One of the things that schools and lower budget productions sometimes overlook is security. 

This is unfortunate because they are the people who can least afford to lose a few thousand dollars worth of equipment.  Here are some things you can do to avoid being ripped off in the big city, or anywhere else for that matter.

1. Never leave equipment unattended. .. .EVER

The number one thing you can do to protect your gear is not leave it unattended in vehicles, especially overnight, especially in cities (Studies have shown that it only takes a person with a crowbar about 30 seconds to break into any locked vehicle.)  If you have so much gear that it’s not practical to unload your vehicle, make sure you park it in a bonded (insured) garage or reputable lot with 24-hour attendants.  You should be aware that many garages will likely charge more for large vehicles or not accept them at all.  Never store valuables where they will be visible (and accessible) through windows.  Use a cargo van over a passenger van for storing gear.  Even during shooting someone should be with the equipment if it is in, or just outside of, a vehicle.

2. Always keep your master tapes secure

Nothing on set is more valuable than the precious footage that you have spent days gathering, because you usually won’t have the option to go back and capture those moments again.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone.  Master tapes or media should always be kept by the most responsible person on set, either the director, producer or DP (Director of Photography).

3. Take inventory of equipment regularly

It’s very easy for a busy and tired crew to leave some gear behind as you dash from shoot to shoot.  Every single time you wrap at a location, you and the crew should double-and triple-check to make sure that you have all of your equipment.  Keep a written checklist.  Make sure you especially check for easily overlooked parts such as adapters, filters, cables and especially anything small.

4. Be watchful loading and unloading gear in public

Apart from leaving it alone overnight, loading and unlading is the most vulnerable time for your equipment because the crew is busy moving gear back and forth or organizing in the back of the vehicle.  It’s very easy for someone with quick hands to lift an item sitting on the sidewalk and never even be noticed.  Always have a dedicated set of eyeballs watching the gear during load in and load out.

Excerpted from The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide Focal Press.  Available in the School Video News Online Store.

Anthony Artis is a 15-year veteran of the Film and TV industry whose features and shows have been screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, the IFP Feature Market, Slamdance, and on MTV.  He has worked professionally in positions as diverse as producer, gaffer, and cinematographer, and has survived more low-budget shoots than he cares to admit.  Anthony is presently the manager of the Film and TV Production Center at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he coordinates the technical training and production equipment for all film and TV students.