These programs fit on a USB stick to carry to every job. You never know when it’s going to come in handy, and you might not have a reliable internet connection, so it’s best to be prepared.
1. Screenshotting Program
Used for: Helping out in troubleshooting by quickly preserving screenshots of error messages; creating workflow guides; preserving screenshots of file structures to show other assistants and editors.
Windows: ShareX is free and and the best screenshot program out there right now. Set a hotkey to select a section of your screen, the screenshot is saved to a folder of your choice + auto-uploads to imgur and posts the link onto your clipboard. So to quickly share a screenshot with someone, you hit the hotkey and then Ctrl+V to post an imgur link. Other ShareX features include syncing to Dropbox and other butt storage platforms, and being able to highlight or black out sections of text before you screenshot.
OS X: Unfortunately, ShareX is Windows-only, and there are no strong competitors that come close to its functionality. However, OS X natively has a pretty seamless screenshot tool; you can screenshot areas of the screen with CMD+OPT+3 and click & dragging across the screen. I recommend changing the location that the files are saved to, you can do this by typing in Terminal:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture location ~/Screenshots/
You can set the filepath to whatever. Drag the folder into Favorites so that you quickly have access to it.
2. Renaming Program
Used for: Renaming non-unique camera clips (such as GoPro, DSLR or iPhone); quickly changing naming conventions.
Windows: Advanced Renamer is an extremely powerful free renaming tool that supports regex and keeps a detailed log (with undo feature!) of everything you’ve ever renamed.
OS X: Unfortunately, Advanced Renamer is not available for OS X. The program I’ve used the most is NameChanger, a free program that supports regex. Unlike Advanced Renamer, it does not keep histories or support undo features, but there may be more advanced options out there for OS X. NameChanger does have a much simpler and more straightforward UI which makes it easier to learn and tougher to make mistakes.
3. Disk Speed Test Program
Used for: Troubleshooting bad cables and hard drives.
Windows: Black Magic Disk Speed Test. Free. Currently ships with the free utility program Disk Video.
Used for: Troubleshooting faulty video and audio files; quickly checking metadata such as resolution, framerate and codecs; it can even be used for transcoding. VLC is able to play back many types of odd codecs that typical NLEs are not well equipped to handle. It is free and open-source.
Windows, OS X & Linux: Free.
5. Shotput Pro
Used for: Safely copying files while protecting yourself. With a low fixed license cost, there’s no reason not to have a personal copy of Shotput Pro as an assistant. Even when your job isn’t ingest, you could wind up doing it as a one-off, and you want to be able to prove, in the event something goes wrong, that the copy was done as safely as possible. There’s also a trial of Shotput Pro, and the first ten batches are free, which is an option for a production machine where you only need to do a couple of batches.
Windows: Fixed license.
OS X: Fixed license.
6. Black Magic DaVinci Resolve
Used for: Troubleshooting faulty video and audio files; transcoding; logging; quickly checking and editing metadata; dailies. This free NLE is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal in the event that your main NLE breaks and tech support is not available (due to budget or location). Resolve is a free professional-class program, the trusty ace up your sleeve that can temporarily get the job done while you’re trying to find the fix in Avid, Premiere or Final Cut. Be sure to carry multiple versions on your drive, as newer versions of Resolve have high OS requirements. I recommend carrying Resolve 14 (Windows 10+, Sierra+, CentOS 6.8+), Resolve 12.5 (Windows 8.1+, Yosemite+, CentOS 6.4+), and probably even Resolve 11.9 (Windows 7+, Mountain Lion+, CentOS 5.4+).
Windows, OS X, & Linux: All downloads are available here, CMD+F and search for your Resolve version.
Used for: Quickly troubleshooting issues or searching for solutions when you don’t have a reliable internet connection. These things take up so little space, and are such a wealth of information, there’s no reason not to have them with you at all times. The Avid manual is currently 1400 pages and seems to grow by 50 pages with each iteration. There’s also a ton of little pamphlets on codecs and specific workflows. You should carry manuals for every NLE, because you just never know. It also makes for some productive reading while you’re doing something boring like waiting for a drop from transport department at 2AM.
Avid Media Composer 8.x Manuals & ReadMes
Black Magic Resolve & Fusion Manuals
Final Cut X Manuals & ReadMes
Final Cut 7 Manual
Adobe Premiere Pro CC Manual
After Effects CC Manual
Photoshop CC Manual
Audition CC Manual
Pro Tools 12.x Manuals & ReadMes
Logic Pro X Manuals & ReadMes
8. Google Chrome
Used for: Syncing bookmarks and activity. I guess you don’t have to use this browser above all others; just pick something that will store your bookmarks and search history to my butt, and stick with that. The idea is that you want to be fast, know all the useful shortcuts, and have all the typical bookmarks of workflow documentation and troubleshooting tools available without having to search for them.
Windows, OS X & Linux: Free.