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16 Essential Things to Have on Set For the Little-to-No-Budget Filmmaker

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There are some things that you probably shouldn't ever shoot without. For me, my prized tools are my skateboard and gaffer's tape. For you, they may be something else. Here is a small list of some things that have been very useful on the shoots that I have been on.


Gaffer's Tape

Long gone are the days of when I used duct tape for everything, I have since seen the light. If you have never used Gaffer's tape, it is far superior, stick nicely to the things you need, and doesn't leave any annoying residue when you take it off. The tape itself is actually made of a cloth type material, and is very strong. Helps for if you need to fix a broken light stand, attach a component to your camera, or tape down a green screen. It runs a little more pricey than duct tape, but a roll of this will save you hours of picking goop off of your tools afterward.

Dry Erase Board

If you are shooting short films, or have a lot of different shots for a commercial, you might want to invest in a slate. Or you could just hit the craft store and get a dry erase board and some markers for about a tenth of the price. This will make things easier on you when you bring your shots into your editor, and lets you identify them nice and easily.

Flashlight or LED Keychain

This is definitely a little $2 piece that I use daily, even if I am not shooting. If you need to peek into your pack to find something, if its dark out and you left your lens cap in the grass, or if you just need a little bit of light to find the keyholes for a location, this will definitely save you a bout of frustration. Next time you are on your way to a shoot, pick one up at the cash register at the gas station, you will be amazed at how much you will turn to it.

Cushion for Knees, Elbows & Shoulders

You know those garderning foam mats your grandmother uses to kneel in the garden and trim her petunias? That is exactly what I am talking about. We all have to get that epic low shot, or change our perspective once in a while, and sometimes our tripod doesn't go low enough. Throw a mat down underneath the part of your body that is taking the bulk of your weight.... and RELEIF! No more sore knees tomorrow!

Garbage Bags

No, they aren't to carry your junk, but to aid as another thing to lay down on if you are getting a shot. You don't want to be getting your threads all gunked up in the dirt, or after a fresh downpour... Just cut up a big garbage bag and lay it out flat. Weigh it down with some rocks nearby, and you will stay squeaky clean!

Skateboard or Inline Skates

This is definitly the poor man's approach to a dolly/truck shot. But you can do a bit more than that. Just last week I did a few 360 orbit shots of some mopeds using nothing but my camera, an Ikan Superfly cage for grip, and my skateboard. Client thought the shots looked gorgeous and I wasn't out a ton of money buying track. You might need to do some stabilization afterwards in post, but at least you can get the genral movement of the shot.

3 Prong to 2 Prong Plug Converter and Extension Cords

How many times have you had an extension cord, and there are only 2 prong outlets available on a power strip? You're camera is out of batteries and you still have an hour of shooting left? Well, no more wasting time... just grab a couple of these at the hardware store, and attach them to everything with a 3 prong head on it. You will never, ever run into this situation ever again with a 3 prong to 2 prong adapter.

Laptop & Appropriate Cables and Card Readers

There are a couple of reasons why you will want to have this on hand. One, your client might really want to see that shot blown up, and you might want to check your focus, light and such on a larger screen if you don't have a monitor available. Second, if you work with card based cameras, you might run out of room and have to unload your media onto your hard drive to shoot more footage past the capacity of your memory cards. You never know when you might forget to hit STOP RECORD on one of the best shots of the day.

Fans

If you shoot a lot of green screen, or studio production, you will notice that your talent tends to get very heated under those lights. Give them a small personal fan, or have some box fans at the studio to circulate the air so everyone stays happy. Overheated actors are not happy actors... leads to frustration, flustration, and overall sweating, which is never good looking on video.

Leatherman & Other Tools

It's always smart to have pliers, screwdriver and a pocket knife available for a multitude of tasks. You might need to tighten a light stand, your tripod legs, screw the shoe into your camera, or whatever. You never want to get caught without a means to fix your set when a problem presents itself.

Big Carboard Box Painted White

This will serve three very different purposes. One, it will act as a white balance card. Second, you can bounce light onto a subject, and third you can block light for a subject. Make sure you grab one of those really big boxes (non-glossy) for something like funiture, break it down and tape the ends together so it won't un-collapse. Then grab a can of white spray paint and put a few coats on it. Viola! You didn't have spend $50 on a 5-in-1 (although I do recommend having something like that for diffusion.)

Extra Batteries

I can't stress enough how important enough battery life is, especially if you aren't going to be able plugin to AC power anywhere. Things like lavalier mics always suck the life out of 9 volt batteries, and your camera can never have enough batteries packed with it. If you can, pick up a battery extender (like this one for the T2i/550D) for your model of camera that takes AA batteries, and pick up a mondo pack of those from Costco if you are going to be out on shoot all day.

Hair Accessories

This is a huge pet peeve of mine, when an actor or actress has hair that hangs over their cheek and a strong light source, natural or not is casting a harsh shadow across their face. Sometimes you just have to give them a hair tie and tell them to pull it back. I Would keep some gel, hair spray, a couple hair clips and hair ties in your bag for just such an occasion.

Zip Ties and Scissors

If you need to bunch cords together, or fix a shirt with a buttom that just broke off... this will work for you. Use those along with scissors to cut the long annoying ends off and its a perfect combo. You can also use those scissors to cut stray threads from shirts that are obtrusive, and just some other general damage control.

Digital Camera

If you are a continuity nazi like I am, this will be a must especially if you talent likes to take frequent water breaks or sits down to rest. There is nothing worse than getting back to the edit suite after a long, tiresome day of shooting and having continuity errors. Use a simple digital camera, or the camera on your iPhone or other smartphone to take a snapshot at the end of the scene so you know where to pick up where you left off.

Powder

Shinyness on an talent's face is never flattering. It will help if you have some powder from a place like BenNye.com, that you can powder your actor down when they are looking a little shiny. Get rid of those harsh speculars!

If you have some tools, tricks, or maneuvers that you use when you are out on a shoot, we would love to know! Leave a comment below and let us know what your favorite was, or what you would add to the list!

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