Secrets of Indie Filmmaking

Secrets of Indie Filmmaking: Film Equipment, Rent or Buy?

Happy New Year, Ardent Friends, Fans and Supporters!
May it find you all happy, healthy and well and full of new ideas and attitudes…

Sometimes it seems the only material you can find online about independent, no-to-low or micro-budget filmmaking is about the damn equipment.
Hence this Bloggy embrace from Us to You All, where we have been talking about acting; storytelling; our approach. Inspiration. Culture even.

As I’ve received correspondence from nice people regarding the details of what we do, in today’s post I’ve finally decided to start a conversation about equipment.

Happy New Year, Happy New… Film Equipment, Rent or Buy?

If you are an individual independent filmmaker or a small outfit like us, there is always going to be an internal debate surrounding equipment. Namely, do you rent or buy. It can be a general question, as in an overall approach to your work, or it can be project specific, “for this particular production, do I rent or buy?”

Now of course, so much is going to depend on your circumstances, the needs of the project, your personal finances, etc.

But personally, I think there are always two excellent circumstances under which to buy equipment:

1. When you actually need it.

2. When you can afford it.

This has been the Ardent Pictures approach, and it’s worked well for us so far. To keep the technology as recent as possible and to wait for bug fixes, we buy some equipment only right when we need it. As freelancers, when we have money steadily coming in and work lined up, we’ll do an equipment review and buy what is next most useful for us to own, because we can.

Rent:

– Some people cringe at the thought of buying; in a world where technology changes quickly, why buy? Sure, if you rent you’re paying a premium per production, but part of why you pay that premium is to get up-to-the-minute latest technology. Also, if it is or becomes faulty, it’s not your responsibility to repair or replace it.

– Maybe you’re new to filmmaking independently and want to see where this is going for you. Maybe you’re a seasoned pro in the business but you’re about to start a production that’s a real experiment for you, using equipment and techniques that are new to you. You don’t want to commit to equipment you may only use once or twice.

Buy:

– You’re not experimenting in as much as you are committed to or tend to produce project after project, so it is to your financial advantage to have “in-house” equipment.

– Specific equipment you use is expensive to rent and you are going to use it at least twice, so buying it is the same price as renting it once or twice.

– You are experimental or improvisational by nature or you are a documentarist, so you desire the flexibility of having access to your equipment at all times or at short notice.

– You want to travel with equipment, perhaps for  long period of time, so fees and insurance on rentals would be prohibitive.

Myself, I like owning a certain amount of equipment because I like availability at short notice, and if an actor or a great location is suddenly free, I like to fly into action and not risk missing an opportunity just because it’s after hours or the equipment is not available to rent at that time. Sometimes lightning does strike and a script quickly written also has the personnel and the location available to shoot quickly, and I like to be able to pounce in those cases. Also, I like to experiment and improvise.

Where you might wait on editing software and drives until the last possible minute due to bug fixes, software updates and new versions, a camera that is a good all-rounder for you might come first. If you’re not sure what your needs are going to be camera-wise, you might get your editing suite in order first, and rent your cameras until you decide what the best choice is for your purchased “go-to” camera.

This is not about brand endorsement, so I will not name brands here, but for example, we bought our main camera when we were ready to shoot our first feature, and not one minute before. We bought our second camera later, born of the experience of shooting with one in certain circumstances and realizing we’d like a second that we might use in a particular, different way, and deciding what we might want out of a second unit camera.

We’ve owned a good microphone and headphones for a long time, though sometimes we mount the mic on the camera if we’re shooting handheld moving masters. We don’t have lavs; they’re expensive and we don’t like them. Over time we bought a boom pole and a portable audio recorder.

And relating the equipment to the creative once again; some equipment is constant and does not change. If the essential importance is telling a story on camera, then having a script and a camera and players is job one whether you are a documentary or a narrative filmmaker.

So people, paper, words, a camera and some sunlight come first; the rest will follow in sequence according to your needs.

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