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Equipment Investments?


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#1 darrin p nim

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Posted 23 September 2007 - 04:51 PM

I just graduated Brooks Institute a few weeks ago, and Im looking for work. :rolleyes: But mainly, I cant help but think that i want to invest in something. Something to help get me work, or to include in a kit fee or just for my own sake. I have been thinking about a Camera (HD or 16, or ?), an LH1700, Kinos, or Hot lights... Honestly Im not too sure. I'd thought I would ask here to see if people have invested in their own equipment and what were the benefits of doing so. Was it at first and/or overall an intelligent decision.

I feel that here in LA that anybody will take advantage of you if you have an HVX200, which really turns me off from that (and honestly not my favorite camera) but the next step up would have me open a loan inorder to purchase. An lower model Aaton can be affordable but can carry issues if it hadnt been serviced, which can be common. An LH1700 would be benefitial to me as a HD light meter(Waveform), with a visual output, Im not absolutely fond of it because of it being LCD but the waveform for me is nice. Kinos? I like kinos. But I dont know if they would benefit me as much as a camera would... Same as hotlights, cheaper than Kinos but other factors keep them from being on top of the list.

Any thoughts?
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 September 2007 - 04:57 PM

Probably better to start working and see what common tools you find yourself using and then buy those, rather than guess what you'll be using and then find work that might use that piece of equipment.

Although if you want to break-in as a cinematographer on small indie projects, getting whatever the current favorite camera is might be a good idea, whether or not it is an HVX200 or the upcoming small Sony XDCAM. At least with a camera, you can shoot stuff for your reel in the meantime.

Not that I ever owned a camera other than a Super-8 one.
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#3 Chris Keth

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Posted 23 September 2007 - 05:02 PM

I'm planning on starting a good filter kit to take on shows. A good basic set of NDs, clear flat, 85, 85 NDs, certain grads perhaps, et cetera will pay for itself pretty quick and are standard fare.

In time, I would like to collect a couple of my favorite diffusions, as well.
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#4 Michael Nash

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Posted 23 September 2007 - 05:46 PM

The problem with something even as simple as filters is that there's very little that's consistent among all shoots. You use different filter sizes depending on the camera/lens/matte box; different tripod heads depending on the camera, different cameras depending on the shoot, and so on. If you regularly do the same kind of work (like AC'ing film shoots with 4x5 filters), then you can expect a quick return on something lower-priced like filters. But inevitably you'll have shoots that can't use your gear, and you can't buy one of everything and expect it to pay for itself (unless you go into the rental business).

The other dynamic is that the cheapest (i.e. most affordable) gear usually gets used on the lowest-budget productions, which usually can afford to pay the least for it. I wonder how many beginning filmmakers have purchased HVX200's and actually turned a profit on it, vs. being asked to use it for free? (I'm sure there are established professionals who have easily paid off their HVX's). And investing in more expensive high-end professional gear carries a bigger burden of rental -- professional shows may be more able to afford it, but you'd better have the work predictably lined up to keep up with that bigger nut.

That said, an entry-level "professional" camera like the HVX200 isn't a bad way to get started, because at the very least you can at least practice your own shooting/directing and work on no/low budget films to build up your connections. If you can charge a little for the camera from time to time then great, but don't expect it to pay for itself. Think of the cash outlay as an investment in your career, not the gear.
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#5 Patrick Neary

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Posted 23 September 2007 - 06:54 PM

And investing in more expensive high-end professional gear carries a bigger burden of rental -- professional shows may be more able to afford it, but you'd better have the work predictably lined up to keep up with that bigger nut.


The other thing many don't consider with equipment ownership is that when the camera goes down on set for whatever reason, all eyes will immediately turn to you. It's one more bit of pressure you may not want.
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#6 Robert Starling SOC

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Posted 25 September 2007 - 11:27 AM

I just graduated Brooks Institute a few weeks ago, and Im looking for work. :rolleyes: But mainly, I cant help but think that i want to invest in something. Something to help get me work, or to include in a kit fee or just for my own sake. I have been thinking about a Camera (HD or 16, or ?), an LH1700, Kinos, or Hot lights... Honestly Im not too sure.


Hi Darrin, good question.

Aside from investing in the basic tools of your trade and craft, buying camera's, lights whatever will not help you get work. That is what you said you wanted right "Something to help get me work" ?

Too many people get caught up in gear and gadgets and forget the most important thing; your job is not to be a DP, Director, Camera Op. Your job is to build a small (or large) business. Even Freelancing is a business. If you do that and all the parts that go with it including networking, marketing, accounting and goal setting you'll get to do your work or craft, such as DP, camera op etc., and you may be able to actually make a decent living. There are a lot of talented people in our business with plenty of vision but no clue how to network to get work, get along on a set or sadly enough how to charge properly for their work so they can actually make a real living / life for themselves.

My point is: "You can always rent gear, but you can never rent a customer/client/relationship"

I'm absolutely blown away with dismay as to how few people even have a basic business card. How about an ad in the film guide, membership in your craft's association(s), spending money on continued education, workshops and even industry social events or volunteering to help and the events?

Obviously a small camera is a usefull tool to practice our craft and test ideas, but a camera won't get you a call to work on many worthwhile jobs if they're only calling you because you have a camera. Now, if part of your business plan is to build a rental business then that's yet another business you need to plan and build.

Congratulations on your graduation and all the best to you!

Robert Starling, SOC
Steadicam Owner / Operator
Steadicam | Aerial | Jib | Underwater
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#7 John Sprung

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Posted 25 September 2007 - 12:10 PM

Any thoughts?

Steer clear of big ticket rapid obsolescence items such as cameras or electronic stuff. Rental companies are in the business of eating the depreciation on such things. You might consider a gear head, they don't go obsolete on you, and owning it means you can take the time to get good on it. Other than that, start with a good kit of ordinary hand tools. Then put together some of the inexpensive little home made odds and ends such as a peanut light kit, a hot swap box, a good collection of adapters, etc....



-- J.S.
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#8 Jon Kukla

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Posted 25 September 2007 - 10:16 PM

Another thing that needs to be taken into account with people intending to buy a fair amount of equipment for rental on their gigs is that the big rental houses are not dopes - if you start to get to a level of gigs or amount of equipment rental where they feel that you may be costing them significant money, they will not look kindly on it and be less inclined to help you out, whether it be discounts or recommending your name to productions. Just something to keep an eye on for long-term career value. (I think either Elkin or Hart even mentions this in their book.)
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#9 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 26 September 2007 - 01:03 AM

What do you most want to do? If you want to be a DP, a camera like the HVX-200 could be helpful to you
in lots of ways.

It will get you at least some jobs you wouldn't have got otherwise.

If you work for the price of the rental, maybe you're getting exploited but you're still working one day as a
D.P. and making more than you might as a non-union third grip or in a retail store.

One day of work a month will pay the note on the loan. Can you get even that one day? If you can, you then
have that camera for the whole month to get good at and on a weekend when you don't have any work or
much money you can spend a whole Sunday getting a couple of great shots (maybe start at sunrise and go
till sunset or later) with which to build a reel. If the camera is paid for that month and you get to play with it
and build your reel, that's better than having to rent (ouch) it or another camera to shoot something for
your reel because you're not getting enough work to generate good footage for your reel. It's tough
getting started. Say you get five days a month doing talking heads. That's great but how much of that
can you stand on your reel?

I have a friend who advised me to buy a camera, even though he never did and he's a majorly succesful D.P..
In his career path, he got a lot of work right off and that got him considered hot in town (and he is really
good) and he's always worked. I had a slower start and buying a camera helped me a lot.

I remember when people would buy 16BL packages and set themselves up as D.P.s but that's a harder sell
now I think.

For the money, there are a lot of people who have saved to direct their first "film" who aren't going to shoot
in film when they feel that they can get that "film look" and your having the right entry level camera might
position you to get work. There are a zillion guys and gals who will want to D.P. but the low budget film
festival hopefuls would rather pay you slightly above rental and not have to worry about one more thing
on their credit cards. Sure, you may be working cheap and some people in town may give you a hard time
but this is America and sometimes being the low bidder is the way to get started.

Anyway, you can be accused of undercutting D.P.s by going out on a low rate that includes gear but most
established D.P.s aren't going to likely be hurt by you because people who want them will pay them for what
they have to offer which may be no camera but more experience than you.

I know a guy who's now a successful Steadicam operator. He took out a loan in his early twenties, bought a
rig, worked cheaply but NEVER for free and although some guys got pissed off at him for undercutting
their rates, he did what he had to do for himself. Those angry guys weren't writing him any checks. I doubt
that he'd be where is now if he hadn't done that. Isn't that the American way? Offer more than the other guy
for less? Granted, the other guys were better but the people who couldn't afford them hired the new guy.

Producers with money hire the experienced guy. Producers with more time than money hire the guy with
more time but less experience.

Now this guy makes top dollar and new guys undercut him but at his level now he doesn't feel it.

I think for the money, buying a key piece of equipment can get you jump started.

Not long ago, a lot of would be editors waited a long time working their way up through the ranks at post
houses. Now, for five grand you can get one heckuva editing system. Why not then? Isn't that better than
starting out dubbing DVDs?

If you want to be a pilot, you might have to join the Air Force. If you want to be a D.P. and can get
a camera that, unlike a jet, doesn't cost 16 billion dollars, maybe buy an HVX-200 and go with an older
car.

One of the other advantages of owning is that, at least with your camera, you'll learn the ins and outs of
it, and there can be many, because you can test all the time. If otherwise all of your experience is the
occasional time you get to use a camera on a job, and if you aren't getting a lot of work and when you do
you aren't in a position to experiement with the camera's possibilities, then maybe then the only way you'll
progress is by owning and getting that one or two days a month to pay the note even if you also have to
have a straight job at Starbucks for a while.

Don't forget; you have some negotiating leverage. You can say okay you producers want to hire me because
you can afford me and I have a camera. Okay, but I am good, I know it, and I'll help you achieve your
vision but since you're getting this great deal I'm looking to do some great work of which I can be proud. I
don't want to direct your film or overshadow it with the cinematography but I want a chance to do some of
it right. Now, you might not say all that out loud but see what's in it for you that will compensate you for
the deal you cut them, and that also by allowing you to go for some great stuff that fits the job will benefit
them as well.

I'm sure that many people can counter with arguments against ownership. I would venture that the best one
would be if it seems that you get enough work from people who want you and are glad to get whatever
camera they want you to use; then you're all set.

Good luck.
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#10 Bill Totolo

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Posted 26 September 2007 - 01:48 AM

Very hard decision. Keep in mind all the hidden costs such as insurance and support gear.

Insurance can be a bite in the ass but if that camera gets damaged or stolen in the field you'll be happy you had it, and don't get some cut rate insurance that doesn't pay out. Get real production insurance with a proven track record.

You'll also want batteries, tripod, fluid head, some kind of case, then you'll start to think about things like a wide angle adapter, on board monitor, matte box, etc... These items won't break your bank account but totalled up can meet or exceed the original purchase price of the camera.

Just something to consider. Once you dive in it never ends : )

Start small and see where your career leads you.
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#11 Adamo P Cultraro

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Posted 28 September 2007 - 01:20 PM

I don't get the line: 'here in LA everyone will take advantage of you if you have an HVX'. Please explain.
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#12 Chris Keth

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Posted 28 September 2007 - 05:50 PM

I don't get the line: 'here in LA everyone will take advantage of you if you have an HVX'. Please explain.


Well, I think it's refers to something I have noticed. Lots of people want to shoot films with an HVX but I have seen very few who want to pay anything for it. They expect you to work and/or lend their equipment for "the satisfaction of a job well done"/"karmic rewards" (I have actually seen it phrased like that)/copy and credit.
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#13 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 28 September 2007 - 06:28 PM

Don't.

Equipment does not buy you work, at least not the sort of work that'll pay for the equipment.

I own a very simple, basic, (yes, low quality) ENG style camera outfit which I bought for a job I knew would pay for it - and I'd just inherited some money. Beyond that I have a firm policy of not buying cameras but I think this covers most things, really. You are unlikely, especially at first, to be able to specialise enough that owning equipment is feasible. You'll be working on all kinds of stuff, all over the place, and they'll all want different things. Making equipment pay is almost impossible, even for big union steadicam operators in LA - and they get paid a king's ransom, which just goes to show.

Phil
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#14 David Sweetman

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Posted 28 September 2007 - 06:56 PM

One reason I'm glad I went for a 16mm camera is that it retains its equity; I could still sell it for at least what I got it for. Probably more, actually, including what I've added to my package. And I'm sure it will still be working long after today's newest hvx has bitten the dust.

I'm not super fond of the hvx myself, I'd probably go for the JVC HD100u, if anything.

Of course, the only reason I purchased is because I needed it for my personal projects. Also my school and friends own 100u's and hvx's, so those are close at hand if I really need them, but nobody has got a film camera, so that also factored into my decision.

If I was planning on only shooting other people's stuff, however, I can't say what I'd do. I might go for an HD cam just because most productions I'd be on would likely be lower budget, and not be able to pay for film.
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#15 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 28 September 2007 - 07:14 PM

One reason I'm glad I went for a 16mm camera is that it retains its equity; I could still sell it for at least what I got it for. Probably more, actually, including what I've added to my package. And I'm sure it will still be working long after today's newest hvx has bitten the dust.

I'm not super fond of the hvx myself, I'd probably go for the JVC HD100u, if anything.

Of course, the only reason I purchased is because I needed it for my personal projects. Also my school and friends own 100u's and hvx's, so those are close at hand if I really need them, but nobody has got a film camera, so that also factored into my decision.

If I was planning on only shooting other people's stuff, however, I can't say what I'd do. I might go for an HD cam just because most productions I'd be on would likely be lower budget, and not be able to pay for film.


People make a lot of good points but buying an HVX-200 even with some supprting gear is not quite in
the same league as buying the best Steadicam rig.

Also, people are likely correct in saying that buying a camera won't earn you a living. In your case, it
may not be essential for the equipment to earn you significant money as long as you don't lose
money with it.

My point is that if you can get even one job a month, that will cover the monthly payment on a loan that
should be enough
to get you a camera, P2 card, bag, tripod and maybe some other small stuff. Then, you have a camera
every day and night to develop your skills and shoot some great looking stuff for the price of what would
be less than a day's rental.

Don't work for free, cut deals but always get something, and even if you have a regular retail job or are
otherwise a p.a. or whatever, you'll be making much more progress toward becoming a DP than all the
times you're sitting at home with no DP jobs nor a camera of your own.

If enough people are calling to hire you then sure let them pay for the varied cameras. Until then, a
small investment may put you way ahead of the million other graduates who want to be DPs.

Consider scaling down. A good Mini-DV camera should be affordable and you can do a lot with that.
If you wanted to be a musician, would you wait till somebody hired you or would you get a guitar and
get good so that somebody will hire you?

If you could find an inexpensive non-sync 16 mm. camera, you could learn a lot with that although
it will be costlier to do projects. Also, even with a Mini-DV camera, you can shoot weddings for
people who can't afford a bigger production with an experienced videographer. Their friends may snicker
but not so great video of their wedding is still better than no video and although shooting weddings may
not be glamorous; you'll develop a lot of skills and at your lowest price you'll still earn more than at a lot
of jobs that people just of school take.

David S., why would you prefer the JVC?
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#16 Adamo P Cultraro

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Posted 29 September 2007 - 12:02 AM

Hey Chris,

Interesting. I think it's the relatively low price point of getting into the cam that makes it so popular. I'd still like to think there are very few HVXs setup like mine - more of a studio rig with matte box, FF, rails, 35mm adapter, primes, you name it. The rig is approaching $20K for all the stuff I have - the camera being the cheapest component. Work for free isn't in my vocab, however...:-)
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#17 David Sweetman

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Posted 29 September 2007 - 09:27 PM

David S., why would you prefer the JVC?

I just like the camera more overall. Some people say it's the most film-like of its class, but that doesn't really concern me because I know it will really always look like video (you'll never get completely rid of the skin tones, the fringing, the clipping, etc) but it's a look I like if it's what is called for. Sure the HVX has some better aspects (more flexibility in formats, especially P2, for example) but they're similar enough that for me it comes down to the feel of the camera and my like or dislike of the idea of having the camera, which is, I admit, completely subjective. The fact that you can't really put the HVX on your shoulder factors in, whereas the JVC is designed to facilitate handheld while still using the viewfinder. Grated, it can be awkward with the JVC because of its small size, but at least it's there.
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#18 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 30 September 2007 - 04:53 AM

Don't buy equipment as a business investment unless you know it can earn enough income to be paid off in a reasonable time scale. I know some rental companies like to be into profit on high end video cameras after 18 months. On the small cameras, given their expected shorter working life, a shorter time scale would make sense.

If you're starting out a good AC kit would be a good idea, you can work for more people as an assustant than a DP.

On the JVC/HVX front, I know some camera people who are doing very well with the JVCs and swear by them. I suspect it might come down to what the local market demands, but I know of more local JVCs than HVX 200s, so check your own market (which might actually demand Canon or Sony).

However, the JVCs will let you practise the operating skills you need on high end cameras more than the HVX200 will.
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#19 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 01 October 2007 - 07:47 AM

From my own limited experience, often the best thing to buy are lights. They never really go out of style no matter what camera you're shooting on. Personally, I like smaller Fresnels, so I picked up an Arri Combo Kit and a few Mole Richardson 2ks. I got them pretty cheap, all in all, (the moles used from a studio and the arris on sale from B/H) and rented them out when people asked, not for too much $$, but overtime, it added up and I probably paid them off in about a year. Can't say the same for my SR3, but I didn't really buy that to make a profit from it; I bought it just to have it and I got lucky to get a large sum of cash so I could afford it! I've only rented that out once, for $500/day with myself and all my goodies included.
Also, invest in some grip equipment; little riggings you can take with you on multiple shoots. You never know when you'll need that extra clamp or apple box!
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