Lehman's Terms: Jenny's Favorite Things, Part 2: Production Bags
Posted Aug 1, 2005

When starting a video production business, keeping costs down is very important, and expensive production bags are a luxury. Suitcases, duffle, and tool bags are cheaper, but keep in mind that looking professional is also very important. Every impression you give is a direct representation of your product and business; consider a professional-looking production bag as part of your uniform. I used to carry six large camera/production bags, three tripod bags, and three light stands to every wedding. Each wedding became more of an undertaking and added extreme stress on my body.

Fortunately, technology has given us smaller and lighter cameras and convenient wheeled productions bags. I now use one large production bag on wheels and one light bag, and sling three lightweight tripods and light stands over my shoulder. Unless you are carrying one camera and walking a short distance, save yourself a lot of headache (and backache!) and get a bag with wheels.

My favorite production bag is the PortaBrace WPC-3OR ($479 at www.portabrace.com). I love its compartments and pockets, pullout handle, and off-road wheels, which make it great for rolling across grass and cobblestone sidewalks. It features six outside and three inside pockets; comes with a divider kit to customize your gear; has several D-rings to attach a small flashlight, pen, and keys as well as a luggage-type ID tag; and easily holds my four PD 170 cameras, camera lights, dozen-plus camera batteries, additional lenses, five wireless microphones, gaffer's tape, toolkit, first aid kit, personal items, business cards, two to three monopods or small tripods, and headphones.

Carrying all this equipment can make getting your bag in and out of your vehicle and up and down stairs quite a challenge, but you can ease the strain by purchasing PortaBrace's leather handle that attaches to the case via two D-rings and retails for approximately $28.

PortaBrace also makes a slightly smaller bag (WPC-2) that holds less but still makes transporting your equipment a breeze. It is best suited for a two- to three-camera shoot.

PortaBrace has a super reputation for quality products and great service; their Cordura fabric is durable and holds up under extreme use. They sell numerous bags that you can order in red, camouflage, and black at an additional fee. I prefer black because of its unobtrusiveness.

PortaBrace also offers the Slinger over-the-shoulder bandolier pack ($159). This multi-pocket shoulder bag comfortably holds cell phone, two-way radios, batteries, tapes, cable, microphones, business cards, etc., and will save you valuable time running back and forth to your production bag.

I currently own about 20 PortaBrace bags including tripod, audio mixer, and light run bags and rain slickers. They also make the best cable binders/ties, which are held on to the cable by an elastic band. They come in several color-coded sizes and make it fast and easy to bind a neat coil of cable.

Tamrac also makes a good production case. Their wheeled production bag is hinged and holds a lot of accessories but lacks the durability and capacity of PortaBrace bags. The wheels broke on mine after a short time and the material showed wear quickly. I also like the Pelican cases because of their strong hard casing, but they're bulkier and less portable.
Tripod and light stand bags are important for protecting your gear, especially when stored in your vehicle. If you are in a car accident, all your equipment pieces become dangerous flying projectiles, unless they're in bags. SKB tripod cases (www.skbcases.com) are great if you're shipping gear on airplanes. They are strong and many have wheels. I store mine in cases while in the car but find that it's faster and easier to take just what I need and sling them over my shoulder. I have each tripod and light stand equipped with a shoulder strap. Several companies, including Bogen, make straps. I have also found some great bags at Home Depot made for tools, and they also come with wheels and are a lot less expensive than bags made specifically for video production.

If you like the bags you have but just need wheels, the best cart available is the Kart-a-Bag Tri-Kart 800 (300 lbs., $225). Its tubular frame quickly unfolds and has large 6" roller bearing semi-pneumatic wheels for gliding over curbs and stairs easily. It also has permanently attached elastic cords that prevent load shifting. Well worth getting are the rear 3" swivel casters to function as a four-wheel dolly. After stacking heavy equipment on this cart, it will be heavy to pull without these extra two wheels. Larger wheels placed farther apart make it roll much better.

Padded bags are nice to carry and protect your expensive wireless microphones and two-way radios. I use bags made by Lectrosonics for microphones ($20) and a 9" Neoprene DVD case made by Case Logic ($15).

Having a place for everything before you begin is important for fast and efficient access to your equipment. I am very particular about how my bags are packed. If you are consistent in packing and replacing equipment, you won't waste time looking for items. Invest in good bags and don't make this job harder than it is. And don't worry about buying more than you need—if you have the space, you will fill it!