As filmmakers, many of us tend to find great excitement in obsessing over shiny new cameras, obscure lenses, and physics-defying stabilisers. I have on occasion, wasted hours looking at such mundane things as batteries or cables online. Despite the appeal of fresh technology, though, I do not believe that using the latest kit directly results in a better film (look at Dogme 95, for example). Nonetheless, I am firmly convinced about technology’s ability to improve production workflow and subsequently, I have decided to take a look at some less conventional gadgets that may improve the filmmaking process for you. I have also listed some more traditional tools, which I find boost my creative practice, keeping my mind and/or eye active.
WD My Passport Wireless Pro / WD My Passport Wireless SSD
The built-in SD card reader makes this a the perfect tool for offloading footage in the field. I am currently working on a documentary project and am often away from a computer all day, so instead of buying an inordinate number of SD cards to see me through a weekend, I am able to transfer my clips on the move. Of course, it’s never a great idea to delete footage from your cards before you’ve made backups, but the My Passport Wireless series with an app which allows you to check what’s on the drive from your smartphone, and play back any video clips on there. And thanks to the app, you should be able to daisychain a series of these drives together, in order to back up your content on the move.
Perhaps the best portable sulution for storyboarding outside of pen and paper, a digital stylus and tablet can be a great combination. Draw out your shots, then import them into a video editing app of your choice and you can get an idea for how your shots will cut together. The advantage of doing things digitally is that you can easily erase and animate parts of the image. There are plenty of styluses on the market even for non-Apple people, including models made by Adonit, which work on a range of tablet models.
You can also do the above with a graphics tablet and computer. Beyond drawing, I find graphics tablets useful for VFX and Photoshop work, especially when masking or doing any brush work. As an added bonus, pens and styluses are thought to be more ergonomic than mice, as you don’t need to rotate your wrist as much, reducing risks of RSI and carpal tunnel etc., although I am not a doctor.
Technically not a gadget, unless you have one of those fancy cloud-connected Moleskines, the notebook is invaluable for any filmmaker. Not only is putting pen to paper proven to be a far better memorisation and learning tool than the keyboard, it is thought to boost creativity too. Besides which, a notebook doesn’t need electricity or an internet connection to work so can be used anywhere. You’ll be less inclined to procrastinate, too, as you can’t access Reddit or Facebook through a notebook.
A (film) stills camera
I would argue that film is not just for hipsters. Shooting stills on analogue film should encourage you to be more selective with your shots, and practising street photography will train your eye. Stanley Kubrick started out as a photojournalist and Larry Clark was a documentary photographer before making films, whilst Agnes Varda was the Théâtre National Populaire’s official photographer for many years. I personally enjoy street photography with a fixed 50mm lens as it pushes me to overcome shyness and get closer to my subjects.
Improving Your Life
As a pathetic millennial, I only figured out relatively recently that a watch is still a far superior time-telling device than a smartphone. A ‘traditional’ analogue or digital watch costs very little and doesn’t need charging twice a day, unlike my smartphone. It takes far less time to glance at a watch than to root through a bag or jeans pockets for a smartphone. On-set, you don’t want to be distracted by your phone (which should be off anyway) so a watch is a great way to keep an eye on the time. Besides which, watches can be fashion accessories, and who doesn’t like to look cool?