9 Best Filmmaking Gear Tips Secondary to Documentary Storytelling

documentary filmmaking gear Sep 19, 2023

Before getting into the gear list, it's important to note that filmmaking gear is vital in capturing stunning visuals, recording high-quality audio, and ensuring smooth operation during shoots. It provides filmmakers with the tools to bring their creative vision to life. However, it is essential to remember that while gear is crucial, it should never overshadow the most important aspect of filmmaking: telling a great story.

A great story can captivate audiences, evoke emotions, and leave a lasting impact. It transcends the boundaries of equipment and technology, resonating with viewers on a deeper level. Ultimately, filmmaking gear should serve as a means to enhance the storytelling process rather than becoming the main focus.

It is easy for filmmakers to get caught up in the latest gear trends, constantly chasing after the newest cameras, lenses, or accessories. While technological advancements have undoubtedly opened up new possibilities for creativity, avoiding becoming too fixated on gear is crucial. Instead, the emphasis should be on simplifying the equipment used and focusing on the story.

Simplifying the gear allows filmmakers to concentrate on the essence of their storytelling. By not being weighed down by excessive equipment, they can focus on the characters, plot, and messages they want to convey. The gear should be an extension of the filmmaker's creative vision, seamlessly blending into the storytelling process without stealing the spotlight.

Some of the most memorable films in history were made with minimal equipment. Filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez and Steven Soderbergh have proven that creativity and resourcefulness often surpass the need for extensive gear. Their low-budget productions, such as "El Mariachi" and "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," respectively, showcased the power of storytelling over gear.

While quality gear can undoubtedly enhance the technical aspects of a film, it is essential to remember that the story remains paramount. A beautifully shot film with stunning visuals can impress the audience momentarily, but it is the story that will ultimately stay with them long after the credits roll.

Moreover, focusing too much on gear can hinder the storytelling process. An excessive focus on equipment can sometimes lead to overcomplication and unnecessary distractions. Filmmakers may spend more time troubleshooting technical issues than genuinely immersing themselves in the creative process.

To overcome this challenge, filmmakers should prioritize simplicity and efficiency in their gear choices. Rather than chasing every new gadget that hits the market, they should carefully assess their needs and select gear that complements their storytelling style. Streamlining the gear setup allows for a smoother workflow, enabling filmmakers to focus on capturing the essence of the story and bringing it to life.

And while filmmaking relies on various tools and equipment to bring stories to life. Finding the right gear can be challenging, with some equipment proving useless while others becoming game-changers. Here is a list of essential filmmaking gear that combines reliability, versatility, and innovation to enhance the filmmaking process. Especially for documentary filmmaking.

This is what I've come to use after over 20 years of experimenting and wasting money on gear. I mainly use a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K setup, which works best for my situation. If you are trying to create the cinematic look on a cheap camera then download a cheat sheet to turn any camera into a cinematic camera, check it out here.

Gear I wish I'd Bought Sooner

Go To Lens: The Canon 24-105L series lens was an absolute game-changer for me - an awe-inspiring masterpiece. Let me illustrate its indispensability for any filmmaker who takes their craft seriously. From my earliest documentary shots to all my ongoing projects along my filmmaking journey, this lens has proven to be a constant symbol of exceptional quality and unwavering reliability. Its consistent ability to deliver extraordinary results in any circumstance places it at the top of the list for every project, no matter the scale. Trust this lens to infuse your visions with unparalleled life and ignite your creativity with its unmatched optical prowess. The lens's stabilizing function is crucial for smooth run and gun shooting on the BMPCC4K. Things can get jittery without it, so opt for a lens equipped with optical stabilizing capabilities to avoid unwanted shakiness.

Big Batteries: Regarding filmmaking, batteries play a vital role, especially during critical moments. As someone who predominantly shoots with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K, I rely on Sony NP-series batteries’ reliable and long-lasting power. With uninterrupted shooting assured, I can confidently capture those crucial shots without concern.

Stabilizing Shots: Regarding stabilizing alternatives for filmmakers, various options can significantly enhance the quality of handheld shooting. One such game-changer is the EasyRig, which provides exceptional stability and support, allowing filmmakers to shoot for extended periods without experiencing fatigue.

The EasyRig distributes the camera's weight onto the operator's body through a harness system. This reduces strain on the arms and shoulders, making it easier to maintain a steady shot. With the EasyRig, filmmakers can achieve smooth and fluid movements, producing professional-looking handheld footage. It is versatile and my go-to stabilizing gear—I wouldn't trade it for anything! Unless I have a particular shot in mind and a good reason to ditch it. 😉

To further enhance control and maneuverability, many filmmakers combine the EasyRig with a handle to connect it to a camera; I use one from SmallRig. They offer a range of handles that can be easily attached to the camera rig, providing additional stability and allowing for precise adjustments during shooting. Combining the EasyRig and SmallRig handles creates a dynamic setup that enables filmmakers to capture shots with greater confidence and ease.

However, while the EasyRig and SmallRig handles are excellent stabilizing options, it's essential to consider the specific requirements of each shot. Filmmakers may occasionally need to deviate from their go-to gear if a particular picture demands a different approach.

For instance, certain shots may require a more lightweight and compact stabilizer, such as a gimbal. Gimbals utilize motorized stabilization systems to counterbalance camera movements, resulting in incredibly smooth footage even when walking or running. They offer high control and flexibility, making them ideal for capturing dynamic and fast-paced scenes.

In other cases, a traditional tripod or monopod may be the best choice for stabilizing shots. These tried-and-true options provide a solid foundation and eliminate any unwanted camera shake. Tripods are especially useful for stationary images or when precise framing is required, while monopods offer a more portable and versatile solution for on-the-go shooting.

Ultimately, the choice of stabilizing gear depends on the specific needs of the project and the desired outcome. Filmmakers should consider factors such as the type of shot, the level of mobility required, and the overall aesthetic they wish to achieve. By carefully selecting the appropriate stabilizing alternative, filmmakers can ensure their footage is steady, professional-looking, and visually engaging.

So, while the EasyRig and SmallRig handle combination may be a go-to choice for many filmmakers, it's essential to remain open to other stabilizing options when necessary. Each piece of gear brings unique benefits and can contribute to the overall success of a shot. The key is to strike a balance between stability, control, and the creative vision for the film.

A Great Cage: A camera cage is crucial for creating a practical and efficient setup. The Tilta cage, complemented by a battery grip handle, seamlessly integrates with your BMPCC4K camera, providing effortless access to all controls. This setup establishes a robust and steady platform, ensuring flawless operation even in demanding shooting conditions. An added advantage of this cage is the battery grip handle, which offers excellent functionality and provides a secure fitting for the hard drive. While the follow-focus control may introduce some setup time, the battery grip is exceptional and guarantees enhanced stability.

A Great Monitor: When choosing a monitor, reliability is critical, especially if you're using it for handheld or EasyRig setups. And let me tell you, the Shinobi monitor is a beast in that department. It performs exceptionally well and displays your footage accurately, giving you peace of mind.

Now, I've had the chance to use SmallHD monitors before, and they're great, no doubt about it. But let's be honest, they can be a bit pricey. The Shinobi, on the other hand, not only delivers top-notch performance, but it's also an excellent value for your workflow. Trust me, this monitor ticks all the right boxes! I want to be able to break my stuff because it will make me take more significant risks in my filmmaking. A fancy monitor complicates that.

iPhone: The iPhone is more than just a filmmaker's sidekick - it has completely revolutionized how we approach filmmaking. It's not your average gear anymore. This versatile tool seamlessly integrates into the entire filmmaking process. Not only does it assist with crucial tasks like scriptwriting and research, but its camera capabilities are genuinely top-notch, delivering stunning footage. I can't imagine making films without it. It's my go-to b-camera for the Craft Sportswear channel, capturing everything from exciting behind-the-scenes shots to vlogs. The iPhone does it all. And even for those spontaneous moments, it never lets me down. Trust me, once you see its incredible potential, you won't be able to put it down. I've even developed techniques to make footage captured on the iPhone look incredibly cinematic. I can see that each new iteration is pushing things in the right direction. If I were starting today, I would consider becoming an iPhone-only filmmaker because the possibilities in that realm are fascinating. With the added advantage of an internet connection, the iPhone outshines other cameras, making it all the more enticing. It's also my action camera of choice, and it doesn't make people aware of your filming, which is a hack to getting great human moments.

Lightweight Tripod Solution: When capturing interviews and stationary shots, tripods may not be the most thrilling gear, but trust me, they're essential. So, instead of lugging around a bulky tripod, I made a wise choice by going for the lightweight and practical option offered by SIRUI. These compact tripods are versatile and super easy to set up, making them a perfect fit for smaller camera setups. And guess what? These tripods can double up as lighting tripods and monopods, adding even more versatility and functionality to my kit. With this extra convenience and flexibility, I can confidently handle various shooting scenarios with ease and precision. Cool, right?

Audio Recorder and Lav Solution: The Tentacle Track E Recorder is a must-have gear for professionals seeking unparalleled versatility. This compact recorder captures high-quality audio with its 32-bit float recording capability, guaranteeing exceptional sound even in the most challenging environments. Its remarkable timecode functionality enables seamless synchronization with other devices, including iPhones, making the capturing process effortless and ensuring perfectly aligned audio. This revolutionary recorder has genuinely transformed how I film, providing easy transcription and quick access to the audio content I desire. Its exceptional features and remarkable performance make it an indispensable tool for any filmmaker or content creator looking to elevate their audio recording game to new heights.

In filmmaking, having the right gear can make all the difference in capturing compelling stories. The Canon 24-105L lens, Sony MP series batteries, Easy Rig, SmallRig handle, Tilta cage, Shinobi monitor, iPhone, SIRUI lightweight tripod, and Tentacle Track E Recorder are essential tools that have enhanced my filmmaking process. Each item contributes to exceptional image quality, enhanced mobility, improved audio recording, and overall convenience. Using these tools effectively, filmmakers can elevate their storytelling and create impactful cinematic experiences.
For more tips and techniques on turning any camera into a cinematic camera, check out my cheat sheet here.

Ultimately, filmmaking gear is merely a tool—a means to an end. It should never overshadow the importance of telling a compelling story. The gear should support and enhance the filmmaker's vision, seamlessly integrating into the storytelling process without becoming a hindrance. If a piece of gear proves to be a barrier to compelling storytelling, it should be discarded without hesitation.

Filmmaking is an art form driven by creativity, imagination, and emotional connection. While gear plays a crucial role in the technical execution of a film, it is the story that truly resonates with audiences. By simplifying gear choices, focusing on storytelling, and treating gear as a tool rather than a centerpiece, filmmakers can create meaningful cinematic experiences that leave a lasting impact. 


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