The walkaway: when you leave almost every piece of gear still-built in the location you’re filming at to continue using it in the same location the next day.
At the end of a long day (or any day, really), walkaways are welcomed with relief.
For camera assistants, it means less prep time building the camera in the morning. For production, it means faster movement towards the first shot of the day.
But just because you get to walkaway from your gear and not have to pack it away doesn’t mean you should get up and leave at wrap. Instead, you need to take great care in making sure it will be safe, secure, and enjoy its overnight sleepover at the location you’re filming.
10 Steps to Secure Your Gear Overnight
If you haven’t already been informed, ask the assistant director where the gear will “live” overnight. Most of the time that will be wherever you have staged it, but in some locations it means taking it somewhere else to a more secure place.
Whenever you arrive at that place, follow these steps to get your gear ready:
Step 1. Secure the Camera Low on Sticks or Hi-Hat
The first step to prepping your camera for walkaway is to get it stabilized so that it won’t fall over during the time you’re away from it. To make sure that doesn’t happen, you should place the camera as low to the ground as possible (without placing it directly on the floor).
This doesn’t mean that you have to put the camera on a hi-hat, but having the tripod at its lowest is best. Another option is to place the camera on the camera cart if it has a mount.
During lunch you’ll be stepping away from the camera and you don’t want it falling over on its own. I know that sounds silly, but why would you risk it? Take the time to stick down on the tripod and let the camera rest at a comfortable height where it will be more stable.
One last thing, don’t leave the camera tilted up or down — it should always be left level.
Same rules apply here.
Step 2. Remove the Lens from the Camera
Always remove the lens before you leave the camera for any extended period of time — whether that’s for an hour at lunch or 12 hours at night.
Leaving the lens on adds more liability if something bad were to occur between the time you leave at night and arrive in the morning.
And the few moments it takes to remove the lens is worth it to prevent the potential of serious damage happening to it.
Step 3. Tighten up the Camera Body
Next you’ll want to make the camera body as small as possible. That means manipulating any accessories to be as flush against the camera body as possible. You don’t want a witness monitor sticking straight up in the air all night.
This keeps the camera’s footprint smaller and the center of gravity more stable.
So push the monitor against the body, move the rails in if necessary, and pull any focus whips or cables off the camera that jut out.
Step 4. Toss a Space Blanket on the Camera
Take your trusty space blanket and cover the camera with it. Bunch it up around the sticks or the base of the head and use a grip clip to keep it in place.
Besides keeping the camera from getting dusty, it is also a sign that it’s not ready to shoot should an ambitious DP, 2nd AC, or Camera PA arrive super-early in the morning.
Step 5. Place the Camera in a Safe Location
Corners of rooms are great places to stow the camera because it minimizes the ability for people to touch the camera. It also gives you a 50/50 chance of the camera leaning in a direction that won’t destory it should it inexplicably try and walk in the middle of the night.
Basically, you want to choose an area with low foot traffic because you probably won’t be the first person on set in the morning.
And even if you are, why risk it?
Step 6. Use a Sandbag for Extra Safety
It’s not a bad idea to grab a bag of dirt and put it on the camera tripod or hi-hat to secure it even more. In fact, it’s a really good idea and I highly recommend you do this step!
Step 7. Close All Cases and Secure Them
Close every latch on every single case and make sure you aren’t accidentally playing “Jenga” with any of them. If it looks like it might fall, then you should move it to the ground. Each equipment case needs to be level and without risk of falling over while you aren’t there.
Step 8. Give Each Piece of Equipment a “Home”
If you’re like me, at the end of the day you may have more than 10 pieces of gear strewn throughout your body between pockets and a pouch. You want to give each of these things a “home.”
That could mean you put it all in your toolkit, keep it in your pouch, or take the time to put each thing in its proper case. Either way, you don’t want to leave tools lying around on top of cases or, worse, on the ground. The exception is a camera cart which you can place things on top of so long as what you put there is not precariously dangling or going to topple over.
Also, if you have a production monitor, you can choose to leave it on a C-stand, but make sure to treat it like the camera above — put it away from foot traffic, with a sandbag, and turn the screen so it faces towards a wall.
Step 9. Perform a Dummy Check on the Set
A dummy check is aptly named because you’d have to be stupid not to do it!
Actually, it’s because the check is so simple that even a dummy could perform one flawlessly. Basically, you head back to set, look around, and see if you left anything behind.
Why do this even though you’ll be coming back to set the next day?
Because you don’t want to leave anything lying around overnight. Think how awful it’d be if you left your laser tape measure out and some PA whose call time is an hour before yours steps on it on their way to get coffee to wake up.
Remember, everything should have a home — don’t let it get lonely being left out!
Lazy AC’s will have their 2nd AC’s do this, but I prefer to do it myself along with them. After all, if anything did get left out, it’d be my responsibility, not theirs.
Step 10. Take With You What You Need
Not everything will stay overnight. Make sure to bring with you anything that needs to be taken care of away from the set. Examples include:
Be smart about what stays and what goes with you.
Finally, if you don’t trust the location you’re shooting at, take the equipment with you. Or, at the very least, take the camera body and the lenses — the most expensive parts of the camera package.
Leaving It All Behind
This may seem like a lot of steps, but it really isn’t. Getting ready for a walk-away will take 10 minutes max if you know what you’re doing and is a lot less work than packing everything away and loading it into a truck/van/car.
But just because walk-aways are easy doesn’t mean you get to slack off and be lazy with gear.
It’s all about being reasonably paranoid and cautiously careful that anything could happen to it while you’re not there. So by doing these 10 steps, you’ll be able to sleep easy and come to set the next morning ready to go — just watch out for the zombie PA still looking for their coffee!