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the rental house in the digital era


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#1 Dom Jaeger

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 03:51 AM

One of the least discussed aspects of the endless film vs digital conversation is what role, if any, will rental houses play in the bold new digital world we are entering. While post houses have been making a fortune "fixing up" all that RED footage, I suspect many rental houses have had to tighten their belts and lay off a few staff. With much of the bread and butter work like TVCs and short films going digital, it's only a matter of time before many rental houses will simply pack up shop.
It won't happen yet of course, while film still holds an aesthetic advantage, and high-end HD cameras still cost a bomb, but the clock is ticking. It simply isn't a viable business model to buy this year's video camera to hire out until next year's comes along. And while high end lenses will always be required whatever the capture medium, lens hire alone isn't going to keep a business with high overheads alive (insurance on this kind of gear is astronomical).
The problem is that rental houses have traditionally provided much more than equipment. Many assistants, operators, focus-pullers etc have cut their teeth working as prep techs in rental houses and met future contacts. Students in particular benefit from rental house expertise and many small festivals and cinematography societies are sponsored by rental houses. Most importantly, they require well resourced service departments for in-house maintenance and repairs to equipment, something owner-operators or small production houses can't afford.
So when everyone owns the latest RED and a set of Cookes, what happens when a lens is dropped or the camera blows smoke? Who makes sure the lenses are collimated and the head doesn't have backlash?
Maybe it'll all work out, but as a technician myself who feels a little like a blacksmith in the early days of the motor car, I can't help wondering if we're not rushing to a retrograde future.
I'd be interested to hear people's thoughts.
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 08:16 AM

Rental houses offer a lot more than just the cameras and lenses-- dollies, lighting, grip, audio, etc. And even if they continually update what cameras they own, they'll still have people looking for the older cameras, me thinks, which'll still turn a profit for a bit of time. I'm sure they plan out so as to be able to pay off camera X in y amount of rentals. And while camera systems may well be the most expensive bit of gear in a rental house, I think that grip and lighting are the big money makers (as they last forever, it seems).
It's not as though any single person can really own enough gear to mount a proper production, under all circumstances, for any shot, and as such the rental houses will be around, though I can see them decreasing in number....
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#3 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 09:39 AM

Looking at the listings, there actaully seems to more rental houses than there used to be in the purely film days. There are so many video formats that unless you're shooting a lot of material on the same format, it's hard to justify a camera more expensive than say an EX1. Having said that, you do need to have enough work with those prosumer cameras to pay them off in a few months before the next new great wonder camera drifts in.

I'm not sure how profitable the lighting rigs are, some the rental rates feature film production managers ask for and are getting can be stunningly low.

Production companies tend to rent kit unless they've got a very regular stream of work, otherwise it just ties up capital.
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#4 John Sprung

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 08:09 PM

For professional work, I really don't see the rental houses going away. They bring a whole lot of value to the table that isn't easy to see. Nobody's talking about buying cameras for TV shows, like we buy computers, DVD players, etc. We want the security of a rental house with the expertise and inventory to keep us shooting no matter what goes wrong with any particular piece of equipment. Downtime just costs too much for that.

Rental companies are in the business of eating depreciation. The faster things change, the fuller their plates. Things may get harder to predict, but those who get their predictions right will thrive.




-- J.S.
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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 08:17 PM

The counterpoint to this is the new surge in very low cost gear.

It makes sense to rent a $100k camera for $800/day.

It makes somewhat less sense to rent a $2k camera for $100/day.

P
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#6 Keith Walters

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 10:08 PM

It simply isn't a viable business model to buy this year's video camera to hire out until next year's comes along.

I don't know, there are an awful lot of F900s (and even some 750s) out there that are well over ten years old, and still pulling in a nice piece of change.
Panavision Australia have both RED and F900 packages available, and the daily rate for the F900 is about $300 more! (Although admittedly the F900 comes with standard zoom lens while the RED package doesn't have any, but still.)
Certainly, it's harder to get your money back from lower cost cameras, but the risks are lower too.
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