On a shoot, a lot of things can happen, and you have to be prepared for the worst. Here are various tools and accessories that can really save you on set. I never leave home without them.
When I’m going on a shoot, I always make a list of the gear I’ll need. That gives me the peace of mind that I haven’t forgotten anything.
Light kit? Check. Camera? Check. Grip? Check. But even if you prepare yourself for days in advance, you never know what might happen or the number of things you’ll have to fix directly on the shoot.
That tiny screw that doesn’t want to come out, the electric cords that you need to secure, the little adapter you left on your desk… Here is a comprehensive accessories list, in no particular order, for a solo operator or small crew. It has saved me a hundred times.
You should always have this accessory in your pocket, even in your everyday life. It’s basically a 12- to 26-item toolkit (depending on the model you choose) in one package.
The basic incorporated tools that you’ll need are:
- Regular pliers
- Philips screwdriver
- Flathead screwdriver
- A straight blade
- A bottle and can opener because we never know.
A multi-tool will let you quickly repair, cut, and unscrew things, whether related to camera, light, or grip.
The best-known brand of top-notch multi-tools is probably Leatherman, but you can also take a look at the ones from Gerber and Victorinox. When I started in the industry, I made a mistake and bought a cheap, off-brand multi-tool. As you can guess, it totally broke, and I ended up buying a new one a year later. Save yourself some time and money, and buy an established, reputable brand—it’ll last you at least two decades.
When you’re traveling take care not to put this in your hand luggage, you’ll not go through the check-in process with this tool.
A set of tools
In addition to my multi-tool, I always carry some other basic tools: different sizes and types of screwdrivers, a wrench set, some hex keys, a couple of spring clamps…
With those simple tools, you are covered for all manner of basic fixes on set.
Let’s keep it simple here—gaffer tape is really THE accessory that you can use to fix anything on set. I could make an entire book about the uses for this stuff. You can secure cables, label gear, attach your microphone (if you forgot the microphone mount at home), or put a piece of gaffer on a shirt to cover the brand… Imagination is the limit.
You can tear gaffer tape with your hands, yet it is super strong, sticks to everything, and doesn’t leave any residue on whatever surface you put it on. Gaffer tape is available in multiple colors and different widths. From the basic black 50mm gaffer to the electro green 25mm, it’s a good idea to have a few different rolls in your bag.
A pair of gloves
Here, you have the choice. I always have a pair of “grip gloves” in my bag. They are designed for manipulating hot lights, and they keep your hands clean when handling dirty things, like for example, electric cords in a muddy environment. They are made of leather and are extremely resilient and comfortable. They just won’t protect you from the cold.
If you’re not manipulating hot lights, some more technical gloves could be a better fit for you, like the ExoSkins from Bright Tangerine. They will protect you from the cold, protect your hands from cuts, the fingertips are compatibles with touchscreens, and you won’t feel like you are wearing mittens. The downside is, you won’t be able to manipulate hot lights.
So it’s your choice. Ideally, you can carry both in your bag—it never hurts and won’t add that much weight.
C-47s or clothespins, call them what you want. They are used to attach gels directly onto the barn-doors of your light. I prefer the wooden C-47s because they don’t melt like the plastic ones. Get a lot of these, because you’ll lose some from shoot to shoot.
I carry my lens cleaning kit inside my accessories bag, in its own pouch. I usually try to clean all my lenses before I leave home, but dirt always comes in during a shoot.
What everyone should have in his or her kit:
- A can of compressed air. The industry standard is probably Dust-Off ®. It’ll get rid of most of the dust, but try to never spray it directly in the front element of your lens.
- An air blower like the Giottos Rocket Blaster. Flip your lens upside down so the dust doesn’t go inside it, and a couple of squeezes on the Rocket Blaster should remove the last dust particles.
- A lens-cleaning solution. I personally use the Rosco Lens Cleaner in conjunction with the Rosco Lens Tissues. Lens tissues are cheap and one-use only. Speaking of lens-cleaning fluids, other companies also make some nice ones, like Pancro or Zeiss. Try to avoid micro-fiber lens cleaning cloths—apart from brand new ones, they’ll never be clean again. If dust or particles are inside your micro-cloth tissue, they can ruin your cleaning, or even worse, scratch your lens.
Poly Bag / Rain Cover
I’ve had my 4′ x 4′ poly bag for years now, proving that sometimes the simplest accessories are the most useful ones. If it suddenly starts to rain, I can quickly unfold it and put it over the camera and camera bag.
The shoot is over, it is nighttime, and you now have to pack everything in your car. You want to switch your Fresnel lights off so they can cool down, but if you do, you’re left in the dark. Go into your accessories bag and grab your headlight. I have to admit, you’ll not look very sexy, but you’ll easily see what you’re doing and have both hands free.
You can also carry a Maglite® in your bag. I have one attached to my accessories bag, so I can look quickly at what’s inside.
Emergency electric cords
This is what I like to call the emergency kit. Are you out of extension cords or power outlets? I always carry along two extension cords and a couple of electrical power strips, just in case we underestimated on the gear list.
Pens and sharpies
Inside the accessories bag, I have an entire pouch dedicated to pens, sharpies, permanent markers, bold pencils, etc. I use them to write on the script, write on the slate, write on the ground, write on the gaffer tape, write marks on the follow focus, and so on. Try to get yourself different colors and different kind of marking tools so you can write on anything. But please, don’t write with a permanent marker on the slate.
It happens so many times—you never have the right screw with you. So one day, I decided to buy nearly every camera screw and every screw adapter I could get my hands on. From ¼ to 3/8, from 15mm to ¼, the list of situations you’ll face is endless. Get yourself a little box, and put a lot of them inside. It can really make your life easier.
Audio and video adapters
Similar to screws carry a small bag, I personally use a Think Tank Cable Management 20, with an assortment of video and audio adapters so you’re covered.
You came to shoot an event, and you want to get the sound from the stage directly into your audio recorder. Those XLR / 6.3mm / 3.5mm / RCA adapters, plus the male/female ones will ensure that you’re good. It’s basically the same for video adapters—from HDMI to SDI, male/female, just get a bunch of them.
It can sound like a cliché, but a basic slate can really be useful. Apart from making you look professional on set, it’s a cheap investment that will last your entire career. Sure, you can do it with your hands, but it’s no fun.
The most surprising part of my accessories bag is probably the small pouch dedicated to first aid supplies. I always bring a bunch of ibuprofen, some antiseptic tissues, and a couple of bandages with me. It’s easy to cut yourself on set, or someone is having a headache. They’ll truly appreciate that you take care of them, and you can keep your shoot going.
This one is really personal, but after years on set, I chose to store everything in a CineBags CB11 Production Bag. This bag is awesome, well-padded, easy to carry around, and you can store a lot of things in it.
On the outside, there are three pockets. I use one for my electric cords, one for the slate and the polybag, and one for my business cards and documents of the day.
But what really sold me on this bag is the inside and how everything is stored. There are four pouches and four mesh zip pockets inside for storing all your parts. If you label everything inside, it’s really easy for someone on set to open the bag and find what they need. This bag has been clearly designed by people in the industry to make your life easier.
These are the fundamental accessories I always bring with me, on every type of production.
And you, what do you bring with you on every shoot? Let us know in the comments down below!