Does Superman spend all his time hunched in front of a monitor? Batman? The Green Lantern? When you're the hero of the story, sometimes you have to get physical. And the Dream Tech is no different—securing lights, kludging connections, and whipping out a multitool to handle other grip-related tasks. New York Dream Techs Erika Hokanson and Ryan Brooks explain what they carry on set in their essential grip kits.
Michelle Brady is a photographer and educator. While teaching and photographing, she spent several years as a digital tech and digital systems consultant, helping photographers set up their digital workflow. She currently owns and operates Catskills Workshops & Retreats.
Being prepared will make your mother happy . . . and you’ll look like a super assistant!
My mother always said that I should never show up empty handed.
This great advice of course was in reference to a house visit or when showing up as a dinner guest. However, the rule proved helpful when I worked as an assistant.
Maybe you find it geeky, but bringing a few essential items or a grip kit with you on the job is being a prepared assistant. I also thought it was overkill and geeky—until I realized that not all photographers are the organized people I imagined them to be. Even if they were on a job with several assistants, one Sharpie just wasn’t enough.
So, my advice to you is this: Embrace your inner geek and always have a few essential items on hand.
I’m not suggesting that you show up with a Tenba rolling case packed with your entire inventory of grip, but start with a few essentials both for the shoot and for your personal comfort. Along the way you’ll see what others are bringing and what tools you need to get the job done.
Having several items in your reach (e.g., on a Leatherman or pocket knife) can provide you with the opportunity to have that “super assistant” moment and make you look damn good. Being prepared will help you be efficient in moments when time is of the essence.
Of course, this kit will be different for everyone, so don’t worry—you can still showcase your style and be prepared at the same time. If a tool belt is not in your fashion comfort zone, try a small waist pack or pants with lots of pockets.
I chatted with two assistants, Erika Hokanson and Ryan Brooks, who have worked with some of the top photographers in the industry. Hokanson and Brooks agree that their kits change depending on the shoot, but both carry a few “must have” items.
Erika's Essential Grip Kit
“My standard grip kit and essentials," says Hokanson, "are a Leatherman, gloves, a Sharpie, Klean Kanteen (because a majority of studios in NYC do not recycle plastic bottles), Emergen-C for those really long days, my iPod with a special upbeat playlist, and sunblock and a hat if on location. I tend not to bring a bag with extra items because I find that bags can get in the way when you have to move quickly. I’m usually assisting with photographers who have full-time firsts who pack extensive kits.”
Ryan's Essential Grip Kit
“I have a bag of essentials," says Brooks. "It's got a Sekonic L-358 light meter with the wireless trigger (I know my meter inside and out and I know it’s reliable, so I don’t have to worry about dealing with an inconsistent meter or learning a different system the morning of the shoot), a Leatherman, a few Sharpies, an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport, and a small roll of gaff tape in addition to a Sharpie with about an inch thick of gaff rolled around it. I also have an air blower, card reader, P-cord (light rope), AA batteries, and an extra meter battery. I have gloves for working with hot lights or if we're using a lot of big stands. Oh, and a Clif Bar or two. Stopping for lunch on some days just isn’t possible.”
If you’re still not sure what to bring, I’d suggest having a Leatherman (or something small to cut with), and a few Sharpies. At least you’ll look like you’re trying and be sure to make notes for the next job. You’ll make your photographer, and your mom, very happy.
Ryan Brooks is based in NYC. His calm response to glitches on set is a priceless trait. Like a modern-day MacGyver, Ryan can figure out how to safely rig something with just the tools at hand. He is also dedicated to his own work but knows that when he is on set for someone else he is there to make their life easier and make the day go smoother.
Erika Hokanson lives and works in New York and Los Angeles. She too is calm, cool, and collected on and off set. Her résumé includes work with several of the industry’s top photographers. Even with her busy assisting schedule, she is committed to making time for her own work.
Read more from the Dream Tech series:
Dream Tech: Get Your Digital Tech On
The Way of the A-List Tech
The Well-Equipped Tech
What's on Your Hard Drive?
Network Your Macs