You step out of the van, and as the crisp morning air hits you you’re reminded that it’s 4:30am, you’re in the middle of nowhere, three hours from home, and not even the sun is awake to keep you company. But it doesn’t matter because you’ve got your gas station coffee, a stale donut, and you’re completely confident that today is going to be a great day. Why? Because it’s shoot day, and this is your biggest client yet. Your entire future hangs in the balance pending the success of this interview. It’s real life-or-death stuff here, folks. That’s why you decided to arrive two hours before the rest of the crew and you’re wearing your good jeans. You begin to set up your camera gear, in complete darkness, when it hits you - the batteries. The batteries are still on the charger. Right where you left them. At home.
We’ve all been there, and that’s why production checklists are a thing. They’re something to refer to when packing your gear and act as a fail-safe in your preparedness, so that an awful tragedy like that never happens again. In your checklist you’ve most likely included all of the essentials like your camera gear, lighting setup, audio gear, tripod, and you may have even remembered the tricky things like extra batteries and memory cards, or even a fresh roll of gaff tape. But there are several key items that may not be so obvious to pack, but are just as valuable and will certainly take your preparedness and professionalism to the next level.
Here are some things that I’m always sure to bring along on every interview shoot:
1. Flashlight. A good flashlight is probably my favorite tool to have around. Not just on set but for everyday life. You don’t realize how much you’ve needed a flashlight until you start carrying one everyday. I know it seems a little nerdy to carry one around everywhere, but trust me, they’re very handy. Strictly speaking in terms of on set, though, it definitely proves to be an invaluable tool to have on hand. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve had to rummage through a production bag in the dark, or forage under a string of desks for a power outlet in a dimly-lit office. Having a pocket light just makes everything easier, and their usefulness is immeasurable. You can even use them to point at things across a room!
2. Hairspray. One of the most annoying things for me as a filmmaker is getting to the editing floor and realizing that, though we spent countless hours sliding around plants and furniture to craft a flawless shot, positioning the microphone to cancel out distracting room echo, adjusting light placement to achieve the perfect catchlight in the eyes, and coaching the interviewee to feel as natural as possible, all I can pay attention to when watching the take are the little, frizzy, flyaway hairs of our subject that are made even more evident by the beaming backlight. It’s the worst. And it ruins every ounce of pride I have in the shot. For that reason, I always have a bottle of hairspray in my bag to tame this problem. And I’ve been known to use it quite liberally. Maybe a little too liberally.
3. Powder. Though you may not have the need to hire a full-time makeup artist, powder is definitely a staple to anyone’s production bag. Interviews can end up taking a lot of time, and lights get very hot. When your subject gets hot, they get sweaty, and that sweat likes to hang out on their forehead. And it’s obvious. Every time. Do your video and your subject a favor by being prepared, and (politely) asking them to powder up.
4. Water bottles. This one doesn’t even really need an explanation, especially if you’re shooting outdoors in the heat. Everybody gets thirsty, and dehydration can cause people on set to not function at the top of their game. It’s definitely great to have some room-temp bottles on hand for any talent or interviewees. If someone’s not used to being on camera, they’re likely to get nervous and have a dry throat and mouth, and that’s not good! Toss a case in your car for your next shoot. You can never have too much water!