This is an old trick that has been used by many “DIY”ers in the past, …
“At Veniam, Aut Faciam.” – Either I will find a way, or I will make one.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and nowhere is this more true than on a live film set when you are burning daylight. If directing has taught me anything, it is to embrace the spirit of improvisation. Some of the most creative setups I have seen have come from some very talented Gaffers and DPs, and in that spirit, many filmmakers have become DIYers, simply because what they needed did not exist.
And so sights like the Frugal Filmmaker, Film Riot, and Indy Mogul have taken that spirit and empowered many low-budget filmmakers with the skills and the tools necessary to make “High Quality Films at Used Car Prices” (also, another fine source).
A few months ago, the Frugal Filmmaker made a simple slider company famous by announcing that Igus would send you a 10″ sample of rail along with a sled, and he made a tiny little slider out of it. Now, 10″ of rail really only means about 7-8″ of travel, but still- it’s a FREE slider- What more do you want? Apparently IGUS was so overwhelmed with free slider requests-FOR WHICH THEY HONORED ALL OF THEM- and I must say THAT is a hallmark of a great company. But still, 10″ doesn’t do me too much good. I installed an iPhone-holder on it, and it stays in my car as an emergency slider for any iPhone videos I might have to do on the go.
When I received my package in the mail, however, they did include a discount for longer lengths of rail, and $20 for a 20″ rail seemed just perfect as a travel slider.
I already have a 48″ ball-bearing slider which I love, and it saves me from having to lay down dolly tracks in most instances. Still, 48″ is a long piece of kit, and I usually don’t load it in the car unless I KNOW I am going to use it- which almost defeats the purpose of the slider. With apologies to the source quote: The best slider is the one you have on you.)
Now that I had a brand new, clean 20 inch piece of rail, and a sled, I needed to mount a quick release plate on the sled, and drill some mounting points in the rail, both for the tripod to mount, and also some wing nuts on the ends to prevent the sled from falling off. A quick trip to the hardware store set me up with a Titanium drill bit and some screws and nuts for about $13. That, and about an hour of my afternoon, and I was set up with a fully-functioning slider that fits into exterior tripod holder on my camera bag.
I still didn’t have legs for the slider, though. Since I drilled 1/4-20 holes in the ends of the slider, I realized that I could use my Flash Bracket Stabilizer as one set of legs, and just make another pair for the second set.
Then I looked over at an old, abandoned project- it was a monopod/shoulder rig. The contraption works fantastic, but I could never get the cost of parts low enough to justify production. In one of the prototypes, I was using a mailman’s shoulder pad like this:
Strap that to the rails. A small piece of Gaffer’s Tape would prevent the sled from moving when the camera was mounted, and VOILA! I had a slider and shoulder rig that I could travel with.
It’s great for run and gun stuff; if you’re a travel blogger, I can’t recommend this setup highly enough. A Ronin or anything like that is just unfeasible, and when you are traveling distances, “Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain”. You are much more likely to use gear you have if it is light and easily accessible, as opposed to the perfect piece of gear, but it makes you swear under your breath as you haul it around Thailand.
PS. On a side note, as most DIY people have probably encountered, AFTER I built this rig, I noticed a PREBUILT slider- MADE WITH AN IGUS RAIL, with feet and a locking sled- all for about $40 on eBay. Had I seen that beforehand, I would have just purchased that. However, it is in the brainstorming and problem-solving that I thought of this particular configuration, and that should be the takeaway here. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, obviously, but taking the time to think about things for their parts as opposed to what they are marketed to be will serve you well as a filmmaker.