Film Essentials: More Gear You Can’t Live Without

by | Nov 11, 2021 | Film News

If you follow our blogs, you might remember that a couple of weeks ago we went over some of the essential gear needed for your first shoots. If not, you can catch up here. After getting some shoots under your belt, you might be looking for the next set of gear that will elevate each job. Check out this extended list of film shoot essentials.

Filters

Mirrorless camera bodies are very popular for shooting video and are great cameras for the dollar value and quality. One downside to this type of camera is it usually lacks a built-in Neutral Density (ND) filter. An ND filter is like putting sunglasses on your camera—it cuts down on the light that passes through the lens and onto the sensor. ND filters allow for proper exposure without having to compromise on desired shutter speeds and lens aperture.

For example, if you were trying to capture a daytime beach scene with a 48fps shutter speed and f/2.8 aperture, the image in your view finder would be completely over-exposed and unusable. When you use an ND filter, the sunglasses effect drops the exposure of the shot without adjusting the shutter speed or aperture. Because of this, ND filters are basically a requirement when shooting outdoors, or any environment with full sunlight. Some camera bodies, like the Sony FX6, FX9, and the Black Magic Pocket Cinema 6K Pro have an ND filter built into the body, so a lens filter is not necessary. Very handy.

When you buy an ND filter, you will have two basic options. One option is a stackable “Solid ND” filters kit. Kits will include multiple ND filters at different adjustments. For example, Tiffen has a three-lens kit with 2, 3, and 4-stop filters. If you need your exposure to be lowered by 2 stops, you can put the 2-stop filter on your lens. If you need your exposure lowered by 7 stops, you can put both the 3 and the 4-stop filters on. The biggest drawback to these kits is speed. It is not ideal to be screwing and unscrewing filters on the front of your lens in a high-speed environment, like a documentary or sports event.

The second option is a “Variable ND” filter. This is a single filter with a minimum to the maximum amount of ND. For example, Tiffen makes a 2 to 8-stop filter. Making the change from 2 stops to 8 stops, or anywhere in between, is a simple twist of the front element of the filter. This allows for very quick adjustments and is my preferred attachable ND filter. PolarPro makes a 6 to 9-stop variable ND filter, and I like that it has click feedback for each stop.

Another important filter is the Circular Polarized filter (sometimes shortened to CPL). A CPL filter is used to select which light rays enter your camera. This can adjust or remove reflections from glass and metal surfaces and is really important when shooting scenes involving windows and cars. If you are trying to shoot a scene where there is a window between the subject and the camera, a CPL can remove glare or reflection on the subject’s face, creating a clear shot. Like the Variable ND filter, the front element of the CPL rotates, and this adjusts or removes the reflections and glares in the frame. When using a CPL on landscape shots, especially shots featuring sky and/or water, it is worth rotating the CPL and experimenting with the different looks a shot can have at different rotations of the filter. B+W offers a quality CPL. Tiffen has a more budget-friendly CPL, and may be a viable choice to test out what a CPL can deliver.

When you are shopping for a new filter of any kind, a great tip I once received and want to pass along is to buy a filter sized to the largest diameter lens you will be shooting with and buy a kit of step-up rings to go with it. Step-up rings allow a larger diameter filter to be mounted onto a smaller diameter lens, so in this setup, you would be able to mount your filters onto any of your lenses. There are other filters that can improve your shoots, but ND and CPL filters are some of the first purchases to make.

Lighting

Before you buy your first light, you can craft a lot of great scenes using existing lighting, especially sunlight, and diffusion. Bouncing and diffusing light can be done with household items like white sheets or white poster boards. If you need gear that has a more professional look, a 5-in-1 collapsible light reflector is a terrific addition. When you are ready to purchase your first light, LED panels are a good place to start. They have reduced the cost of lighting kits, are compact, and travel easily.

Three-point lighting is a basic setup for interviews and could get you started lighting your scenes. A kit like this one offered by GVM could be a good entry point for some filmmakers. There is a wide variety of sizes, output, and features of LED light panels, so you will need to take your current and potential future needs into consideration when shopping for lights.

A couple of specific features to consider would be the importance of bi-color light and battery power. LED panels with bi-color bulbs can have custom color temperatures set, usually between 3200K-5600K. This is helpful if trying to match an ambient light source on set, or to create separation in the frame by casting different color temperature lights–like 3200K on the background and 5600K on the subject.

Battery power might be a requirement if you plan to have outdoor sets, or on locations without accessible power. If you need more light than LED panels can produce, you can check out Aputure’s C300d. It is extremely bright for a light that can fit in a carry-on roller bag. Make sure to soften it with some diffusion, like this lantern softbox from Aputure.

Gaffer’s Bag

After a few on-location shoots, you will discover there is a group of essential gear that is not exclusively video equipment but is helpful on set. A gaffer’s bag can have a variety of gear in it, but you can start with some basics. It’s also good to note that I’m using the term “gaffer’s bag” a bit more loosely than the industry standard. My gaffer’s bag holds all the tools and gear I need to fix problems on set.

The first items to go in your gaffer’s bag should be any tools that were included with your other gear when you bought it. These could be wrenches and sockets for your tripod, slider, light stands, etc. A multi-tool can cover a lot of tool needs (pliers, slotted and Phillips screwdrivers, and cutting blades). Consider a multi-tool like this one from Leatherman, which is a quality brand with a limited 25-year warranty. If you don’t get a multi-tool right away, you should still pack those individual tools.

Maybe you already have a toolbox you can borrow from, or you can check garage sales and discount bins at a home improvement store. Hex bolts are popular with camera gear, so having a set of different size hex keys is important. A pair of work gloves protects your hands from pinches when opening/closing stands and from burns when adjusting hot lights. Gloves also help protect light bulbs from the natural oils on your hands, which when heated can cause bulbs to burn out early. ARRI makes a basic pair of leather gloves that will work, but there are plenty of different brands and duty weights.

Next, look for different color gaffer tapes and permanent markers, to use for labeling gear and identifying marks for actors or coverage. Grab a flashlight for night shoots, dark sets, or for trying to find the black SD card that accidentally fell somewhere into the black gear bag. You will continue adding tools and pieces of gear to your gaffer’s bag, especially after a shoot with a problem that needed to be fixed.

Color Checker Card

When you are first starting out, color correcting/grading your footage may not be a priority. As you get more advanced with your editing skills, you will probably want to start budgeting time for it. But if you do not have the time for or ability to color correct, you will want to make sure the proper white balance is set in your camera before shooting. A simple way to set the white balance is by using a custom white balance setting in-camera.

Basically, when using the custom white balance setting in-camera, you are telling your camera that the image it is looking at is white and it will adjust all other colors accordingly. If you are doing this, you will want to have something white to place in front of your camera lens. A color checker is a piece of gear with a white card on one side and color swatches on the other. If you want to spend only a small amount of your budget on a white card, you can find white balance cards like this one offered by Vello.

If you have zero budget for a color checker, any item that is white can be used to set your white balance. In a pinch, a white shirt, poster board, bounce card, or even a white piece of paper will work. The advantage of a color checker is the high quality, accurate color representation, higher durability, and the fact that it looks more professional.

More Power & Media

If you are remembering that batteries and media were on our first list of shoot essentials, you’re right. Having an overabundance of both is very important to your overall job as a filmmaker. There will be a time when you are on a shoot and there will be an issue with your batteries and/or media. I have been on sets where people have put dead batteries onto chargers that were not plugged into the wall, and a couple of hours later when that battery was pulled off the charger, it was still dead. Not good.

I have also been handed a media card to start using in my camera, and it still had footage from a previous shoot and no one could confirm that the footage had been ingested and backed up onto a hard drive, so that card cannot be used until it is verified. Shoots can also go longer than planned, and you need to be prepared for that. Even when I know I have “enough” batteries and media in my bag for a shoot, I still pack a couple extra.

When shopping for batteries, there are a couple of things to consider to get more flexibility from your purchases. Some batteries, like the big Anton Bauers, have cable adapters to run power to your camera body, so they can be used on many different types of cameras. Some batteries can also run out to a standard USB port, so they can power other gear on set—not just your camera.

As always, there is no list of gear that can replace the importance of knowing how to tell a good story. These are just tools to help you on your way to telling your stories. Becoming knowledgeable and experienced with your gear can be more important than buying that next piece of gear.