On every shoot, there are problems on top of problems to solve, big and small.
What we filmmakers often don’t think about are the small tools we can pick up that will majorly help us out as we’re running around like crazy people on set.
For this tutorial, we’ve put together 10 of our favorite tools that have come to the rescue time and time again during shoots.
A lot of this stuff you may have considered getting before, but ultimately decided against because you think you won’t use it THAT much. To which we would say… oh yes you will!
All of the tools on this list have saved our lives many times, and we’ll continue to rep them ’til the day we die.
1. Black Foil
One of the coolest things about filmmaking is our ability to alter anything we’re using to make our picture look perfect in the frame.
Even with the most expensive equipment and setup, there will always be alterations necessary on a shoot — and black foil can really be your best friend in those moments.
Use it to:
- Extend your barn doors
- Block off the annoying window ruining your shot
- Quickly make a cookie and add texture to your background
The possibilities are endless… and it’s really quite cheap at just $23.
2. Grip Heads
Grip heads mount onto your light stand or c-stand, and their simple design allows them to securely lock many different types of equipment into place.
Use a grip head to hold up some foam core for a bounce, use a grip head to hold a boom pole in place (it’s arms never get tired!), hold up flags, etc.
They can definitely weigh you down at the airport, so if you’re traveling its best to try and rent some from a griphouse.
3. Generic Light Dimmer
This is a really inexpensive tool that is going to come through in the clutch for your lighting setup all the time on your set.
The best thing about generic light dimmer is that you can plug in an HMI or a regular old house lamp, so if you’re sourcing a household light or something on site, you can plug in the dimmer switch and take control.
We know a dimmer switch like this can actually be pretty hard to find, and that’s because it’s actually called a “router speed control.”
4. Cinevate Simplis
The Cinevate Simplis is great as a building block for accessories that you otherwise couldn’t attach to your camera and/or rig, like quick release plates, mounts, and grip sticks. And it has a ton of ports, so you can connect multiple accessories at once and really build out your setup if you need to.
It also has the quick-release lever on the side, which is really valuable for mounting it to a GlideCam or Merlin.
We use the Simplis all the time for simple jobs when we just need to attach small things like monitors and field recorders to the side of our rig. But really it can be used for all kinds of shooting: events, weddings, more cinematic productions… you’ll always want something this versatile for mounting different accessories and extending your setup.
Be sure to watch P’s instructions for mounting a field recorder with a Simplis at 02:57!
5. Gerber Utility Knife
This is a cherished tool here at Stillmotion!
Having a utility knife on set often gets overlooked because who really thinks about all the random things that will need to be tightened, snipped, and adjusted during a shoot?
But there will come a time when you have to think about these things, because you’re running around looking for something to cut off a piece of black foil, or you need to tighten up the screws on your monopod.
The minutes you spend searching for things like that add up — and it can cause you to miss magical moments that you could be putting into your film!
A utility knife is going to solve a lot of those issues — and it’s going to open a lot of beers after you’re done shooting.
Find the one we use here.
6. Gaff Tape
If we could wear rolls of gaff tape around our necks without looking like idiots, we would. We always try to pack a different color along with black for labeling purposes.
The main reason we included this on our list is because it actually could save you or a member of your crew from tripping and falling over on the set. Everything is going to go much smoother if you have all of your stingers taped down securely.
Leave your duct tape at home, gaff tape has super strength and leaves no residue.
7. Apple Box
In this tutorial at 4:48 you’ll see a *VERY RARE* appearance from our very own Joyce Tsang!
What has Joyce so worked up that she felt the need to address it on-screen?
The apple box! Joyce is the office shorty (or shawty, whichever you prefer) and she uses apple boxes all the time on the set for a boost. But apple boxes aren’t just for people to stand on. Once you pick up a few of these you’ll find yourself using them for tons of different things.
Grab two boxes and stand your slider legs on them, adjust the height of props, put your laptop on it and stand up at your desk for a change.
8. Sensor Cleaning Kit
When you’re changing lenses all the time, it’s easy to collect dust on your sensor. It’s even EASIER to avoid cleaning your sensor!
Many DSLRs will have an automatic sensor cleaning function, but sometimes you’ll still have residue that you need to clean manually or out in the field. The important thing is that you clean it every once in awhile, or you’ll get blurrly spots on your image.
We use the Visible Dust EZ Sensor Cleaning Kit, and what’s important here is that you match the one you buy to the size of your sensor.
P’s tip: always make sure you’re cleaning your sensor in a CLEAN area, where there aren’t dust particles floating around that will just fall right back onto the sensor after you’ve cleaned it!
9. Lee 12×12″ Assorted Gel Pack
Light is tricky, and it always requires unexpected adjustments based on your environment.
Bringing a gel pack to a shoot is invaluable! When you need to make a quick adjustment to color temperature, grab a CTO or a CTB and clamp it right in front of your HMI. If you’ve got fluorescent lights overhead, use a gel to add some green to the lights you’ve brought with you for the shoot.
We use the Lee 12×12″ gels, which should only set you back about $40.
10. Cardellini Clamp
To make a shoot work, you often just need things to… be in weird places. Clamps are so valuable because you can mount them onto many different things — a light stand, beam, the side of a bookshelf, the side of your set… and you can then attach a light or whatever it is that you need to be secured in that particular area at that particular moment.
Not to mention, they’re super portable. Cardellini Clamps take up very little space in your grip bag, and you’ll be happy you brought them!
Last but not least…
We post our tutorials here on the blog all the time, but they all exist in our awesome filmmaking app, SMAPP!
It’s a huge help for planning a shoot and helping you decide what gear to bring with you.
It has a lens selection tool, a movement tool, you can share your shot list and packing list with your team members… all of it is useful for pre-production and while you’re on the set.
Head to the SMAPP page to read all about the app… and it’s free!
We love all of these tools for their immense versatility, and they’re all a nice reminder that the most important pieces of gear aren’t always the most expensive.
So much of what we do on the set requires us to problem solve amongst a massive list of other responsibilities, and these are the tools that help us get it done, and ultimately help us tell better stories.
What’s your favorite tool on this list?
What did we leave out? Tell us about your life-saving tools!….