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Owning your own gear pro and con


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#1 Brian Rose

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 05:30 PM

Another poster brought up the topic of owning or renting your own lens sets, and that discussion made me want to raise that great question of owning or renting?

I can understand both sides of the argument: some say buy your own gear, to cut out the middleman.

Others say save and rent because stuff gets obsolete and loses value, not to mention it might entire deadbeats who take advantage of your ownership by skimping on rental.

Still others say wait until the work is steady enough that you can afford to invest in gear and recoup the expense through work and rental.

I suppose where I'm undecided in all this is what if you're just getting started? In that situation, gigs are fewer and farther between, the money not as good, the budgets tighter. It's important to build a name, to build a reel, and so to start you have to go for the low budg stuff where you're lucky if they can pay you anything at all, let alone have a budg for rental.

In my case, I've found work writing and editing docs, but I really love running camera. I've assisted with shoots for this company, as well as thrown my hat in the ring as a freelancer. But the market being so competitive, I've often found myself taking the smaller gigs, just to keep active, and to build a name and a rep for myself (not to mention a reel).

I try to be careful about who I work with, and I've turned down a few jobs because the guys are deadbeats ("Well, we couldn't pay you anything, but we'll cut you in on the backend, cause we're sure to sell TONS of DVDS).

But others, good people with a vision, who just don't have the money, I've chosen to help, because I've made connections, friends, and shot new stuff for my reel. And getting my foot in the door was greatly aided because I owned some of my own gear, in this case, a Glidecam. So for me, it seems to make sense to buy gear, to invest in yourself, albeit wisely, and gradually so you don't go into hock.

But I'm sure others would disagree, and I'd like to hear why.

To me, in the end it seems to be about selling yourself, and setting yourself apart from the crowd. And if you're someone like me just getting started, who hasn't YET made the connections and racked up the titles to really get moving as freelance, it seems the next good option is to have a package of some kind, that could entice clients through the promise of savings.

Not to mention, I sometimes wonder if this debate is similar to the house argument, in which they say it is better to buy and invest in a house, then to "throw away" money on monthly rent, money you'll never get back.

Obviously, there are some problems with this: camera gear doesn't have much potential to go up in value, unlike a house.

But does the fact that buying a camera could bring in more revenue factor in? By not owning gear, are you losing money by the very fact that client A, who has less to spend, goes elsewhere, which in turn costs you more money from FUTURE clients who might've selected you based on the work/recommendation of the current client?

I guess it comes down to, if you're starting out, is the conservative approach of the seasoned freelancer, who gets the projects with the budget the cover equipment rental, necessarily the best option? Or when you're starting out, is it a time to take some bigger risks, such as buying your own stuff? Is it a part of taking that first leap across the chasm, where you could indeed lose your balance and fall, but you MIGHT find your footing, and now be better positioned to make the big climb...

Love to hear your thoughts, from veterans and newbs alike!

BR
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#2 George Ebersole

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 06:43 PM

The only downside I saw by people buying their own equipment was the tendency for them to get pigeon holed into a niche they didn't want. The guy who buys a lowel kit just to have some extra lights, but then winds up buying some Mole Richardson lights, then some Arris, then some C-stands and what not until he's got a fully loaded grip truck, when what he wanted to be was be an AD or something.

I think the only time you should buy equipment is if you intend to use it a lot.
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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 07:42 PM

Cameras make great cameras and paperweights and not much else. And they're holes in the ground to pour money into-- trust me, I have 3!
While you can get more work and a higher day rate if you have your own camera, you really need to look at it from a business perspective: Can I pay off x amount of money in y amount of time? If you are reasonably assured you'll get enough work with this particular camera, then sure buy it. If not, save that money up! it's feast or famine more often than not.
I'll tell you right off of the bat the only camera which has made a profit for me, so far, has been my XDCam, and even then that's only because I got damned lucky when I bought it and had it paid off after 2 bigger shoots. The SR3 I have might never turn a profit- which I'm fine with, and the 2M will, since I got it as payment for a shoot.
What might be a great idea in terms of affording all this kit, minimizing upfront costs and depreciation later on would be to go in on the purchase with people you trust, as a joint owned camera. You all would need to communicate VERY well, trust each other and sign some contracts stating how this whole thing is going to work out, but then you're investing less money in a kit upfront yourself and getting access to the camera more often. That, or work with some other owner who already has the kit to sub-rent from them.
As with so much in this business the choice to purchase equipment is not only personal, but a case-by-case based on the needs of your "business," which is in this case as a self employed shooter.
Also, the biggest downside to owning your own kit is accepting all risk all peril. What happens when this camera eventually goes dead on a shoot, or acts up, or is destroyed? What will you do then to make sure the shoot keeps shooting?
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#4 Brian Rose

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 09:32 PM

Adrian,

You make some excellent points, and maybe I could run another possibility by you. What about owning non-camera gear? I see mole-richardson lighting come up for sale fairly frequently, and having worked extensively with the gear in the past, I was pleased with it. And as I mentioend previously, I've gotten my foot in a few doors because I owned a glidecam, and if I haven't paid it off already through those jobs, i will thanks to doors that have been opened thanks to the initial gigs I got because of it...kind of a domino cascade.

So I've thought, if I shouldn't invest in a camera, maybe then building my overall package: a light here and there, a better tripod, build a dolly...

Seems that route offers many ways to save money, while also creating an equipment base that could make you more competitive in the market...

BR
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#5 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 18 February 2010 - 09:50 PM

Lights and grip equipment are always the best investments in my opinion for these reasons:

Lights and grip are needed on ever set
Lower cost to buy
Lower upkeep (hell I can rewire a tungsten light with my eyes closed if need be!)
Cheaper parts
and used is often as good as new.

Of all the kit I've bought, my Mole Junior Solar Spots have the highest ROI (return on investment) as I bought them both $150 each with bulbs and they typically rent for $20/day -v- something like my Arri which was 32K as a package and goes out for between 300/400 a day.

Same goes for Grip. You can never have enough C Stands or strange clamps/clips/riggings, and light lighting instruments it's relatively cheap compared to the rest of film gear.

Now tripods and dollys are a bit different. Tripods pair well with certain cameras, and the ones which are "good" for "most" cameras are pretty expensive for the head/legs/baby legs/high-hat. So it's not something that can be used on every shoot, but most shoots.
Now dollies are great, and I love them, but the best of the best either are lease only, or prohibitively expensive and cumbersome to transport (dolly/track etc). the lower end dollies and the home mades may work wonderfully for a small prosumer camera, but try to throw a BL4 onto them and they'll snap; literally. Hell, my XDCam tore the hell out of a "home made jib" that had a "100lbs) capacity.
Doorway dollies, and the new "Red Dolly" are wonderful little things, and you can interface the with track as well, but again, they get pretty expensive pretty quickly once you start to build up a fuller kit; and you have to ask yourself, again, how often will I use this? With the rental rate of a doorway dolly, at least 'round here, somewhere in the $60/day range (I normally use doorways so that's all I have the prices for) it makes a little less sense to spend 3~5K for one. Same can be said for a tripod, which will either be included in a camera rental, or available relatively cheaply compared to it's overall cost. While, like lighting and C stands and the like they hold up very well over (ab)use and time, you won't pay it off as quickly or easily as something like an Arri Softbank Kit which you can use on every shoot and get a fair enough rate for (mine normally goes for $50/day and it cost me about 3K new). While this is about the same cost as a doorway dolly new, I can take this kit anywhere for any shoot and find a use for it, but I can't imagine, let's say, bringing out a doorway dolly to find a talking head interview in a corporate industrial.
A lot of this depends on what you're doing, though. If your main market is say, music video, then dollies/jibs make more sense to invest in as there is a lot of demand for them to add "production value." But if you're shooting a lot of interviews in offices or the like, you won't see as much use for them, normally, when what's really needed is a simple tripod shot for the talking head and some dynamic shots of people shuffling papers, and turning to smile.

my 2C
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#6 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 20 February 2010 - 03:52 AM

Brian, my $.02 is that you need to further define what it is you want to specialize in before buying any gear. Will it be lighting and grip? Will it strictly be camera? Maybe some specialty rig like steadicam or jimmy jib? What do you really need at the moment to fulfill your short terms goals, and in what specific field do you think you could make your money back?

I ended up deciding to go into camera assisting and data managing, so most of my gear is in that area. I've spent as much on my AC/DMT gear over the last 4-5 years as some guys have spent on their whole camera package. But it is paying for itself on every job (slowly). On the other hand, my camera and lighting gear has just been sitting there for the most part. Not that I regret it, but looking at it objectively none of that gear is helping to advance my career in the short term, so it is all dead weight.

*Also, regarding your "House: Buy or Rent?" analogy, the difference is that when it comes to renting gear for a shoot, it is not coming out of your pocket, but the producer's. That makes all the difference in the world...

Edited by Satsuki Murashige, 20 February 2010 - 03:55 AM.

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