Sure, you’ve got gumption, a can-do attitude, and thick skin. But do you have the right tools to maximize your productivity? Here’s a rundown of our favorite, must-have apps and gadgets for working producers.
1. Filmmaking Tools
Much of your work as a film producer involves a flood of digital data on your laptop. Make sure you have enough storage space!
If you need more disk space but don’t want to lug around an external drive, we recommend a leave-in MicroSD for your laptop. The MicroSD card will appear as a drive, and will immediately be available for use. It’s basically like having an invisible external drive without any of the required power consumption. We recommend the SanDisk Ultra series for performance and reliability. SanDisk’s MicroSD cards range from 8 GB to 200 GB (costing anywhere from $7-$80).
If you’re on a Macbook, we suggest also picking up BaseQi’s Ninja Stealth Drive, an aluminum MicroSD adaptor that fits snuggly into the SD card slot for a more “seamless” brushed aluminum finish that blends in.
The Ninja Stealth Drive adapter retails for around $25. You’ll also need to buy an SD card.
Unfortunately, laptop batteries just don’t last very long. This is problematic for producers who rely on their trusty laptops to manage production software and documents on set. If you are shooting in a remote location without any wall outlets, the best way to extend your laptop’s battery life is with an external battery.
We’ve used quite a few external batteries in our tests (many with little luck), and our favorite is the Intocircuit Power Monster. We’ve seen a laptop’s battery life nearly double when plugged into this little guy.
If you’re on a Macbook, you’ll also need to purchase one of these cables separately.
The Road Trip is a unique car socket charger that comes with a built-in external battery for charging on-the-go.
The idea is that you plug it into your car socket and plug your phone in the other end. As you’re driving to set, it charges your phone first and then fills up the 3,000mAh battery.
When you reach your location, unplug the charger from the car and take it with you to keep your phone charged.
The Mophie is essentially a phone case with rechargeable batteries built-in. It adds some bulk, but it’s a small sacrifice for nearly doubling your iPhone’s run time. Mophie and others also offer several external battery options that you can just plug in and use to receive a boost when needed.
If you’re on an iPhone 6s, Apple their own version of the Mophie called the iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case. The Mophie is still our top pick since it offers longer battery life and costs a bit less.
Film Production Management Software
There was a time when breakdown sheets, stripboards, day-out-of-days, and other production documents were typed up and carried around in giant binders. Woe to the clumsy assistant with the too-full cup of coffee!
These days, all that stuff gets done digitally.
With production management moving to the cloud, productions can collaborate more effectively these days.
Yamdu offers a plethora of functionality. From production calendars to tasks to scheduling features. Yamdu is totally web-based and its plans start at $50/mo.
StudioBinder (who published this article) offers a modern interface to create and send call sheets, shooting schedules, breakdowns and contact lists. StudioBinder is most known for its call sheet builder and distribution system which personalizes mobile call sheets and tracks confirmations. StudioBinder offers a free plan and pro plans that begin at $25/mo.
Chances are, your line producer or production manager are using software like this to create everything from the production schedule to script breakdown sheets.
The software is reliable, but user experience and lack of collaboration makes them feel clunky. Make sure to allocate enough time for training and ramp up.
Pro tip: Whether you use cloud-based production management software or not, always check the connectivity of your shooting location. It’s wise to have offline copies of your most critical documents (i.e. script, call sheet, film crew list, budget and schedule).
Film Budgeting Software
Some line producers like to use the specialized programs. Others are fine sticking with a Excel or Google spreadsheets. In either case, make sure your solution is acceptable to the executive producer, line producer and accountant.
Movie Magic Budgeting has been the go-to industry standard for many years. It’s a robust program that streamlines the process, and generates reports that identify budgeting trouble spots. Gorilla Budgeting is a slightly cheaper and newer competitor, and offers similar functionality.
Film Budget Template (Spreadsheet)
Many producers and line producers like to use Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel to create their budgets. Spreadsheets are completely customizable and easy to share with other members of the production team.
Best part of using a spreadsheet is that you don’t have to start from scratch. There are many available budgeting templates that can start you off.
Best Filmmaking Software for Productivity
Film producing is comprised of a plethora of spreadsheets and documents, so no toolbox would be complete with an office suite of applications.
Office365’s lower business plans are cloud-based and come with all the essentials like Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint at just $6/mo.
We recommend upgrading to the $10/mo plan since it includes desktop installations which are handy when you’re on-location and outside of internet range.
Google Drive is an equally great alternative and free. But beware! If you’re on-set without a wifi connection, you won’t be be able to access your files.
Whether you’re sending out the latest press kit or receiving a new cut of the trailer, you’ll likely find yourself transferring large files online.
Dropbox has been around for a while, and offers 2GB of online storage for free. Newer alternatives offer more space. Google Drive offers 15GB and Cloud365 offers 20GB for free.
Hightail is a good option for sending large video files but its free plan caps storage at 250mb. Storage on pro plans are unlimited and come with tasks and approval workflows for teams.
I’ve enjoyed using Cubby for business file sharing since you can make any folder on your desktop shareable and collaborate on the same files.
The law still applies to indie film! It’s best to have a lawyer for your production. With tools like UpCounsel, it’s much easier to find one and hire them on-demand. This is great if you’re operating on a tighter budget and need to avoid retainer fees.
Although it can be risky, if you’d like to tackle the legal stuff on your own, such as forming a company or working with IP, online tools like Clerky and the oft-referenced LegalZoom can get you started.
As a producer, managing and signing agreements is a big part of the job. Finding an e-signing solution to streamline the signing process can add up to hours saved. Websites like Docracy and HelloSign streamline the paperwork-signing process by requesting digital signatures online. They also double as cloud storage for executed agreements for easy reference afterwards.
Both apps allow you to use your phone’s camera to scan and e-sign documents. Afterwards, the scans can be converted to PDF and delivered via email.
I use these apps to scan contracts and releases on set, so I have everything signed and filed away before the shoot day ends.
Most of the time when you’re working with screenwriters and editors, you can let them do their work on their own systems without any worry.
But it does happen (and not infrequently) that you have to go into their files to make adjustments. For this reason, you should always have screenwriting and editing software installed on your machine
You won’t need these until you do (and then you’ll really need them).
Chances are, if you’re working on a screenplay, it was written in Final Draft. Movie Magic Screenwriter was a popular choice for many years, too.
Occasionally, you may find writers who use other programs such as Celtx which offers its online screenwriting module for free.
Whatever software your writer uses, make sure you can access those files. In the event you need to convert script formats, check out WriterDuet’s Free Script Convertor.
Pro tip: Final Draft is a more robust program than you might realize. It has built-in reporting features that can help you in all stages of pre-production and production.
I’ve seen countless situations where a video needed a minor change (sometimes as simple as “add a counting leader”), and my fellow producers couldn’t get it done without hiring an editor.
The Film Producer’s Most Important Tool
What producing toolbox would be complete without a really good double-walled stainless steel coffee mug.
As your best friend on set, especially on a chilly 5am call time, it prevents coffee or tea spills, keeps your drinks toasty for hours, and gives you something to hold on to when production is underway.
I still have one that I bought years ago when I still worked at Starbucks.
Production is a complicated process, and there are many ways to get through it successfully. We all have our favorite filmmaking software and hardware.
I’ve described some of my favorites, but I’m sure there are others that I missed.
What are your favorite tools for filmmaking and producing?
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