Whether you’re an experienced professional filmmaker of long standing or a film student newbie trying to break into the industry, you know how important it is to have the best possible tools for your profession. Just as musicians depend upon their instruments to produce their musical interpretations, you rely upon the tools of your trade to help you achieve your artistic goals.
For film students, this can be especially challenging, because film equipment doesn’t come cheap. We all know that top-quality equipment can cost tens — and even hundreds — of thousands of dollars, making it inaccessible to anyone outside of a successful studio.
However, thanks to today’s rapidly developing digital technologies, there’s a vast array of basic filmmaking equipment now available at affordable prices. With these low-cost essentials, student filmmakers on a shoestring budget can produce professional-level work that can lead to viable careers in the film industry.
If you’re a serious film student, here’s a look at five essential tools to help you create quality work that reflects your artistic skills and represents your creative vision.
1. The best camera for your budget
Just as nearly every top guitarist started out on a beater guitar, most great filmmakers have nostalgic memories of starting off with a cheap camera; but in today’s high-tech world, cheap doesn’t have to mean low-quality. For student filmmakers, it’s possible to get a good-quality camera for a few hundred dollars — but remember, the more you spend, the more filmmaking features you’re likely to get.
In addition to the usual standard specs (like Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connectivity), here are some extra features to look for:
- Super35mm sensor
- Multiple built-in microphones
- Extended ISO range for full light control
- Larger, five-inch touchscreen (a three-inch touchscreen is standard in student cameras, but the larger size provides a superior view of shots)
- 6K recording (up to 50fps)
- RAW and ProRes compatibility
- Focus assistant features
- Infrared mode or specially designed sensors for low light scenes
- Near-field communication (NFC) connectivity that enables seamless video transfer to other devices
Keep in mind that video cameras go out of date really quickly. That’s why many professionals recommend investing in top-quality lenses and accessories while you’re still a student, and saving up to buy a pro-grade camera after you graduate. However, your camera is your creative eye, so it’s still a good idea to buy the best you can afford within reason.
One more tip: When it comes to accessories, a bundled zoom lens package is an affordable option — but make sure that the package includes lens types you’ll need for your projects.
2. A compact lighting kit
Typically, a good film school will offer a supply of extra tools and accessories, including lighting equipment. However, if you’re studying filmmaking via online courses and seminars, you need to invest in your own lighting gear. You can create a compact lighting kit with a few basic essentials, including:
- Affordable LED panels, or a chip-on-board fixture
- Light stands or clamps
- Sets of diffusers, gels and filters
- Spot meter
3. A set of essential microphones
As with cameras, audio equipment goes out of date quickly these days — but good microphones can last for years. You’ll need a variety of different mic types, including:
- Lavalier mic (these are especially ideal for interviews and documentaries)
- Shotgun mic: Look for one that can pair with a variety of cameras and smartphones
- Portable directional cardioid mic: A great external mic for your camera, it’s especially good at reducing bleed and leakage
Choose microphones made by reputable companies, because these are more likely to be compatible with a wide range of camera equipment. If you take proper care of them, good quality microphones can last for a long time — and may even outlast some of your camera equipment.
4. Filmmaking software
Filmmaking isn’t just about cameras and lighting equipment; it’s also about expert software tools and apps for editing and organization. Whether you’re creating an all-essential shot list template or editing the day’s rushes, you’ll need a comprehensive software suite that’s specially designed for filmmakers.
You’ll find plenty of free filmmaking apps online, but be aware that these may not provide the extra features that you’ll need for quality film projects. Likewise, some of these apps may contain viruses, so do your research before downloading any of these programs.
Rather than using these free apps, it’s better to purchase quality filmmaking software if it’s within your budget. You can find different software products for everything from production management and screenplay coverage to professional-level editing. Some software programs offer a comprehensive mix of production management and screenplay support, making them a great affordable alternative to buying multiple programs. You’ll want to pay especially close attention to editing software products, because editing can make or break a film. Be sure to choose programs that provide a comprehensive suite of professional editing tools.
While you’re still a student, no one expects you to have studio-grade equipment (which would assuredly be outdated anyway by the time you’ve finished your training). But by saving up and investing in good, beginner-level equipment, you’ll have all the tools you need to produce top-notch student projects — and these projects can provide a valuable springboard to your filmmaking career.