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Sometimes, you can't give them enough for free


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#1 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 19 February 2014 - 05:23 AM

I've been mulling over whether to post about this, but I think it's a useful case in point as to why I moan about London.

 

A few weeks ago, I received a call from an acquaintance to let me know that a very small feature had lost their director of photography for some unknown reason and was looking for a replacement. I sent them my demo expecting to hear nothing, but was surprised to receive promising phone call. It was, of course, tiny in budget, but at that level which is so rare in London - enough money to do it reasonably and safely and responsibly, but ultimately paying very little so, in one sense, an opportunity for someone keen to accrue feature credits. Which, after a couple of years of not really shooting much, is me.

 

Outstanding. Only - the guy I was replacing, who I still don't know anything about, had camera gear and lighting. Oh, Phil, you don't own a C300 or F5 and a set of Master Primes and a Sony OLED PVM and a Fisher 10 and a brace of ArriSuns? You don't own £150,000 worth of gear?

 

Well, you know what, I sold a house in 2007, and I could probably have gone out and bought a moderately nice camera package with the proceeds. But I didn't, in anticipation of exactly this sort of shit, and even if I had, it wouldn't be bloody well free.

 

I have a bit of minor grippery, some DIT gear, DSLR lenses, basic monitoring and some light. Nothing terribly significant, on the basis that I knew I'd be constantly expected to give it away - as here. They'd need to rent a camera body at the very least, and probably glass to do it properly. This seemed like a reasonable ask, given the 85% discount they were getting on me.

 

Of course you know the rest. There was no technical budget. They went with a guy who was willing to give them something approaching a camera department for free, which is sort of hard to compete with.

 

So I guess it comes down to a question. Do I go out and buy a basic DSLR rig or Blackmagic 4K, such that I can actually do things like this, or is it idiocy to think that gear can buy you work? I was always told that it couldn't, but apparently, this is not quite the case.

 

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#2 Freya Black

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Posted 19 February 2014 - 07:22 AM

I was talking about this a little in the thread about the Red Epic and the door explosion.

It's clear even from the reaction in the video that the Red Epic wasn't a rental item.

 

I'm kind of surprised this is the first time this has happened to you.

This came up quite early on for me when I was doing stuff in London as I had put in a bid for some very, very, low budget work and the producer came back to me and asked me if I had access to a steadicam rig or anything of the type. I was actually laughing because I thought they were daft to think they were going to get steadicam included too for a budget that didn't even really cover the cost of the camera rental. I mean, I tend to think of Steadicam as being it's own skilled art but it turned out that I was the daft one. The producer accidently sent an email that listed the email addresses of everyone they were talking to. I instantly recognised a few names (!!!) and it didn't take long to look up the others. There were people putting in to do the work who weren't even UK based! One individual pretty much had a whole rental house. The equipment these people had was mind boggling. They were established known names in the market, not just little low budget operators.

 

So I guess it comes down to a question. Do I go out and buy a basic DSLR rig or Blackmagic 4K, such that I can actually do things like this, or is it idiocy to think that gear can buy you work? I was always told that it couldn't, but apparently, this is not quite the case.

 

 

 

 

I'm not sure who is telling you that gear can't buy you work because obviously loads of people have been working that angle for a long, long time now. What I hear people saying is that you don't want to market yourself based on your camera package. This certainly makes sense if you are already quite high up in the game, because you want people to be hiring you for your skills not because you have a fancy camera but I think once people become established through the free gear route, it becomes difficult for them to not continue in that vein because they have a psychological barrier to then making a break and not making it about the camera. Some of them get around this by basically becoming rental houses and having a variety of equipment.

 

Anyway the point I want to make here is that having a camera is probably not going to get you the work anyway because of the extent of what you are up against. Certainly having a DSLR and a couple of lenses isn't going to help much if the production is talking to anyone else. The Blackmagic 4K might be more of a draw at the moment as a hot camera, and it's thankfully also cheap but I suspect it would only stay hot for a short time as is the way of these things. You only have to look at the original blackmagic camera now! Although having a blackmagic camera would probably get your more work than a DSLR setup.

 

This stuff isn't really all that new. There were video camera ops with their own Beta SP gear years ago marketing themselves as the go to people for Beta SP. It's confusing for people at the moment however because the worlds of film and video have become merged and people don't realise how fast things are changing. Technology itself is also going faster too.

 

Freya


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#3 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 06:39 AM

I think it's a pretty common tale all over the place, but I think these days it's almost daft not to own something like a 2.5k BMC - it's $2000 and gives you 13 stops of DR, 10-bit ProRes/12-bit raw, an 800 ISO base, and proper manual control of your white balance and shutter angle. Pair it with a speedbooster and a set of the cheap-as-chips Rokinon manual SLR lenses, and you have a ridiculously capable setup for a ridiculously small amount of money.

 

Getting caught up in the gear race is a slippery slope, especially since some other bloke is always going to have deeper pockets than you. But honestly, for 95% of the shots you shoot 95% of people aren't going to be able to tell difference between the little Blackmagic camera and one of the big boys. And given the price I think it's silly not to have one sitting in the cupboard ready to turn in great pictures when a budget doesn't allow for anything better.

 

The low low price also makes 'giving it away' to a production a much easier pill to swallow.


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#4 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 08:45 AM

That's where my brain was going, too.

 

Not sure about Blackmagic, though. Iffy rolling shutter, 4K appears to be the future at least for acquisition, and obvious oversights like audio metering and time-remaining displays conspire to put me off. And the ergonomics are foul. I would go for a 4K, but then it's got the huge sensor and isn't really applicable to documentary work. I'd get a GH3 and use it with separate recording, since it has selectable sensor size, but nobody has any respect for a stills camera.

 

Bleargh.

 

And, these days, you're going to be in for more in glass than silicon. Even the Rokinon cine series is $800 apiece, or whatever, so for six of them you're looking at twice or three times the cost of the camera and giving it away starts to pall as an idea.

 

Samyang beckons also.

 

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#5 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 09:45 AM

Since you said it's been a while, I'll remind you that on a feature the most important thing is speed.  Working very very quickly and being able to change lenses in no time, dump footage, change cards, batteries.  All that stuff.  This is where DSLR  type rigs will cause you nightmares time and again.  You'll pull you hair out by day 4.

The devil is in the details.  You want lenses with the same frontsize that are all geared up.  A swing away mattebox that fits every lens without the need for 8 or 9 doughnuts, Lots of batteries.  Etc.  All the accessories and what not have to work 100% of the time.   Strictly because it's a feature and there's no time for any technical foulups.  If it's a makeshift legolike hodgepodge of crappy gear breaking down on you consistently, you'll have a lot of raised eyebrows onset.

 

I don't know if you already own all the camera accessories for a feature but by the time you purchase the right gear for it, you could have bought a much more expensive camera.  For this reason, I recommend renting.  Unless you can find a 1st A.C. out there with an actually solid and fully equipped, working camera package. 


Edited by Michael LaVoie, 24 February 2014 - 09:48 AM.

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#6 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 01:23 PM

Phil

I think you'd be surprised by the little pocket camera. It does pretty well all things told for a very low price point. I think all told I spend something like $1300 to get it out int the wild originally-- and most of that was for the SD card (not to big a deal for time remaining--i treat it like a film mag and know when to swap it out), some extra batteries and an SD zoom lens.

All told I spent a lot more on it recently as I build it out, but it's quite capable especially in prores (raw is still a bit of a hassle). The DR is great and the smaller S16mm sensor size gives one the DoF one needs when one needs it; but can certainly be taken away through a well placed ND or lens/staging. I though, have always been more of a fan of S16mm focus characteristics -v- 35 or FF, but that's a matter of taste.

 

I'll have to let you play with the camera sometime. I think you'd like it.

Rolling shutter has never caused a problem for me, yet, but then again I don't deal with strobes too often or flail the camera around as though i'm on methamphetamine-- unless the directors wants me to. 

 

As for, btw, meters and audio-- while single system is often convenient, I've only ever run it once, on an EX1, and man, did I regret it. I always think it's best to have someone else monitoring the audio-- even if on a small run and gun thing-- give that off to the director with a recorder and explain, you focus on this and what they're saying, and I'll keep them looking amazing.


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#7 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 01:28 PM

Did you mention you had a B4 zoom and a B4/MFT adaptor? Does the zoom cover the BMD pocket cam? Is an affordable standard-def zoom going to be disgustingly soft and feeble on an HD camera?

 

It is a solution I'd considered.

 

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#8 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 01:31 PM

Yep, it's a MFT to B4, and yes it covers with a 2x extender (internal) giving me a 18mm "wide" which is really normal ish for the sensor. I also could put the servo back on it and power it off of a DTap from a Gold mount-- but I pulled that since I normally use it as a variable prime more so than a zoom. The actual lens is:

 

Canon J13x9B 9~117 F1.6


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#9 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 01:32 PM

also there is a stop loss on that with the 2x; but I don't particularly mind it on an 800 sensor least of all when I'm shooting day exts.

If i'm doing night or low light work, I'd be on a prime anyway for the added speed.


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