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Seeking opinions on equipment list. We have a $100k budget.


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#1 Jin Kim

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 03:04 PM

I am helping a friend start a production company focusing on commercial work as well as narrative film. We have a $100k budget to buy cinematography equipment.

Our plan is to own enough equipment to shoot 90% of low-mid budget project that are thrown at us, and to rent specialty items on a project by project basis.


I've compiled a list below to the best of my abilities, but would like your opinion as to the decisions I've made. I want to make sure there are no redundancies, especially for lighting. Most of the time we will be working with house power, hence the focus on energy efficient plasma lights and LEDs.


As for the camera and lens, I'm thinking of buying a used Epic Dragon and a set of Schneider Xenons. I feel these will give me quite the bang for the buck at this budget level.



Link to equipment list:

https://docs.google....dit?usp=sharing
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 03:21 PM

I would honestly advise not buying anything and renting as needed per project and using the 100K as a cushion until funds come through.
You also need at least 2 128 cards for the red and many more batteries (i'd recommend 4 and go gold mount and not V mount).

 

But honestly, owning all the stuff yourself really really really eats up a good chunk of cash and depreciates reaaaallly fast.

Also I think an Alexa Mini would be a better camera choice. in today's market (and the Red Epic Dragon is fine, but as the Helium makes it out more. . . )


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#3 Albion Hockney

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 03:31 PM

I have had production companies ask about similar things before - they want to own all the equipment so they don't have to rent.

 

Camera makes sense to me a lot of the time - especially those doing low/mid tier work and lots of it who are really busy - lighting and G/E can change so much job to job - unless you have a really consistent amount of work with the same style of setup (ie all talking head or studio or something) it can be hard to make that pay off.

 

...not that your looking for business advice but if I was starting a company and was a business person I'd save that 100k and build good relationships with rental houses and then if business was good maybe buy a camera package.

 

That said the camera makes sense to me if you like Red and have the post workflow worked out IE Red Rocket card and ok with large chunks of data. An Alexa will probably hold value better and something like a C300MKII might fit the profile of work your doing and be easier to deal with (and also hold value better)

 

Xenon's make sense, but there are alot of options now in that price bracket. I would also consider something like a set of Super Speeds which offer more character and are really solid stopped down - also will probably hold value better.

 

 

Lighting - are you getting a grip truck/van? would consider if you are buying that stuff you will need to be loading and unloading all the time. a small production company I work with bought a small g/e package to save rental and the task of loading in and out almost makes it purposeless because its such a hassle and you need to rent a van all the time anyways. Much easier just to higher a gaffer with a truck for medium size jobs and since they come with the gear it can almost be cheaper then having to rent a van and additions ala carte.

 

 

lots of little stuff too:

I wouldn't get that geny - you need one that runs consistent and isn't loud (honda eu 6500 is the standard putt putt) I think people also modify them for a consistent out put of power?

 

The plasma lighting is ok but heavy and expensive - I would go tried and true and just buy an M18 and a joker. Skypanel is a nice light but LED tech is like camera tech changing fast - it won't hold value that long and we will have much better options in 5 years. Honestly not a good time for long term lighting investments if you are just starting out.

 

you need 4 mags for the red (128gb or 256 if you can afford it)

 

you need 4 batts

 

If you buy a wireless FF the cheapest product worth getting is a bartech

 

For a red you need ND up to 1.8 atleast (2.1 or 2.5 is ideal) and you need to get good ND filters after .9 that filter out IR light

Formatt firecrest or the ones to get that are most affordable.

 

lots of debate on the best stands but I'd get American (that's what all the gaffers I know always say)

 

you should get a 6x of magic cloth and save yourself the hassle of making book lights too


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#4 Michael Rodin

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 03:55 PM

Actually, HMIs are often more efficient than LEDs i.e. more lumens per watt. But I doubt it makes sense to own a substantial G&E kit unless you're a gaffer or a rental house.


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#5 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 07:30 PM

HMIS are OK; but i'd not want to own myself and bring on most smaller jobs because of Distro needs. I would deff look into SkyPanel and L-series since, for the moment at least, they're hot items. I really love LiteGear S4s as well and TBH that would be a better investment than ANY camera as you can use those lights on EVERY job in some way or the other (much like Kinos for the many years they were around, and still are and still good to have.)

 

Lenses, I think that depends on market, but maybe instead of a set of primes, a set of the new Tonika Cine-Zooms might make more sense and offer cheaper flexibility for smaller shoots.

I'm not a fan of the C Series cameras, but many others love them. in that area, I'd go Sony FS7mkII, but that's just me. Or even a F5.


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#6 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 07:33 PM

I'd look into a few of these 

http://kinoflo.com/P...leb400_DMX.html


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#7 Jaron Berman

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 11:38 PM

As someone who owns a stupid amount of gear, let me share some very important lessons.

 

1)  Do NOT spend any money until you have it coming in.  Unless you have enough work BOOKED, any money you spend on gear you're spending on a hobby and dreams.  When you have a viable plan to pay it off fully, then buy it if you think you'll want it in the long-run.  Don't forget - buying means you must store and maintain.  And NOBODY will rent your broken gear or incomplete gear when they can get it elsewhere in great shape for less money.  Which leads to #2

 

2)  Owning gear puts you in competition with vendors you will need.  If equipment ownership and rental is the business you want to be in, go for it - and know you're competing with rental houses that do ONLY this.  Meaning you may find it difficult to offer the same rates they can - because they have many more clients renting their gear for many more days.  And, rental houses tend to (at least try to) hire good people in-house to maintain their equipment.  When you need a favor or sub-rental, or let's say you need 3 full cam packages and a larger lighting kit - you need to make sure you're accounting for the fact that a larger house has pricing leverage on you.  Which leads to #3

 

3)  There's no such thing as one-size-fits-all.  Not every client will want RED, not every client will want to use those pieces you own.  And there's no way that lighting list is enough for all jobs.  White cyc/green screen?  Local car commercial?  Roundtable discussion?     Again - when you rent everything from one rental house, you get better pricing.  You may find that you can rent 10x skypanel for the price you have to charge to pay-off your 1x sky panel.  Or maybe they throw-in the 6x arri 300's you need for accent lights.  Which leads to #4

 

4)  This is a business.  Dropping 100k on gear and expecting to attract work based on your gear-list is a fool's game.  Hopefully you have a dozen projects lined-up already that are paying top-rate for the gear, space, and talent.  If not - line your pockets with ceramic so that money doesn't burn any deeper.  This leads to #5

 

5)  What are you selling?  Is it your talent?  Or is it your gear?  When RED hit the market, thousands of people bought them and 100K+ in gear and started trolling craigslist offering to work for free and bring their gear.  There was an honesty to it at least - these people looked at the investment as a foot in the door and an opportunity to buy themselves time on sets.  At the end of their year or two giving away the goods for free, they learned and walked away with their gear to do their own projects.  But when they advertised "DP with RED, Optimo Kit and 3-Ton truck - $200/day" - they weren't exactly advertising their talent.  Anyone hiring those people were renting a lot of gear cheaply and sidelining the "DPs."  

 

6)  When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  You're a lot more flexible when you don't feel obligated to use what you own.  When you own these specific pieces, you work hard to use these things, even when they may be too big or small or out of place.  Your vision will morph to accommodate the items in your inventory instead of the other way around.  And I can speak from experience - 1x of anything is almost never enough, even on small projects.

 

Again - this isn't to bash the list, it's to speak from real experience about the less-fun side of this business.  The business. 

The best help you can give your friend is to partner with a local rental house at first.  You have the luxury of living in a market with support.  Use it.  Build an alliance with the rental house - so when you need 4x cameras and 30x Skypanel, you've been a great customer and they can work with you on what you can afford.  And here's the thing - whether you rent it or own it - the price of gear is passed on to the client.  Yes, it's cool to own stuff.  But is it the stuff you want next year?  Can you pay it off this year before nobody wants it anymore, it doesn't fit your needs anymore, or it's obsolete?  How do you know the gear you picked is the best stuff out there in the situations YOUR company will encounter?  Sell your talents, then decide whether you want to have the gear lying around.  But make sure your talents have built value in that market before outlaying cash on stuff you're then stuck with.


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#8 Jin Kim

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Posted 01 March 2017 - 01:39 AM

Wow, thanks for all the insightful feedback, I will read thru the responses, and re-read thru them again!
Just to clarify, we are in a bit of a special situation, where an angel investor is wanting to invest a large sum of money into our team to build from the ground up. It is a bit ass-backwards, but I've been asked to compile a list of general equipment that we would need within ~$100k.

It really isn't my choice whether to buy or rent, but in response to your 1st bullet point, Jaron, I guess money coming in isn't really an issue as much as maximizing the efficiency of the equipment list that we need to pitch to our investor.
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#9 Michael Rodin

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Posted 01 March 2017 - 10:52 AM

What budget do you have for transport? Given the need to have G&E in house, I'd consider building a genny van - preferrably at least a 3-phase 80kVA or a 1-phase 30kVA one that can fire 18Ks so you can rent it out and recoup costs faster. To me it makes more sense than buying weak&ultra-expensive LEDs - which are harder to rent out too. And depending on availiable power will severely limit your location choice - which already isn't easy if you don't have a proper administrative team. You'd need a genny op as a part-time employee though.

Then there's a (mini)van to drive your camera crew and kit - or a 3-ton with a 2-row cabin if you throw in G&E.

I'd get electric equipment (except distro) used.

But that said, when building a G&E package, you must really take into account how you'll be crewing your shoots and your rental deals - you'll be renting additional lights all the time (it's unavoidable esp. in commercial shooting unless you can spend another 100K just on fixtures/distro/stands) and maybe also grip.

 

I'd buy a rather complete filter kit - NDs, grads, 82s & 80s (if you're going with RED), mist, soft, low contrast, pola etc - and a proper tripod head (like a used Ronford Atlas) as these are items of DP/op's personal choice and rentals not always have your preferred kind.

 

Dollies/cranes are rental items, out of question.

 

If you really need a hi-end camera (which I doubt), there are used Alexas for less than 18K. You can even get an S.two or Codex - but I think it's madness at this budget level.

 

P.S. Have you tried marketing film as a way of future-proof resolution-independent way of shooting? This way you could justify a cheap-ass "digital cinema" camera (which is OK, digital sucks anyway  ;) ) and an SR.


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#10 Michael Rodin

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Posted 01 March 2017 - 10:58 AM

HMIS are OK; but i'd not want to own myself and bring on most smaller jobs because of Distro needs. I would deff look into SkyPanel and L-series since, for the moment at least, they're hot items.

How are HMIs going to be different in distro if they use same (and often less) power for the same amount of light? An M18 doesn't require high-current distro and is brighter than any LED spotlight.


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#11 Jaron Berman

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Posted 01 March 2017 - 11:47 AM

Fair, then I think the best plan is to work backwards from the final product.  What formats are you delivering right now?  What is your post-production pipeline, and how quickly do you need to turn around the projects?  Do you need to deliver 4K in this initial investment?  How will your footage be archived and managed, and is that part of what you need to spec-out?  You'd be shocked, but even on the absolute highest-end productions, amount of data is always a consideration and expense.  Shooting 6K to protect for a future your company may not be around for?  

 

To be honest, it's a sign of professionalism that you can look ahead at contingencies that WILL absolutely happen - it'll show your investor that you're not Christmas shopping, you're trying to partner in a business in a way that at least tries to be successful.  Presenting a list that comes in under-budget and allows for contingencies may actually help your case.  When will the next investment happen?  How often will you be able to rent above and beyond the infusion?  Ask these questions now, because they really help you put together a more accurate list of what you need to actually own and plan for the stuff you can't own.  Knowing what stuff to own and what stuff to rent is a valuable aspect of your proposal too.  Also you have expendables on that list - are you supposed to budget expendables?  If so, which?  You have gel, so why not tape?  Hard drives?  Cinefoil?

 

Then in terms of projects - especially with someone else's money, it's worth asking what kinds of specific projects are coming down the pipe in the first few months.  Setting yourself up for the work you'll actually be doing is a lot smarter than buying stuff for the projects you don't know about or hope are coming.  Ask your investor and partners as many questions as possible.  What kind of commercials for what kind of businesses?  What kinds of narrative films? The list shown seems to be a what's what of internet research, not necessarily anything you've actually used and loved in any specific capacity.  For example, an easyrig to lighten the handheld load, but an FSB8 tripod?  If that tripod can handle your camera package (it cannot), then you don't need an easy rig.  

 

Also, will your clients be on set ever?  Will your investor?  If so, a single 7" onboard monitor will not cut it.  Start with the mandatory things based on the discussions with your partners.  Do you need to show the client your work while shooting?  Mandatory.  Are you responsible for archiving footage?  Mandatory.  How will you treat audio? Not every project will be MOS, but will you be asked to grab a quick interview and record the audio yourself?  Do you have a local partner/vendor for that?  It's mandatory.  Will your client be on set for that interview, watching your shiny big monitor?  If so, how will she/he listen to the content?

 

Once you've budgeted for the absolute mandatory items and you've figured out a complete workflow ask yourself  - In your career, what items do you find yourself constantly needing on every single project?  Budget for those next.  It sounds like the plan here isn't to rent to other companies, so you have a lot more flexibility in terms of brand recognition.  If you've tested and liked some cheaper lights from other manufacturers (Ikan, Aputure, etc) - then you may not need the clout of Arri.  Kinos are super useful and available cheap on the used market.  You may be surprised, but Kino 4' tubes still outperform most LED panels in terms of output and color accuracy, if not dimmability.  Does that compromise make sense in order to get 4x fixtures instead of 1x?  

 

The beauty of this industry is that it has so many facets.  We aren't all fighting for the same gigs in the same markets at the same budgets.  Which means we all have very different ways of approaching and solving problems.  Which means that if you solicit equipment buying advice from the internet, you'll get a whole lot of opinions that fit our own experiences - not yours.  Not to say the advice is bad - there's a lot of very good info here, but in the end YOU are the person using the stuff to satisfy YOUR clients, not ours.  

And if you haven't used a particular piece, rent it for a day, rent all the options that fulfill that solution and try them yourself.  Setup a test shoot and rent all of the stuff on your list and see if you like it.  If you can't get some of that stuff locally then perhaps it's not the best stuff to own because you can't rent another and you can't replace yours in a pinch when yours is broken.  But test test test, hands-on.  Setup all of the likely scenarios your investor throws at you and make sure you know how to tackle them - and take notes on what you wish you had or had more of.  The sum total of renting all that gear for a day or couple days or a week will more than pay itself off in the long run when you do invest.  At least your proposal will be based on the gear you've used and your own opinions and experiences of using it under time pressure, not cinematography.com reviews.  Try before you buy.  Your investor will hopefully sleep better at night knowing that he/she has seen you work successfully with the list you submitted.


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#12 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 01 March 2017 - 03:47 PM

Jaron is making some great points. I would add that if you are starting from scratch, it may be best to invest in post as a starting point. Having the infrastructure to transcode, edit, color, do simple VFX and animation, sound mix, and deliver projects all in-house would be a much better investment for a production company than lights or cameras.

Doing the post work yourselves will save you a ton of money in the long term, and allow you to bid jobs competitively to get your foot in the door because you can eat the cost of edit changes, while still impressing your clients on set with rented expensive professional equipment that you could never afford to own.

You can always rent, or hire a DP with their own camera. You can always hire a gaffer and their grip truck package. Those would be per-project expenditures that you can build into your budget for each client, so easy to bill for each job. But if you need to also hire a post house and their services for every project, then you won't be able to keep per-project costs down.

Also, don't forget that you need to set up an LLC and get an annual production insurance policy. Nobody will rent to you without the insurance, you won't be able to get permits, and you want to be covered for liability. That is a significant expense as well.
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#13 Gregory Irwin

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Posted 03 March 2017 - 01:29 PM

I advise to NOT buy the gear.  Rent. Technology changes way too fast and you will not be able to financially keep up.  That's why all major production companies rent and not own.  Take it from me who owns a rental company.  It takes major $$$$ to keep up and we don't always recoup the investment.  If you do purchase, you will find yourself behind the technology times pretty quickly and all you will own are very expensive door stops.

 

G


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#14 Gregory Irwin

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Posted 03 March 2017 - 02:53 PM

As someone who owns a stupid amount of gear, let me share some very important lessons.

 

1)  Do NOT spend any money until you have it coming in.  Unless you have enough work BOOKED, any money you spend on gear you're spending on a hobby and dreams.  When you have a viable plan to pay it off fully, then buy it if you think you'll want it in the long-run.  Don't forget - buying means you must store and maintain.  And NOBODY will rent your broken gear or incomplete gear when they can get it elsewhere in great shape for less money.  Which leads to #2

 

2)  Owning gear puts you in competition with vendors you will need.  If equipment ownership and rental is the business you want to be in, go for it - and know you're competing with rental houses that do ONLY this.  Meaning you may find it difficult to offer the same rates they can - because they have many more clients renting their gear for many more days.  And, rental houses tend to (at least try to) hire good people in-house to maintain their equipment.  When you need a favor or sub-rental, or let's say you need 3 full cam packages and a larger lighting kit - you need to make sure you're accounting for the fact that a larger house has pricing leverage on you.  Which leads to #3

 

3)  There's no such thing as one-size-fits-all.  Not every client will want RED, not every client will want to use those pieces you own.  And there's no way that lighting list is enough for all jobs.  White cyc/green screen?  Local car commercial?  Roundtable discussion?     Again - when you rent everything from one rental house, you get better pricing.  You may find that you can rent 10x skypanel for the price you have to charge to pay-off your 1x sky panel.  Or maybe they throw-in the 6x arri 300's you need for accent lights.  Which leads to #4

 

4)  This is a business.  Dropping 100k on gear and expecting to attract work based on your gear-list is a fool's game.  Hopefully you have a dozen projects lined-up already that are paying top-rate for the gear, space, and talent.  If not - line your pockets with ceramic so that money doesn't burn any deeper.  This leads to #5

 

5)  What are you selling?  Is it your talent?  Or is it your gear?  When RED hit the market, thousands of people bought them and 100K+ in gear and started trolling craigslist offering to work for free and bring their gear.  There was an honesty to it at least - these people looked at the investment as a foot in the door and an opportunity to buy themselves time on sets.  At the end of their year or two giving away the goods for free, they learned and walked away with their gear to do their own projects.  But when they advertised "DP with RED, Optimo Kit and 3-Ton truck - $200/day" - they weren't exactly advertising their talent.  Anyone hiring those people were renting a lot of gear cheaply and sidelining the "DPs."  

 

6)  When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  You're a lot more flexible when you don't feel obligated to use what you own.  When you own these specific pieces, you work hard to use these things, even when they may be too big or small or out of place.  Your vision will morph to accommodate the items in your inventory instead of the other way around.  And I can speak from experience - 1x of anything is almost never enough, even on small projects.

 

Again - this isn't to bash the list, it's to speak from real experience about the less-fun side of this business.  The business. 

The best help you can give your friend is to partner with a local rental house at first.  You have the luxury of living in a market with support.  Use it.  Build an alliance with the rental house - so when you need 4x cameras and 30x Skypanel, you've been a great customer and they can work with you on what you can afford.  And here's the thing - whether you rent it or own it - the price of gear is passed on to the client.  Yes, it's cool to own stuff.  But is it the stuff you want next year?  Can you pay it off this year before nobody wants it anymore, it doesn't fit your needs anymore, or it's obsolete?  How do you know the gear you picked is the best stuff out there in the situations YOUR company will encounter?  Sell your talents, then decide whether you want to have the gear lying around.  But make sure your talents have built value in that market before outlaying cash on stuff you're then stuck with.

 

 

This is excellent advice...

 

G


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#15 Hrishikesh Jha

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Posted 03 March 2017 - 09:48 PM

I am helping a friend start a production company focusing on commercial work as well as narrative film. We have a $100k budget to buy cinematography equipment.

Our plan is to own enough equipment to shoot 90% of low-mid budget project that are thrown at us, and to rent specialty items on a project by project basis.


I've compiled a list below to the best of my abilities, but would like your opinion as to the decisions I've made. I want to make sure there are no redundancies, especially for lighting. Most of the time we will be working with house power, hence the focus on energy efficient plasma lights and LEDs.


As for the camera and lens, I'm thinking of buying a used Epic Dragon and a set of Schneider Xenons. I feel these will give me quite the bang for the buck at this budget level.



Link to equipment list:

https://docs.google....dit?usp=sharing

 

Why not shoot on film? I am shooting on 16mm, going today to discuss costs with Kodak and my DOP. Trust me...it'll be cheaper than high end digital 


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#16 Pavan Deep

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Posted 04 March 2017 - 04:05 AM

 

Why not shoot on film? I am shooting on 16mm, going today to discuss costs with Kodak and my DOP. Trust me...it'll be cheaper than high end digital 

I agree - Why not shoot film? A lot of people shy away from it, claiming there's no equipment or lab facilities nearby and so on, but the fact is, as you've said, it's cheaper to shoot 16mm than high end digital.

 

Pav


Edited by Pavan Deep, 04 March 2017 - 04:06 AM.

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