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Filmmaking is a lot like camping. When you set out each morning, often before dawn, you have to be prepared for any and all conditions the gods may throw at you: 114-degree heat, a freak hailstorm, a freezing air-conditioned studio. One minute you’re in a national park in Southern Utah, guzzling water to stay hydrated, and two hours later you’re on the side of the road in Colorado caught in a torrential downpour.
When I watched those beautiful shots of Jon Snow and company trudging across the snow on Game of Thrones, I involuntarily shuddered thinking about the crew huddled behind the camera. That is not computer-generated snow — they shoot those wides in Iceland.
It’s no shocker, therefore, that film people love to geek out about gear — myself included. I’m a director, and I also freelance as a script supervisor, or a “scripty.” As scripty, I’m the director’s secret weapon, keeping track of everything we’ve shot and everything we’re missing, ensuring that she and the editor have everything they need to tell the story and that it all makes sense to the audience.
One crucial piece of gear is my Topo daypack, which has kept my script and my iPad (which I use to log the shots) safe and dry more times than I can count. Another can’t-live-without-it item is the Patagonia down sweater I bought after learning Nora Ephron had recommended it to Lena Dunham. Not only do I stow this in the bottom of my pack for every shoot, I wear it all winter inside my drafty house. Thank you, Nora!
Here are dozens more valuable recommendations from filmmakers of all stripes for everything from battle-tested beauty products to pants that can be converted to shorts to breathable underwear for hot, humid days. Even if you’ll never set foot on a film set, you’re bound to find something essential for your own day-to-day.
Jenna, producer (10 years)
New Balance 574s, which keep my feet cozy and always garner compliments, and an H&M cardigan — I always have several on hand. They’re cheap, so you don’t feel bad if you’ve snagged them on something or worn them down. My Daniel Wellington watch to remind the crew of the time, and my iPhone to remind me that I have to do a million things!
Clara, director (7 years)
When I’m directing, I’m on my feet for 12 to 14 hours a day in all kinds of weather. Shoes can make or break a shoot. I usually wear Blundstones or these La Sportiva Raptors — they’re pretty aggressive trail-running shoes, but they’re tight for shooting outdoors. Flexible/breathable pants are also a must-have. The Halle Pant from Prana is comfy and can take a beating. (Prana makes great men’s pants, too.) And this visor, while insanely geeky, is a life-saver. It Velcroes shut and comes in every color, and you can roll it up to pack it away.
On the personal hygiene front, a friend recently gave me some lemongrass-scented Primally Pure deodorant and I’m hooked. They make a handy mini version I like to carry with me. And I’m obsessed with this Thermos Intak water bottle. It has a built-in counter ring so you can make sure you’re drinking at least 8 glasses (three bottles full) or a gallon (5.5 bottles full, which is what I try to reach). It also has a carabiner loop and a little wire gate closure, so it won’t pop open in your bag.
Liz, director of photography (7 years)
I highly recommend Marmot waterproof jackets — I’ve had this one for a number of years. It’s lightweight, it’s completely waterproof, and it can easily fold up and be tucked into a bag. Although it’s unlined, I find it’s still quite warm. If it gets really cold out, I wear it as a shell, adding another jacket underneath. I’ve worn my Marmot on many types of sets in many varied shooting conditions, and it’s never disappointed.
Justin, production designer (8 years)
I’m shooting in glamorous Van Nuys right now and it is hot as fuck. Everything I’ve been wearing is in service of that. I wear these cargo shorts a lot — I need pockets for my notebook and pencil and phone (plus auxiliary charger), and belt loops so I can wear a belt for my tape measure.
I like drapey T-shirts in the lightest material possible. Vince comes up in weekly rotation. For shoes, I’ve been rocking simple oxfords. They elevate my outfit ever so slightly (and the wooden heel warns my crew to get back to work when they hear me clicking toward them).
Alex, director of photography/assistant camera (11 years)
Whether traversing the Amazon rainforest on a Netflix docuseries or braving swampy Clarksdale, Mississippi, on an indie feature, I am never caught without my ExOfficio underwear. Seriously, it is the best for hot, humid weather. Cannot be overstated.
Ariel, costume designer (2 years)
Set style staples: Comfortable, breathable Arcopedico lace-ups for summer and Danner boots for cooler days. Gotta make sure my toes are covered — it’s a union rule! Another must-have is a lightweight long-sleeve button-up. These are usually Goodwill finds for me, but Club Monaco has some nice options. And I love the 100 percent hemp T-shirts from Jungmaven.
Blair, producer/director (5 years)
I love my OtterBox Commuter Wallet. I use it more than just on set. It protects my phone when it (inevitably) falls and also keeps my ID/credit cards and anything else like cash I’d want in it. I’m not a purse girl. I always have my Incase backpack with me, too. It’s light, it has a slot for my laptop and a little top pouch for other randoms (tampons, pens, chargers), and then a bigger slot for things like hard drives. And I am literally always wearing a cheap pair of sunglasses. Not only do they keep the sun from my eyes, they keep crew members from seeing my massive eye rolls.
Bret, director of photography/key grip/gaffer (10 years)
As a freelance camera person, I have to be kind of a clothing chameleon. Recently, I’ve had days working in dry desert lake beds where the temperature rose from the 40s when we arrived at 6 a.m. to the 90s by midday. There’s no time to walk away from the shot to change, so convertible pants are a must. What is this luxurious-sounding garment? Nothing but the greatest combination of fabric and zippers ever created. Simply put, CPs are pants with zippers around the knee section that allow you to remove the fabric below your knee, leaving you in shorts. What?!? I know!
And here’s an even more advanced move: When working in the brush/tall grass and bugs are a concern but weather calls for shorts, unzip your CPs halfway to allow airflow while also protecting them ankles from bugs.
Annie, actor/writer/producer (6 years)
Supergoop! SPF 50 makeup setting spray — if I’m shooting outside, I can reapply SPF this way throughout the day without messing up my makeup, and it’s got a refreshing rosemary mint smell that makes me feel and (hopefully) look more awake. I’m obsessed.
Erica, director/assistant camera (2 years)
My No. 1 is a lightweight down jacket (I’m always cold!!) that can be compressed to a small size. I always have mine with me because it gets cold even inside buildings. I keep hand warmers in my kit, too, just in case. For very hot weather, I recommend this cooling towel. And definitely a sun hat with a strap, so it doesn’t fly away.
I wear New Balance sneakers, which seem to be the popular set shoe — their cushioned inserts make a difference for my feet as well as my back. Non-attire-related: I always carry a Clif Bar because you never know how bad crafty will be or if it’ll be accessible. I also always have my Leatherman.
Moira, director of photography (9 years)
Lately I’ve been rocking these super dorky sunglass holders. Protecting your eyes from the sun is paramount, especially when you’re a DP! But fancy polarized sunglasses won’t do you any good if you lose them or they get crushed at the bottom of your AC’s run bag. I’m constantly taking my sunglasses on and off since I spend half my time looking through the viewfinder of the camera, and buying Croakies has made my life a whole lot easier (snickers from my crew notwithstanding).
Hayley, producer/director (7 years)
I’m a sucker for Burt’s Bees facial wipes, whether I’m on set or traveling/shooting outside. Studios can be super drying, and the mascara I optimistically put on at 5:30 a.m. inevitably runs. Plus, I can wipe the day away if I need to head out after wrap with a fresh face.
Christine, writer/producer/director (17 years)
This is going to sound strange, but my go-to is an elastic tangle-free hair band. Because I constantly take my Comtek on and off, my long hair turns into a crazy, matted mess. So I now wear a French braid every day, which entails a tangle-free elastic band at the bottom.