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Filmmaking Tip: Gear For a One Man Documentary Crew

Johnathan Paul

If you find yourself forced to go it alone, here’s all the gear you’ll need to get the job done as a one man documentary crew.

Being a documentary filmmaker can sometimes mean that you’re going at it alone. Often you’ll have a small crew, but there will be times when you need an interview and everyone you know is booked. In those moments, you’ll have to fly solo. This is a situation that many documentary filmmakers have found themselves in. But fret not, we’ve got you covered. Here’s the bare minimum gear that you’ll need if you ever find yourself in this very situation.

Camera Setup

When you have your subject ready for their interview, be sure to choose a camera loadout that’s simple enough for a one-man crew. No rigs or sliders — just a trusty ol’ tripod will suffice. By placing the camera on a tripod and setting your critical focus, you’ll insure that you’ve captured the best quality video. That is unless you have enough coin to drop on something like the Redrock Micro Motorized Slider.

For any documentary film shoot, you really can’t go wrong with a quality DSLR. On just about every single doc shoot that I’ve been on the ole reliable Canon 5D Mark III makes an appearance. In fact, I’ve used this camera on many occasions for my own documentaries. With that in mind, here is a simple loadout of what you’ll need. If you don’t have a Mark III then don’t worry, just insert the DSLR that you do have along with the corresponding gear.

Gear For a One Man Documentary Crew: Camera
Image from Birdviewpicture

  1. Canon 5D Mark III (Body Only): $2,499.00
  2. Canon EF 24-70mm Zoom Lens: $1,899.00
  3. CompactFlash 32GB Memory Card: $64.95
  4. Benro Aero 4 Tripod Kit: $259.00

As we said, using a simple setup of a Canon 5D Mark III or other DSLR, along with a quality zoom lens, should get you exactly what you need. Do primes look the best? Yes, but you’ll want simple flexibility and the zoom gives you that. Remember, you’re a one man crew and being able to zoom in and out to change the framing is much easier on you than having to reposition the camera and tripod.

Sound Setup

So you have your camera setup, but now you need to ensure that you’re capturing the best quality audio. You should setup a small shotgun mic on the top of your DSLR. This way you can capture an overall audio tone, specifically room tone. However, for the actual interview audio, you’ll want to use a lavalier microphone setup. I like to use the Sennheiser wireless lav mic kit with a Zoom field recorder and Sennheiser headphones. But if you have comparable gear, use what you have. Here’s a sample load out of what you will need.

Gear For a One Man Documentary Crew: Audio
Image from Bigstock

  1. Zoom H6 Field Recorder: $399.99
  2. Sennheiser Wireless Lavalier Mics: $629.95
  3. Rode VideoMic: $106.99
  4. Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Headphones: $99.95
  5. SanDisk 32GB Ultra SDHC Card: $14.99

For a broader overview of what a pro documentary sound designer uses for gear, here is an awesome video from The Location Crew. In this video, sound recordist Dean Miles goes through his entire gear setup, which is quite impressive.

Lighting Setup

Now that you have your camera in place and audio ready to go, we need to light your interviewee. There are a whole host of options on how to do this, but I’ve found LED lights to be the very best option when you’re on a doc shoot all by your lonesome. In fact, I’ve moved away from tungsten lights over the last year on every shoot I’m on, as the LED lights don’t produce tons of heat and they are more energy efficient. Yongnuo makes a great quality light kit for $60 per light, but if you want something that will produce amazing light, then look at Genaray LED lights. I typically use a traditional three light setup with stands and gels. I then run stingers to power each light. If I’m on the move, then the LED can used Sony V-Mount batteries, which is handy.

Gear For a One Man Documentary Crew: Lighting
Image from Cinescopophilia

  1. Genaray SpectroLED: $374.00 ea.
  2. Impact Light Stand: $44.99 ea.
  3. Pro Gel Vivid Color Pack: $22.95
  4. Watson 25ft AC Power Cord: $12.95

For a more in-depth look at how to properly light your interview subject, check out this incredibly helpful video from Stray Angel Films.

Looking for a few more documentary filmmaking tips? Check out these articles from PremiumBeat.

Did this info get you prepared to do it all yourself? What steps do you take to prepare for one man band situations? Let us know in the comments below.