How to Shoot Inside A Car

By Bill Farnsworth

Editors Note: The absolute most dangerous work we do in this business is with cars. Just driving them to and from location costs more lives than any other activity including aerial stunts and flying! I personally would never rig a car mount myself. But if you do, remember Safety First!

Beckstei@emaildeleted.edu wrote:

I am going to be shooting a short film style dv movie for my thesis project this winter. The bulk of the scenes take place in a car, and this is new to me. Does anyone have experience with shooting car scenes, or have suggestions of where I can find answers about this. Most if not all the scenes will be daytime. This is not for an action film, but a drama/comedy, and there will only be two people in the car (driver and passenger front seats). I am planning to rent both a hood mount and a hostess tray, both of which I have little experience using (but hopefully will be working with someone who has).

Bill Farnsworth replies:

Congratulations. You have a challenging experience ahead of you. BUT, once you get through the shoot, the rest of your life will be easy. The foremost important thing to have is redundent safety features. Or, make sure all the gear is strapped and clamped down tightly. And that includes the talent and crew inside the vehicle. You are going to become a magnet for rubber neckers. You have no control on their driving. So, put a safety strap on the camera to hold it in place. Don’t trust just one hard point. Use extreme care when handling the hostess tray and hood mount. These things leave BIG ASS scratches and DEEP gouges if you bump the car. Your key grip and and his/her dept. will need plenty of time to rig. DON’T rush it.

Rig up the hood mount and leave it on. You will need it to mount any lighting. And I strongly suggest lighting the shot. If you are using a Super Grip II, you need to clean and wax the mounting surface, and dampen the cup before applying it to the hood. The wax actually makes the grip hold better, an protect the paint. I’d still run a ratcheted safety strap from fender well to fender well, and across the top of the camera.

>Here are my questions: >What do I need to think about for lighting the characters for daytime >car scenes?

Since you have spent the money on the camera mounting system that seems the best option for your production. You better spend some more on making sure the shot is lit right. And here lies a dilemma. Your best natural lighting for car shots that are shot from hostess trays are slightly overcast days. The contrast ratios aren’t going to kill you. BUT, overcast days really screw up hood shoots because of the reflection on the windshield. Whatayagonnado?

Side window shot.

In an ideal world, you will use a car with tinted side window glass. In a TRULY ideal world you would have an insert car to tow the hero car on a trailer or with a front bumper tow bar. I would strongly suggest towing the hero with front bumper hitch no matter what. That way the director can sit in the tow vehicle and watch the monitor, leaving the back seat of the hero to the sound person. And the talent can concentrate on their lines. Not their driving.

OK……… So it’s not an ideal world.

Then you need: Camera

Hostess tray

Hood mount

800~1500 watt inverter

200w or 400w HMI par with Superwide and frosted Fresnel lenses.

Foamcore and and a silver space blanket.

Gaffer tape

Grip Clips

Ratchet safety straps.


Mount the Hostess tray and camera in desired position. Attach power inverter to battery. Mount HMI Ballast to inverter. Secure to front bumper or grill. If you are using a tow vehicle, mount the inverter and ballast on the tow vehicle. Mount the hood mount or Super Grip a few inches offset from centerline towards camera. Mount light. The 400w par is ideal. Or mount the 200w par closer to the windshield. I’ve found that using the Superwide lens in front of the fresnel makes for a nice effect. Or use the superwide with some 216 diffusion. Be aware that the 216 diffusion might make enough rattle noise to NG the setup for sound. (hence, the use of the glass combination)

Interior. Cut a piece of foamcore to custom fit between the driver and passenger without interfering with the shot. Wrap it with the space blanket. This is your reflector. Add another piece of cut foamcore w/reflector material to the back seat area facing forward. The light bouncing off from the par makes for a nice back light on the lit subject. If it’s too much, remove the reflective material.

When you shoot the front shot, try to do it on a clear day. Overcast is hell when you are shooting thru windshields from the outside. You’re gonna need a polarizer for the lens too. If you need the light for the hood shot, keep it on the same horizontal plane as the lens. Rigged that way, you won’t see it’s reflection. Remove the foamcore from the rear seat and line the dash area with the reflective spaceblanket material, leaving a cutout for the speedometer. If you are towing the car, forget the cutout. If the rear and side windows is tinted, you’re home safe. If not, tape ND3 or 6 to them from the outside. Don’t leave gaps for wind to get under. It will show up as annoying ripples when you are at speed.

>Does one need a permit to shoot on the road with different accesorries like a hood mount? >I plan to shoot in metro west >Boston area, mostly rural streets.

Generally, no. But, everything needs to be within the permitted vehicle width restrictions for the roads you will be using. AND be safely installed. Check with your local film office. They are in the book. Wanna test the setup? Hit the brakes at five miles per hour. Take two: Have the Key grip hit the brakes. (He’s gotta have faith.)

>Does anybody know of good films to watch that would give me fine >examples of car shooting?

Alanis Morrisette: “Ironic”. (I think that’s the one I’m thinking of……I’m 48. I listen to Van Morrison. Gimme a break.) Not only is it a fine example. It’s short. And it’s shot on a smaller budget than a feature film. And all the angles are there.

>Might it work out for me to forget the car mounts and shoot within >the car (this seems more limiting, but certainly more practical)? >

That’s up to you. It’s your deal. Don’t let the rigging and lighting throw you. Hire a grip who has rigged before. You’ll be a veteran when your done. Besides……… My fingers are falling off from all this typing.

Bill Farnsworth

Redmond, Washington

Guild of Television Cameramen (UK)

Nabet-57 Hollywood


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5 thoughts on “How to Shoot Inside A Car

  1. Hal

    Brian wrote: “What are your thoughts on completely removing the windshield?”

    Brian, The two things I can see are 1. The actors eyes and hair would look unnatural because of the wind. 2. Audio would have to be re-recorded.

    Reply
  2. Cea

    Wow! Super helpful article.

    I’m planning on shooting in a stationary car, but we would like to appear that the car is moving.

    We’re using a projection screen for the background shots, but we aren’t sure how to solve the window problem.

    Should we just tint them out entirely?

    Any advice would be most appreciated.

    Reply

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