Shooting car scenes is fun, and they’re a common request, so knowing how to pull them off is important — because they’re also difficult. It’s hard to control the environments, it’s hard to get the best audio, and if you’re asking your subject to drive the car while performing your scene, it can be dangerous.
There are many ways to solve these problems, but many of them aren’t cheap. The most common approach is using something called a process trailer.
A process trailer is large enough to accommodate an entire car — and usually quite a bit of lighting gear. Another car then tows this trailer, and the result looks like the actor is driving the car.
Process trailers can be expensive, which leads many filmmakers to seek alternatives. One of the most popular is a technique called the “Poor Man’s Process,” and it is the best way for low-budget filmmakers to record driving scenes.
You can pull off the Poor Man’s Process by using a green screen and moving light fixtures or projector screens. In this video tutorial, we tried all three.
The main benefit of this technique is that it opens up a whole world of control. You can add whatever color lights you want, you can add weather effects, and you can stop and start the car whenever you want — it’s the perfect way to control your driving scene.
This usually leads to better performances, better lighting, and overall better quality. The best part: it doesn’t have to cost a lot.
Lighting Gear Used in This Video Tutorial:
Setup 1: Green Screen
This is a really common element of the Poor Man’s Process. It’s extremely easy to light — the only requirement is a nice, softly lit green screen outside the car window, and a little bit of specific shadow and light variation to create some movement.
For this scene, I placed an Aputure 300d at full brightness just outside the window. I also bounced another 300d upwards at a poster board just above the driver’s window. This provided a nice, soft fill for the entire green screen, and it helped simulate some nice sunlight.
It helps to add some more practical effects to add more realism to the scene. For this scene, I decided to add a fan just outside the window to create the effect of an open window on a breezy day.
Setup 2: Night Driving
This was the most complicated but also the most rewarding setup. To pull this one off, I needed at least five crew members moving and altering lights to create the effect of passing cars and streetlights.
For this setup, I had an Aputure Lightstorm LS-1 gelled up with CTO (color temperature orange) to create an orange sodium-vapor glow. The light was up high and far enough back that it didn’t create any glare on the window. We swung this light back and forth on the end of a C-stand arm to create the look of passing streetlights.
Then, we bounced another 300d off of a large 4×4 reflector. I had a crew member holding the reflector and spinning around to simulate a passing car.
The final light was a Source Four Leko through the back window at full brightness and manipulated in a subtle circle-like pattern to simulate headlights from other cars.
For this setup, moving lights is the name of the game. We also used a projector, which was neat, but I’ll let you watch the video for those details.
Setup 3: Storm Effects
Another benefit of controlling your environment is being able to control the weather. For this shoot, I wanted to experiment with some storm effects. And I wanted to do it in the easiest way possible.
That’s where the handy dandy new Aputure AL-MW came in. This small battery-powered LED light has built-in lighting effects (such as lightning, faulty light bulbs, etc.), and it’s waterproof. This made it the perfect choice for some effective storm lighting.
Beyond the use of the projector screen in this setup as well, we also used an LED stick light called the Yongnuo YN360 to create some subtle moving fill light when the lightning wasn’t striking.