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Cinematographer's Preparation

Lesson 12 of 16

The Basic Gear Package

Jim Denault, ASC

Cinematographer's Preparation

Jim Denault, ASC

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Lesson Info

12. The Basic Gear Package
Jim discusses the best camera and lighting equipment to rent for small budget film projects.


  Class Trailer
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1 Class Introduction Duration:06:20
2 What Are the Basics to Know? Duration:28:35
3 Prepare to Get the Job Duration:39:18
4 How to Do the Meeting Duration:14:32
8 Essential Documents Duration:12:06
10 How to Prep for the Tech Scout Duration:11:25
11 How to Go on Tech Scouts Duration:32:43
12 The Basic Gear Package Duration:23:03
13 How to Set Up the Camera Duration:11:38
14 How to Camera Test Duration:03:50
15 Audience Q & A Duration:12:23
16 Parting Words Duration:02:20

Lesson Info

The Basic Gear Package

Kind of the next step after you've gone on the scouts and talk to the director and figure out what you're trying to do is to put together a package of equipment, it's all, you know, it's kind of all about the gear. So, you know, the important thing is that you the budget is always a reality, and you have to figure out how to scale the your equipment package, the budget so, you know, it's an it can be simple, it can, you know, limitations are, you know, are often the, you know, the best part of creativity, you know, you think about, like, the movie either that was nominated for an academy award this year is probably shot on one lens camera never moved, except in one shot is all all very it was in black and white, it was all very much about limitations, and those limitations were used to make them, you know, to make a statement that was strong and unique and didn't look like any other movie, so you can it's, you know, it's not about how much equipment they're giving you it's about what y...

ou do with the equipment. So, you know, but there are times when you have to, for production reason, solve problems like you can only get access to a location that night, but it needs to be a day scene for the story, that kind of thing and so you you think all right, well, if I need a bunch of big lights do I need to carry them the whole entire shoot or can I just bring them on for just the one location where we need them and, you know, going through going through the process of saying, what do I need for, you know, for each location and you know, through the entire shoot you'll see that there are some piece of equipment that you need in common for everything you know and it's usually some of the smaller lighting units and there are some some piece of equipment that you only need for specific locations and if there are few enough of those specific locations, it makes more sense that bring on the equipment just for that time and to carry the smallest equipment package every day that you possibly can get away with it. I know there's like there's some crew guys I had about there were probably, like, ready to jump on me but that's that's what I think, um, but limiting your options is like for me, I find that keeping my equipment list limited to a few certain things and, you know, it means I don't have to make as many decisions because you know, do I decide is a twenty, five hundred watt h m ira for ke h m I or twelve hundred? I don't know if I only ordered four case then there's only one thing it does bring out the four k so but you know by the same token it's you know at the end once you know, once you've made the equipment list too too small and the producer has gotten a bit on that any money that's left over in that budget line mysteriously disappears to some other line so you know it's much easier like tio pared down the list as the pre production goes rather than to expand it but you know, if you start ridiculously big that's goingto that's going to get thrown out too so you know, getting getting the gaffer and the key grip involved as early as possible, you know helps a lot first of all because you'll be able to give a list that goes down into detail about it, you know, if you get the gaffer involved, you know, all the cable will be on all the connectors all the you know, all the things that I really I'm not qualified to think about, you know, the same thing with the camera system, you know, I can't talk about what the basic camera packages but there's so many accessories so many little pieces that go together like talking to the camera systems early and making sure that the list is complete means that, you know, if I give a very general list that it's it happens that the camera rental manager then is the one who says, well, he didn't have this he didn't ask for that, and but I'm not going to put it on the list because it's going to make my bid go higher and, you know, and so then the randall house is awarded the bid, and then the camera assistant comes in and says, oh, but you know, they're you know, we don't have a sliding base plate and we don't have the eyepiece and, you know, we don't have the electronic you find or whatever it is, and then that then all of a sudden, the number goes up again, so the more complete you can make the list at the beginning by getting everybody involved in, you know, kind of organizing you list, the easier the end of the process becomes you, you know, you get less, you don't get the conversation with the producer who comes up and says that camera system added five hundred dollars a day worth of stuff to this list and it's like, well, you know, it needed to be there, I just didn't know that like that doesn't always work so you know and I work with the same guys a lot so now I tend to have kind of standard lists and you know when you know when things go off for me is when I you know when I either work with a new crew or I work with a new camera like something that I haven't you know I haven't been familiar with so I don't know how tio how to specify what accessories I need that kind of stuff so it's you know it's once you get yourself dialed in it's easy to get comfortable with a certain system but as soon as you go out it's uh you know it makes things a little different and I definitely look back at the at the bids from previous jobs and compare them to the list that I ordered and see alright what changed you know what I what I asked for that didn't end up on the list and was, you know, more important what did I not ask for that did end up on the western I modify my list you know I have in my computer I basically keep a kind of a standard running list that I add it for you know, for each job okay, so um often the most visually striking movies are shot on one or two lenses that is like, you know you you khun you can definitely over order but like most of this stuff like I have ah you know I'll just jump to it hears here is well, I won't jump to it yet you know it's like I definitely have shot movies with no zooms you know there's you know, there definitely orders that you khun do like for example I'm just going to throw this out most prime lenses you can use without four by five point six five inch filters but the ingenue optima zoom you need six by six filters so that not only means that you need a different set of filters but you need a different map box you need you know, it's a whole other group of accessories so you know, even though that is a really nice lens, maybe if you're on a budget you'd be better off going for like a cook ten to one which you can use with with a smaller you know, with the same four by five matchbox and you know, even though it's a little slower the optical performances may be a little different it's you know, if you're on a budget and you're trying to keep everything small you're trying to keep the package compact you can maybe that's ah choice you can you can make, you know it's it's definitely worth testing those two lenses and seeing whether that might work for you because you know and it's being talking to the camera assistants being able to figure out like alright how can we have something where we can keep it simpler the last year you have to move around the faster you can move, the easier everything becomes and you know kind of the fewer decisions you have to make because you know the fewer decisions you're able to make the fewer decisions you have to make um so the one thing that I will say is like once you find a rental house that you like that you know it's you try I tried to influence the job teo teo go to them and you know, because I especially like the way digital cameras come now you know when you when you buy the camera out of the box you basically can't use it you have to accessorize that pretty heavily there you know plates that go on them tio toe hold off the toe hold the follow focus toe hold the map toe hold the monitors and accessories it's you know and all of that stuff is it tends to be very custom and it can either work really well or not so when you find a place that's been customized excuse me customizing the cameras you know the way you like it and, you know, like fitting the accessories out the way you like it it's good to support that because there really is a huge range more than there was with with film cameras between how people think about the way their whole system fits together um so here's this is, um the list from boys don't cry and that the whole list is included in the package that you can download but I'm just pointing out a few things like you know how I what I write on the list uh you know, I always make sure I put the you know, the production offices contact information and I've always put my information on there so that if somebody from if the rental manager has a question they know who the call and make sure that the list itself is clearly labelled with the job and the date so that all that that there's no translation that has to happen all that I give it to the production manager of the production manager in this they you know, when this happened they faxed it you remember fax machines tio they faxed it to the rental house who then, like had it straight from my computer? What the you know what I was asking for? So we shot with a movie camera that is the land's package that we did boys don't cry with there's no zooms there's you know, the one thirty five is the only thing that doesn't come in like the basic size superspeed set on the the two x extender which I think we used once um that but you know you can and I probably out of those lenses you know, the twenty five, thirty five and fifty were the ones that did probably ninety five percent of the movie and it was you know, probably eighty five percent of it was the thirty five so you can like you can totally do movies that look riel that looked big that are what they are with you know, like two lenses and you know it's it's kind of all about where you where you do it when you're you know when you're thinking about the lighting order again it's like having one of every kind of light is not as useful as I think about it as you got a big light the medium light in the little light and you know often you don't even need the big lights so like a big light could be an eighteen k which is very big or the big light on your movie could be a four k which is, you know, in the case of boys don't cry that's what it wass it was uh you know, I had three four case and to twelve hundreds and two jokers and that was it so you can you know, so the four kids with big lights at twelve hundreds where the medium lights and the jokers with a small lights and you know that we had because just because of the the truck availability it was a forty foot trailer that that we had for the lighting package, but there was so little equipment in it that each of the crew members had their own shelf to sleep on in between setups it was it was very nice and, you know, you could go inside when it was raining, it was like the clubhouse because there was no equipment cluttering it up it was just like this big empty space um but if you can keep the truck smaller, I did a movie called our song where the entire package was into twelve foot cube vents and, you know, nobody even knew we were there you could park right next to the set like it was not a hassle. So and then this is the tungsten lighting from boys don't cry, which is it's a little more extensive, but not that much, you know, we had it's basically I called noah's ark is like two of everything you know, I like the might ease and mickey's because you khun fill a large area, they're good for bounce, they're very low maintenance and, you know, for the most part you can plug them into the walls the you know, the only things on this list that you can't really plugged into a wall or the ten k's and the nine lights um which is important. And that was that was a big night exterior shoot it would, you know, it mostly took place at night. There were a lot of next year's and we we did it well within, um what? This lighting package was with a couple of drop loads. So, what do you like? Have you guys here like, what's your what's, your go to pieces of equipment? What? You know, like, in terms of, you know, in in terms of shooting like, do you have a favorite light or favorite camera package? Eugene? Uh uh. I'd prefer to shoot, like, few lances, and I almost always have twenty eight and eighty five in terms of, like, full sensor. Right on, like eighty five is my favorite that I can do, like sixty percent of the job for me with eighty five out of that school. And I think lights very important, even more important than anything else for me because they can, you know, create volume and said, yeah, that's what you change it's what? We change the world with you? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I think it's important. I I you know, it's. Not that I don't think that lights are important, but I think that it's, you know, making making some decisions early on rather than having so many you know, such a wide range of choices first of all, that movie couldn't have afforded eighteen case or twelve case where the big lights in nineteen ninety eight but they wouldn't have been able to afford it anyway and if I had ordered that I would have given them up for you know I would have had to give up something else so I kept the you know and we had a three person electrical crew so you know, to move a twelve k tto even put the light up on the twelve k is three people so that would meant that if I used if I had to twelve case every time I used even one of them the entire electric department would disappear so you have to like I think about it and you know, in those kind of terms, you know, sizing the package tio, you know, to the crew and making sure four k it's small enough, especially once you get it up on the stand one guy can I can move it around and it's, you know, it's easier to manage. So all of a sudden you've freed up the other crew members to be doing other things at the same time do you think about like, I mean, I think about this all the time I'll ask the guys like you know what we have on the truck that I never saw that you know that never came out and you know like that it's kind of the other side rather than wishing about wishing for things that you don't have like what are the things that you had that you never use that maybe can you just you've been asking for it out of habit from the last couple of jobs because you you know you like that one time but now we no longer use it and you know, maybe the best thing is to just keep it out of everybody's way and save the money for something that you really want even if it's you know spent like getting it so that they can have some you know, some extra greens to block something outside a window or you know, extra rigging time or something like that um yeah so it's that's all stuff to think about so here's what I did I'm just going to go back backwards a little bit so for our shoot we put together a little equipment package and a certain amount of my decision making was kind of was based on the budget a certain amount of it was based on the fact that I knew was going to be me and maybe like wanted to other people dealing with it so I wanted to keep it quick the package to you know, tio manageable size and since you know the other thing that goes on, you can think you know you can ask for what you want and you can think you know what you're going to get but but you know ultimately it's you know, the decisions come down to you know in terms of what the camera is, what the lenses are decision comes down to what's available and what the production can afford and so what we got is for this is we've got a red epic and this is what it is it's a you know, this is it's going to be great we can shoot for k I want to find something that where we could use pl matt lenses where it you know it was you know, the kind of camera that that maybe, you know, if you were shooting something that would be, you know, any kind of feature actually not even just a little budget feature that you know that people are likely to see but you know, to put it in a simple enough, you know, a simple enough package that it's, you know, if you were doing a little budget movie, this is what you're likely to get, so I made my equipment list it's, you know, and it specifies down to the cables and the filters everything that we want, so we've got the red package I've got a simple lens set which these air the they're the zeiss c p to the cinema cinema lance's very nice there you know it's there set up with with a large focus scale that makes it much easier for pulling focus than the super speeds that we used on boys don't cry um and you know but there there its a nice modern set of crimes and um we've got the camera you know, there was actually a little bit of a crisis yesterday because not being as familiar with ordering reds I didn't realize that I you need to order the electronic viewfinder as a separate option, but we did some scrambling and got that and, you know, and the touch screen that's the the other kind of view finder system and then we have extra monitor for the camera system to look at the help pull focus and see what the frame is when I'm using that monitor. Um the other interesting thing about this you can, you know, it's it's kind of important to come up with some sort of a hot swap system so that you can change the batteries without having to shut down the camera. You know, a lot of times you use a block battery that plugs in here and there will be a power management adapter that several different companies make or in this case we're using the thie battery that comes in the red handle toe to run the camera while this battery's being changed by the anti power is being changed. So, you know, we've gotta follow focus there's, no wireless system for focus, because that would be probably more than you'd get on. Ah, a low budget movie. We've got some filters, the, you know, the neutral density filters air basically, the only thing I use these days, I used to use some diffusion, but especially for close up, so you don't want to see every pore. But now it's so easy to deal with that kind of stuff in the digital finishing and almost every movie, get some digital finishing its it's more controlled you, you know and and more invisible, if you're if you're doing it, just selectively two people spaces rather than diffusing the whole image. So I've kind of given up on that. Mostly the only filters I use are neutral densities and polarizes. And, of course, for all the digital cameras, you know, with an andy filter more than andy nine, it should also have infrared absorbing, um, properties. So so here's, the this is the basic camera package, and then we knew we were going to do some dolly moves on this, so we got this nice little skateboard, dolly, it just there's skateboard wheels under there that are kind of shaped like a v and they can roll we've got steel track but you know if you're on a budget you can also do it with pieces of pvc pipe from you know, from the hardware store um you know, I this is probably the you know, the one item that's you know you people will use smaller tripod heads for some of these cameras but I'd say the you know go for go for ah larger have you do the head they'll give you more control when you're operating and you know, the regular ron for legs and I'm I knew we weren't gonna have a whole you know, the whole crew to help me move stuff around and I knew there wasn't going to be a lot of you know uh hi high amperage power available so I asked for a couple of kino flows there bub up with day lightbulbs when we do our interior shoot I know we're gonna want to do is use a little bit of fill this won't do very much out on the roof that we scouted earlier but you know, for the office shot we will be able to use thes teo you know, to help light and phil they plug into the wall and you know that and some of the the led lights are also a really good choice for that I think you know, I I'm looking forward to, like being able to do a smaller movie at some point where, like all the lights can plug into the wall where, you know, it can go with a really tiny package like that. I'm really interested in a lot of the new led lights and, you know, and being able to use that stuff, and then the other thing I asked for that we don't have a lot of flags, but my favorite fabric is bleached muslin, so I got some some four by four frames made up with bleached muslin. And so this is for adding light for bouncing light in or you khun, I could shine the kino flo through it, we'll see what ends up happening when we do that part of the shoot, and and then this is for taking light away and, you know, you can build you can build contrast in people's faces not just by adding light from one side, but by removing it from the other side and sometimes that's actually easier and looks better and certainly, if there's some top light that's distracting or isn't doing what you wanted to do. So I tried to keep the tools that we have very simple, that that was my my reasoning for putting together this, uh, this camera package.

Class Description

Cinematographers need to do more than simply, “show up and shoot.” Preparing to film is a complex, considered, and artistic task and Cinematographer's Preparation with Jim Denault, ASC will teach you how to strategize and achieve the most creative, productive shoot possible.

Most filmmakers are in the dark about what cinematographic preparation truly entails. This class will give you with a step-by-step guide to preparing to shoot a whole range of narrative material – from the simplest moments to the most complex series of scenes. Jim will show how to break-down and analyze a script from an aesthetic, technical, and practical point-of-view. 

You’ll learn how to:

  • Analyze a script aesthetically and technically
  • Evaluate and provide for the practical needs of a scene
  • Achieve maximum subjective effect within your shooting "strategy"
  • You’ll learn precise, effective, artistic, and technical approaches to shooting, which can be applied across all forms of filmmaking and length of material.

Working cinematographers, camera operators, and filmmakers will develop new skills for efficiently and beautifully conveying the artistic essence of their material.  


Zuhair Lokhandwala

Great class! Highly recommend to those starting out who are unclear about the process of getting the first job, meeting the director and keeping things organized so you feel more in control and have good clarity when you're at the shoot finally Thank you Jim!


This class is perfect for anyone who does not have years of experience as cinematographer ; it teaches everything a DP should do in pre-production, and is often not taught in film schools ! I'm freshly graduated and thus I don't have that much experience of pre-prod as DP, but this gave me everything I needed to know. It's also one of the few class of the genre online, and it's a fantastic one, thank you so much !

Christopher Lamb

There is nothing more valuable than learning from people that continue to work in their field. This course is priceless. To get into the processes and thoughts of a successful working Cinematographer -- there aren't words. Everyday I'm on set I think about the necessity of mentorship and this is the closest thing to that. Thank You Jim for agreeing to share your processes and techniques and to Mentor us in this digital age. Thank you CreativeLive for hosting this class and making it available.