I'm a do-it-yourself kind of guy. Part of that is necessity (gear can be ridiculously expensive), but part of it is that I enjoy that process. I've built dollies, car mounts, shoulder rigs, boompoles, softboxes, fluorescent light fixtures, and even a moderately effective blimp for a shotgun mic. I don't want to turn this into a DIY forum, but there are some things that might be worth sharing.
Now, keep in mind that YOUR TIME IS WORTH SOMETHING. Spending days building something that you could have purchased for 100 dollars may not be the best use of that time. And sometimes the stuff you buy is actually better than what you can build effectively. But there is a ton of great info online and in books.
I've enjoyed Killer Camera Rigs You can Build
by Dan Selakovich and Nuts and Bolts Filmmaking
by Dan Rahmel.
There also a number of good websites like:
But what I really want to talk about today is apple boxes. They are insanely valuable on set for everything from leveling a light to use as a chair. They make people look taller and allow you put a lightstand or tripod on a step. I don't think it's possible to list all of their uses. Like sandbags, C-47s and gaffer tape, don't leave home without them. But, as you can see from this site: http://www.appleboxes.net/
a full set will cost you over $125 dollars.
But if you go here: http://www.basslinedigital.com/learning/tutorials/appleboxes/
and you have some basic tools and carpentry skills, you can build your own for less than 1/4 the price.
The plans on that site call for 4'x4' sheets of plywood (one at 1/2" and one at 3/4") which yields you a full set, plus two extra thick pancakes. I bought two 4'x8' sheets and am making 2 sets with 4 extra pancakes. Home Depot or Lowe's will usually do a cut for free, so I had them both cut in half for easy transport and handling while cutting. (HD is also having a special on some 3/4" finish plywood right now, which allowed me to get both sheets for around 55 bucks.) I would get a "b" grade plywood. You don't need a cabinet grade, but a "C" will probably be too rough (you don't want an actress to sit on one and get a splinter in her bum) So, when it's all said and done, I will have two full sets of Apple Boxes, plus 4 more extra thick pancakes (I think I'll call them "supercakes" 'cuz that sounds cool) for about 65 bucks. That's less than half the price of just one set at retail.
And, like sandbags and C-stands, you could hit 100 years old before you see these for sale on Craigslist. I am always on the hunt for grip gear, and people rarely part with stuff like this.
So there, you have it. If you are handy, like to do this kind of thing and have some tools and time, it's pretty worthwhile. Not a huge savings in the grand scheme when you may spend 40 dollars on alight bulb or 1000 dollars on software, but I like to build what I can so I have money to spend on the stuff I can't build.
And, unlike an expensive camera that may be outdated in a year, you will never regret having these.
Feel free to share your ideas.