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Buying Film Gear: When, Why & How

When it comes to gear-heads, I don’t know that there is a bigger one then myself. I'm constantly on the lookout for the latest and greatest piece of tech out there for filmmakers. Whether it’s the new lenses from Sigma, or the new OSMOS camera gimbal from DJI. I’d say it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the fancy new gear and how companies put them on display for us to drool over. I have been known to make spontaneous purchases from time to time. More often then not, those spontaneous purchases end up being equipment that I end up using maybe once in a professional production. This is what I call “dead investments”, and they can really bring your business to the ground. As professional filmmakers, it’s important that you make purchases that will contribute to your business and not waste your money. I’m talking about tangible acquirements that will allow you to push your work to the next level, either visually and/or by convenience. If you sit and monitor any big reputable business, they’re being governed by the same concept. Buying equipment just because it seems amazing in it’s abilities to capture great video is not always the best reason to have it. So here are a few tips to consider when making future “business investment”. 

  1. ESTABLISH YOUR IDENTITY - It took me quite a few years to realize that my niche or preferred work involves a lot of documentary-style filmmaking. This includes many interviews and b-roll. From corporate to narrative documentaries. I have my personal “style” of capturing my shots and, as such, need the equipment to help me do so. For example, I am 6’3 in height, therefore I know I’m taller then the average person. A shoulder rig in my hands will make my shot look awkward as it’ll always be angled down to frame up someone if that is what I am trying to catch. So I invest in a monopod to help me capture those “handheld” shots that I love so much. With my rig getting slightly heavier as I continue to add elements for my work, going 100% handheld can get extremely tiresome fairly quick. Heavier tripods help with heavier camera rigs and lighter ones allow for easier transport and travel. Low light cameras help with dim-lit scenes in which you have no control over. Establishing my niche or preferred filmmaking route was essential to my knowing the kind of gear I needed to use. 
  2. STAY IN YOUR LANE - Now that you’ve established your identity as a filmmaker, you need to purchase the equipment that will allow you to get that specific job done the way you like. But do you go for a $30 tripod or $2,500 tripod? Let’s make this simple, don’t go and buy the tripod that’s most expensive. You need to find a balance in all your equipment. When I first began I had nothing but a Canon t3i that was on loan to me from a friend that barely used it. Simply put, I did not have a single shred of production equipment. I made it work with loaned items. As I continued to grow and gain a little more money, I was able to make small purchases here and there. $100 slider, $50 monopod, etc. Things that were essential to my work. You shouldn't have a $300 camera and a $ $1,200 tripod. It just doesn't make sense. As you continue to grow in your business, so does your rate. Only you can make that informed decision as to what you'll be purchasing. 
  3. BE PATIENT - It can get pretty exciting when a new piece of gear comes out. I cannot wait to get my hands on it as soon as it does. But there's a certain discipline that I need to practice in order to make smart purchases. Do I absolutely need it? Do I see myself using it a lot in my current PAID work? Is it worth the price tag? How much value can this piece of equipment add to my work? What are other filmmakers saying about this? These, along with many more, are questions that you should consider. You'll find that more often then not, you won't need that particular piece of gear. It's frustrating at times because I cannot justify buying something that I'd really love to have. For example, I still do not own my own drone. I've been wanting to get one for a couple years now, however, I'm constantly on the move. A DJI Phantom 4, or anything else out would've been a great inconvenience for the way that I need to move. Now, with the release of the Mavic Pro and it's price tag and small form factor, I can greatly justify that purchase. With that being said I have yet to pull the trigger because it's currently 3rd on my list for "Big Purchases" that I need to make.
  4. CONSIDER YOUR CREW - Up until recently, I've been a 1-man crew for just about all of my shoots. I required the ability to set up all my cameras and camera settings, lights, and audio by myself. It's actually not that easy considering the meticulosity of each task. I simply don't like to do a bad job. In order to make this easier, I make sure that I purchase equipment that is easy to operate as such. For lighting, I use battery-powered lights. Looking for an outlet and pulling out extension cables takes time. Also, they're always easily repositioned when needed. For audio, I prefer to simply place a lav on my subject. Placing boom poles and running XLR cables also take time. My audio is also recorded directly into the camera. I cannot afford to have a separate field mixer on its own with no one to monitor it. The new Sennhieser wireless lav system are small and extremely convenient. No cables traveling through my rig anymore. The receiver itself is the XLR. Now lately I've been hiring production assistants to help make my job easier. It takes a little time to train them on how I prefer to shoot, but the longer my guy works with me the easier it gets. I can now get stronger, AC-powered lights. I can setup stationary boom poles for a secondary audio source from my shotgun mic, and so on.

As always, my methods are not universal. This is simply what works for me. Just remember to take everything I say with a grain of salt. With that being said, I hope this helps you as you continue to move forward in your respective industry and making good, wise purchases in your career. Thank you for stopping by!  

Ariel Martinez5 Comments