Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


How to Make a Dolly

The following tutorial will show you how to create an incredibly easy, inexpensive, portable dolly for your video camera and tripod. This dolly is designed for the following needs:

Easy I needed something that did not require fancy tools. I did not want to drill through metal, solder, or do anything else that required specialized stuff.

Inexpensive I wanted parts I could find off the shelf at a hardware store. Materials are always pricey, but I needed a DIY that did not break the bank.

Portable All the plans for DIY skateboard dollies I found online were solid structures that would be impossible to transport without a truck... and would certainly take up too much space in my basement. I needed something I could collapse and toss in a backpack if needed.

Armed with those criteria, I spent two days scouring the internet for ideas and another six hours wandering the aisles of my local hardware store. I have been using this dolly for over five years. It works well. I have never seen anything else like it [though, I've since discovered a PVC Dolly that would probably work well for light cameras and would be even cheaper]. Here's how to build one yourself.

Stuff you need

Parts for your DIY dolly

  • 8 x skateboard wheels with bearings (got two cheap skateboards at a big box store)
  • 8 x 2" long 1/4" bolts
  • 8 x 1/4" hex nuts
  • 16 x 1/4" washers
  • 2 x 3/4" T-joints of galvanized steel
  • 2 x 3/4" elbow joints of galvanized steel
  • A two foot long 3/4" galvanized steel pipe
  • A 12.5" steel slotted angle [long wall-mounting L-bracket with holes it in]
  • A 3' steel slotted angle [1.25" x 1" angle]
  • 2 x 1" PCV pipe (10 feet long)

You will also need:
  • Metal binding glue
  • Socket wrench
  • Crescent wrench

Putting it together

Step 1: Thread a wheel onto a hex bolt and then add two washers. Slide this through the outermost round hole in the steel angle and secure with a hex nut. Repeat 7 more times. Put two wheels on each end of the steel bar. Thankfully, the holes are offset so they won't bump into each other.

Step 2: Glue a T-joint to the middle-ish of both slotted angles. Try to keep it pointed straight up so when you attach the elbow they point straight across toward each other. Do not attach the elbows until the glue is set!

Step 3: Screw the elbows into the top of the Ts and connect the two tracks with the connecting steel pipe. Place each track on one of the PVC tubes, and you're good to go.

Using your dolly

You can quickly take this apart by unscrewing the center bar. Then, the largest pieces are the lengths of PVC. If you need to travel to a location, buy two more PVC pipes there. It's well worth the $5 to make it more logistically feasible.

The PCV can move around as you slide over it. This flexibility is great if your dolly isn't perfectly assembled.

I've found that the bolt placement is almost perfect for my tripod feet.

If you need a low shot, you can swap out the pipe for a board with notches cut out for the T-joints.

Questions? Let me know in the comments and I'll try to address them or improve this tutorial so you can more easily build your own dolly.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Why House of Cards Is Unsatisfying

I took a couple of weeks to "binge" my way through House of Cards season one. The show is well produced and mostly engaging. But it is, in my view, ultimately remarkable only in how unsatisfying it turns out to be. And I believe there are important lessons in storytelling as we uncover the lurking lackadaisical nature of the tale.

1. Revenge is only satisfying if we see it unfold. Think of The Princess Bride. What if instead of fighting the six-fingered man, Inigo Montoya discovered that the man who had killed his father had died after a long and painful bout with cancer? Lame. That may have been more terrible than a relatively quick death at the hands of a master swordsman. But cancer doesn't have the sense of retribution that we want in a story. We want to see evil suffer, but we don't want to feel sorry for the perpetrators of extreme evil. In House of Cards, we don't get the sense that our antagonistic protagonist is actually dishing out retribution. He's merely slashing and burning his way to his objective, hurting everyone except the people who betrayed him first. And if he ends up ruining the lives of those who lied to him, it comes more as a surprise than a plot. We don't see revenge. We only see a politician throwing a tantrum like a spoiled 4-year-old and if his objectives are reached, we feel it's because of the failures of others not his successes.

2. We don't care about the lead. There is absolutely no reason to care about any of the main characters in Cards. Our "hero" is a selfish, despicable man who is willing to stop at nothing to get to his petty and meaningless goals. Why does he want that political position again? He's already well connected and can do pretty much whatever he wants. Why does he feel so cheated? What are all the "things" he hopes to accomplish once in more power? He has no true direction and no need that compels him there. So, while we can empathize with not getting what was promised, I can't bring myself to care if he were to fail. Which makes the long episodes that show him struggling to reach his goal hallow and unsatisfying. I want to see him mete judgment, not whine at me about how he doesn't like what's happening around him.

3. Everything is meaningless. And I'm not just talking in the existential way. This show underscores again and again how everything in their world matters not one iota. Okay, there are a few scenes where one sympathetic character feels sad about her significant other being knocked off, but that's it. Nothing else in the plot has any real impact on anyone. A few people destroy their lives, but that's not actually part of the narrative, its just who they are. Worse, when we get down to the existential problems near the end of the season, we discover that "praying to myself, for myself" is not only laughable and lame, it's downright pathetic. And the question is asked, but then ignored, "Why are we doing this?" ...because, really, everything is meaningless.

4. The characters aren't pawns on a chessboard, they are filler or convenience. The wife and her world? Pointless to the main plot, there merely to create possible tension. The reporter? The epitome of poor eye candy and dues ex machina. Even the three characters I liked... don't do much for the plot. And perhaps that's because there was so little true plot.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor