5 Filmmaking Tools To Make Your Life Easier On Set

By | Published May 7th, 2020 | in Gear, Production, Techniques

5 Filmmaking Tools To Make Your Life Easier On Set

When you arrive on set, you depend on your tools to get you by. It doesn’t matter what department you’re in, there’s certain things you couldn’t live without on set. The producer who’s connected at the hip to his laptop, the DP who is more efficient with his light meter and the grips who couldn’t live without sandbags. There’s all sorts!

And when you look at the vast array of filmmaking tools, we could create a laundry list that could go on for miles, am I right?

So that’s why we’re going to simplify things and hone in on five really important tools that might not be as apparent as let’s say — a camera or a set of lights.

Tools that really make a difference in the moment on set and that might seem secondary on the scale of importance.

But you’d be wrong!

These are tools you NEED! And once you implement them, you’ll never go back.

So let’s take a look!

1. Shot Put Pro – Camera

Offloading, ingesting, dumping, whatever term you use — we can all agree that it’s nerve racking as hell when ingesting data from a card to a hard drive. You don’t wanna be ‘That Guy’ that fumbles the ingest by corrupting the card or accidentally formatting before it’s copied. That is seriously the worst. That’s why we back-up what we put in the can. But offloading data to one hard drive at a time can take FOREVER. Talk about watching the paint dry.

That’s where software like ShotPut Pro slides in to save the day! Quit wasting valuable time copying one by one. With this industry standard interface for offloading video, audio, and photo files, you can easily make multiple verified copies to multiple hard drives from one source. That’s amazing! This nifty product has been out for awhile, but I’ve been surprised to see certain productions not utilizing the program. And if you’re one of them, you need to slap yourself and make use of this essential tool that should be a part of every professional’s arsenal. It’s compatible with Mac and Windows so you have no excuses. Pick it up today and save yourself some much needed hours.

 

2. Storyboards – Everyone

There’s almost nothing worse than thinking you can figure something out on the day of production and then getting there and realizing you needed to put in more thought/effort then you had previously assumed and you know what they say — it has something to do with a donkey. Don’t ever opt to just figure it out on the day of, it’ll come back to bite you in the ass, it does every time. The next move is to organize your thoughts and write down the vision in text form shot by shot. This is always a good idea and something you should do every time. It forces you to cover all bases and shed any lazy habits you might have when approaching shot development.

But you’ll soon come to realize that the vision doesn’t always translate when it’s left up to the imagination of the reader. And sometimes that can cause problems day of production if people aren’t quite on the same page.

Storyboards are well known, but not thought of as an essential tool for production by some — and nothing could be further from the truth.

When you get storyboards made, there’s nothing left to the imagination. The idea is right there in front of you to look at and any changes desired can be discussed before anyone steps one foot on set. Thankfully there’s talented storyboard artists who create comic book quality storyboard panels that perfectly paint the picture — and they’re not only accessible, but they’re affordable. Most artists will charge around $125 for 2 – 3 panels with color and most likely less for black and white.

When you implement storyboards for the first time and successfully grab imagery that matches the initial vision, you’ll wonder how you ever did it any other way. It’s so efficient for clarity and getting the entire team on the same page in an instant. It will truly become a valuable tool that you can’t do without.

Check out these sites to find qualified storyboard artists:

 

3. Production Carts and Hand Trucks – Everyone

A hectic day on set is exactly what it sounds like, and it can be craziness! This is what that hustle and bustle can look like — you’re shuffling cases around like a mad man, unloading gear, building out various rigs for different departments, setting up video village, blocking and shooting, then you’re breaking it all down, packing it back up and loading it all back into the trucks to do a company move to a another location that’s been squeezed into the day — just to do it all over again. That kind of stressful day that I’ve just described is impossible without this one essential tool…

Production Carts!

Yeah, it’s not the fanciest tool in the world and highly underrated, but the importance of their function on set is paramount. Can you imagine having to lug around cases and other pieces of gear/equipment with only your hands? You’d have to go two by two, that would take forever! And grip equipment? It would be impossible to execute. The 1st AC and DP, the Sound Recordist, the DIT, the Grips, Production, the list goes on — All would be lost without carts and hand trucks. They are so integral to the entire filmmaking process, it’s unbelievable. If your workflow doesn’t include a production cart, it’s time to up your game and become more efficient right away.

Start by visiting these websites to check the options available:

 

 

4. Hot Budget – UPM, Line Producer, Production Staff

For a producer or manager who’s duty lies with the budget (which is a UPM and the Line Producer), managing the budget can be like trying to hold a pair of hot potatoes. And sometimes if you’re not using some intuitive software, glaring errors will likely show their face and you’ll ultimately be held accountable. You never want to be in that position.

Don’t get me wrong, building out a budget in excel is great, that’s how it was done for decades — but now you can do it with Hot Budget software that allows you to compare new budgets with original budgets side by side and identify variances. That can be super effective and allows a producer to make more educated decisions all while staying super organized. 

Some of the main features that come with HB are:

  • Simultaneous viewing of original & actual budget
  • Integrated Currency Converter
  • Integrated Overtime Calculator
  • Integrated Travel Budget
  • Payroll Log
  • Internal charts of accounts

Check out the Hot Budget site for more info.

For almost a decade, the entertainment industry at large has been utilizing this slick software and it’s obvious why — It’s extremely practical and useful to stay legitimate, compliant, and professional all while saving you precious time. If you’re a producer and you’re not using this software yet, you really need to make that jump and add it to your arsenal of tools. 

 

5. Google (Maps, Weather, Drive, Resources) – Everyone

Now I know a lot of you might be thinking — seriously? But 13 years ago or so, we didn’t have the luxury of everything that Google provides in the present day. And some of these things are invaluable for current productions.

Imagine a world where you couldn’t just open up your google app on your phone and type/talk — ‘What’s the weather today?’ Or ‘Where is such-n-such place? You had to dig for this information on the internet through primitive search engines and there was no guarantee that you’d find it and if you did — that the information was even correct. It was not as intuitive and the algorithms were far less advanced.

Fast forward 12 to 13 years…

With today’s productions and the luxury of google’s modern technology, you can really use it to your benefit to get important tasks accomplished that weren’t possible ‘back in the day!’

I haven’t been on a production in the last 5 years that wasn’t using Google Drive to their advantage in one way or another for documentation, production booklets, file storage — You name it, the list goes on. Not to mention in emails and call sheets, you can easily link a place’s location so crew members can simply press a button and their phone does the rest, guiding them to the destination complete with audio directions. Seems commonplace today, but that was unheard of years back. Map quest was as good as it got for a minute.

For producers trying to strategize weeks prior to a production and figure out weather conditions —  now that’s possible and it’s accurate! You can avoid production pitfalls that might lead to postponement and draining of the contingency funds with the click of a button. That’s huge! But we take it for granted most definitely. I’m totally guilty!

And let’s just talk about the endless amount of resources that are found through the most advanced algorithms built to give you the best of the best in terms of choices and answers to anything you ask it. There’s so much value in the information you can acquire, it’s unreal. From tutorials, to quality brands, to locations, to restaurants, to shopping and again the list goes on. All of it used to take so much more effort to find. Now as a producer you have this tool at your fingertips and you can wield it like a gun. Have you ever seen the quick draw between a group of people racing to find something out — unfortunately I have.

Next time you use google, take a minute to remember what it used to be like before we had it. It was chaos! How did we ever function. Truth is, it was slower times and it was nice, but with the fast paced world of today, you need a fast paced tool like google to get you by — and thankfully we have it.

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Ambient Skies is a full service entertainment production company focused on creative storytelling for commercials, documentaries, and narratives.

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Trenton Massey