by Joseph East
(Denver, CO – United States)
When your documentary is self-funded, your resources are tight and you can’t afford to hire additional crew, do you just throw in the towel right then and there? NO WAY! You get creative and resourceful.
As I’ve learned from my wife, whose grandparents were depression-era farmers, you can always make a meal, no matter how little you have to cook with. When you spot a good story, you can make it work with minimal equipment.
For our documentary, I WILL DANCE, we had to do just that. When I set out to make the film in 2012, I traveled as a one-person crew for most of the shoot (aided at times by a good friend who ran sound for me) so I learned to travel light and efficiently with gear.
If you opened my travel bag, you’d find the following:
The whole film was shot with this camera at 1080p, 24fps. If you check out our trailer (above) you’ll see the camera in action. While it’s not a high-end camera with all the bells and whistles, this DSLR camera turned out to be incredibly handy because it was low-profile and most of the time, people thought I was just taking still photos. This allowed me to capture the interactions I needed without drawing attention or being overbearing with the camera. The camera rig was so small and unassuming, the young people I was documenting in the film forgot I was there most times. If you’re a filmmaker looking to capture unpolished, genuine moments, this is a gift.
I purchased this separately from the camera. It comes with a frame that adheres to the camera’s LCD screen and allows the viewfinder to attach to the camera. The magnified image provided by the viewfinder helps when pulling focus, and the eyepiece is great for shielding the image from bright light when shooting in sunlight.
I love this recorder. It is small and portable, capturing great sound quality.
This microphone mounts directly on the camera and plugs into the stereo mini jack. If you don’t have a separate person to run sound, this is an essential piece of equipment for capturing good audio on location.
This is a great microphone for interviews.
Media management was a challenge on the road since we traveled on a bus and were running across New York City most days. The evenings were my time to set up this hard drive and transfer the day’s footage over to make room on the media card for the next day’s filming.
A good shoulder mount rests comfortably on your shoulder and gives you the flexibility to move around and capture solid, smooth shots. It won’t be as smooth as a Steadicam or similar device, but it will add stability and a level of professionalism to your shots.
Lock your camera down and get a steady shot! This is an essential piece of equipment in my bag. (The brand I used on the shoot I wouldn't recommend to people, so the link above goes to Manfrotto, a brand I WOULD recommend).
Throw a little light in the eyes or make it your key light for an interview– this small, versatile light comes with an adjustable knob that allows you to control the intensity of the light and comes with a set of blue and orange gels to control the color temperature. It’s a great on-the-go light that comes with a shoe so you can mount it to your camera.
Use it to anchor down cables, hold together a broken piece of equipment, or mark a position for staging. It’s amazing how many life-saving uses this strong, durable tape has in the field.
There are many brands of equipment out there and many ways of doing things. These tools have worked for me in the field, and I hope you find this list helpful as you set out to make your films.
For more information on our documentary, I WILL DANCE, check out our Facebook page:
Joseph East is an independent videographer/editor based in Denver, Colorado. He's collaborated with various nonprofit organizations such as Facing History and Ourselves, the Japanese American National Museum, the Freedom Foundation, and the Colorado Secretary of State. He is currently directing his first feature-length documentary I WILL DANCE.