our tool drawer liner to the size of our clipboard using a pair of scissors.
With all of that out of the way, it's now time to assemble our car mount.
We started by liberally applying our spray adhesive to the top side of our clipboard. It's a good idea to do this in a wide open room with good air flow so that the adhesive doesn't cause any irritation to your eyes or skin. Before the glue sets, make sure to place the tool drawer liner on top of the board and let it dry for an hour.
Unfortunately, by gluing the drawer liner to the board we've also had to cover up each of the holes we made earlier. As such, it's a good idea to take the drill bits you used earlier and drill each hole. Then you can use your existing holes as a guide to finding the spot where you need your holes on the liner to be.
Next comes the fun part. We're going to be attaching the suction cups to our board. A word of caution here. You might find that your suction cup handles end up hitting the clipboard's edge like ours does here. If this happens, you'll need to cut out a small section from the edge of your clipboard in order to accommodate the suction cup's vacuum lever. As you can see, we cut an inch and a half by 2 and a half inches out of the corners of our clipboard for this purpose.
So we'll take our suction cups and line up the two holes we drilled into the handle with the two holes on the edge of the board. Then take two 1/16th inch bolts and a 1/16th inch washer and put it through both the board and the handle. The washer will help keep the bolt resting securely against our board. Then, take a 1/16th inch nut and thread it on to the bottom of both bolts. Finally, do the same for the other side.
The next piece we'll attach will be the rigid board.
To do this, we'll line up the holes in our rigid board with the holes in our clipboard and put the two quarter inch bolts and washers through them. Then, taking a quarter inch washer, we'll tighten them to the board. It's as simple as that.
Lastly, we'll mount the floor flange assembly to the center of our clipboard.
So we'll take our 3 and 1/2 inch long ¼ inch thread and put it through the hole we made in the center of our board. We'll place a washer and a nut on both sides of the board to keep the threading in place. Then we'll place our flange so that it's holes line up perfectly with the holes we've pre-drilled into the clipboard. We'll take four 3/16th inch bolts and put them through both the board and the flange. We'll then take our four 3/16th inch nut and tighten each bolt so that the flange is secured to the clipboard. Lastly, we'll tighten the 3 inch pipe nipple to the floor flange and place our threaded cap on top making sure to have the ¼ inch threading line up perfectly with the hole we drilled through the center of the cap. We'll then mount our ball head mount and camera to the threading and we should have a car mount that's ready for some road testing.
Though the suction cups should be enough to keep the car mount attached to the surface of the car, it's always a good idea to have a backup plan in case the worst happens.
That's why we suggest using ratchet straps to put even more tension between the suction cups and the car when using the mount. Of course, you'll also want to take great care not to scratch the car when doing this so you may want to use some cheap hot pads to give some cushion between the ratchet straps and the car. In addition, you may choose to paint your entire car mount black so that it doesn't reflect light in any of your scenes.
With all of those pieces in place, you now have a piece of equipment that can give you great looking exterior car shots without having to break the bank in the process.