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.
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The MoVI is here!

Before jumping into a weekend of non-stop editing and stress eating in the final stretch of our Sundance submission process, team Stillmotion took a little break from all the #standwithme madness to play with our new toy: Freefly Systems MoVI (woo-hoo!)

It came into the studio last Thursday… and with all the excitement in the air it felt appropriate to make a demo video. Being that we were particularly lacking in spare time, we put this whole thing together on the fly… but that speed and ease of use is part of what makes this new tool so revolutionary.

Everyone and their barista has some input on the MoVI… and usually that opinion is something to the effect of “holy crap, this is going to change everything!”

We’re excited too, and our MoVI is already changing the way we look at the world — but we’re not holding a viking burial for our Steadicam any time soon.

The MoVI, to us, is a new storytelling tool with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, depending on the shoot. That being said, it’s going to be crazy to watch it evolve and see how it changes things for our community… right now it’s all so new!

We’ve been excited for this to arrive ever since NAB when we met the folks over at Freefly. We told them about what we’re doing and the traveling we have planned for #standwithme (next stop Namibia!) and they totally got on board with our project.

MAJOR kudos to Freefly for making sure we could get trained and ready with the MoVI before we fly out! We can’t wait to take this thing across the world…

Today we’ll share some insight from the team to answer some of the more common questions about the MoVI — things like the learning curve, how it compares to Steadicam, how to operate it and what you’ll need… etc.


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We’re living in the age of the iPhone.

We Instagram our meals before we eat them, there’s an app for everything, and when we see a moment worth capturing we hustle to turn our gritty camera phone lens on the action and record a video before the moment is lost.

The ability to have a video camera at our fingertips has changed so much about the way we document our everyday lives, including the way we function as superfans.

While there are still a few remaining Jeremy Lin fans who spend an hour making a poster board to hold up in the middle of a crowd as he passes by, most of them do what any loyal fan does in this day and age: stick their arm out and record a video.

As filmmakers, however, we don’t just stick our arm out there.

We have equipment, we’ve studied this stuff — we understand composition, framing, the properties of light, and… we have media credentials!

But when Jeremy Lin decides to play a game of pickup basketball at midnight in Taipei, on a public court with tons of surprised fans flocking to get a glimpse…

…we leave our sliders at home, and we shoot dirty.

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It’s easy to point the camera at the action without really thinking about perspective.

But you can’t just leave it up to your audience to figure out the ideas you’re trying to communicate in your film. The position of the camera is going to effect the way they perceive the story regardless of where you put it, so you might as well put it somewhere that matters.

Ask yourself…

How do you want the audience to experience the action?

It’s important that you always ask yourself this with any kind of camera work — be it event coverage or a dramatized scene like you see in this tutorial. As Patrick mentions, there are several options when it comes to positioning your camera, and the choice you make will ultimately dictate your audience’s experience.

In the heated argument we see unfolding in this tutorial, camera placement makes a huge difference in how we as the audience form our opinion about which of these two should just suck it up and do the dishes already.

When deciding on camera placement, there are two major things to consider:

1. Camera direction/ POV.
Do you want the audience to view the action from a specific person’s point of view? Do you want them to be totally neutral?

2. Camera height.

Should one subject be positioned more dominantly than the other?

The answers to these very important questions will always vary with the story you’re trying to tell. But don’t let it get too complicated… just ask yourself, whose side do you want the audience to be on?
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Our monopod is kind of like a superhero…

It’s got a long list of powers and functions, and it regularly saves the day. Without a monopod, the city of Stillmotion probably would have fallen ages ago.

We take it everywhere, and shoot with it so frequently that it’s safe to say the majority of the shots you see in our work are taken on a monopod.

We use the Manfrotto 561BHDV-1 because it’s super lightweight (just over 4lbs!) and compact (great for travel), and it offers so much versatility within its little body.

With a maximum height of 6.56′ and a minimum Height of 2.5′, this monopod allows you to quickly extend and get up over the action, or retract and get in there without having to actually go handheld.

Extend, pan, tilt, suspend in mid-ar… there really is such a wide range of possibilities with this monopod, and once you really learn how to utilize all of its functions, you’ll be surprised at how often you ditch your other pieces of gear and rely solely on its superhero strength to get you through your shoot.
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