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Anyone planning a film shoot can be forgiven for forgetting a detail, or two. You have to coordinate the schedules of dozens of people, unfamiliar locations, massive amounts of equipment, large sums of money, and the ever-fickle weather. And that’s before you make a single creative decision.
Indie filmmakers often spend pre-production focusing on the big things: securing access to the right camera, location, or actor is understandably an essential part of the process. But oftentimes, the real heroes of any shoot are the things the audience never sees. No matter how perfect your location is, it can all be for nought if you can’t plug your lights into the power outlets. The fastest way to find yourself in an embarrassing pickle while rapidly losing daylight is to head to set without the proper supplies. You are unlikely to forget your camera or boom mic, but showing up without gaffe tape can be just as detrimental.
No need to worry, though, as we’ve compiled a list of often-forgotten essentials that can make or break a shoot. Regardless of when you think you’ll be back on set, it never hurts to be prepared. After a year of a pandemic that threw film production into a state of upheaval, this last calm before the return to normalcy is the perfect time to take inventory of your gear, and acquire some of the little things you’ll need for your next shoot. These products are evergreen and will likely come in handy on projects of any size or genre. So having them on hand will leave you ready to pull the trigger, whenever that next great opportunity presents itself.
Whether you’re shooting your Sundance-bound feature or a film school thesis, there’s no need to be caught off guard. Trying to predict everything that can go wrong on a set is a fruitless task, but the right supplies can prepare you for any unexpected turmoil. Take a few minutes today and restock some of these underrated must-haves so that next time you’re shooting, you can focus on the art.
The first law of indie filmmaking might as well be “things always break.” And the second is “fix it with gaffe tape.” While this tape is designed for lighting and electrical problems, spend five minutes on any set and you will see it being used to fix approximately 5,000 other problems. From masking actors’ marks to mending small tears in dark costumes, gaffe tape does it all. It could be argued that it deserves an associate producer credit on every indie film, and it doesn’t leaves any residue behind, making it safe to use on location. No matter what your job on set is, there’s a good chance that this stuff is your best friend. If you already have a roll in your kit, buy another. If you already have two, buy four more.
“We brought exactly the right amount of sandbags, and have no need for more” is not a sentence often heard on film sets. Sandbags are essential for keeping your lights in place, and you can never have too many. No matter how detailed your shot list is, things will always change once you start shooting. Bringing a surplus of sandbags gives you the flexibility to change your light setup as often as you need to.
Many a young filmmaker has had their day absolutely ruined by losing takes. It’s always a good idea to immediately store your footage in multiple places so that nothing gets lost in striking the set or transportation. Ending each day by transferring your footage to an external hard drive is a professional move, and can speed up the process of getting it to your post-production team. It never hurts to have an extra, in case you find yourself shooting more coverage than you had planned.
Another one that seems obvious, but there are plenty of horror stories about filmmakers sacrificing a shot due to lack of cordage. Filmmaking is a very precise medium, and when one shot can make or break a scene, you want to make sure that you have the capability to set each light exactly where you need it. Make sure you have plenty of extension cords, and make sure they’re long. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so you can’t go wrong with 100 feet.
It’s never fun to realize that your location is not equipped to handle the serious electrical equipment you brought. 2-prong to 3-prong adapters ensure you can plug your extension cords into any standard outlet, and these ones from Maximm come with the added bonus of tripling your outlet space. That will certainly come in handy when you realize just how many batteries need to be charged at every minute of the shooting day.
After pouring your heart into a beautiful production design, you certainly want the colors to appear on screen exactly as you intended. The best way to do this is by setting your exposure with an X-Rite Color Checker Passport. This underrated tool helps calibrate your camera to accurately recognize colors, giving you the power to create beautiful images that match what you see in your head. Starting your day by balancing your camera against the passport’s color matrix pays massive cinematography dividends. This is another purchase that can easily slip through the cracks of your pre-production to-do list, but nobody has ever regretted having one on set.
Filmmakers just can’t be satisfied. When they’re not complaining about lack of sunlight, they’re complaining about too much of it. While there are plenty of weather-related frustrations that are completely out of your control, one thing you can take charge of is masking. Picking up a few extra rolls of black Cinefoil, an aluminum-based material that is excellent at soaking up light, allows you to make your shots as dim as you want without being held hostage by the sun.
Step-up and step-down rings allow you to use a variety of lenses with a single filter. These rings allow you to select lenses for purely artistic reasons, rather than worrying if their thread sizes match your camera’s filter. Purchasing a collection of stepping rings speeds up your lens change time and allows you to share lenses with other filmmakers with ease. Plus, your second AC will love you forever.
Film sets are always messy, but dust and highly-specialized photography equipment doesn’t exactly make for a great pairing. A good air blower is the fastest way to blast the dust off of your lenses, and never leaves any marks or smudges. Keeping one of these on hand allows you to quickly change lenses, and ensures that your footage looks pristine.
Don’t laugh. You could certainly be forgiven for not doubling up on markers before a film shoot, but forgetting them can make your life a lot harder. Editing is a challenge when each subsequent slate gets harder to read because the only marker on set was running low on ink. And if your First AC doesn’t have enough pens to properly mark spots on your camera’s optical focus puller, you might find yourself sacrificing both valuable time, and shot quality. When you approach your eighth hour of shooting and your markers start to dry out, you will be thrilled that you brought extras.