NBF 006: Why Buy New When Renting (Equipment) Will Do?

Avatar Cinema Summit | May 29, 2018

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No-Budget Filmmaking: Episode 6

Rent or Buy? What is the best route to go for the no-budget filmmaker? Alex and Trevor could talk equipment for hours and give you tips on how to go about acquiring your own. Where do you go, what options are the best, and if you do buy, what should be the main purpose? Plus, they talk about the new ways to rent equipment, including services like Sharegrid and KitSplit.

What is the normal process for selecting equipment to rent?

Typically there is a discussion about equipment during pre-production with producers, the cinematographer, and director. Some decisions are made based on budget, but often times DPs come prepared with a list of equipment that they generally like to rent and use based on previous experience.

Doing test shoots can be a huge help for the production if the budget allows for it. Being able to select the RIGHT equipment instead of over renting because you "don't know what you will need" will help create a more efficient production over all.

"Working off the truck" can be a great way to work on indie shoots that have nicely organized trucks. That way you aren't cluttering your location with unused gear, and you can just pull it off when you need it.

Sending someone you can trust to check all the gear is a key part of the rental process.

Rental houses have rooms and areas where you can plug everything in, shoot test charts, and just overall make sure everything is in working condition.

Should you get a U-Haul?

What are the benefits of getting an actual grip and electric truck vs renting a U-Haul?

The problem with U-Haul trucks is that there's no organization inside them. You'd need to bring your own shelving or have a different system, because the only other option is just creating a big pile of gear that you'll have to dig out.

Quality over quantity

When we were younger we collected gear because we thought it was what we needed to make movies.

We got all the big heavy equipment. Huge stands, dollies, tungsten lights, crates of grip. And all that is great, but now we tend to go for a smaller footprint that can be more mobile.

Because cameras eat up light nowadays and no-budget and low-budget films typically use lighting methods that accent existing lighting, you may not need the huge lights from the past.

Renting vs. Buying

This question depends on your particular situation and project.

If you know that you are going to use a certain piece of equipment over and over - it may be best to purchase it because the multiple uses might offset the cost and make it actually cheaper to purchase than it would be to rent it over and over again.

Also, purchasing used equipment can be a great way to save money over time. Depending on what you are buying, it can be pretty safe to purchase used equipment because a lot of film equipment is built like a tank.

Purchasing used cameras can be a little more sketchy. And also, expensive cameras will likely be more cost effective to rent.

When you purchase a piece of equipment, another way to offset the cost is to rent it out through platforms like Sharegrid and Kitsplit. This will allow you to make money from your equipment without actually having to work yourself on a project.

Additionally, if you turn around and re-sell equipment to upgrade, you can recoup at least some of the money you spent and use that to put towards the upgrade.

Another reason owning can be beneficial is the fact that people are looking for crew members who own their own equipment more and more these days. Now that cameras and other professional equipment is more accessible, it has become common practice to hire owner/operators. Being an owner/operator also allows you to earn extra money (after you've paid off the price of the gear) by adding a kit rental fee to your day rate.

Owning gives you the opportunity to do tests for a shoot whether the production would have been able to afford the rental or not, because ultimately, tests will just help you out at the end of the day to make your job easier during the shoot.

Use your own experiences to figure out what you use ALL THE TIME and find yourself reaching for the most. That way you know that you'll utilize it, plus you can probably guess that other people feel the same way that you do and need it as well - making for a good rental.

Do Your Research

Be very aware of what else is out there and what is coming out soon. Also, research what people tend to be renting most frequently. You can go on job boards and see what producers are posting - aka "Seeking a DP with a RED Epic" tends to be a pretty common ask, so maybe purchasing a RED Epic might be a better purchase than a Sony F5 for example.

Being aware of the going rate of equipment is helpful too when searching for used equipment, that way you know how to negotiate the best price.

Ask your friends and peers what their most rented pieces of equipment are. For example, a lot of DPs like to rent Joker 1600s and 800s. So, knowing that, you may draw the conclusion that purchasing a Joker might be a better decision than purchasing an Arri 1200.

Pros and Cons of Sharegrid

We use Sharegrid all the time - not only to list our own equipment for rent but also to rent from other individuals and companies.

One problem with Sharegrid is the pick-up process. Unlike a rental house, you would likely be renting from multiple people all over the city so picking everything up will be a marathon instead of a one-stop-shop.

Also, you can't be certain what the condition of the quipment that you are renting is in.

In a similar vein, as a person who rents equipment to people on Sharegrid, you will have to deal with equipment coming back broken, or with pieces missing. It has happened to us. We've had a wireless follow focus brain fried and batteries that have gone missing.

It's part of the deal, so if you aren't willing to deal with insurance and collecting money from people for repairs, you may not want to rent equipment out.

Getting Gear Shipped to You

There are other services like BorrowLenses and LensPro2Go that allow you to rent equipment that may not be avialable otherwise in your area.

If you don't live in a major film production hub like LA, NYC, or ATL you might be in a situation where your local resources are limited.

These companies are online, where you choose your gear and you can have equipment shipped directly to a middleman in your city for you to pick up. Everything from cinema cameras to lighting. It's very cool, check it out!

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