Crash Cam: Filmmaking Inside the Box

Let’s look at how the crash cam world has changed because of the Canon 5D. It has replaced the eyemo that used to be a clapper of a 35 or 16mm with bad lenses. It could be blown up, bashed into, driven over, or you could even have a car land right on it.  I used them on Terminator: Salvation, the Arri III Crash tube that Michael Bay perfected for Bad Boys back in the day.  It is an Arri III with very expensive Panavision, Cooke or Arri glass in an aluminum tube that can take some serious abuse.  This was my go to Crash Tube for all the bashing in the Moto Terminator chase, as well as in Act of Valor when we shot a missile at the truck and blew it up. That car slid right into that baby.  Obviously the Arri III is essential for high speed work. It will go to 120fps, which  was employed on both films.  But what about 24fps crash cams?  We used up to 6 at a time on AOV, whether we were aiming mini guns, 50 cal or just plain driving the camera over it. We put the Canon 5D in a Pelican case and then shot it or blasted it.  Canon or Zeiss ZE glass was sacrificed for the art form of camera placement.

Crash cam

Front of the crash cam housing rigged to an RC bus

We cut out an 80mm hole for the still lens, and then a small portion of the back was etched out so that you could view your shot, press record and run like crazy.  This became an intricate part of making Deadfall in Montreal last year.  Our stunt was a Town Car losing control after hitting a deer at dawn. The camera slides, spins a 360 and then hits a bank. The car spirals though the air and lands, killing the driver, but Olivia Wilde and Eric Bana seem ok. I used 8 Canon 5Ds to pull off this crash, and I have to say it is a crash sequence that you have never experienced before.  It’s intimacy with the Canon cameras once again that allowed for immersive coverage, so you feel like you are in the car.

Crash cam

Back of the crash cam housing rigged for a shot where the bus flies off of a ramp

To break this down, we had several different shooting environments.  Inside the car after it hit the deer was practical on location. We used a 5D with a Panavision 35mm rigged in between the front seats.  On the road where the car spins out of control, we used 35mm cameras in fields to show the wide spectacle of it all, along with rig shots to the front and rear tires to show the brakes locking up and the front wheel turning.  My favorite camera was the one that we placed on the road naked, no crash housing, just a 5D with a Zeiss ZE 21mm.  We placed a water bottle on the road, and the stuntman slid right over the top of it, which was the shot.  Director Stefan Ruzowitzky said, “Action!” and the car slid and headed right for the camera. BAM! The 5D was blasted about 50 yards down the snow covered road into a snow bank while still recording.  YEAH BABY!!!  Take two didn’t go any better, but the camera survived it. Unfortunately, all of its brains were scrambled, and it lost all of our saved settings.  After take 3, the camera did not come back.

Crash Cam

Crash cam housing rigged to a bus for Trane AC commercial

The next location was inside the car, back on stage with a rig that we called the BBQ spit rig.  Imagine a car put on a rotisserie rig that spins the actors upside down in the car as it flies through the air.  We employed 3 Canon 5Ds in low angles embedded in the car to take in the experience of flipping upside down. The one in the back seat showed Olivia Wilde getting tossed all over, her hair flying, her beautiful body being slammed up against the door and glass shards flying through the air. It was spectacular.

Crash Cam on Act of Valor

Zeiss glass being used in a crash housing on “Act of Valor”

The last location was back at the practical location at the base of the bank where they originally flipped over. This is where the Pelican case gave us the ability to put the camera in many places.  The stunt and special EFX’s team had a good idea where the car would land, but we only had one shot.  So I placed 6 cameras in Pelican cases with all 24mm L series glass in an array where they estimated the car would land.  I put some of them a little short so the car would roll right over them, and three others right where they said the impact would be.  We didn’t miss it.  We had coverage on a crash that was unique. Up to this point in time, we would never be able to afford doing this on a small budget psychological thriller. Mike Svitak and I had a blast covering this crash. On a side note regarding lighting,we had a 20 minute window of light to shoot this whole sequence.  What challenges have you had when shooting action sequences?

Act of Valor Crash Cam

Crash cams in the back window of a pickup truck on “Act of Valor” using Canon L lenses

Act of Valor Crash Cam

Crash cam housing being used to film the SEALs shooting a “Mike Mike” missile

Thank you to Patrick Moreau, Justin Devers and With Etiquette for the song track used on the crash cam video.

  1. Michael 4 years ago

    Wow wow wow I’ll give it too you Shane you know how to set a scene up and take out 3000-5000 dollars of kit! But all worth it i gather?

  2. Bill Hamell 4 years ago


    Cool blog post! The 5D in the pelican case how is it supported and is there foam packed around it?

    Thank you for sharing,

    • Author
      Shane 4 years ago

      Thanks Bill. The foam is cut to conform to the shape of the 5D, and the bottom of the case has a hole drilled for a baby pin to rig and mount it.

      • Jon Olson 2 years ago

        hey shane. this looks pretty amazing. i know this was posted months ago, but i’m currently working on a short film in new york that is in need of crash box for a 5D mark II – (renting or building ourselves).

        any advise on this?

        • Author
          Shane 2 years ago

          Jon Olson, Revolution Cinema Rentals rents them or you can build it for about 200 bucks, or 400 if you get silly with mount points

  3. STONEY XL 4 years ago

    So I take it a bunch of GoPros ain’t getting the job done?

  4. Daniel Longworth 4 years ago

    This couldn’t have been more timely for me as I have been wondering about how to create some of this fancier camera stuff on a budget – particularly something like the BBQ spit rig you mention. I understand and can appreciate your love of the 5D, but for those of us on lower budgets do you feel that footage from something like the T2i would hold up well enough if rigged similarly? I couldn’t personally imagine ri$king the destruction of either the 5D OR the expensive glass employed. Thank you again for your guidance and willingness to share.

  5. Francesco Sandonà 4 years ago

    Amazing, Shane!

  6. Matt Short 4 years ago

    Car crashes and explosions, that’s entertainment! Well worth the cost of a 5D. Thanks for the insights, Shane.

  7. Eoin O'Hagan 4 years ago

    Shane I hope you don’t run out of 5Ds. What about doing that in 3D. That would scare the bejaysus out of the audience ! From your old crackhead buddy in Ireland !

  8. Chris 4 years ago

    Shane you’re amazing man, I just saw Act Of Valour knew nothing about DSLRs and video out of them, but had never seen a film shot like this, it was so real, amazing, anyway some googling the DP etc led me to your site, wow I’m impressed and love the fact a big shot is actually sharing tips etc like theis, this kind of insight is squally reserved to the special features on DVDs, great to see that when you have a budget like you and access to shoot on anything you chose the 5d, that tells us a lot about the capabilities these DSLRs offer, thanks Shane.

  9. Matheus Oliveira 4 years ago

    Awesome !

  10. Jeremy 4 years ago

    The t2i is a different, smaller sensor. Read through Shane’s blog – lots of info on why the 5D and how to use post to get the most out of it.

  11. Miguel Carrera 4 years ago

    You shot in San Miguel de Allende? Awesome! I live there and I’d love to have helped with anything… If you ever come back give write me an email! :)

    • Author
      Shane 4 years ago

      Miguel Carrera, you got it, thanks for your support

  12. craigc 4 years ago

    Wondering if you have tried this with the new blackmagic cam yet? Canon mount,and a Raw mode of some type. Seems to be cheaper than a 5DII or III?, Also if you were to use a cam with wifi added to one of the mem card slots, you would be able to monitor the performance level of a shot from an Ipad without dis-mantling the rig to check playback?

    • Author
      Shane 4 years ago

      Hi Criag, thats a very cool idea. Its kind of like the old way we used the film crash cameras where we would put an Arri 3 into a crash tube and were able to monitor that via a BNC cable. Haven’t tried the blackmagic camera yet, hope to try it out soon.

  13. trevor frost 4 years ago

    Hi Shane, Working on a shoot with National Geographic. We are mounting pelican cases with 5d and c300 inside to the struts of the wing. Wondering: what kind of foam did you use to secure the camera? And what kind of place did you use? thanks, trevor

    • Author
      Shane 4 years ago

      trevor frost, I just use the same foam that Pelican provides. We cut it out perfectly so that it is a tight fit. Hope this helps.

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Arledge Armenaki, I have sent your request to our operations manager Anne Gaither to see if we can fit it into my schedule. Thanks so much for your support.

  14. Sam 3 years ago

    Cool but,

    what does crash cam mean? If a camera goes broken?
    Housing does not protect the camera?

    • Author
      Shane 3 years ago

      Sam. Crash cameras are designed to be put in harms way to get shots up close to the action. They are protected as best as possible to save the camera and more importantly the footage it’s recording. That’s why I like using the 5D for this. I can use multiple for crash cams and if one or two get damaged or broken its much cheaper to fix/replace than more expensive HD or film cameras.

  15. adefemi 2 years ago

    I HAVE TO ADMIT…your posts give indie film makers like me hope for the future. For those of us that can’s shoot on Arri on Panavision (yet), you make us confident that we can still get something amazing with high-end dslrs. ACT OF VALOR was all I needed.

    • Author
      Shane 2 years ago

      So very happy to hear you say that. That’s what I’m all about with this blog, looking to inspire and motivate people like YOU, to get up and make movies for the world to see! Thanks for your kind words.

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