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Car Scene / HandHeld camera / Need some advices

Laurent Navarre

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I'm working on a short film. All the action takes place during the night. There's several car scene in this movie. The director want a "raw documentary style": natural lightning, no tripod, handheld camera etc...

In the car scene, 2 actors are sitting in the front seats, they are talking to each other. The director wants to be able to shoot handheld in front of them. For reference, he shows me a scene from Nicolas Winding Refn's film: "Pusher" (16mm)



I don't know exactly how to achieve this kind of shot. Do you have an idea?

I was thinking about "cheating" the actors position in the middle seats of bigger car (7 places) and shoot from the front place. The actors would pretend to drive but the car would be driven by another car (camera car or something else)
What is your opinion?


Any advice is welcome :)












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  • 2 weeks later...

what lens/camera will you be using? I once did something like it a couple of years ago. What I did was I duct taped my Canon Rebel on the dashboard facing the two in front seats, with a wide lens (10-22mm) that shows both of them in frame so I never have to worry about panning left and right whenever someone is talking. Distortion may be an issue here but I found less distortion around focal length of 17-22, so that depends on the lens you're using.

Another thing you can do is shoot from the hood of the car and record the audio separately from the inside. But you need to watch for glare on the front windshield.

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Whatever you do...


Acting and driving in uncontrolled traffic is extremely dangerous.


The last time I photographed actors handheld while driving they were so into their parts, that they went through a red light. A very near miss of tragic consequences.


I will never do this again.


I did a low budget film recently with night driving. We did it with the car parked. We placed the camera on a dolly in front of the car with the track parallel to the front seats. (you can use a slider on the hood, camera on sand bag for the hand held look) We placed a vehicle behind the hero car with it's headlights on and bounced the follow car up and down to simulate road bumps. The camera moved slightly back and forth to change the relationship with the car behind us. And small lighting effects were used to simulate movement. The headlights from the follow car sometimes flared the lens.


The effect was 100% convincing.


If you can not tow the picture car, please do not let the actors themselves drive in traffic. It's only a movie.

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Bruce is right, car stuff is the most dangerous stuff one does regularly - its not just you and your fellow filmmakers but the public are at risk as well - should be handled with an element of caution.


My instinct is that scene from Pusher is a little more expensive than it looks, that the car was being towed on some sort of a-frame, then the operator was somehow perched up against the dash board, a 16mm cam with a prime is quite compact.... of course it would still restrict the drivers view, cause issue with camera shadow, depending where the car was pointing.


As you are set at night, the Poor-Mans' Process technique that Bruce mentioned will work very well... and if you aren't happy with just a dark background through windows you can go out and film some plates, use an affordable digital projector and project a moving background. It sounds hokey, but it actually works really well, providing you 'rough it' as much as possible, lens flares, panning lights, a swinging china-lantern, maybe balance the camera on a tennis ball etc....

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I have to echo some of the comments made thus far. Car stuff is dangerous. I would reommend one of two options. 1) Poor Man's Process - Have a light gag that swivels across the windshield to simulate passing street lights. 2k bounced into the windshield for ambient. Then have a tweenie in the rear simulating cars from behind. You could also have a unit with red gel to simulate the tail lights of passing cars. You could even throw up a rig with Cucs.

Here's another example:

2) A hood mount for the camera. I've always liked this set-up. One of my favorite car scenes was in "To Live and Die in L.A." You still have to be very careful.

It would be similiar to 1:33 and 2:41 below.

Edited by Brett Bailey
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  • 4 weeks later...

... car stuff is the most dangerous stuff one does regularly - its not just you and your fellow filmmakers but the public are at risk as well - should be handled with an element of caution. My instinct is that scene from Pusher is a little more expensive than it looks, that the car was being towed on some sort of a-frame...



I agree that this shot was a little more complicated. It is pretty clear that the driver is not actually driving the car and that it was on a process trailer. This type of set up doesn't have to be expensive. For very little money you can rent a “car carrier” from U-Haul and tow it behind a pick-up truck. A number of commercial productions I have worked on have done this with great success.


IMO the clip from "The Pusher" could have used a little day light fill - especially when they come to a stop at the end. I don’t recommend that you try to power lights with an inverter through the lighter socket. Car lighter sockets are only capable of handling a couple of hundred Watts at most and you usually require at least a 400W HMI to provide fill during a day lit shoot. To run a small HMI you can use a "Battverter" - which is a Battery/Inverter system. A "Battverter" system consists of a 12V DC power source (usually Marine Cells), a DC-to–AC True Sine Wave Power Inverter, and a Battery Charger. Wire these components into a Road Case or milk crate and you can put it on the floor in the back of the car.

Here are some production stills that show you two Battverter systems I built to run lights in vehicles at various times. The first is a 750W "Battverter" rig wired into in Calzone case.


To maximize the running time on the batteries, I made up a "jumper cable" that we attached to the leads of the pickup truck's battery. That way the engine alternator charged the batteries as they were being discharged by the light. Tie–ing the Battverter into a vehicle engine will extend the running time on your Battverter batteries so much that they may never run out of power.


The production stills below show a more elaborate 1800W Battverter system that we built to run 16 - 4’ kinos tubes inside the airport shuttle bus. Use this link for details on how we wired it into the shuttle bus.


(Kino Flo 4x4s rigged to an exo-skeletal frame of a Shuttle Bus and powered by an 1800W Battverter)

If you don’t require a lot of light, a Battverter will even enable you to use a car engine as a generator. Use the engine to run the lights through the Battverter as described above during set up and rehearsals. When it comes time to shoot a take, simply shut off the engine and continue to run the lights on the Battverter alone. Running the vehicle engine between takes charges the batteries so that they will run lights all night.


(Custom 1800W BattVerter powers 16 - 4' Kino Flo single tubes rigged

in the interior and on the exterior of an Airport Shuttle)

When building these rigs, keep in mind that when voltage goes down, amperage goes up. Wire that carries 12V DC has to be much larger than that which carries the same load at 120V AC. For instance to supply 12 volts to the 1800W inverter used on the shuttle bus required that we run 2 ought feeder to the buses' alternator. Also be sure that the alternator is large enough to take the load without burning out.

Finally, You have to be really careful when choosing a DC-to-AC inverter for film production because there are three basic types of inverters and not all of them are suitable for all types of motion picture lights. For more information on what type of inverters to use with different type of lights I would suggest you read an article I wrote about portable generators that is available online at http://www.screenlightandgrip.com/html/emailnewsletter_generators.html. Since inverter generators use the same three types of inverters, the information in the article is applicable to stand alone DC-to-AC inverters designed for use with batteries as well.

If you don’t want to tie batteries into the car’s alternator, you should consider using a small portable generator. But, you don’t want to use a generator, like the Honda 2000, that has a gravity feed for fuel. The fuel sloshes around and causes the generator to run erratically. I suggest you instead use a generator that has an electric fuel pump like our 7500W modified Honda EU6500is Inverter Generator. The fuel pump assures that not only will the engine receive a continuous feed of gas, but also that it won’t run out of gas in the course of a production day. The EU6500 is so quiet that you will not hear it in the car with the windows closed and, as you can see from the picture below of another rig, it is cable of powering large HMIs for daylight fill.


A 7500W modified Honda EU6500 powering a couple of 2.5HMI Pars on a car rig.

If you have any questions about using inverters or generators, I would suggest you read an article I wrote on the use of portable generators in motion picture production. Harry Box, author of “The Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook” has cited my article in the just released Fourth Edition of the handbook. In addition, he has established a link to it from the companion website for the Fourth Edition of the Handbook, called “Box Book Extras.”


Of the article Harry Box states:

"Great work!... this is the kind of thing I think very few technician's ever get to see, and as a result many people have absolutely no idea why things stop working."

"Following the prescriptions contained in this article enables the operation of bigger lights, or more smaller lights, on portable generators than has ever been possible before."

If you haven't yet read the article, or looked at it in a while, it is worth reading. I have greatly expanded it to be the definitive resource on portable power generation for motion picture production. Use this link to read it on-line for free.

Guy Holt, Gaffer, SceenLight & Grip, Lighting and Grip Rental & Sales in Boston.

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I like Bruce Greene's ideas using a stationary car.


One can exploit that perspective effect where distant scenery does not appear to move that much - for example, how the moon appears to stay in the same position relative to a moving car. By using a dolly one can vary that relationship (between vehicle and distant scenery) invoking what would virtually be the case if one were otherwise travelling next to a moving car.


Varying the lights and gently rocking the car can all add to the effect. Keeping shots short so the missing parallax in distant objects doesn't have an opportunity to expose itself. The parallax produced by the dolly acts as a substitute for the otherwise missing parallax in the background. Using long lenses, the longer the better (and getting far back).


Using a low budget sensibility where creativity, rather than brute force and money, is used to resolve the scene.



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