When the holidays come around and you’re building a wish list of potential gifts for your family to buy you, it’s tempting to put work-related items on there. The problem is: they’re usually so expensive! For instance, a single gold mount battery would blow most people’s holiday shopping budget apart.
Plus, if you’re like me, you tend to buy the low-cost items as needed as a business expense. If I need more Pancro, I order it. If all my bongo ties are “borrowed” by the sound department, I replace them. If I lose my beloved Leatherman, I buy another because it slows me down doing my job without one.
So what’s left after that?
Well, this list: items that are quality-of-life improvements that make the job of a camera assistant (AC) easier or better, but aren’t strictly required to perform well (or at all). Most importantly, these gift ideas are affordable for a wide range of budgets – everything here is under $100 and many are under $30.
Buy Now: Amazon, Kondor Blue
I never seem to have enough of these little guys when I build a camera package. They’re insanely useful and the possibilities are endless. I use them to mount monitors on the camera’s top handle that can be removed quickly when switching to a gimbal or Steadicam. I also use one on my focus pulling monitor and another on the follow focus hand unit which allows me to quickly switch between pulling focus from a stand to mounting the monitor directly to the hand unit. At $25 each, they’re well-worth having a few in your kit and a spot on your wish list.
Price: $12.99 (Pair)
Buy Now: Amazon
The film industry is rapidly moving over to wireless video as the standard. These stubby antennas do a solid job of providing signal from the wireless transmitter on the camera with the advantage of having a lower profile than stalk antennas. This comes in handy on Easy-Rig jobs where an operator might cradle the camera like a football and keep bumping against regular stalk antennas. I’ve only ever used these on Teradek systems, but seeing as that is the current standard, you’re bound to find a job to use them on shortly. They also work great as an antenna replacement on Alexa Mini.
Price: $18 (6-pack)
Buy Now: GetSprig.co
If you spend any time at all on #cameraassisting Instagram, you know that cable management and clean camera builds are hot these days. And, well, for good reason: a sleek camera is easier to operate and trace potential issues. At the same time, AC’s are being asked to put an ever-growing number of devices onto cameras these days. We can find the space, but the cables! Ugh, so many cables. Enter Sprig: it’s a push-to-mount cable management loop that fits into standard 1/4″-20 holes found on most cameras and allows you to route the cables how you want them to go instead of whatever way they feel like hanging. Sprig is good for your build (and for those sick BTS pics.)
Price: $18 (6-pack)
Buy Now: Amazon
Let’s continue down the cable management rabbit hole: it doesn’t matter if you have all the Sprigs in the world to route the cable the way you want it to go if it’s a 3-foot BNC for a 1-foot distance – you end up with a lot of extra slack. Or maybe you’ve got everything running how you want it, but the natural coils in some of the cables makes them bunch in weird ways. These gear ties are like twisty-ties, but infinitely easier to use. They’re awesome for holding together loops of long cable or corralling an unseemly bunch that’s getting in the way. The 3″ and 6″ sizes are the best for camera rigs.
5. Walkie Woogies + Ear Mold
Buy Now: Walkie Woogies
Walkie talkies are a staple of film set life with most crew bringing their own headsets these days. Walkie Woogies are colored, cloth tubing for the coiled ear tube part of your walkie headset. They’re a fun way to add some style to what is otherwise a mundane, practical piece of gear – and they’re a little more comfortable than the standard issue plastic. Pair them with one of these ear mold pieces and you’ll have a solid walkie setup that will look fly, feel comfortable, and help you hear all those jokes from grip department when you “accidentally” switch over to channel 8.
6. Badge Holder
Buy Now: Amazon
I work mostly commercial gigs, so I’m not usually walking around with an ID badge as you might on studio lots in order for security to know you’re on the right stage. But every so often I film inside a secure government building or for a large corporation that requests crew wear badges. Typically, it comes with a lanyard. The lanyard sucks. It’s annoying. I bend down a lot in my job and that thing swings in the way. It gets caught on the camera. It gets caught on the pens in my pocket. There is a better way: a clip-on badge holder for your belt. Simple, cheap, useful.
I love my Robocup. I could write an entire article about it. This thing is amazing. It’s not hyperbole when I say it changed how I work on set. I use my Robocup – paired with add-ons Robocup Holster and Robocup Plus – basically as a front box for my focus pulling station. And when it’s on the cart, it falls-back to its designed duties of holding coffee (which keeps cups off the cart, for the most part). I love it, DP’s love it, directors love it, you’ll love it. And it can’t hurt to have multiples – how many legs are on your camera cart? Four? Do you have a Robocup for each one yet?
Price: $33 (for 3-pack)
Buy Now: B&H
Most camera assistants will already own several, if not many, of these already, but it’s great to have spares. I like to have extras lying around to build out grab ‘n’ go gear kits. For instance, putting everything needed for each monitor’s wireless video setup in one of these pouches and keeping it with the monitor will speed setup time. Or maybe you’re switching modes between cameras so it’s helpful to throw the necessary cables for the swap in one of these pouches that way you don’t have to dig through your bag or case each time. And, finally, even if you don’t put things inside the pouch, they’re soft enough to act as padding for free-floating fragile gear like monitors or lenses.
Price: Varies (~$15)
Buy Now: Amazon
Lens wraps are another thing that’s good to have a surplus of. They’re insanely useful for those run ‘n’ gun days with multiple company moves. Instead of packing sensitive, fragile gear back into its case, where appropriate, you can wrap the gear in a lens wrap, put it into a ditty bag, store it on the cart (or in your car), and get moving faster. They come in various sizes and colors. Domke is only one of several brands that make them, but I’ve been satisfied with their version.
Price: Varies ($8 – $14 per set)
Buy Now: Film Filter Tags
You can get away with filter tags made of camera tape and sharpie, but if you’re trying to score points for presentation, these engraved filter tags will spruce up your rig. You can get all sorts of sets from ND’s to Black Promist’s to POLA tags. And if you work a lot of multi-cam jobs, there are even A, B, C, D camera labels that will prevent confusion when trying to find that third angle for… “which camera is that?” These are a great gift for AC’s: a nice to have upgrade which contributes meaningfully to our perception as professionals and also helps communicate important information effectively.
11. Travel Stool
Price: Varies ($20-29)
Buy Now: Amazon
When my feet get tired on set, I used to be an apple box guy. But too often I’d settle in for that long take when, last-minute, someone would shout: “We need a full apple!” and the best boy would look at me and I knew now I had to stand for this 3-minute focus pull. Lame!
(Also, sometimes you don’t want to go back to the grips for the third time in 10 minutes to ask for an apple box after they already got you a sandbag and a bajillion monitor stands.)
So, anyway, I got kicked off my apple box one day and saw the sound mixer with one of these stools. I bought one right then. They’re lightweight, small, and comfortable enough for short stints. There are a lot of options out there if you search “camping stool.” This is the one my rested feet approve of.
Price: Varies ($1.50 – $39)
Buy Now: Robertas Nevecka’s Store
If you’re unfamiliar with his work, 1st assistant director Robertas Nevecka draws hilarious sketches on Instagram (@robertas_neve) that poke fun at life on a film set. Nevecka’s ability to integrate a nugget of truth into the absurdity of how we make a living is what makes his art so funny and endearing. And now the beloved sketches come on t-shirts or as art prints and stickers. Each would make a popular gift: stickers get plastered on carts and cases while a t-shirt is one of the simple, subtle ways crew express themselves on set. An art print is perfect for those who wish to live the #setlife even at home.
Buy Now: Amazon
Sometimes you walk into prep to a bare bones camera rig and it’s up to you and your bag of tricks to turn it into a more usable camera. That’s where these top handle extensions come in handy. They’re especially great for Easy-Rig style filming, but also any extra surface area to grab and carry a camera is welcomed when so much brick-a-brack gets mounted on top. I know, this is SmallRig and some of you are above that, which is fine, but this is the most affordable option. There are always higher-end options, so if you want to ask Santa for the Wooden Camera version ($180), have at it.
Buy Now: Camera Essentials
With every job comes a slew of cables: p-tap cables, lemo cables, BNC cables, MDR cables, EVF cables, LBUS cables, extra lengths, 90-degree options, and then backups to those cables. Too often we don’t do anything to handle this spaghetti of electronic rope, so it ends up being a hassle to find the right cable when you’re under a time crunch. This cable wallet solves that issue by providing clear segments for various cables in a small, foldable footprint. It’s perfect for those of you with FIZ systems that have all sorts of extra motor cables or different run/stop options for the varying cameras. Having used one on set, the convenience makes it well worth the price.
Buy Now: Rencher Industries
One of the most inconvenient things that can happen during a take is for the monitor to run out of battery. When it happens at video village, they lose their minds. When it happens to your monitor while you’re pulling focus, it can be, well, more than problematic. That’s why I keep this micro voltage meter hooked up on my monitor so my battery level is always in my eyeline. But you don’t own a monitor? No problem, these are also wonderful for the director’s monitor when using battery power. Velcro it on there and tell your 2nd AC or Camera Utility: “When this gets under 13 volts, change the battery.” They can also be used as p-tap / d-tap testers. There are a lot of entrepreneurial minded AC’s who make these as a side hustle (easy to find on Facebook groups), but I own and happily recommend the one from Rencher Industries seen above.
Buy Now: Amazon
From what I’ve seen, AC pouches are so blasé now. They’re being left behind in favor of small ditty bags, fanny packs, and the chest harness. I did a small stint on a big budget HBO show last year and each one of the 2nd AC’s had a chest harness on. After that, I ended up getting one for myself and have used it sparingly (on the infrequent occasion that I’m 2nd AC). One of the best features is the radio pocket, as you no longer have a clunky walkie talkie bouncing on your belt. I also liked the quick access to small tools and found it much more comfortable than wearing a pouch (which I gave up on 5 – 6 years ago). The one I bought is this Conterra harness, but there are other options out there. At $70+, it may seem expensive, but it’s well-built and has a good layout.
Buy Now: Jerry Hill Products
The Alexa Mini and Mini LF are some of the most heavily used cameras in the industry. Part of their attraction is their size which makes them well-suited for Steadicam. There is a catch, however: much of the camera’s settings are controlled in the electronic viewfinder (EVF) that’s traditionally mounted off to the side in a less-than-ideal position for Steadicam balance. This little adapter lets you mount the EVF anywhere you can screw the adapter into. In my experience, it’s most popular for mounting the EVF onto the back of the camera’s top handle to keep the weight closer to center for Steadicam. You could always tuck the EVF in or remove it completely and stab in when needed while using wifi control and a WCU-4 – but having this adapter will make your operator happy. That counts for something.
Buy Now: MyGoGear
One thing all camera assistants have in common is we love niche tools that do one very specific thing well. When we have an opportunity to use that tool, that’s a good day! That’s what I think of when I see these mini slates from MyGoGear: they’d sit in my bag for a long time and then, one day, the perfect shot would come up to use them and it would excite me to no end. But really, I just think these would make a fun gift for a camera assistant who can choose to display them on their desk or, eventually, put them to work for up-close, macro shots.
Buy Now: Amazon
A good knife has many uses on a film set, but if you’re going to carry around a knife, you might as well make it a multi-tool with options for screwdrivers, saws, and other tiny tools. There are many brands available, but I carry a Leatherman Surge on my belt for every shoot. I use it frequently for the knife, the flathead screw driver (perfect size for camera screws), and the pliers. For a more affordable option, I’ve linked to the Leatherman Wave. And if you want to try another brand, Gerber has been spotted floating around the kits of AC’s.
Buy Now: Amazon
Originally designed for dolly grips, the Dollymate is a great alternative to the front-box. You can put your most-important, must-have tools inside of it and, with an additional mounting plate, attach it to your camera cart or your monitor stand for quick access during those magic hour moments where you have 5 minutes to get the shot 10 minutes ago. It may not be the cheapest gift, but it is built to last and it will serve you for many years on set as it can be transformed for several different purposes as your needs grow and your career changes.
Trying to Keep the Budget In Check
If you’re still not seeing anything on this list, you could always increase the budget!
Expensive items like batteries are always needed. A beefy noga arm such as the Bright Tangerine Titan would fit well into any kit. A Pelican case or one of the many ditty bag options to hold an AC kit would be a generous gift.
Ultimately, what I’d suggest is asking for a gift that you wouldn’t already buy yourself because, frankly, we get a lot of tax deductions. If I’m already going to spend money, I’d rather to have the deduction, so the best presents are on my “would love to have, but can’t justify spending” list.
(This assumes that you already have a basic camera assistant (AC) toolkit. If not, help building out that kit is a much better idea.)
Look, you can spend all of your day rate pimping out your cart, finding sweet stickers for your Pelican, or getting custom-milled AKS for your bespoke camera rigs, but maybe this year let your family and friends get you a few of these items and consider putting that cash into a savings account to help the next time a pandemic completely disrupts the industry.
Finally, what are some of your favorite gifts? Is there something on the list you’ve received as a wrap gift or birthday present from a fellow crew member that you think would go over particularly well? Share it in the comments!
Happy holidays and stay safe!
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