There’s quite a few odds and ends that make set life a little bit easier if you have them in your kit that travels everywhere with you. I’ve gone through several variations of my toolbox, starting from a couple of things that helped me get by, building all the way to pretty much all the bits and pieces that you would ever need in most situations. This toolkit has come on every production I could fit it on and has totally been the ace up my sleeve on many occasions - it has everything from camera, to G&E, to personals. People you work with will love you, it will make the day that much easier, and you’ll take comfort in knowing that you don’t have to rely on anybody else to bring that damn right angle BNC that you need to make your camera build work.
My aim here is to explain the most important bits that I use day in and day out, but if you want a full list of all of the trinkets I have in my kit and links to each, scroll to the bottom of this post to check it out. I could go on forever about each bit, but I’ll do my best to keep it at least somewhat readable.
I started out with one toolbox. I put everything in there, and it showed - it was overflowing and impossible to find anything. I decided to add a second husky open-top toolbox that I was using for all of my camera assistant needs, and would keep my toolbox to G&E and personals. Carrying two toolboxes around became cumbersome after a very short amount of time, and some friends had just purchased the rolling Connect Toolbox that husky also makes (husky kills it and I love their products for inexpensive tools for the broke filmmaker). So I’ve finally settled on this wonderful rolling cart that stacks several of my boxes on top of one another and carries all of my essentials. My kit is divided into a few different categories - I have camera assisting bits, G&E, and personals. No matter what I’m doing on set, I’m ready for whatever comes up with the bare essentials.
I keep a tool pouch packed and ready to go inside of my kit. These are the things that I have readily available to throw on my belt and can pull whenever I need them.
The Leatherman // Multitool
This is arguably one of the most important tools that I pack, and one of the best investments that I’ve made when starting my kit. I own the Leatherman Wave and it has been faithful to me for years (which is surprising because I lose almost everything I own after the first month or two). This thing is on my belt in the handy pouch it came in and is ready to go any second I need it on every production. A flathead screwdriver to screw down a baseplate, a precision phillips screwdriver for the tiny screws, a knife to cut through anything, scissors, a saw, pliers - you name it, it’s in this guy. You shouldn’t walk onto a big set without this tool somewhere on your person.
The Tool Pouch
I found early on that it’s super handy to have some of the key things that you know you’ll need accessible directly from your hip. Whether you’re an AC, a grip or an electrician, you can surely find something that you always need to run back to the truck for that comes up way too often. As a G&E swing on smaller sets, I used to carry around:
One or two cube taps
Sharpie and a pen
As a camera assistant, I generally carry around:
Expo marker with eraser top
Sharpie & Pen
Laser tape measure (or standard tape measure, job depending)
I also generally have both a roll of 2” black Gaff tape, and if I’m assisting, then I’ll add a few different colored rolls of 1/2” spike tape for marks.
Gloves are more a utility of the G&E team, but I carry them around for any situation. You never know when you’ll need a pair and it’s great to have them when you do. My personal favorites you’ll find at Home Depot are called Gorilla Grips. They’re thin enough that you can tie knots comfortably, but insulated enough to strike that still-way-too-hot 1K from set when you need to. If you’re looking for a thicker pair, before the Gorilla Grips, I swore by these Husky (no surprise here) gloves, also purchased at Home Depot.
The things that every camera assistant should have in their kit at some point or another you could come across here. Pancro, lens tissue, rocket blasters, BNC couplers, right angle BNC, a stubby flathead screwdriver, 1/4”-20 and 3/8”-16 screws, etc., are all in here. I’ve accumulated four different sets of keys, including metric and imperial hex keys and two torx keys that start a bit smaller and end a bit bigger. These often end up double dipping into G&E when you need to pull out the handy 3/16” to tighten down a frame ear or a loose combo riser, but that’s what this kit is for. Anything you need - you’ve got it. You make a lot of friends this way. Since we’re on the topic, I would recommend this dedicated 3/16” ratchet, which makes life so much easier when dealing with frames.
Another one that has been incredibly handy on set is a label maker. Having the ability to quickly print some informational tidbit to stick anywhere in seconds is amazing. Everything from putting focal lengths on front and back lens caps to labeling your water bottle is now something you can do with a label maker (not sponsored). Primarily, I’ve used it as temporary labeling for where things go in the truck, labeling cases and caps, and making sure my personals have my name on them. Things get mixed up quickly when there’s gear coming from multiple places, so it helps to always have this handy.
I also carry fresh batteries on me when I can. AA and AAA primarily, but if I know that I have anything else that needs powering with a 9V or watch battery then I try to carry extras of those too, but AA batteries especially are a huge lifesaver when that issue inevitably pops up - obviously always when it’s least convenient for everyone. Again, if you’re the guy that saved the set half an hour for having a couple extra AA batteries, those are some new friends and you’ll most likely receive a callback on their next project. Don’t underestimate the power of small gestures - when you’re starting out especially, those little moments help you stand out from the rest of the crowd you’re competing for jobs against.
Mainly, consider the little things that might be forgotten from a rental or even your own kit. It’s the small expendables that become the biggest issues when they aren’t on set. Using a Movi Pro often? Spend an extra couple of bucks to get a set of camera screws from Freefly to have on hand. Working with Red? Make sure you’ve got a Torx key, and maybe even a backup in case you lose one during the day. The toolbox can be a wide assortment of bits and pieces, so tailor it to your specific needs first and then start branching out to wider general purpose items.
In my G&E section of the toolkit, I keep as much basic expendables and tools as I can fit. 2” Black Gaff and paper tape, Cinefoil, safety chains, dulling spray, cheaters, etc. I acquired most of this when I was working on small crews that I would swing on. It was handy because I could compliment what tended to be the Gaffer’s kit that fit neatly in his Jeep. If he didn’t have something then I did.
I would even come to use some of this on the features that I’ve been on. Occasionally my kit was closer than the Grip or Electric truck, so we just pulled what we needed and were set up without another trip to the truck. Amazing.
I make sure to carry an assortment of ratchet straps as well. These are a must have. They have so many uses, from strapping down gear in the truck, to car rigging, to anything you can imagine doing with an adjustable strap that can hold an absurd amount of weight. I have both hook and hookless straps for any need. The hookless straps are extra useful for car rigs where having that extra point of contact with the hooks isn’t ideal. They’re much easier to work with in my opinion when wrapping around things.
Another often overlooked but important item is the spring clamp. I buy a ton of these and keep them on a shoelace leash. #2 spring clamps are my go to, as they’re generally a good size for most things you need them for (doesn’t hurt to have some #1s handy). It’s always helpful to have these around. Along with #2s, I have a ton of .5s that live in a little bag that has two compartments, one for clothespins and one for .5s. I still use clothespins for gels on tungsten heads, and the .5s are a bit stronger, so I’ll throw those on things that need a little extra strength like the barn doors of a kinoflo tegra.
Having tools like crescent wrenches, pliers, precision screw drivers, socket wrenches, etc. are also good things to keep in the kit. Being able to pull out any tool at any time to fix virtually any problem that arises cannot be understated on a fast moving set. The literal definition of the toolkit applies here.
Being on a film set for 10 to 16 hours a day is tough, especially if the production is on a tight budget. I’ve been on a lot of sets with a few snacks and some bread lying out on a table, and I’ve been on some with a beautifully laid out crafty buffet catering to anything you could ask for - including some essentials that I now try to keep with me. I realize that not all sets I’m on are going to have a lot of money to throw at crafty or utilities, so having a constant is especially nice when you’re on a piece of bread and slice of turkey kind of shoot.
These personals are anything that helps to make it through the day in the wildly diverse environments we filmmakers are often subject to. I’ve got bug spray for the late summer night excursions in the woods, heavy SPF sunscreen for the shade-less days in the 90 degree heat, deodorant so I’m not driving home smelling like I just worked a 16 hour day running around tossing lights and stands all over the place, Ibuprofen for the headache you’ll be getting from the AD by the end of the day (just kidding!), Tums, WD-40, an external battery charger, and whatever else you may think of that helps get you through the day. These are in my toolbox and comes with me everywhere I go, and I’ve never regretted having an extra stick of deodorant with me, or another bottle of sunscreen or bug spray when production runs out. It’s just a good way to take care of yourself on set. Also, if you’ve ever been on an overstaffed crew, you’ll quickly come to realize an extra phone battery charger is a must have.
A Well Rounded Kit
I tend to bring some other things along with me as well, just to have in the car or truck in case anything ever comes up. Things like tennis balls with a slit cut in them for stand feet, a gel roll that has cuts big enough for the heads that I use, a crate of duvatine when we need to black out windows, and my arri 650 kit (not everyone needs this one though).
Many variations of the filmmakers’ toolkit exists out there. These are all versions of daily necessities that each person takes around with them from shoot to shoot. It’s important that each toolkit is unique to the person that uses it, because not all of the things that I personally carry around will apply to others. My toolkit has evolved with me and will keep evolving as I continue to work in this field. The more specialized I get, the more specialized my toolkit will become, and it may not make quite as much sense for me to carry around G&E equipment because I’ve decided to move elsewhere in the crew hierarchy. That’s why while these posts are helpful to see what other people carry around with them, it should all be taken with a grain of salt. Make sure that the gear you bring around with you is working for you, and you’ll be very happy when you surprise someone with your wonderful forethought.
A Comprehensive List
C47 & .5 Pouch
Homemade 300W Dimmers
Wall outlet phone charger
Hat and Gloves