In the film/video production industry, it’s essential for the artisans of our craft to have their own tools of the trade, such as apple boxes, highboys, inkies, and c-stands. The clever lingo and list of equipment goes on and on.
But these aren’t the only film professionals that need to travel with a kit. For those of us Above the Line (a reference to the creative professionals such as director, actor, producer, writer), an entirely different set of working gear emerges. As an independent film producer, I’ve walked onto many sets better prepared for the rigors of a production day with this gear, which I’ve compiled below.
It’s certainly not an exhaustive list since every production is different, and my involvement shifts with productions of varying scales. But it’s a good baseline for getting into the mindset of a producer on set. I hope this Producer’s Tool Kit list is helpful to fellow creative professionals and sheds light on exactly how versatile and exciting the job of a film/video producer (or field producer or in-house corporate producer) really is.
Angie’s Producer Tool Kit
1) Actual toolbelt or shoulder-strap bag
I actually use a camera assistant bag from Setwear. It’s smaller than a giant purse but segmented so that everything is easy to find quickly. In this bag is the following:
- Makeup backup items – This includes blotting sheets, unopened powder and/or foundation, bobby pins. Ideally, there is also a makeup artist on set, but it’s not always in the budget and again…why not be prepared.
- Ibuprofen – This is for the headaches you WILL get, especially caffeine headaches when your coffee break gets pushed back because you have to catch the best sunlight on the tarmac before the plane takes off.
- Swiss Army Knife – While every grip carries one of these, you never know who’s around when you need it. We once used one of these on location to cut a rope that an angry bull was using to wrap his cowboy around a tree, and it saved his leg.
- Spare batteries and a roll of camera tape – Again, camera and sound departments have these (and I’m not suggesting huffing around Anton Bauer batteries unless you have a serious workout fix and want to carry around a LOT of extra weight). But AA, AAA and those little circle batteries are always handy (hey, I’m a producer, I remember functions better than names). And you can never have enough tape to post paperwork on available wall space and mark the floor for talent without ripping up paint.
- Safety pins and Band-aids – Yes, I am also a mom. And adults are just as likely as kids to trip over a brick while carrying something and cut up their arm.
- Screen wipes – For when you’re filming computer screens, and if you get tired of looking at fingerprints on yours.
- Sharpies and plenty of pens – People will constantly steal these, and they are never laying around set when you need them. Plus, it’s incredibly validating to check off a shot list in Sharpie.
- Several phone chargers, including car charger – The crew and clients will love you for having these.
- Index cards – It’s very helpful for a producer/director team to transcribe each shot onto an index card (color-coded, if you’re obsessive).
Any plain board will do, but it’s best to put a sticker on it to claim as your own. On my clipboard is a variation of the following:
- Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork – This is the beauty and bane of a producer. I always travel with call sheets, shot lists, scripts, waivers, insurance certificates, interview questions/background information (for documentary-style shoots), storyboards, budgets, schedules, and plenty more I’m not thinking of because I’m in the office and not on a shoot today.
- Notepad – I sometimes take notes (not as diligently as the camera assistant) on best takes, tasks that spring to mind and free drawing of the rope I’d like to hang myself on when nothing goes as planned (just kidding, nothing ever goes as planned, it’s production after all, that’s why it’s exciting).
3) Digital Devices
Personally, I haven’t yet committed to an iPad as my production laptop, but I still have some great digital tools that come in handy with my phone and laptop. Here’s just a few:
- Any flashlight app – This is great for night shoots or if the generator goes out or a circuit gets tripped on location.
- Simple DoF (iPhone app) – This is a convenient app of Depth of Field (DoF) charts showing f/stop, lens and focus for a large inventory of cameras. We use it to double-check settings when shooting on the Canon 5D.
- Wrap Time (iPhone app) – If you have a larger crew or production, this app keeps track of hours, pay and job info, which everyone can email to me right after the Martini shot (that’s the final production shot of the project, if you're not a production geek).
- iPhone Camera – This may seem a bit basic, but I love that I can personally shoot print-quality stills of behind-the-scenes action.
- Release Me (iPhone app) – This digital release app takes some of the paperwork off the clipboard and into the cloud. All models have to do is digitally sign the digital form.
- Pocket Call Sheet (iPhone/iPad app) – What a great idea to have an app that moves call sheets into the digital realm and cuts down on the backbreaking paper clutter.
Because you never know. (Don’t think of it as bribery, just being prepared for unanticipated last-minute location charges, or something more dull like parking exit fees for 10 crew members who aren’t carrying cash).
Everyone needs water, and you can’t have too much. If you’re traveling, make sure someone is tasked with getting a cheap cooler and packing it with water (and whatever other beverages are appropriate for the production). And if you’re in studio, just make sure there’s always plenty of water.
I’m sure there are countless other great producer tools, so feel free to contact me and share yours.
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