While working on student or low budget films (particularly shorts) you’ll often find that everyone kind of pitches in on many of the unassigned roles. One key role is the producer, and when you’re producing on a short or low-budget the producer’s role becomes significantly more diverse than if you were on a film crew of a hundred odd people. Unfortunately, you can’t afford catering and runners and assistants to assist the assistant’s assister. So you’ll probably end up being the person in charge of not only organising schedules, locations, the budget, auditions and many many forms, but also any supplies needed on location. And moreover, you’ll be the person to blame if and when something is forgotten. So to help you out I’ve compiled a list of the things I’ve learnt to take with me on a shoot day.
Now obviously a lot of this is weather or location specific – you probably won’t need suncream if you’re shooting in London on a rainy February day, and you probably won’t need a map if you’re filming in your own street, but I’m one of those people who believes in being just overprepared enough that you can fix any problem that arises. So just pick and choose from the list for what’s applicable to your shoot.
1. A shoot bag
Obviously, you need something to carry all this junk in. And you’ll undoubtedly be dragging around a folder full of paperwork too, so preferably get a bag with a strong strap (both shoulder strap and handles), a bag which is waterproof, and which can easily fit an A4 folder in it. A zip is also a must. Velcro or poppers leads to things falling out when you lift it up in sleep-deprived upside down-ness.
2. Umbrella or waterproofs
Now hopefully your crew is sensible enough to have thought ‘it might rain/ is forecast to rain/ we live in somewhere it rains a lot’ and will have brought a coat with them, but just in case I always pack an umbrella and waterproof. So not only I keep dry, but the all-important, sacrifice-yourself-for-it equipment stays dry.
3. Spare hat/gloves/scarf/sunglasses
Depending on where and when you’re shooting, the weather may be a bit unpredictable, and it’s typical that after weeks of sunshine you’ll find yourself shivering under cloud. So also bring warm clothes you can chuck on, not only for yourself, but for whichever one of the crew gets coldest and has forgotten to think ahead. For example, you don’t want your DP’s hands to get so frozen they can’t even control the camera. This tip’s especially applicable if you’ll be filming near water – it’s always always always colder than you expect.
Another weather/location-dependent one is suncream. There’s nothing worse than having a week of 9-5 shoot days and having your sound guy get so badly sunburnt on day number one than they can’t stand straight without whimpering for the rest of the week.
5. A knife
I’m a strong believer in carrying a knife at all times. Nothing extreme, just a small couple-inch folding knife or multitool. You wouldn’t believe how often they come in useful, from cutting away lose threads or labels in costumes to trimming down a bit of wallpaper when dressing the set, you use them more than you’d expect.
6. Water & snacks
Now this is an obvious one – your crew is going to get hungry, and thirsty. And if it’s a long shoot day then sadly the responsibility to keep them alive falls to you. So pack up a large re-fillable water bottle you can share as a back-up (and tell them to bring their own individual one) along with some food like trail mix, energy bars and even good old biscuits and a flask of tea.
7. Hand sanitiser
Again, it’s a tiny unnoticeable thing, but occasionally can be useful. If you’re working in the middle of nowhere in a forest and break for lunch, you don’t want to risk everyone a) getting ill after not washing their hands all day then eating and b) get the equipment all dirty after eating. Plus, if you’re ever working in a public place it’s highly likely the toilets won’t have any soap, so you can stand there like the school trip teacher you are and provide hand sanitiser.
8. Carrier bags
Not only to carry stuff, but to protect the equipment in and out of bags when working in rain or near water. Always useful.
Do I even need to explain why tissues can be useful?
10. A torch
If it’s winter, or if you don’t know how late you’ll be shooting, then it’s always handy to have a torch. If you drop a screw from something or one of your lights breaks on the last take, or even if you don’t know the area and it’s nighttime, a torch can be a quick time-saver.
11. A 2p coin
One of the first things I ever learnt at university was that it always helps to have a coin on you to unscrew or tighten up camera baseplates. The knife can also work, but if it’s borrowed equipment you probably don’t want to scratch it up too badly or accidentally slice your hand open.
12. Spare headphones
I’ve been on many a shoot where the headphones which come with the sound equipment break on us, or don’t even start to begin with. Now the sensible suggestion is to always test your equipment pre-shoot, but let’s be honest, nobody’s perfect and accidents happen. So just having even a cheap pair of in-ear headphones in your kit bag can save having to rearrange an entire shoot or scene.
13. First aid kit
A small bag with the essentials like plasters, antiseptic wipes and paracetamol in it can make all the difference between having to cut a shoot short and being able to continue filming. Although ideally injuries won’t happen, particularly on a small-budget film with no designated first aider, it’s always helpful to have a few things to fix minor scrapes and scratches.
14. Pen/pencil & notebook
For a plethora of reasons.
15. String and/or zip ties
Sometimes stuff breaks and you need to tie it up. Sometimes costumes don’t fit and you need to keep them closed. Sometimes you just need to improvise, and a bit of string can help. It’s not foolproof, and it’s by far not the most reliable or most efficient idea, but it can be useful in a pinch.
16. Map (or your phone)
Most of us use the maps on our phones, but it can sometimes be helpful to have a hard copy of a map for the area where you’re filming, particularly if it’s a location none of you have been to before. You can draw your routes on it, save pages and it won’t overheat or freeze or need re-charging.
17. Tape measure
Again, it’s one of those things that you only need every 1/100 times, but it’s tiny and weighs nothing, so you may as well keep it in your shoot bag.
18. Phone charger pack
If your phone dies, you’re probably going to be quite lost. Either physically, because you were using it for directions, or mentally because it had multiple important lists on it. I do suggest hard copies of important documents like shot lists or scripts, but if you can’t have that or just want to be able to keep in touch with people then I’d suggest investing in a re-chargable battery pack for your phone. There are loads on the market for anywhere between £5-£100 and most can charge your phone fully a minimum of two times, so you don’t need to live in fear of it dying.
19. Local taxi number or bus details
When it’s ten at night, there’s four of you carrying all this heavy equipment, you’ve wandered away to find a better location, and it’s cold and just started to rain, you may regret saying ‘oh it’s definitely within walking distance’. If, at that moment, you can say ‘I know the nearest bus stop’ or ‘I have a taxi’s number’ then you’ll definitely be the night’s hero. (Sidenote: have it in hard copy in case your phone is dead)
Not only does this mean you don’t have to lug around your wallet or risk having your cards stolen when you leave your bag for a moment, but it means you can easily pay for coffees, a taxi or emergency items needed by the crew.