Student Handbook

Cars and Other Moving Vehicles

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If you are shooting in or around moving vehicles, there are many safety issues that students should be aware of.

Dialogue in Moving Vehicles

You may wish to include a scene in your film or video that involves dialogue between characters inside a car or other moving vehicle. Scenes like this are difficult to shoot. Even shots inside a car in motion without dialogue present serious challenges. The first question that has to be asked is, “Why is this scene taking place inside a moving car?” Is there something inherent in the setting that is crucial to telling the story? If the answer is “no” then our suggestion is to restage the scene in a location that is easier to control.

CalArts does provide automobile insurance but student must see Production Services for to access. A DMV record and copy of driver’s license is necessary. The approval for auto insurance may take a couple of days, so do not wait to the last minute!

Tow Shots

This is the industry-standard method for filming interior moving car scenes. Towing the picture vehicle affords the greatest amount of control for the filmmaker. Camera angles and lighting can be controlled—and since the engine is not running, the sound quality is good.

  • Pros: best control of performance, picture, lighting and sound.
  • Cons: complex and expensive—requires skill and knowledge to do well.
  • Cost: about $3,500 / day

Hood Mounts / Side Mounts

This is the technique of attaching lights as well as cameras to the picture vehicle using pipe rigs and ratchet straps. Occasionally “moving” shots are done with the actor actually driving the picture car to which the camera and lights have been attached with mounts. This is a dicey proposition. It is a rare individual who can act and drive a car at the same time and do both well. Either the acting is going to suffer or the driving is. In either case, it is a sure bet the film suffers.

Other considerations are: where is the Director while filming? In the back seat? What about the sound recordist? The cinematographer? Obviously no one is looking through the lens during the shot. This could be a big problem when shooting film without a video tap.

Because the engine is running during the shot, sound quality suffers. Cutting between different angles can be a dialogue editor’s nightmare. The sound may be so bad that dialogue replacement (ADR) is required. That means that the actors will have to be re-recorded in a studio while lip- syncing their original dialogue. ADR is expensive and time-consuming.

Safety is a big concern when using this technique. If driving in heavy traffic, the actor’s vision is impaired by the hood mount. Additionally, the actor’s attention is not completely directed towards driving—they are trying to remember their lines and deliver them with the appropriate emotion. Another risk is that side mounts are frequently knocked off as the actor drives too close to other vehicles or buildings, resulting in severe damage to the camera.

  • Pros: inexpensive
  • Cons: very little control over the elements—potentially dangerous
  • Cost: $100 / day

Handheld Driving Shots

This technique works best with small digital video cameras. Since the engine is running, sound quality is not very good.

Space inside the vehicle becomes an issue. Not only the actor, but a camera operator, the director and maybe a sound recordist have to find someplace to be. Camera angles become limited (to avoid photographing all those extra people in the car).

Safe execution requires that all persons inside the car wear their seat belts when the vehicle is in motion.

  • Pros: inexpensive, fast
  • Cons: limited control—can produce unsteady image, poor sound
  • Cost: nothing