Greetings! Have a filmmaker on your holiday gift list? Maybe you know someone who wants to be the next Christopher Nolan, Alfonso Cuarón, Kathryn Bigelow, Roger Deakins, or Brian Grazer. You’re all for encouraging artists, but buying something special for your favorite filmmaker can be tricky. Filmmaking is not only art; it’s also very technical. It’s difficult to know what gifts your favorite director, DP, or producer will truly appreciate.
So this year, I decided to go beyond the writer and assemble a wish list for filmmakers. Whether you’re looking to spend a little or a lot, you just might find the perfect gift here that shows you believe in your filmmaker’s talent. And that’s really what every artist wants – encouragement.
With digital production and distribution, there has never been a more democratic time to be a filmmaker. You can shoot, edit, compose, and finish your project anywhere, at any time, if you have the right equipment. What is that right equipment? It depends a bit on the project, so definitely talk with your favorite filmmaker before purchasing cameras and lenses. But isn’t it cool to know you can help make a filmmaker’s dream come true with a gift?
To fill out this wish list I’ve invited a dear friend, director and recent Nicholl Fellowship winner Barbara Stepansky (Hurt, Final Recourse), to offer some suggestions along with my own. Barbara has written and directed several short and feature length films, so she’s given some of these items a test run.
While I’ve put some company websites within the post, I’ve also put Amazon links for some of these products at the bottom of the post so you can check out other reviews.
Alan Gordon Mark Vb director’s viewfinder
Camera Lens Coffee Mug
Canon Rebel T5I Digital SLR Camera
The Canon T5i Rebel digital SLR camera delivers a lot of fantastic features, including full HD movie mode. Yes, this versatile camera shoots terrific stills and 1080 HD video. You can often buy the Rebel in a bundle with additional lenses and memory cards. While I do recommend talking with your filmmaker before purchasing a camera, the Rebel is a great place to start. It’ll give you an idea of what to look for in a camera and some of the costs involved. I’ve linked to a Canon T5i Rebel with a lens that goes from wide angle to telephoto; however, there are less expensive packages. The lenses are interchangeable, so your filmmaker can add different Canon lenses down the line.
Opteka Shoulder Stabilizer Support System
Skip the Dramamine. Check out the Opteka shoulder stabilizer support system for the camera unit. It can help address nausea-inducing shaky cam issues due to camera operator fatigue. This lightweight unit is designed for smaller video cams and digital SLR cameras. The camera attaches to an adjustable front mount, which is steadied by a handgrip. The camera can be moved forward or backward on the support arm. Then the camera operator simply slips the shoulder rig over her shoulder and she is ready to shoot. A counterbalance is available for this system and will help align and balance the rig, which further reduces fatigue. For the filmmaker who is shooting with prosumer cameras, this little unit might just save a lot of sore muscles and sorry shots.
Movie Slate App
If you’re on a tight budget and shooting over several days, or just shooting multiple takes, the Movie Slate app may be the perfect compromise between a manual and digital clapper. It works on the iPad, iPad Air, iPad mini, iPhone, and Android phones.
Artemis Director’s Viewfinder App
Another great cost-saving app is the Artemis Director’s Viewfinder. Barbara gives it a thumbs up. She has found it very useful on her iPad. The app includes specs for several camera formats, including 8 mm, 16 mm, 35 mm, and 65 mm, as well as ARRI Alexa; RED MX, Scarlet, and Epic; and Sony F5, F55, F35, F65, and F3, among others. The Artemis Director’s Viewfinder app is available from iTunes.
From script to post-production, the MacBook Pro has the capability filmmakers need to do it all. I’m absolutely biased toward Mac products, but everyone I know who works in the business owns a Mac. It’s the most robust computer for creative artists. If you don’t already have a computer, I would absolutely go for a Mac. Max out the RAM. Max out the hard drive. And you really can’t beat the MacBook Pro laptop.
The MacBook Pro is portable, so you could work on your film on an airplane, in a coffee shop, wherever. Today’s digital production capabilities are astounding. We’re no longer relegated to an edit bay shackled to an Avid. Plus, anyone can own these tools. It’s a beautiful thing. However, filmmakers may need some additional software. And speaking of additional software…
Final Draft and/or Scrivener
For screenwriting, filmmakers may need Final Draft and/or Scrivener. I use both. Final Draft is probably the most widely used screenwriting software in the town. The Scrivener app works with Final Draft as well as independently, which is a nice feature. Both help filmmakers format their scripts so they’ll be able to time them out properly.
Final Cut Pro X
The MacBook Pro comes loaded with iMovie, which is useful for simple video editing. However, for heavier lifting, check out Final Cut Pro X, which gives filmmakers professional level tools. They may need some classes or online tutorials to get the most out of this software package. The freedom and capabilities outweigh the learning curve if your favorite filmmaker wants to go the full indie film route.
The Nina Foch Course for Filmmakers and Actors
Academy-award nominated actress Nina Foch taught Directing Actors at the USC School of Cinematic Arts for more than 40 years. A master educator, Nina had no equals. While in film school, I was fortunate to have Nina for two semesters. Frankly, it was worth going to USC just for Nina’s classes. Not only did I learn about the art of directing in her classes, I also learned a great deal about myself and my classmates. Nina’s classes were a bonding experience for those who challenged themselves to take them. Now anyone can experience Nina’s classes through a special DVD set –the Nina Foch DVD course for Filmmakers and Actors, which is on sale during the holidays at this link.
Produced by Academy-award nominated writer-director-producer George Lucas (Star Wars, American Graffiti, Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Emmy-nominated director-producer Randal Kleiser (Grease, The Blue Lagoon, The Flight of the Navigator), the DVD course was lovingly assembled from more than 200 hours of footage from Nina’s classes. Former Nina Foch students, including Academy-award winning writer-director-producer Ed Zwick (Traffic, Shakespeare in Love, Legends of the Fall), Emmy-nominated producer-director-actor Peter Horton (Grey’s Anatomy, thirtysomething, The Shield) and writer-director-producer Amy Heckerling (Clueless, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), share their insights about directing and acting. These DVDs are a mini-film school unto themselves.
The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV, and Digital Media
Film has a language all its own. In his book The Visual Story, producer Bruce Block (Something’s Got to Give, What Women Want, Baby Boom) deciphers filmic language and helps filmmakers structure their visuals as carefully as writers structure screenplays. Focusing on visual structure adds layers of meaning to a film and elevates the work to art. Barbara says The Visual Story is her bible when it comes to breaking down films into their visual components.
Bruce has been teaching visual structure in motion pictures and television at USC’s film school since 1977. He also travels the world teaching seminars and courses on visual structure. His book is a wonderful resource for any filmmaker.
Still aren’t sure what to get? iTunes and Amazon gift cards are always a good bet. Filmmakers can find apps, movies, and e-books on iTunes. Amazon has tons of cool things to choose from, including instant streaming movies as well as films to own on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Best gift ever!
Understand filmmaking is alchemy. It requires the perfect combination of talents. With each film, the filmmaker continues to grow as an artist. Having someone encourage artists to keep making films truly helps those filmmakers live their dreams. Your favorite filmmaker is lucky to have you in his or her life. Your support and encouragement is the best gift ever!
Have a wonderful holiday season. Cheers!