The Essential Video Shooter’s Toolkit

The big day has finally arrived — a video shoot for the biggest client to ever darken your door. You’re nervous, but excited and well-prepared. You get to work setting up tripods, cameras, lights, and mics. Everything is good to go, powered-up and ready to shoot. Without warning one of the extendable legs on your tripod gives out, sending your beloved C300 Mark II crashing to the floor. The talent walks into the room and trips on a loose wire, stumbling into an LED light panel, knocking it to the ground. At that exact moment a tungsten bulb bursts in a 750 watt Lowel Tota light, leaving you to fiddle what’s left of the old bulb out of the white hot device and install a new one.

Okay, okay. This isn’t the most likely scenario. The truth is, most of us can bring nice, simple setups to video shoots and pull-off great results with little or no trouble. Lights tend to work as they’re supposed to, tripods and stands are reliable, and we know most of our camera and audio gear better than the NAB demo artist that got you interested in it in the first place.

Like so many things in life, anything can happen, no matter how unlikely, and it’s our job to be prepared to deal with anything a tough shoot throws our way.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go according to plan. Our equipment wears out, loosens up, gives way, and generally tires over time. At the same time, lots of us don’t make set safety a priority at all of our shoots. Like so many things in life, anything can happen, no matter how unlikely, and it’s our job to be prepared to deal with anything a tough shoot throws our way.

The Tools

Just as a mechanic needs a tool to handle any possible car repair situation, a videographer needs a set of tools and equipment to prepare them for any on-set situation.

While the items mentioned in this article are by no means a definitive guide to shooting tools, this should hopefully serve as a decent jumping-off point if you don’t have a tool kit for shoots. If you already have one, it’ll give you something to gauge your own setup against. It’s also important to inspect your own equipment to determine if there are any special or unique screws, linkages or other features that could bring about a need for a tool we might not think to mention.

To start, there are some very basics.

Screwdrivers: Give your setup a once over, but generally you’ll want a both a Phillips and a Flat Head screwdriver. To be safe, invest in a screwdriver with swappable tips so you’ll be covered in the event you need a #2 Robertson or a T6 Torx. Additionally, a set of mini-screwdrivers can be really handy. Lots of cameras, laptops and other finicky hardware can be accessed or tightened up with these little helpers.

Allen Keys/Hex Wrenches: Don’t leave home without these. Tripod legs and heads, like lots of other tech gear, rely on allen bolts for many of their essential joints. Being able to tighten a leg on a tripod that’s been loosening over time can give you peace of mind on set.

General-use Tool set: A good old-fashioned tool set can be a handy thing to have with you. Most big box hardware stores will sell sets with wrenches (metric and imperial), sockets, pliers, vice grips and the tools mentioned above. Many will even include a little saw, measuring tape or a pair of scissors, which should all be a part of a shoot tool kit. Watch for sales and a decent set can usually be picked up relatively inexpensively.

So those tooly tools are pretty obvious, but let’s make a short list of non-traditional tools that will be of great help at times.

Pens/pencils/sharpies/dry-erase markers: From signing for payment received to making cue cards, writing instruments are a critical tool to have at all times.

Flashlight: Our smartphones pretty much cover this one for a lot of us, but having a real flashlight is a great tool for the set. I’ve dropped more iPhones while trying to read something on a dark set than I care to mention. Small Brinkmann flashlights will last forever and run for eons on a set of batteries.

Batteries: These are bordering on actual shoot gear, as it’s likely that your wireless lav units use AA batteries, but a set of Sanyo Eneloop rechargeables or something equivalent that can be used in electrical tools such as our flashlight can be a lifesaver.

A can of compressed air: This, along with a lens cloth, lens cleaning fluid and a tissue, or lens pen, can be very useful for cleaning up cameras and other sensitive gear.

Advil: Hours on your feet can take a toll. Having a bottle of Advil, along with comfortable shoes and clothes, can go a long way to making a shoot more enjoyable.

A change of clothes: Shoots often require creating an environment that isn’t the most comfortable. Air conditioners are often shut off to cut down on noise. Tungsten lights generate a ton of heat. Sometimes swapping your sweaty duds for something dry and soft makes the drive home or back to the office far more pleasant.

Shooting gear: Gaffer’s tape in various sizes for cables, repairs and other uses; sandbags for light stands and tripods; work gloves that are heat resistant for working with hot lights or even just lugging gear around; zip ties for cables; memory cards and extra batteries for cameras — at least double what the shoot requires — all of these can mean the difference between a full, productive day and a lot of running around looking for solutions.

A bag to carry everything: Once all of this gear is assembled, it’ll need a good way to be stored and carried around. Check out production bags from companies such as Cinebags, or hard cases by Pelican or Nanuk. Make sure it has plenty of room for all of your tools without crushing anything, and if the gear is going to be too heavy, check out something with wheels.

This is far from a definitive list. Different shoots might require different tools, and bigger companies will require a lot more redundancy than an off-the-shelf toolkit can supply. Hopefully this is a decent starting place for your tool kit, and it saves a couple of your days in the future.

Russ Fairley is a producer with a warm place in his heart for editing and motion graphics.