11 Filmmaking Tools no Gig Bag Should be Without
Why Even Have a Gig Bag?
There's something very nice about showing up on a set and having everything go exactly as planned. Except that never happens.
Sure, there are just as many great days on set as there are bad days. But in the entertainment business, a business of problem solving, there's no doubt in my mind that there will be at least one wrench that will hit my spokes on any given day.
So my gig bag has become a survival pack of sorts. Tools to help me solve problems and make my life easier. I've amassed this collection of items over the years based on things I've found myself reaching for on set.
This post is not an exhaustive list of everything in my bag. I've decided against an all encompassing post because my bag is always morphing, shifting, and changing based on new needs or new items that come out. Instead, I've decided to share the main items - the ones I use most frequently and would never consider showing up on a set without.
But First, Let's Look at the Bag
Gig bags, like set carts, are almost like calling cards. People get way into it, and are very proud of what they've put together. Because of this, it's a very personal item, and the bag itself is definitely a choice you will want to make based on your own wants/needs.
The bag I chose is the CineBags CB-01A Production Bag.
There was a lot I liked about this bag. Firstly, it's size. It is pretty large, and can hold quite a bit. Plus, it was very thought out for production and includes some interesting/unique organizational features that wouldn't necessarily be included on a non-film specific bag.
There is a variety of pocket sizes on this bag, which is great. Smaller pockets in the lid can easily accommodate smaller items such as SD cards or lens caps, while larger pockets on the sides and back can hold things like stingers or spare BNC.
And lastly, it is soft and easy to carry, but semi-rigid. Meaning, I don't need to worry about putting the bag into a truck or van, or loading it onto a Magliner and having someone accidentally put a pelican case or two on top of it. It has a sturdy rigid frame that makes it ideal for stacking.
The biggest con of this case, in my opinion, is the weight. Because of it's rigid frame, it starts out with some heft to it, even without any items in it whatsoever.
With that in mind, it wouldn't be my favorite bag to lug around an airport or over long distances without the aid of a cart or trolly of some kind.
Okay, enough about the bag. Let's get onto the tools.
#1 - Leatherman Wave
Having a Leatherman on set is maybe a "no-brainer", but I wanted to share my experiences with one particular flavor of Leatherman - the Leatherman Wave.
I started with a classic Leatherman. And it's a great tool that I still keep in my toolbox at home. But the Wave has built upon many of my gripes with the classic version.
A big improvement is the closing function for the tools and blades. In the classic, you had to pull out a second tool partially in order to close the first one - a very strange system I never really understood the reasoning behind. In the Wave, they've included a button on each of the grips that easily closes the tools. As for the blades, they have a standard push-lock function like most pocket knives. This alone is worth the upgrade in my opinion, but there are several more big improvements.
Scissors. Yes those tiny little thumb-pusher scissors are a big win for me. I've used them for cutting everything from gels and black wrap to labels, and they work great. Obviously a dedicated pair of scissors will beat this little doodad any day of the week, but in a pinch they are great.
I can't write this post without mentioning the screwdriver. Leatherman has created their own slim driver bits that you can use with this thing to get all sorts of sizes and shapes. They also have an extender for situations where you need the extra reach. I love that. Again, it may not be my first choice, as I prefer dedicated tools. But this thing is great when building camera rigs or coming across a problem in the field when you've left your bag back at base camp because you are running and gunning.
This is one of the tools that I will transfer to my pocket, belt, or my AC pouch so that it is at my fingertips whether I have my entire gig bag close by or not.
The last feature I'm going to mention on the Wave, is the immediately accessible blades. In prior versions, the blades were crammed in with all the other tools, so you had to flip open the pliers to get to them. In this version, the pliers can remain closed and the blades can be accessed with just the thumb. Leatherman game changer.
#2 - Hex Key Sets
Hex bolts are all over the place in this industry, and you'll be out of luck if you show up to set without some hex keys.
Whether it's a loose tripod leg or re-adjusting a shoulder rig, this is the thing that will get you saying, "dang it, I should've brought mine" over and over again.
You will want to grab both Standard and Metric sizes. While you are at it, throw in a Torx (Star) set.
I like to have two types available - standard L shape for more difficult to reach jobs or tasks that require extra elbow grease and torque, as well as the pocket folding tools which are often more convenient and easier to use for most jobs.
Another bonus feature to be aware of is the "ball-end" hex sets. The ball-end allows you to come at a bolt from an off angle which can be a lifesaver in certain scenarios.
#3 - Cube Taps
Even if you aren't in the lighting department, you may find yourself needing extra power. This could be for something as simple as charging your phone during a long day, or something as crucial as charging more camera batteries.
It is a terrible feeling when you need to get power, but all of the outlets and stingers are being used.
These little bad boys allow you to turn one stinger into 3. I usually stack about six of these together and toss them in the bag. They take up very little space, and I'm all for having extras vs. not enough.
#4 - Cheater Plugs
I typically throw these in my bag along with the Cube Taps above. These are another useful power accessory (for those of you in the States) that'll save you some headaches out on location.
Many older buildings still have ungrounded outlets - aka 2-prong outlets. These will really piss you off when you show up to set with all your stingers and lights that have standard 3-prong plugs.
Another unfortunate scenario is when the production supplies you with some orange extension cords, not realizing that they are 2-prong extensions. (Yes I have been on professional sets where this has happened)
So, these beauties are adapters that allow you to use 2-prong outlets and extensions with your 3-prong devices. These are a MUST.
Note that the metal loop at the bottom of the adapter is meant to be mounted to the outlet face plate screw as a ground.
#5 - Outlet Tester
Since I seem to be on an electrical kick, I might as well continue with this handy little device called an outlet tester.
These are very small and easy to use devices, with a big label on the front that tells you what all the read-out possibilities are.
This device is especially useful on location scouts when you are visiting a location and want to make sure all the available outlets actually have power running to them. You'd be surprised at how many times I've gone to a set without having tested the outlets like this and was disappointed to find out that not all the outlets in a room were working.
A more advanced alternative to this would be a multi-meter, but if you don't know how to use it properly, it's essentially useless. It is also larger and requires batteries - which these little guys do not.
#6 - Lens Cleaners
I know, I'm kind of cheating here. I've grouped a bunch of things into this one item. I'd recommend having all of these items, even though they are all used to accomplish the same goal - clean your lenses.
Lens Blower and Canned Air - These are used to blow off dust and other particles off the glass elements and anywhere else on the lens. Canned air is convenient and powerful, but you run the risk of releasing some of the liquid inside the can onto your lens element which can cause some distortions to the lens. The squeezeball style blowers are great because they never run out of power. But they don't pack the same punch for more pesky particulates.
Microfiber Cloth - This is for your quick touch ups. You usually get these in your glasses cases to clean your glasses. They are reusable and can be used both dry and with lens cleaners, but you run the risk of gathering particles on them that may scratch the surface of your lens because of the reusable nature of them.
Lens Tissue & Pancro - The dynamic duo. This is your standard lens cleaning kit. The lens tissues are single use. You spray them with a bit of the solution and wipe off the lenses, then toss the tissue away. This is to avoid the contamination issue mentioned above in the microfiber cloth. Pancro is the industry standard lens cleaning solution.
Lens Pens - These are some useful and reusable items that can clean your lenses pretty well in a pinch.
#7 - Gaffer's Tape
I'm sure you know what this is. The best tape of all time! It's a fabric tape that is very sticky but doesn't leave a horrible residue when removing it (like many duct tapes do). It is easy to tear by hand, and it has about as many uses as McGyver can muster.
It comes in many flavors, both size and colors, but 2-inch black is the standard.
1-inch is useful too though, for things like affixing lav mics to clothing or spiking furniture or marking actors on set. Sometimes bright colors are preferred for the latter so actors can more easily see the marks in their peripheral vision.
White tape is very useful too, specifically for running hidden cables along white walls in the background for things like hanging light fixtures.
Honorable mention in this category is paper tape, which also has many uses on set.
#8 - First Aid
In most instances it's not really your responsibility to be a medic on set, but it never hurts to have a few things for those scrapes, knicks, and pains that arise during shoots.
The best one I have found is from ITS Tactical, called the Boo Boo Kit. It has all sorts of great things for the small boo boos that can come up, including Band-Aids, Ibuprofen, lip balm, allergy pills, bug bite relief, and more all inside a little rugged zip-lock style baggie.
They also make a Boo Boo Kit Plus, which has a few more goodies for more serious issues. Things like a Quick Clot pad, CPR face shield, tweezers, and a syringe.
I generally go with the standard model for my gig bag.
#9 - Gloves
Set gloves are a gig bag staple. They are often thought of for handling hot lights and adjusting barndoors. Leather palms is a must. One of my mechanic style gloves with a PVC coating melted from the heat of some tungsten fixtures.
The other reason to have them and wear them is overall hand protection. You can save your fingers and knuckles from a lot of cuts and pinches just by wearing them.
It's also a relief at the end of the day to be able to take off your gloves and reveal a clean pair of hands. Film equipment is dirty...
#10 - Flashlight/Head Lamp
No gig bag would be complete without a good flashlight or head lamp (or both). That's why, for my kit, I've chosen the Olight H1R Nova rechargeable flashlight/head lamp.
This little light is small, easily fits in your pocket with a pocket clip and can be used as a flash light or head lamp with the included accessories. It has a magnetic base that connects the charger, but it can also allow it to stick to metal surfaces for another hands-free option.
Headlamps are key on dark sets unless you like the taste of flashlights. You'll often find yourself sticking your light in your mouth in order to utilize both hands for whatever you are working on. Not only is that gross 🙁 but it's also not terribly efficient. They make special tools for that very purpose! And you don't need a fancy rechargeable flashlight/headlamp combo like I have. You can easily and cheaply get a battery powered head lamp and flash light from a Home Depot.
#11 - Stingers
Yes, stingers are my #11. No, it shouldn't be your responsibility to bring stingers in your gig bag, but like I said, my bag is like an emergency survival bag. How great is that feeling when you are out of stingers and just need one more to power an extra light for your scene, and you grab it out of your bag and save the day.
If you don't know that feeling, let me tell you, it's great.
On a less heroic note, there are often times when you need an extension cord for your department for things like plugging in a laptop, phone, or any number of other devices where maybe you wouldn't want to take a stinger away from the electric department. So it's nice to have your own little stash.
What's in your gig bag? Do you have a special secret item that you always bring with you? Let us know!