photo credit: WTL Photos
Filmmakers are notoriously tough to buy gifts for.
We’re usually movie snobs, so picking up just any ol’ blu-ray at the store becomes a decision wrought with anxiety. The equipment we use for our jobs isn’t exactly sitting on a shelf in Wal-Mart. And the stuff we really want — cameras we spend hours lusting over — number into the thousands of dollars.
On the other hand, many freelance filmmakers are stingy with their money for fear of coming across a drought in work. So there is always something to get!
And with 10 days still left before Christmas, you’ve still got time. So here are some great last minute gifts for the filmmaker in your family — or a little something for yourself.
For All Filmmakers:
Still rockin’ the standard DVD? Then you’ll be pleased those movies are even cheaper.
Studios love to drop their biggest and newest releases this time of year. The hot items might be a little over $20, so you might want to stick to classics like Goodfellas, North by Northwest, and Stanley Kubrick movies.
It’s true that most filmmakers enjoy plopping down in front of the silver screen to watch a cinematic masterpiece, but on several occasions you may find them buried in the pages of a book — especially one that will teach or inspire them.
Here is a list of five books that will energize any filmmaker to make better movies and though it’s a short list, each book packs a strong punch.
There are also tons of books on the topic of filmmaking, cinematography, and virtually any specialty within film production.
Buy: Books at Amazon
This gift will take a little knowledge of your filmmaker’s favorite flicks, but if you can find a cool looking poster for the right price, they will fall in love with it.
I strongly urge you to look only for movie posters that are sized 27 x 40 as this is the size movie theaters use. 24 x 36 movie posters are cheaper, but don’t have quite the same style and appeal to them.
4. Memory Cards
That’s why you can never have too many memory cards. Sometimes you get lazy and don’t dump cards on time, but when you go to shoot some stills or video, well, you have no empty space!
If you’re shopping for a filmmaker, try and stay within the 8GB to 16GB range. For video, Class 10 is recommended, though Class 6 will be OK if you want to save a few bucks. Get as big a card as fits your budget. The gift may look small, but its value — because of what it does — is higher than most things on this list.
“Where’s the coffee?” is a common phrase to hear first thing in the morning on a film set. Some people need the liquid fuel to propel them after a long 17 hour day and quick turnaround.
And what better way to enjoy a fresh roast than in a novelty mug shaped like a Canon lens? It’s cheesy, yes. It’s a little silly, yes. But it’s also pretty cool.
For someone who likes a bit more “kick” to their drinks, check out these lens shot glasses.
Film may be giving up some of the limelight to digital cinematography these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s giving up any love in our hearts.
Super 8mm film stock is hip, easy to shoot, and cheap to buy. If you can find an old 8mm camera from your family, pick up a few reels from Pro 8mm and give a truly awesome present. What’s fun about Super 8mm is that it has such a unique style and homebrew feel to it.
You may never make a blockbuster from the camera, but it’s the impulsive ease of pulling that trigger and the warm sound of film running through the camera that matters.
I was a bit surprised to find filmmaking ornaments lacking a bit, but eventually found a few like this slate ornament on the left. You’re much more likely to find an ornament that features a character or setting from a popular movie — the Star Wars ones always go front and center on my tree.
Fair warning: if you’re buying for a pure filmmaker, don’t buy a photography ornament just because it has a camera on it. Not all cameras are created equal.
You could say it’s the design. You could say it’s the singular vision of Steve Jobs. You could say it’s the creative atmosphere they exude. Whatever it is, filmmakers love Apple. If you don’t believe, step on any set and you’ll find no less than 10 iPhones and a couple iPads.
While an iDevice might be out of your budget, the gift of filling up those gadgets with software goodies is not.
iTunes Gift Cards make great gifts for those who want to fill their phones with all sorts of consumable content, but for filmmakers especially, they can use that gift card to transform their iPhone into a powerful tool on set. That’s a gift worth giving.
The publication of the ASC and the premiere source of first-hand accounts of production for cinematographers. AC provides in-depth interviews, analysis, and news on ground breaking productions and isn’t afraid to let the technical knowledge pour out in the article. You’ll read as much about the abstract ideas behind cinematography as you will the film stocks and camera systems used to execute them.
The magazine is available in both print and digital editions and full of interesting information. It’s soaked up by amateurs and professionals alike. What makes AC captivating to read isn’t necessarily the access they get to films, but the questions they ask — you get to know how the movie was made, not a watered down “Behind the Scenes” piece.
This watertight lockbox is good for those times when you’re in a remote area and you need to know certain stuff won’t get drenched. You can fill it with a phone, a wallet, camera reports — whatever.
As a bonus, this box is useful beyond film production. I use one at the beach with family to make sure sand doesn’t end up in electronics it shouldn’t.
For Camera Assistants:
11. Insert Slate
An insert slate is a nifty little piece of gear. They’re perfect for tight spaces or when you’re shooting 2nd Unit/B-Roll type stuff. You can also fit them in a pouch or pocket and not worry about loosing them.
In short, there are just some cases where it’s unnecessary to have a full-size slate.
But many camera assistants don’t get an insert slate until they’ve built out the rest of their toolkit, which makes this a great gift for somebody just stepping out into the industry.
It’s my favorite way to measure distances for pulling focus and because the tape measure is so thick (the “fat” part of the max) it will stay taught up to 11 feet — more than enough for any tape measure ninja.
You can even go the extra mile on and customize the FatMax for best use before you wrap it.
13. Space Blanket
A space blanket is one of the best purchases I ever made towards my toolkit. It has protected me from blood, from the hot sun, and kept guard over cameras while I was busy chowing down at craft services.
This is one of those items that is just handy to have because of the infinite uses it provides. Maybe a metallic blanket isn’t the most exciting gift, but it’ll make a run for being the most practical.
Whether or not you end up wearing a pouch on set is a personal choice, but most camera assistants should at least give a shot before they knock it.
This SetWear AC pouch has a small footprint which is good so it doesn’t bog you down on busy sets. It contains one big pocket and a few loops to place pens, markers, etc. within. And most importantly, it’s cheap.
Having ear plugs stuffed inside your lobes is essential when filming in loud environments (like next to train) or where there is live ammunition involved. This is both a matter of sanity and safety.
While I’ve always used those squishy disposable ear plugs, I was envious when I watched a 1st AC pull out these reusable ones and casually drape them around his neck.
This would be a great stocking stuffer or add-on gift for a camera assistant who has a propensity to get on loud sets.
16. USB Lens Light
When RED placed a USB port on their RED One, I’m not quite sure they expected it to be used to power booklights. Nonetheless, this cheap, flexible USB light makes for a great lens light. You can bend it over the top of the camera or around the side to illuminate the markings on a lens for when shooting in dark areas.
Be wary, however, as they break easily after heavy use. Grabbing a couple at once is a good idea. These would make great stocking stuffers too.
17. Lens Pen
The humble lens pen is modestly priced at $8 and anybody on the receiving end of this gift is bound to get their money’s worth from it. With a brush at one end and a carbon fiber tip at the other, it’s a powerful lens cleaning tool crammed into a handy pen size container.
I love having these things on set with me as they are perfect for lenses and also any delicate glass like filters, monitors, and more. You could even buy two to have one as a backup.
Buy: Lens Pen at Amazon
One of my least favorite things about working with DSLRs is swapping out lens gears when the production doesn’t have enough of them. It takes too much time to twist the tiny knobs, slip the gear off, and place it on the next lens for the follow focus.
In fact, this got so obnoxious at one point that I just started using a DIY follow focus solution with zip ties. So I was ecstatic when Jag 35 combined both lens gears and zip ties into these one-size-fits-all zip tie gear rings.
They work exactly like you hope they would and they’re fairly cheap to boot. One set could go a long way towards saving some time and also some stress.
19. Lens Bracelet
Style may not always be a filmmakers strong suit, especially when on set garb is usually chosen for utlity and not looks. Still, that doesn’t mean we don’t like to flash a bit of fashion every now and then.
And if that fashion also incorporates cameras, well, we’re all in.
These Lens Bracelets (the originals, not knock offs) are cool little Livestrong type bands modeled after the focus ring on Canon lenses. So, at the very least, if you’re bored with one on you can practice focus pulling on your wrist.
While this gift is priced slightly above twenty bucks at $29.99, I couldn’t resist adding it on here. One thing that normally bothers me about novelty items like this are the inaccuracies in the construction. But this slate alarm clock is fairly on point from the look of the numbers/timecode to the stripes on the sticks.
I can only hope the way you trigger the snooze feature is by clapping the sticks — if that’s the case, then I’m buying five.
What Gift Would You Like?
Only you know what you want, so why don’t you tell Santa in the comments (he’s a regular reader).
Plus then you’ll get the right gift while helping your girlfriend/uncle/mom make the right choice and put a smile on your face.
And at least be a tiny bit realistic in your answers!