I studied filmmaking in college, so perhaps it’s no surprise that my life is filled with filmmakers. My husband is one, as are many of our best friends… Suffice it to say that between all of the birthdays and seasonal holidays, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years hunting for the best gifts for filmmakers!
For example, one year I found a super cool F-stop watch at a gift shop. But by and large, gift shops don’t usually have a “For the Established or Aspiring Filmmaker in Your Life” section. So what to do?
Well, Michael and I have put our heads together here at Lights Film School to curate 10 gift ideas for that future Spielberg in your life. If you’re one yourself, then these should do just fine in rounding out your birthday list, letter to Santa, or whatever the occasion may be. They span the spectrum of budget, so there’s something here for everyone!
1. Break Out the Books!
In my house, books are a family favorite especially around Christmas time. They’re not too expensive, easy to wrap, and depending on the book, entertaining and useful. There are approximately 1,000,000,000,000 filmmaking-related books out there, but we’ve rounded up 22 of the best, so that you don’t have to guess at which ones are worth the time and money.
Each and every book included on these three lists has the Lights Film School stamp of approval. For as little as $10, you can give the gift of knowledge and inspiration!
Michael’s latest screenplay, written using WriterDuet Pro!
2. A Subscription to WriterDuet Pro
Way back in history when I was in college (and had to walk uphill to school, both ways), Final Draft was just about the only screenwriting software in town. It was a program you had to install on your computer, and it was not cheap. It also operated much like Microsoft Word and really was used by only one person at a time.
Today, things have changed. Final Draft has grown by leaps and bounds, and although it remains the industry standard, there are a lot of alternatives out there. One such alternative is WriterDuet. It’s particularly well-suited for real-time collaborative workflows, and thanks to cloud storage, accessing your work on different devices is a breeze. A subscription starts at $6.60/month, but your first three scripts are completely free. No page limit, no time limit, no limitations on export and import. This one’s for the screenwriters out there!
3. An Adobe Creative Cloud Membership
Speaking of software, an Adobe Creative Cloud membership will gift the filmmaker in your life access to Adobe Premiere Pro, a versatile non-linear editing platform that’s all but filled the shoes of Apple’s Final Cut Pro 7, which was a fan favorite among indie filmmakers many moons ago.
Of course, there’s other editing software out there – notably Final Cut Pro X, Avid Media Composer, and more recently, the upstart DaVinci Resolve – but the cool thing about Creative Cloud is that you get a lot more than just Premiere. Membership opens the door to a whole suite of interconnected tools useful for filmmakers, including After Effects and Photoshop, among others.
4. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
Now we’re cooking with gas! Retailing at the time of this writing for $1,295, the recently-released Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K features fantastic image quality and color science at an insanely competitive price. Icing on the cake? It includes DaVinci Resolve Studio, which usually costs $299 on its own, rendering this a far-reaching gift for filmmakers.
Although we aren’t about to dub Blackmagic’s Pocket Cinema Camera 4K the “best” camera on the market – Lights Film School students and longtime LFS fans will recall we believe there is no “best”, so much as there is “best for your unique use case and circumstances” – we just can’t ignore the bang for your buck, here. You keep well below the $2,000+ price tag associated with so many other relatively affordable indie film-friendly cameras, like the Panasonic GH5S and Sony a7SII.
Michael’s 18mm Moment lens in the field.
5. Lenses for Your Smartphone
If the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K feels too extravagant, it doesn’t mean that your filmmaking-loving loved one is out of luck in the cinematic achievements department! As we’ve discussed before, many indie filmmakers are turning no further than their pockets for film equipment. Phone cameras have come a long way since the days of pixelated flip-phone images.
Such a long way, in fact, that there are now special lenses for phone cameras that help you achieve higher-quality, more artful still photography – and yes, video! In particular, Moment offers a great range of lenses, including a wide 18mm lens, a tele 58mm lens, an anamorphic lens, a macro lens, and a superfish lens.
Moment lenses are another Lights Film School team favorite. Michael, who travels a ton, uses them all the time and recommends starting with the $99 18mm lens. “It really takes your mobile photography and video work to the next level,” he says. “You can get two times more picture in there.”
6. Ye Olde Trusty Tripod
A tripod is arguably one of the first and most important tools the beginning filmmaker should attain. It’s a tried and true stabilization system, and although you can rent tripods from most film gear rental shops, it makes a lot of sense to own one, too.
“A tripod is not just a support for when the light goes low, requiring you to use a lower shutter speed,” the photo-video equipment company Manfrotto explains. “It may also be your friend when, for creative reasons, you want to open your aperture, add a strong neutral density filter or get a shallow depth of field. It definitely is essential when you want to use a slower shutter speed, to capture a slice of time in a single frame.”
When you’re in the market for a video tripod system, you should know that there are the legs and the fluid head, which can be bought separately or together. You’ll need both pieces to get up and running.
Generally speaking, we’re big fans of Manfrotto and Gitzo tripods. Michael’s taken his super-light Gitzo Mountaineer around the world, through all sorts of weather and shooting conditions. A more popular option is the Manfrotto 504HD System retailing around $650. Expensive? Quite. But nowhere near the OConner Ultimate 2575D, a mainstay on film sets that costs around $18,000!
If you’re looking for an affordable option, the Velbon Videomate 638 for small camcorders and DSLRs is a good place to start, coming in at around $99. And then of course there’s the versatile GorillaPod family, starting at $14.95. Granted, it’s important to note that not all tripods are created equal! They come in ranges of sizes with ranges of features, including differences in leg flexibility, head motion, load-bearing capacity, weight, and more. That’s why you can spend as little as $14.95 or as much as $18,000 for the same kind of tool.
When it comes to image stabilization, there are handheld tools to behold, too.The DJI Ronin-S, a 3-axis gimbal stabilizer for DSLR and mirrorless cameras, can help you get smooth video on the move for a cool $749. For around $140, the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 is an outstanding smartphone gimbal that can come in handy for smartphone cinematography and/or location scouts.
7. An External Audio Recorder
Increasingly, video cameras are outfitted with higher-quality sound capture capabilities and external microphone connections. However, many filmmakers still prefer to rock a dual system sound setup, in which audio is recorded separately from video. This can help ensure high-quality audio and/or provide a sound backup, in case the on-camera sound system should fail for some reason.
Sometimes it’s okay to record sound after the fact. But in other instances, doing Automatic Dialogue Replacement (ADR) just isn’t ideal, for performance or other reasons. I remember once when I was working in talent management, a studio called to schedule ADR with an actor. The actor called my office, panicked: “I have to do this in ADR? What happened? It’s my most emotional scene! I was crying!” Turns out, the sound had been lost.
For external sound recording, consider the Zoom H4N Pro, the successor to the indie film-friendly, much-lauded Zoom H4N. Retailing for around $200, it’s a relatively affordable addition to the indie filmmaker’s toolkit. If there’s a little more wiggle room in your wallet, then for ~$150 more, you could pick up Zoom’s flagship model, the H6, boasting interchangeable mic capsules, physical knobs, and a host of other professional features.
8. A Copy of Any Film from Sight & Sound‘s “Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time” List
Sight & Sound is the magazine of the British Film Institute. As legendary film critic Roger Ebert describes, Sight & Sound “has been conducting its poll every 10 years since 1952. Because it is world-wide and reaches out to voters who are presumably experts, it is by far the most respected of the countless polls of great movies – the only one most serious movie people take seriously.”
Here at Lights Film School, we’re big believers in the power of watching movies to inspire and improve your filmmaking. What better case studies than the 50 greatest films of all time? The most recent list can be found here.
From Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, currently #1 on Sight & Sound’s “Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time” list.
9. A Subscription to the Criterion Collection’s New Streaming Service
Speaking of the greatest films of all time, The Criterion Collection is launching a new streaming service in the spring of 2019! Everyone who subscribes early gets access to special features and discounts. Fans of Criterion may know that FilmStruck, a WarnerMedia-owned classic film streaming service that hosted The Criterion Collection, was discontinued. At first it was unclear what the fate of The Criterion Collection would be, but a few weeks ago, Criterion announced its own independent streaming service.
Criterion has been a mainstay in my circle of filmmaking family and friends over the years. In college, we’d rush to the since-closed Borders, Books, and Music every time there was a sale on Criterion Collection DVDs. In fact, on a recent trip to the mall, my husband made a special trip to Barnes and Noble for the same purpose! But for so many people, physical media is becoming less and less the norm. We all stream, and as we continue to move further away from physically owning things, it becomes more and more important to find ways to create access to libraries and collections of the classics.
“In an era of huge corporate acquisitions of cinema by communication companies – in a business that may render billions of dollars off a medium like cinema, we believe this is a gesture that is needed – a minuscule show of goodwill towards the preservation and accessibility of a tradition and a rich history that would benefit the public.”
Support the cause and sign up here to give the gift of cinema history!
10. Enrollment in Lights Film School!
As someone who’s been working with Lights Film School for over a decade, I am continually inspired by the level of creativity, talent, and ability that is present in our entire student body and faculty, worldwide. Lights Film School offers the opportunity for aspiring filmmakers to connect with one another and get a high-quality, personalized education no matter where they..