Okay friends, this post is brand new, custom developed, and chock-full of ninja awesomeness.

Last year, 11 Tools Every Ninja Needs was our most popular blog post. This year, we’ve updated it to become something much bigger—The Ultimate Ninja Gear Guide.

We’ve broken down the best tools for ninja filmmaking into every category: camera, lenses, lighting, support, audio, and business/education.

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Hiya, I’m Dom, and I’m a Connector at Story & Heart.

Story & Heart is one part film licensing platform and one big part filmmaking community—a place for storytellers to learn, encourage, and collaborate.

In that sense, we foster a passionate group of like-minded filmmakers drawn together to focus on one thing: helping you tell amazing stories. Because we believe that what we grow together will be something so much greater than anything we could have nurtured alone.

So, in the spirit of collaboration, Stillmotion asked me to write a bit about the idea of collaboration.

Imagine, for a moment, a storyteller. Do you picture writers laboring, lonely, behind a stack of paper in a dusty study? Or animators alone poring over the same drawing, over and over, changing it slightly every time to capture the precise pose, or the right mannerism, to convey that perfect purpose?

Now, for one more moment, imagine a freelancer—the storyteller who is bound to work alone, for whatever reason, be it financial or physical.

Because the truth is so much simpler: Storytelling requires collaboration.

That book that writer behind the lonely typewriter is creating? It’s so much bigger than the bounds of that study. It needs an editor—or a team of them—if it has any chance at reaching a greater audience. And that writer, beyond just her editors, also needs an agent, a publisher, a publicist, and countless others to hold her hands throughout the process of publishing, before the book can end up in your hands.

The same, of course, applies to film. When the credits roll, you aren’t bombarded with hundreds of names because of some elaborate joke.

Yet, as filmmakers, we can probably all remember a time when we’ve had a strange relationship with the idea of collaboration. Maybe for you, that time is now, and at the moment you’re staring at this screen hoping we’ll convince you that teamwork isn’t as frustrating or difficult to manage as it’s seemed so often in your career.

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In just about any filmmakers career, they’ll spend a good deal of time as the support. Call it a second shooter, production assistant, or 1st AC – there are a bunch of roles that don’t have the prestige of Director or DP.

The fatal mistake of the second shooter is to think that there is any less opportunity in one role over another. It’s all relative. There is always a chance to make a difference, both for yourself and for the larger picture.

Here’s a short story of a shoot we did for CBS last year that really drives that point home.

Last year, Joyce and I spent a great deal of time in New Orleans working on a one hour Superbowl special. As it came close to Superbowl Sunday, things started to get really busy for CBS. As the broadcast network of the game, they had a bunch of specials to put together and many of them would come together in the days leading up to Superbowl Sunday.

One of the biggest pieces they were putting together was the Superbowl Open – a short piece that would air right before kick-off. Together – CBS, Superbowl, the Open – it all meant that there would be some pretty awesome resources put into bringing this piece to life.

We got a call the day before the shoot seeing if we’d be interested in tagging along. Pete Radovich, director of A Game of Honor, was directing the piece. Think Lombardi Trophy, an awesome NOLA stage, a 50 piece kids orchestra, some unreal lighting design, a grand piano, and Helmut Vonlichten (formerly of E.S. Posthumus).

They already had a DP plus a 20′ jib as a second camera. That means we’d be last in line – a third camera. Remember, we were in New Orleans for an entirely different shoot, one that had very long days, so it would be an easy excuse if we wanted to pass.

Do I wish I was asked to DP a spot as special as this? Absolutely. But they had an excellent DP in place and that wasn’t how we could help on this one.

Never one to turn down an opportunity, we rigged the Epic up on the Steadicam and Joyce and I joined the shoot, me as the Steadicam Op and her as my 1st AC.

We showed up with every intention of being the best third camera CBS had ever seen. Ever chance we got, we pushed ourselves just a little further than we thought we could go. And in between our chances, we schemed on how we could do even more the next time our name was called.

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When you start talking on big filmmaking projects, travel is often an integral part of bringing it to life. Gear envy, and wanting to bring everything with us, is a problem we often suffer from whether we shoot locally or not.  Travel adds in the complexity of needing to transport the gear, baggage fees, plus we often have smaller crews. In this post and tutorial we’ll share some key ideas on how you can tell a stronger story while bringing less gear.

One of the scenes in #standwithme takes us to Africa, to the middle of the Kalahari Desert. To get there, we had to make 4 different connections, from plane to plane, to plane to Land Rover. And as if that wasn’t enough, we still had the harsh desert environment to deal with once we got there.

So here we are with the opportunity of a lifetime. We are following somebody who just won Humanitarian Photographer of the Year, we get to travel to the incredibly inspiring country of Namibia, and this will be a huge scene in our first feature length documentary. How do you not bring everything in your arsenal?

In this tutorial we’ll take you along for the ride as we travel to Namibia and share our approach to packing, where less is more.

A film is made well before the cameras roll. You can always do more with less as long as you take the time to plan it out. By looking at what we were trying to say and seeing how it fits into the overall story we were able to break it down, scene by scene, shot by shot, to see what tools we needed to bring. Less gear means we could move quicker, save on luggage, and most importantly – always be present and focused on the story, instead of being overwhelmed with two many options.

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From my days in psychology, there are a few ideas that have always really stuck with me and helped shape my filmmaking. Below is one those ideas; it’s a mistake we often make in how we see other people we make films with or for.  Keeping this one idea in mind has greatly helped me tell stronger stories, every time out.

First, the mistake…

There is a principle in psychology called the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE).

The Fundamental Attribution Error states that when we look to attribute, or find the cause of somebody else’s behavior, we often overemphasize the importance of their personality, and underemphasize the power of the situation or context.

Take these two situations as examples:

1. You walk on set to see the director emerge from around the corner yelling at everybody in site

“Get that crane up faster, we need to be ready to roll in 10 minutes!”
“Where’s my monitor, I need to see what’s happening!”

He then turns to you and says “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

Whoa, you think, this guy (or girl) is something else. What an ass.

2. Okay, now imagine you’re a wedding filmmaker. You show up on a bright and sunny Saturday morning, enter a brick house clad in pink frilly things, and find your way through the maze of people to introduce yourself to the bride.

You find her in the back of the house having her make-up done.

“Good morning!”, you yell, “Excited?” She looks at you, smiles meekly, offers up an unconvincing nod of her head, and returns to her make-up.

Oh no, you think, this girl is a total drag. This is not going to be a fun day.

Now, I’m not sure about you, but I can see myself in similar situations many times over the years. We meet somebody, we form an impression quickly, and we assume that’s who they are.

Here’s a super simple, every day example of how the FAE works:

You’re driving home and somebody comes out of nowhere and cut’s you off. We quickly assume that he or she is a jerk for what they just did – that it’s who they are. Now, perhaps he or she just got into an argument with a partner or feels very ill and is trying to get home quickly – the situation they were in could have played a large role. Our natural tendency is to attribute the behavior to the personality of the person, but we don’t give enough consideration to the situation itself.

Now, let’s take this and apply it to the yelling director we talked about at the top. Perhaps he is just an unfriendly, belligerent person or maybe he just got a call from the client and they are pushing up the delivery time while also needing to make cut backs on the budget.

Or our meek and subdued bride. Perhaps the stress of a wedding, of having so many people focus on her, and her nervousness for having to speak her vows in front of a crowd have led her to respond to you in that way.

The point is not to suggest that the behaviors are good or bad, or to make excuses for them. The point is to realize just how much of a role the situation plays in shaping behavior.

Okay, so we have a tendency to undervalue the situation when we look to explain or understand the behavior of others – so what?

Why does this matter? And what could it possibly have to do with filmmaking?

Filmmaking doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We work with people and we take images of other people. How we perceive or feel about these people plays such a large part in how we interact with them and how the video of them will feel in the end.

Here are some tips on how you can apply the Fundamental Attribution Error to filmmaking that can help you become a stronger storyteller.

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