If you're thinking about becoming a cinematographer, you might find yourself taking on the role of a gaffer or grip as you build your career. While you can learn what exactly a gaffer is here, they are considered to be the chief lighting technician on set, while the grip department can support both the camera and lighting departments.
When it comes to performing either position on set, you simply cannot show up empty-handed. You're going to need some essential tools to do your job efficiently, effectively, and safely.
As a gaffer and set lighting technician in Portland, Oregon, I entered the world of video production as a one-man band filming BMX videos, weddings, and corporate events. I eventually started meeting crew who were specialists in their department, which opened my eyes to another level of production. I always had a huge interest in lighting and eventually realized that was my path. I decided to dive deep into the electrical department.
The gaffer is the head of the electrical department, and it's their job to work with the DP to help them realize their lighting needs and execute the plan with their team. This requires a mix of technical knowledge and creativity. Electricity can be dangerous, and it takes a great department leader to ensure that everyone on set is safe.
The electrical department not only powers their own lights, but makes sure the camera has power, video village, sound, crafty, HMU—it all comes back to the electric department. Even within the department, people can specialize in certain areas. Electricians might specialize in rigging, first unit, best boy, generator operator, etc.
The majority of my work here in Portland is corporate jobs with a one- to three-person grip and electric (G&E) crew. At this size of production, often the line between grip and electric is blurred. So it’s good to have a basic understanding of both departments. At the Hollywood level, a gaffer might not touch a piece of gear for an entire movie. At a smaller scale, I’m much more hands-on and do much of the heavy lifting myself.
Since I’m used to working with a small crew, this is the toolkit that I’ve put together to make sure that I can get the job done without excuses.
- Setwear Pro Gloves: For touching hot lights
- Kinco 1791 Gardening Gloves: For touching everything else
- Alcohol wipes: Clean your globes before you strike them
- Husky Zippered Pouch: Organization is important
- Utility pouch: More organization
- Surveillance Ear Mold: Communication
- Black Paper Tape (Small Core): Go-to tape for cables and gels (much safer than gaff tape)
- Leatherman Skeletool: Good ol’ faithful
- 1/4-20" baby pin: For lights, monitors, or anything with a 1/4-20” thread
- 6 Inch baby pin with collar: Quick problem solvers
- Carhartt Work Pocket: Minimalist tool carry
- 6 in 1 screwdriver: An essential
- Wide jaw crescent wrench: Another essential
- 25-foot tape measure: Measuring things
- 10-foot tape measure: One that fits in your pocket
- Allen wrenches: Random repairs
- Klein Electrician Scissors: Made for snipping wire. I cut gels with them and they feel so good
- Knipex Pliers Wrench: Similar to crescent wrench, same but different
- Level: To keep things level
- Small screwdriver (mine broke, buy this one instead): Small flathead screwdrivers surprise me with all of their uses
- Wire strippers: Stripping wires, usually repairing a stinger
- 3/16 T-Handle: Building frames
- Gator Grip Socket: Quick socket wrench
- Utility knife blades: Nothing worse than a dull blade
- Husky Utility Knife: For cutting gels
- Fluke 323 Multimeter: Reading voltage, amps, and troubleshooting
- Circuit Tester (this one rules): Electrical troubleshooting
- AC Volt meter: Voltage reading, quicker than a multi-meter, but not as precise
- Light meter: Meter the light
- Non-contact voltage tester: Troubleshooting
- Laser distance measurer: Measuring long distances, quickly
- Baling wire: Mostly used for rigging LED tubes
- Wire nuts: DIY repair
- 18 gauge wire: DIY repair
- Cube tap: It’s like a power strip that fits in your pocket
Did we miss any gear? Let us know in the comments section below.
You can check out more tips by following my YouTube channel here.