You won’t always have a film studio available to you. You may need to travel and carry all of your own gear. Due to project scope and/or funding, you might need to function in multiple roles such as director, producer, camera operator, location sound, gaffer…the list goes on.
How does one do it all excellently and not kill oneself trying to be a one-person film crew? These are tactics that I have developed over several decades of my videography career for filming solo.
What is it you are trying to capture? If you are filming an interview, your list of equipment will be different than if you are filming b-roll, recording an event, or droning aerials. Where is the location? Plan your set-up based on the space. Consider the lighting and mic needs. Will there be easy access to transport your gear in as few trips as possible? Asking yourself these questions will help you prepare the right checklist and be ready for the day
In these behind-the-scenes photos, you can see the minimal set up: tripod, one camera, one mic and stand, two lights (key and back), monitor, headphones, and lots of cords!
If you are carrying everything yourself, you’re going to need to travel light. Be strategic when buying and planning what equipment to bring. While the needs of each shoot are different, this is a basic checklist of items that are essential.
- Main Camera: (and maybe a 2nd one set up on a static wide shot that you don’t have to mess with)
- Tripod: Unless you’re planning on a run-and-gun-style shoot, a good tripod is a must.
- Lenses: My go-to lenses are a 17/55 f2.8 and 18/35 f1.8 for interviews, and 24/105 f4 for basic b-roll.
- Light Kit: There are great small options available that run on batteries or AC. I have various LED lights by Cineo, ikan, and Aputure that all have a battery option.
- Microphones: Lav mics are quick and easy to use, but I prefer a high-quality shotgun mic if I have room to bring a mic stand or c-stand.
- Stands: Light and mic stands go in one large carrying case for easy transport.
- Bin of extras: Gaffer tape, batteries, extra cords, and the like we store in clear plastic bins with lids. You can easily transport them and identify what items are needed.
Setting up on the Day
Maximize your time by having a good system for setting up on the day of the shoot. Moving gear will often take more than one trip from your vehicle to the site. Try to never leave expensive gear unattended in an exposed place. One way to help haul more at once is to use a cart, wagon, or even luggage cart if you are at a hotel.
The first thing I do once everything is in the filming location is set up the tripod and camera where I think I’ll be filming. This way, I can see what the shot looks like and determine my lighting needs. Next come the lights and mics. If the talent comes in early or there are willing persons nearby, you can have them position themselves where you plan on filming and make the adjustments needed with a live model.
Having a plan and the right equipment are key to operating efficiently and professionally as a one-person film crew. Even though you might not be able to do everything a large crew can do, you’ll enjoy the flexibility and creativity of being a traveling video production company!