It’s the little things that make the biggest difference. In filmmaking that usually means all the bits and pieces that you use for a rig or setting up your lighting that will have a bigger impact on your shot and general capabilities than your actual camera system.
Unfortunately, it often turns out to be this type of equipment that beginners tend to ignore when they first get started.
Filmmaker Troy Mairs is someone who has learned this lesson on his our journey and has plenty of gear that he wishes he either bought sooner or invested more in up front. Here’s seven of his recommendations.
1. Quality Stands
Stands are boring. Nice stands can be game changers. Now feel free to have a collection of light stands of all types and qualities on hand as having a spare or two isn’t a problem.
However, you will definitely want to make sure your main equipment is placed on quality stands. And by quality stands that can often mean a C-stand.
C-stands are solid pieces of kit and they will hold heavy gear with no problem.
This happens quicker than you might think as even if your light is fine, the second you want to add a big softbox or need some way to hold a diffusion panel in front of it you’ll see why stronger stands are essential.
The other reason to avoid always getting cheap stands is that you will find that they will break more easily and just not last as long as you want. The other reason is reliability and safety.
When you have people on set you can’t afford the equipment you can’t trust to hold your gear.
Finally, those cheap stands will eventually just end up taking up space and nobody wants that.
Some brands to look out for are Matthews, Kupo, and Avenger.
2. Color Accurate Monitor
Lots of early cash goes into cool things like cameras and lenses. Less of that money goes towards boring things like monitors. That’s a mistake as anyone who has spent time shooting and editing knows that you’ll spend a lot more time in front of a computer screen than behind your camera.
Many editors will also tell you that you will create the final story in post and that it is incredibly important.
You need to make sure that what you are looking at before you hit export is as accurate as possible to guarantee that what the client or audience see is the best possible version. The only way to do that is with good, color-accurate displays.
Look for features like 10-bit support and high coverage of multiple key color spaces (Rec.709, DCI-P3, etc.). Two good examples are the BenQ PD3420Q which is an ultrawide 34” monitor and the EIZO ColorEdge CG2420 24”.
Calibration is essential no matter what level your display is so make sure you pick up a colorimeter as well.
3. Negative Fill & Bounce
Taking control of your lighting with things other than lights is where you will take the next step as a filmmaker. The equipment that will help you modify your light are flags and reflectors.
They will help you add or subtract contrast control the softness of the light and more.
One option is the Westcott Scrim Jim system. It can be taken apart quickly for portability and has multiple size options so you can pick the right one for your set. It’ll also work with plenty of different fabric options, like diffusion or black.
If you want something that is more budget friendly than the recommendation is to pick up one of those 5-in-1 reflectors.
4. External Hard Drive Array
Oftentimes a key piece of kit is a portable SSD to store your active projects and backup the cards from your daily shoots. What you want to avoid is having this become your only storage solution.
You’ll just end up with a ton of different drives as your “archive.”
Investing early into a hard drive array that you can add drives to or upgrade easily as this can serve as a properly backed up archive. You will need one at some point so definitely look into getting one.
5. Grey Cards
We already covered color accuracy and its importance in post. To really nail things you’ll want to make sure you are getting it right at the point of capture. For that, you should pick up a grey card to nail your white balance.
If you want to splurge for the best then you’ll want a full color chart. Calibrite makes the ColorChecker Passport Video which is designed to go in your bag so you always have one on you.
6. Quality Tripod
Seriously, get a good tripod. Spend money on your tripod early and you won’t regret it. Cheap tripods will either break or annoy you and if it annoys you it is unlikely it’ll make it to the shoot. Get a quality tripod early and be happy for years to come.
You will want to look for reliability and durability with good controls. Nice to haves would be getting something made of carbon fiber or with fast setup mechanisms. A good quick release is essential along with a fluid head for smooth movements.
7. Lavalier Mics
You’ll find that lavalier mics are an essential piece of kit for nearly every shoot. To make the most of them you will need to learn how to properly attach them to your subject and conceal them.
It is likely that you’ll end up with a drawer of lavaliers as they often come bundled with various recording equipment. These are fine and will definitely get the job done in most cases but good lavaliers have more benefits than just sounding better.
Something like the Sanken COS-11D, Countryman B3, or Sennheiser MKE 2 will be designed in a way that makes that easy to attach or conceal. There are tons of accessories available for alternate mounting options. They will also pick up better through things like a t-shirt.
Get a good lav mic early.
[source: Troy Mairs]
- Matthews C-Stand (B&H, Amazon)
- BenQ PD3420Q DesignVue 34” 21:9 HDR Monitor (B&H, Amazon)
- EIZO ColorEdge CG2420 24” 16:10 Monitor (B&H, Amazon)
- Datacolor SpyderX Elite Colorimeter (B&H, Amazon)
- Westcott 4×6’ Scrim Jim Cine Kit (B&H, Amazon)
- Impact 5-in-1 Collapsible Oval Reflector (B&H, Amazon)
- SanDisk 1TB Extreme Portable SSD V2 (B&H, Amazon)
- White Balance Card Set (B&H, Amazon)
- Calibrite ColorChecker Passport Video (B&H, Amazon)
- Manfrotto MVH502A Fluid Head and 546B Tripod System (B&H, Amazon)
- Sachtler flowtech 75 GS Carbon Fiber Tripod (B&H, Amazon)
- Sanken COS-11D Omni Lavalier Microphone (B&H, Amazon)
- Countryman B3 Omni Lavalier Microphone (B&H, Amazon)
- Sennheiser MKE 2 Gold Series Omni Lavalier Microphone (B&H, Amazon)
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