One of the biggest questions we get here at IFA is “What gear do we need?” There is no one correct answer to this, however, if your idea is to pack up your car and go out on a location to start shooting a micro budget feature, there are certain essentials you will need. In this post we will discuss what you absolutely must have with you on set to make your life easy.
This list is pretty random, since a lot depends upon what kind of equipment you will be working with. But let’s assume you don’t have a gaffer or makeup or wardrobe department. We’re not going to get into cameras or camera stabilization. Those require full blog posts.
This really goes without saying, but it’s important to repeat. Whatever you do, don’t record with the audio of your camera. These little digital recorders have become so cheap and have such an amazingly high quality you would honestly be insane not to get one for your shoot. So many filmmakers forget about the importance of audio when working on a micro budget. But it is the first huge red flag that goes up the moment your film begins and the dialog isn’t 100% clear.
Neutral Density Filter
Even though some DP’s tell me it flattens the image, I would never leave home without a good ND filter, especially if you are shooting with a DSLR. In outdoor situations it is essential that you control the amount of light coming into your lens, especially if you are trying to maintain a shutter speed of 2x your frame rate. As most of you know, you should normally shoot 24 frames per second with a shutter speed of as close to double that. So if you’re shooting at a shutter speed of 50, that’s going to make it really hard to shoot at a f.2.4 or below. So, just turn your variable Neutral Density Filter and suddenly the amount of light entering the lens goes down. This is why the internal ND filters of many of the newer cameras is so important. These baby’s can run pretty expensive, so in the meantime you can just get a regular ND filter that fits your best lens. (There are also adapters so you can fit a large ND filter onto any size lens)
Another huge mistake I have made is going out to shoot with my DSLR without a viewfinder. There is almost no way to see what you are shooting without one of these. There are some cheap ones on the market, so there really is no excuse. If you have something like the GH4, since you can watch the video through the eyepiece, it is a bit easier. But for many of us with cameras like the 5D MK III, we still need something to block out the sun. Now, the cheapest of cheap hacks to this is simply to drape a shirt or something over your head.
Most of the professional sound recordists on set use a combination of wireless lavalier mics and a boom mic. The boom mic offers the best overall sound of dialog so sound mixers generally prefer it. Lav mics are mainly used as a backup or in cases where multiple people are talking and the recordist wants to cover all bases. This is the absolute cheapest mic going that I think would be acceptable for a real shoot. I know of a number of films that were shot using this mic and I honestly couldn’t tell. The key is really to have a talented boom operator who knows how to capture the dialog.
If you are hardcore micro budget, you can probably find an cheaper alternative to a boom pole. The most important thing is that the mic doesn’t pick up vibrations from the pole. For the sake of space, I didn’t add another part of the boom pole that is important, and that’s the shockmount at the end that holds the microphone.
Deadcat Wind Filter
One thing that will absolutely ruin any dialog or sound recorded on the day is wind. Even the slightest amount of wind will be picked up on an outdoor shoot. Professional sound recordists will always have a “deadcat”cover and, in heavier winds, a blimp to protect the mic. But you should at least have one of these on hand if you’re shooting outside.
Why don’t we say clothespins? The same reason sailors don’t say ropes. If you’re on a film set and don’t know what a C47 is, you will quickly be identified as a rookie. Always have a bag of these on hand. They are wonderful for about a million different little things.
Especially if you’re working with light stands, you need to be sure you have sand bags on set to weigh everything down. I have been on a few sets where a gust of wind came by and knocked down some really expensive equipment and almost killed a guy. Sandbag everything!
Like C47’s, these are their big brother. Clamps will help with everything and they’re really cheap.
Millions of different uses. Gaffer tape is a must on all film sets. And don’t even think about substituting it for duct tape, they are not the same.
There are tons of different types of tape, but simple masking tape is great to have on set as well for things like marks and labeling.
Most people think that the only use for the slate is to sync picture and sound. While that is part of it, it is also an extremely important tool for editors. So, even though you can use tools like plural eyes to sync your audio, you still need to slate each take so that things don’t become a nightmare in post.
Cheap Work Light
Even though I have an entire set of Arri lights, I always have these on hand as well. Combined with cheap lights you can do so much to a scene. Put a few of these behind a bed sheet and you’ve got a lovely soft light. Or just point one at your talent for a nice backlight. These also come in handy for crew workstations if it’s dark.
Bright LED Dimmable Bulbs
I only recently discovered dimmable LED lights. These are absolutely wonderful for 2 main reasons. First, you can produce an incredible amount of light with very low wattage. Second, they don’t give off heat. So two giant problems you have on many sets are gone. If you have ever been on a film set with tungsten bulbs, it is a nightmare. Everyone is sweating. The talent get’s exausted quickly. So with these little lights you can really shape your light. The one main negative is that these lights simply don’t have the color spectrum tungsten based lights. So you may want to experiment.
I love this cheap little dimmer. You would never get away with this kind of dimmer on a normal set. However, if you’re using LED lights, these are perfectly fine. Dimmers are wonderful for a fast way to adjust your lights and balance everything out. As a DP you will constantly be adjusting lights. Moving them back and forth. Bouncing lights. And to be able to lower intensity is extremely helpful.
You will see most grips carrying these. Very helpful for having one tool to rule them all.
Hopefully if you are directing you will have people helping you and won’t have to lug around gear, but these are great to have.
You never want to shoot outside without one of these. In fact I would get a few. They can work wonders.
I made the mistake of gripping one day without gloves. I never made that mistake again. Even without hot lights, it’s good to have a pair of gloves handy. Get it?