Working on sets ranging from features, shorts, music videos, student films, etc. has taught me that even though each set is different, you can certainly equip yourself with some essentials for every set. Whether you are working with one DSLR camera or three ARRI Alexas, you can be certain that you will require equipment to run a shoot smoothly. Arriving over prepared as the DoP, the 1st, or the Camera PA will relieve some stress prior to the shoot. You never know what will happen until you’re in the thick of it all. These are ten essentials for any set:
1) 1” to 2” Paper Tape
I like to keep various sizes and colors of tape in my bag for different reasons:
– 1” to put down marks for the actors. If you have more than one actor in a scene (which I guarantee you will), I recommend putting a different color for each actor. Actors are more comfortable with where they land when they know what color to look for. Plus, the 1st will be infinitely thankful for actors landing on their marks.
– 1” red and green for marking your “hot” card. Once the card is ready to unmount, placing a red piece of paper tape with the card’s number will help the DMT (person who downloads your footage) keep the cards in check. This is especially important when there are multiple cameras on set. 1” green can then be used to mark card that has had all media downloaded and backed up.
– 1” and 2” white and black. I generally keep these around for making sure cables are safely secured in a heavily trafficked area. White paper tape comes in handy with the slate. Plus, these can be used miscellaneously as needed without dipping into your colored stash.
2) Dry erase markers, permanent markers, and Vis-A-Vis markers
Now this is a little more on the obvious side but still definitely on the essentials list. Dry erase markers are a must for marking the slate on set. While some people like marking the slate with a permanent marker for the unchangeable info (such us directorand camera), I would suggest writing this on a piece of tape with permanent marker and then attaching it to the slate. This helps keep the slate neat and clean. The 1st Camera Assistant should always have Vis-A-Vis markers to mark up the follow focus ring.
3) Lens cleaner and wipes
For the simple but important reason of keeping the lenses clean and ready to capture the project, keep these in your bag at all times. These go by fast so it’s very important to restock them on a regular basis. Again, the more prepared the better!
4) Multi-Tool (Leatherman)
These little guys will help you in rigging and taking down your camera rig. The different tools are especially great to get into small crevices within the camera rig to tighten the base plate or switch on the wireless follow focus. With camera rigs and accessories now becoming more and more compact, you’ll need a multi-tool to help you navigate throughout your rig.
5) Bongo Ties
Whether you’re trying to clean up cables around the camera or mounting a sync box for sound, bongo ties are an easy and lightweight solution to solving these problems. Unlike tape, which eventually loses its stickiness from the heat of the camera and falls off, bongo ties keep things in their place. Plus, at the end of the day you won’t have to go back through every piece of equipment trying to clean up tape strands.
6) Cube taps and 2-3 prong adapters
Cube taps are lifesavers when it comes to charging multiple batteries because they help keep batteries nice and compact in one place. They are key when you are on a location with limited power sockets.
Though most buildings now are equipped with 3 prong sockets, there are some older ones that only have 2 prong sockets. Hopefully, the DoP and Gaffer scouted all of this beforehand, which will allow the lighting team to be set and ready to go. As for camera department, you better bet that you’ll need to be just as prepared; keep these in your bag and save yourself from a big headache.
7) WD-40 or Pledge (cleaning product)
I can’t tell you how many times this has come in to save the day on set. When working with any set of rails or tracks, these products ensure the dolly runs smoothly and without any squeaks. Trust me, once you use it, you will feel the difference in the movement of your camera. This also gives both the camera operator and the sound mixer peace of mind.
8) Small notebook and pens
On smaller sets, I’ve had to rely on my own to make sure camera notes are well-kept and organized. If the DoP doesn’t provide a camera report I need to follow, I have a small notebook and pens ready to make my own. Start with the essentials and then ask members of the camera department who have previously worked with that DoP to clarify what you should be keeping track of.
9) Tape measure
Whether you like the hard tape or soft tape, a measuring tape is essential for getting focus marks, camera height, camera distance, etc. I’ve learned to always have this on hand just in case the 1st needs some quick marks or we need to jot down camera information.
10) Gaffer Tape
Gaffer tape is made of much stronger material than paper tape, therefore comes in handy when trying to do some difficult rigging. Having trouble with the tripod plate staying in place? Stick a couple pieces of gaff tape between the plate and the camera and viola! Problem solved.
There are many other tools out there available for filmmakers but I guarantee that having these essential items at your disposal will help you during your shoot. The camera department is always on the move and by having these tools at your side and in your bag, you’ll be able to quickly and effectively improvise solutions to the many obstacles that arise during production.
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