Make It Rain!
Make It Rain!
Welcome back everyone! I know it’s been a while since we’ve written here, and our apologies. It’s for a good reason, I promise: we’ve been hard at work filming Lost Creek!
So, part of the purpose of this blog is to help everyone follow on our journey as we create this film. But the other purpose is to provide assistance to people out there who, like us, have a great story they’re dying to tell, and are learning as they go. We recently went through an interesting learning process, and we thought it might be fun to share, in the hopes that it might help some other emerging filmmakers out there!
We recently got to a scene in Lost Creek that involved a character lost in the woods during a rainstorm. Talk about hitting the ground running! But this brings up an interesting topic: rain on film. How does one make it rain?
The obvious answer seems to be: “well, since it actually does rain in real life, why not wait for it to actually rain?” There are a number of interesting and weird reasons why this is actually not always a good idea.
First, Mother Nature does NOT adhere to shooting schedules. If you’re like us, you’re on a tight schedule. You’ve got a lot of shooting days to get through, and you don’t necessarily have the time to wait for a rainy day.
Second, lots and LOTS of things can and will go wrong on a film set. It’s your vision, and you want to do it right. You want to get exactly the look you want. The more you can control, the better it is. And sadly the most demanding film director has not yet figured out how to control the weather. Say there’s a miracle, and it actually rains on the day you need it to rain. What if your script calls for a torrential downpour and it’s only drizzling? Or worse, what if it’s a torrential downpour? That means that you need to find a way to keep everyone dry and comfortable on the set, make sure none of the expensive equipment gets wet, etc. Real rain rains on EVERYBODY, not just the actors!
And third (and this one is weird), a lot of filmmakers will tell you that real rain is actually not good enough. Specifically, it’s not “fat” enough. In other words, real raindrops are too small to be picked up by the camera as they move past the lens.
So what’s the answer to these problems? You’ve got to make your own rain. Simple, right?
Obviously, in the big-budget film world, they do this all the time. There are professional rain rigs and rain machines. Huge frameworks that spray rain over a scene. Sadly, these rain machines cost far too much money for the likes of us, even to rent.
So we have to make our own.
And, there are definitely ways to do this! There are two basic forms of rain machine: a rain rig, and a rain wand. The rig is basically a scaffold that hangs over the scene and the actors, and sprinkles rain from over top. A rain wand is a pressurized boom that sprays water over the scene from the side. To make a simple rain machine, take a couple of two-by-fours of sufficient length, nail them together in an X pattern, attach a garden hose in a spiral pattern to the underside of the X, drill big enough holes in the hose, attach the hose to an outside spigot, hang it over the actors, and there you go! Instant rain. Or, simply take PVC pipe, attach a sprinkler head to the end, and ta-da! Rain wand.
Of course, for us, it’s not that simple. Why would it be?
We were out in the woods. Which means, no spigot. Plus, the terrain meant there was really nowhere to hang a rig.
But…we did have a water source! The creek! The question was, how to get the water from the creek into something to turn it into rain.
After a lot of thought, this is what we came up with:
First of course, we needed a water pump. Something not huge, but powerful. It had to draw water up an elevation of about 5 feet (from the creek up the bank) and provide enough pressure to jet the water out over the scene (since we had to use a rain wand).
After consultation, we settled on a trash pump. That’s a heavy-duty pump that one would normally use to drain a pond or a severely flooded basement. It provides plenty of pressure, and is actually designed to handle dirty water without getting clogged (which was perfect since we were drawing creek water).
And, a trash pump (and the hoses you need) cost only $50 a day to rent from your local hardware store. You don’t have to rent a generator to operate the pump, as they have their own onboard motors that use normal, unleaded gas (such as you could easily obtain at a gas station). They’re very easy to operate. They’re small enough to transport in a car, and light enough to haul (though no picnic to haul into the woods: they weigh about 80-100 pounds, so we dragged ours in a wheelbarrow). Only one issue:
Most rain machine ideas are predicated on the idea of a hose that is about garden hose diameter: about ¾”. An average trash pump uses a discharge hose (where the water sprays out) of about 2”. So, we would somehow have to reduce the diameter of the hose.
Or would we? I got to thinking: what other kind of hose is about 2” in diameter? A fire hose.
A quick check online, and one can easily purchase 2” diameter fire hose nozzles. Just make sure: some nozzles use thread screws, and our trash pump used cam locks to attach. You can also buy screw-to-cam-lock adaptors online. Both are quite affordable.
This was perfect for us, because it cut out a lot of working parts. The pump was so powerful that we did not need any other machinery to pressurize the water to make it spray hard enough. Actually, we found the pump worked best if we did NOT turn it up all the way! The nozzle created enough pressure to spray water 60 feet into the air, which was perfect because you want the rain to come straight down on the scene, as though it’s actually falling from the sky. Plus, the nozzle was adjustable, creating more “rain-like” drops, and widening the area we could cover with rain! And thus we had a home-made rain machine on a budget, and it worked amazingly!
Couple of tips:
Even at a wide spray, the rain we created covered an area of about 10 feet square. That was fine for us, because we only needed medium to close-up shots, and the rain was more than enough to cover the ground in frame. If you’re looking for wider shots, you’ll need at least 2, maybe three sources of rain. The pump is certainly powerful enough to run at least 2 fire nozzles, though probably not 3. Simply purchase a hose splitter to double your rain, and give yourself enough hose to move your “rain operators” around the scene to fill in the gaps.
Backlighting the rain is key, to bring out the depth and texture of the rain on the scene. Play with the lighting to highlight and take full advantage of this really cool effect!
Protect your gear.
Even though you control the rain, be careful. Make sure the camera is covered and safe. The spray can still go places you don’t expect.
Think about your location.
While the trash pump is not as loud as a huge generator, it is not quiet. I’d say it’s about as loud as an average lawn mower. So take into consideration the same kind of things as you would a generator: if you’re running sound, make sure you have enough length of hose that you can place your pump far enough away from the scene. For us, it didn’t matter since the scene was MOS. However, this brings us to another point: still think about your location. If, like us, you’re filming at night, running equipment, and there are houses nearby, be courteous. Obtain all necessary permits to film where you are. And take a moment to knock on the neighbors’ doors. Honestly, it makes a huge difference. If you let them know you’ll be there in advance, and for how long, and what you’ll be doing, they’ll be a lot more comfortable and less likely to get annoyed with you!
More coming soon folks!