Holiday 2012: Gifts for Filmmakers

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Today, the term “filmmaker” is used, with a rather delicate consensus, to refer to individuals who are involved in the creation of motion pictures, regardless of—and herein lies the delicacy—whether they shoot film or video. Curiously, it seems that even the most ardent champions of the digital revolution cannot bear the thought of calling themselves “videomakers.” Whatever the case, let us forget the technology war for a moment and take a look at some of the industry’s secondary tools. These relatively ageless tools should appeal to anyone with an interest in the art of filmmaking.


We'll be discussing a few specialized items. For a greater variety of general video gifts you may want to take a look at this article: Holiday 2012 Video Gifts and Gear.

Unfortunately, filmmakers who work in an exclusively digital environment may never have the occasion to acquaint themselves with certain tools that analog filmmakers consider essential. The light meter is an interesting example. Digital Filmmakers love LCD monitors. Some digital filmmakers may even argue that a high-quality monitor makes a light meter seem obsolete, but that would be rather short sighted. A light meter gives filmmakers an objective unit of measure and a universal language for discussing exposure values. Moreover, a high-quality monitor can easily cost ten times more than an equally trustworthy light meter.

The Sekonic Litemaster Pro L-478D Light Meter has a touch-screen interface and reads both incident and reflected light. In addition, a retractable lumisphere allows users to affix a 5° spot attachment. The L-478D is suitable for both film and video and it provides filmmakers with measurements in foot-candles or lux. Digital filmmakers in particular will appreciate Sekonic’s Data Transfer Software, which allows users to create a custom latitude display that matches their camera’s dynamic range. The L-478D also has two motion capture modes. Touch to set shutter speeds for DSLR cameras in HD CINE mode or quickly select frame rates and shutter angles for cameras in CINE mode. A cautionary note, video shooters should make sure that their camera measures sensitivity in ISO, as light meters typically deal in three key parameters: aperture, shutter/frame rate and ISO.

In a way, by providing access to this universal language of exposure values, some filmmakers might see a light meter as a rite of passage, a hallmark of the discerning craftsmen. Gaffer’s glass is another tool for the discriminating filmmaker. Alan Gordon Enterprises makes the Blue Ring Gaffer’s Glass. This pocket-sized lens resembles a magnifying glass and features a dark blue lens, which allows users to look directly into a light’s “hot spot” and determine its optimal directionality and focus.

Lenses are among the most enduring filmmaking tools. Optical and mechanical technologies develop at a breakneck pace, but the fundamentals remain relatively unchanged. We still evaluate the basic characteristics of a lens with terms like focal length and field of view, and the art of determining which lens is right for a given application is nearly as consistent as human perception itself. Accordingly, a tool like the director’s viewfinder is as relevant today as it ever was.

Some filmmakers will overlook the director’s viewfinder in favor of a director’s monitor. Of course, they may want to consider investing in one of these battery chargers, because monitors require a power source. That’s not just a shameless pitch for those excellent Pearstone charging stations. It’s also a legitimate argument for one of the definitive advantages afforded by a director’s viewfinder. On set or during a location scout, anytime anywhere, a director’s viewfinder requires no power source and provides a reliable, optical preview.

Cavision makes one of the most affordable, full sized director’s viewfinders. The VDL-11X Large Rotating Director’s Viewfinder features four coated lens elements and a rotating ring for focal-length adjustments. Moreover, this 11x viewfinder supports most standard film and television formats and aspect ratios. You might also consider the Mini Director’s Viewfinder from Alan Gordon Enterprises, a smaller 11x viewfinder with a telescoping design. Despite its smaller size, this viewfinder equates a focal range of 18-200mm in the 35mm format and features convenient barrel markings for converting to most other formats. Of course, both models include a lanyard, so users can wear their viewfinder around their neck.

With more and more productions going digital it seems inevitable that some analog film tools might fall by the wayside. For example, the clapboard, or slate, is traditionally an essential media-management tool, but these days an all-digital workflow presents filmmakers with the option of using metadata to log and track their footage from the capture process all the way through to the final stages of post production. Of course, many cameras still do not offer users the ability to enter metadata, and many of the cameras that do have this feature do so at the cost of a relatively laborious process. Even today, it’s hard to beat the efficiency of the clapboard. So as digital workflows continue to extend their dominance, don’t expect the trusty old clapboard to disappear from set anytime soon.

When most people picture a film set, the director’s chair is so much a part of our collective imagination that hopeless romantics cannot help but giggle and workmanlike filmmakers cannot help but roll their eyes. Nevertheless, the director’s chair is not only a classic design but also a truly practical staple of production support. B&H offers a fine example.

The Director’s Cut Chair from Porta Brace is a 30-inch location chair with a removable writing surface that fits on either the left or right armrest. These chairs are handmade in Vermont, using regionally harvested cherry, maple and oak hardwoods. The back and seat are made from genuine deerskin and feature zippered pockets. Porta Brace also offers a matching “Director’s Cut” Director’s Case, which is similar to a messenger bag and features a pop-up visor to provide shade for a director’s monitor or laptop when working out in the field. For the more “budget-conscious” director, the Porta Brace DC-3VB Director’s Bag and the Cinevate Director’s Bag are comparable designs.

Many of the tools that we have discussed so far are suffused with a certain glamour, but anyone who has worked on a film crew knows that the industry’s glamorous façade has the hardy backbone of a day laborer. On a film set, efficiency and reliability are the name of the game, and relatively few people get to peer through the director’s viewfinder or sit in the director’s chair. Accordingly, the average filmmaker’s tools are a bit more pedestrian, albeit no less essential.

Members of the “below the line” club might want to consider these handsome ARRI Crew Gloves from Alan Gordon Enterprises, these Leatherman Multi-Tools or the Director’s Cut Vest from Porta Brace. Don’t let the name and suede accents fool you, the “Director’s Cut” vest is as utilitarian as any product in this article. The vest is made from durable, waterproof Cordura fabric, and its many pockets have ample cargo space for batteries, tape, hand tools and more.

A number of manufacturers also offer bags or pouches, specifically designed to suit the needs of a Camera Assistant. The CineBags CB-03 AC Pouch features three compartments for carrying a slate, tape, chalk, a lens cleaner or nearly any of the many tools that an AC is often expected to juggle. Porta Brace offers a similar bag in two varieties. The Porta Brace AC-3B Assistant Camera Pouch comes with a shoulder strap, and the nearly identical ACB-3B Assistant Camera Pouch includes a belt. Both Porta Brace bags feature a built-in strip light, which can run for more than 24 hours on two AA batteries.

Film crews and—by extension—filmmakers are a category of virtually limitless variety. So far we have primarily addressed the more-or-less traditional filmmaker, but what about the “one-man-band” style of filmmaking? What about the “run-and-gun” shooter who’s operating two HDSLRs simultaneously and ingesting footage on their laptop at the same time? This relatively new breed of filmmaker has inspired a slew of new and equally inventive tools.

Check out the Tripad. This ingenious device is designed to mount on almost any tripod and provide the user with a portable work surface for a laptop. The Tripad also features slide-out extensions with a cup holder and/or additional surface area for an external hard drive or multimedia controller. Of course, you’ll want to use a sufficiently weighty tripod and camera, to avoid destabilizing the whole setup.

Most of the time the lone video shooter ends up pulling double duty as their own sound recorder/mixer. In that case, they’ll want a reliable set of headphones for monitoring audio recordings. Sony’s MDR-7502 is a closed back, over-the-ear headphone set, designed to provide high-quality sound in the field. The 1/8” mini-jack and a 1/4” adapter should make these headphones compatible with most cameras and portable audio recorders.

Unfortunately, the “one-man-band” approach limits the filmmaker, with regard to what can and cannot be achieved without the help of a larger crew. Of course, these barriers are gradually being eroded by the introduction of clever devices like Cinevate’s Trawly or the Pico Dolly. These compact camera dollies may not entirely replace a full-size Matthews Doorway Dolly, but then again, they also don’t require a brawny dolly grip to drive a massive rig hither and yon. Likewise, Lightpanels’ Chroma On-Camera Light won’t replace a 4-ton G&E truck, but its built-in dimmer and variable color-temperature—not to mention its ability to fit neatly into the included handbag—just might provide the solo shooter with the next best thing.

No matter what type of filmmaker that person on your list might be, B&H carries a range of tools to suit their needs. This article addresses only a fraction of what’s available at our NYC SuperStore and we hope you’ll pay us a visit or drop by our website to check out all the available filmmaker's tools.