When it comes to making an independent film, equipment often gets the short stick. Since budget is usually a big concern, and anything involving film making is expensive, it can be tough to get exactly the stuff you want. I see a lot of aspiring filmmakers save up and spend all their money on a nice camera, but in my opinion that is a mistake. While the latest in DSLR cameras will be replaced with a newer model frequently, a good set of lenses will last you for decades. A good set of sticks and lighting gear could last you a lifetime.
In our case, my goal from the beginning had been to amass as much professional gear as possible through my day job of running a video/photo production company. By working full time doing commercials, events, etc I was able to justify purchasing the best gear out there, and when it came time to work on our film, I already had much of what I needed. Don’t get me wrong, I have a list of equipment I want that reads like a rough draft of the never-ending story, but I’ve got a good base to build from.
Camera gear – Most of the film is shot on the Canon 5d Mark III, with some scenes shot in RAW format using Magic Lantern, and the others shot in 1920×1080 at 24fps with a custom neutral picture setting. I’ll talk more about this when I get to post production discussions, but basically you want to shoot neutral so you can color grade the scene later on, preserving the most dynamic range with the original image. Shooting RAW is amazing and gives you not only insane dynamic range, but tons of information for color grading and an extremely sharp image. RAW with Magic Lantern gives many Canon cameras a massive upgrade when it comes to video quality. There’s also HDR for video and a bunch of other stuff like being able to use zebras to check exposure, being able to monitor your sound, etc. If you have a Canon 5d Mark III, 5d Mark II, 7D, 6D, 60D, and probably others – definitely do a search for Magic Lantern and check it out.
Lenses – Before I get into what lenses we are using, let me give the budget conscious some money saving tips. If you are shooting a Canon DSLR like me, you can pick up some of the older, high quality manual focus lenses and use adapters (available all over, check out ebay) to attach them to your camera. Do your research to make sure the mount you are looking at works, but the best place to start is with the Takumar or old Nikon 50mm 1.4 lenses. For modern photography these may have drawbacks since they don’t autofocus, but for film we are manual focusing anyway – and these come with big smooth metal focus rings! They also have a lot of character, and were among the sharpest and best lenses in their day. I still shoot with several of these because I love the look. You can find a lot of older lenses for cheap on ebay that will give your film a unique look and won’t break the bank.
That said, since my day job is photography and videography, and we have a team that needs top end gear, we own a lot of lenses. For this film, we used primarily 2 lenses for the close ups: Canon 70-200 mk II with image stabilization and the 85mm 1.2 mk II. Both amazing lenses, and you can hand hold the 70-200 thanks to the great image stabilization, although we didn’t need that so far for our film. The 85 1.2 allows incredible bokeh (blurred background) and can shoot in even the darkest conditions. For wider shots, the Canon 24 1.4 and 35 1.4 were the main lenses used, and the above mentioned manual Takumar 50mm 1.4 was in the mix too. Any shots where we used the stabilizer to track a shot, it was most likely the 24 1.4 sitting up there.
Stuff to attach the camera to – Yeah, there’s a lot of different things you can sit your camera on, and they all serve different purposes. A Blackbird Stabilizer got our smooth steadicam style shots. We used several different fluid head tripods including a huge Manfrotto (fluid head is the key here, if you can get smooth pans on a cheaper tripod then get it for now, and upgrade later). A slider was used with a fluid head attached to it for a couple of interesting shots. Initially we used a rig to hold the camera, with follow focus, monitor, rails, matte box, and all kinds of adjustable goodies. While this is an amazing setup when you have a crew, it was a bit much to work with for just me doing the camerawork and pulling focus myself, but I hope to use this setup more for the remaining shots in the film. We have a bunch of ND and Polarizer filters for the matte box, but since this is a pretty dark film we didn’t really get to use them so far.
Lighting Gear – I won’t get too far into this, but suffice to say we have a ton of lighting and grip stuff. C-stands, air-cushioned stands, gobos, diffusion of all kinds, open face lights, soft boxes, reflectors, white and black boards, clamps, all kinds of ways to attach small lights to ceilings and other random surfaces – basically a giant box of tricks. I’d say the majority of that stuff didn’t get used just because there wasn’t time to play around with it, since I was also doing the lighting – getting the lighting set up just right can take forever, and when you are also getting the camera set up and directing the scene, well that’s a lot of time spread around. Hopefully with some funding we can solve that problem by hiring some crew members so I can concentrate on the directing for future shots and films. For the actual lights, we used everything – 1000w fresnel, 800w redhead, tons of smaller lights, even some LED goodies. We’ve got so many lights that I won’t try to go through them specifically, but basically the 1000w was our biggest. When we needed bigger and brighter, with stands that could go up 30 feet, I hit the rental place and picked up everything else. I also had to rent a generator to go with those lights, so we could plug our equipment in when out in the forest, and I believe the model generator I got was a Honda 2000i.
Do you really need all this crap?? Surprisingly, we don’t even have all the stuff we need to finish the movie. We need a dolly and dolly tracks, as well as a small jib. Not to mention more lighting gear, which I’ll probably have to rent. There’s a million other things that every filmmaker would love to have. Hopefully we can get enough support on Kickstarter to get what we need for the film, pay the crew members we need, rent what we can’t buy, and secure the locations necessary. The good news is, any equipment we amass during this filming process we’ll already have when it’s time for the next film!