7 Underrated Filmmaking Tools

The list is compiled of the most underrated filmmaking tools. These items can make or break your shoot. If you think we’ve missed any underrated tools, please comment below with your suggested items. We will eventually update the list.

1. Distance Measure

This is filmmaking tool is commonly called a tape measure. But in recent shoots, we’ve seen them pop as laser measures, phone apps, and yardage spools. Needless to say, if you don’t have one. Your day on set is going to be a long one. Eye-balling focus-marks is a pain in the butt. This is certainly true if you are not the one manning the camera or viewing from a monitor.

Distance measuring filmmaking tools is essential.

For the most part, everyone’s vision is a little different. You can’t say with 100 percent certainty if your subject is going to be in focus by eyeballing it. Simply put you should have a distance measure. Unless you want to regret your day of shooting.

2. Lint Free Wipes/ Canned Air

This should go without saying. They are probably the most substituted tools on a shoot. It is quite common for filmmakers to substitute a lint free wipe with a;

  • towel
  • shirt
  • pant leg
  • tissue
  • sock

The list goes on, and we’ve seen them all! Nothing can substitute having a pack of quality lint free lens tissues. Better yet, a microfiber lens cloth. They are used to clean; monitors, lens, cellphones, slates, meters, etc. They are priceless, and regularly forgotten.

3. Light Meter

In an art form where light is king (without it, you’re shooting a radio show), we find nobody has light meters. Then if they do have them, they are not utilizing them correctly. A light meter is probably the most important tool on a set.

Exposure can make and break an image. So having a quality, and well-trusted light meter is a must.

We assume that people are using the monitor or zebras nowadays to expose their images. If you are, shame on you. Sure it works, but exposing for particular items and/or zones brings your cinematography to another level of understanding. That’s why light meters have made our list.

4. Grey Cards & Color Charts

This one goes out to the colorists. If you have ever had to balance an image by eye or with scopes. It takes time, and a great eye. Just like distance measures, everyone’s eyes are different.

If you want to take the guess work out of it, use a grey cards or color charts. We have even written an entire article about them here. You can’t underestimate the value of perfect white balance, everytime. When you pull these tools out on set you look like an instant pro. Yet, we hardly see them. Not to mention, grey cards can really help your exposures.

5. Tripods

No one misses a tripod, until they need one. Sadly, you find out you need one when some makes this stupid comment;

“Why is it so shaky? It’s hard to watch. It gives me a headache when I look at it.”

Casual Viewer

Oh and it drives you crazy. Because they are totally correct. Not all shots deserve the benefits of handholding. But on the flip side, tripods do add time to your set up. Some are heavy, others are even awkward & cumbersome.

But a tripod is a write of passage from being the “uncle with a camera” to the cinematographer with stable footage. That may be an exaggeration.

What we are trying to tell you is; make shaky footage a choice and instead of byproduct of lazy shooting.

5.1 This brings up another one of the forgotten filmmaking tools.

The infamous coin to unscrew the tripod plate. If you have ever wondered why camerapersons always have a pocket full of loose coins (preferably nickels and quarters (USD)), this is why. Those 1/4″ death screws are the reason.

6. Sandbag

Nothing on earth screams to a disciplined filmmaker that you are a beginner more than not having sandbags. We didn’t understand this until we started working with extras and less experienced crews.

Stuff on set falls over all the time. It’s bumped, tipped over, tripped over, handled improperly, or the wind gusts hate you and your movie. The only thing between you and a hefty insurance claim is a $2(USD) bag of sand.

Bill and Hilary vs Filmmakers

If you don’t have one, we recommend ‘manning the stand’. That is literally standing by the stand until it is time to take it down. We used to recommend tying stands down with rope, but we don’t anymore. Someone tied a stand to a car door-handle, it was a good idea until- well you get the point.

7. Timers and Stopwatches

This one makes the list because CELLPHONES ARE NOT WATCHES! On a set, time is literally money. If you are shooting on the goodwill of your friends and crew then; TIME IS TEMPERAMENT.

Too often I have seen cellphones die, get left behind in cars because of “no cameras on set” rules, you name it. This leads personnel to guess how long setups take, how much battery life is left, or even worst- when is lunch.

Nothing sucks more than a five minute-15 minute break. Or a 2 hour- 30 minute setup. Timers and watches hold a special place in the heart of all filmmakers, because they let the team know you value their time, and give a damn about how they are feeling.

If light meters are king, timer & stopwatches are queen.

Are these filmmaking tools used on your sets?

if they are not, try including them. Let us know if we forgot anything. We will try to add it. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to add these to your kit.

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