Thanks to David Branin and Karen Worden of the great indie film show Film Courage for having me on recently. Given this website covers a lot of the "latest, greatest tools" in filmmaking, this particular interview question was a perfect chance for me to make it abundantly clear what my stance -- and by extension the stance of No Film School -- is when it comes to "gear addiction" and what tools filmmakers "need to have right now."
For those of you who prefer to read or don't currently have access to audio (or just don't like my face), the transcript is below.
Do you suffer gear addiction? What was the first piece of gear you can remember buying?
Film Courage: For anyone who wants to get into the filmmaking business right now, what are some of the essential pieces of equipment they need to have, in terms of the camera, computer, and editing system? What would you advise that people purchase?
Ryan Koo: The great thing about getting into filmmaking right now is that you need so little. You can do it yourself with a DSLR, with a laptop, with -- it used to be Final Cut, but now I would say Adobe Premiere... although I guess if you're learning now, maybe Final Cut 10 is great... Filmmakers these days don't know how good they have it. Of course, the generation before me was probably saying that about me, but essentially it's so much easier now to get a passably good‑looking image with a shallow depth-of-field. If you have a large sensor camera, it looks like a movie when you go shoot something for very little now. That wasn't the case until a few years ago with the explosion of DSLRs.
It's a great time to be making movies with very little money, as far as getting your foot in the door and making something that resembles a movie. When I was in school, we were shooting on VHS cameras, so no matter how good your writing, no matter how good your directing, at the end of the day... it was going to be terrible.
It's nice to be able to go and make something with the tools that are out there for very little now, and to actually have it look and sound good.
FC: Any advice on staying ahead of the curve? It seems like so many things are wonderful. There are so many wonderful products, and they do look like film, but then they're obsolete in two to three, four, five years. Is that just the nature of the beast, or are there certain things that you can purchase that will keep you ahead of the curve that won't be as obsolete in the next few years?
RK: As a filmmaker, you can't get caught up with worrying about being on the latest version of whatever's out there. We cover those things on No Film School, and it's great to check in and know what the latest, greatest tool is, but ultimately, storytelling is timeless. It's a very rare situation that your camera or your equipment is going to be the thing that makes or breaks your film.
FC: Someone said once that part of being a filmmaker is gear addiction. That you get this gear acquisition addiction and you know that your bank account is going to take a hit and it's just part of the thing. Is that something that you have to accept, being in this business or having this hobby?
RK: Gear addiction is something that I've suffered myself. I'm a gear addict. "Hello. My name is Ryan." But it also demonstrates your commitment to your craft. Ever since I was in high school, there could have been a situation where I could buy a nice fill‑in‑the‑blank. Are you going to go buy a car? Are you going to go do this? For me, I was always spending money on gear because I believed in myself and I believed in the stories I wanted to tell. The nice thing, of course, is that the gear you buy now may become obsolete, but you can still sell it. As you're building up these tools that you have in your wheelhouse, you can view the addiction as a bad thing, but it's not bad to invest in yourself. That's essentially what buying these tools represents.
FC: In terms of research as to which brand or whatever someone needs to do for the various products they want to buy, how much do you spend? I know things are different because you're running a website dedicated to looking that up, but how much time would you say the average person should dedicate to looking up the different reviews and things like that on different products?
RK: How much time, or how much money?
FC: A little bit of both. How much due diligence should you do in researching what brand versus Canon, Nikon, whatever.
RK: The way I view it is, I spend most of my time working on, at this point, screenwriting. A few months ago, it was directing or editing, depending on what stage I'm at with various projects. But when I'm surfing the web, or if I were somebody reading No Film School ‑‑ if I weren't writing and managing No Film School, if I was reading these things -- I see that time as something that you're doing instead of watching football on Sunday. To me, it's not a mutually exclusive thing. I'm on this website and I'm reading about these things because I care about it. Quite frankly, I think a lot of people do these things while they're at a day job they don't want to be at. I'm reading and researching materials, not instead of working on a screenplay, but in addition to it.
On the money side of the equation, there are a lot of ways that you can invest in equipment that don't require you to have a lot of money yourself. One is, are there loans, is there financing you can get?
I know that when I bought a RED camera, I applied for a credit card that had zero percent interest for 21 months, so I paid it off. It was like $300 a month for the next two years. I didn't have the money in my account at the time when I went to buy it. Then I sub‑rented it through a rental house, so that it was generating income on its own.
I think some people saw an article I wrote that said I was buying a RED and they assumed that I had a lot of money in my bank account, and why was I, as an indie filmmaker, spending money on a camera instead of the film itself? Actually, that camera basically ended up costing me nothing, because I put it on a card and I paid it off through sub‑rentals.
You have to be savvy as a businessman when you're investing in this equipment. If you're not sub‑renting it like I have, think about what kind of income it's generating for you, whether you run a production company or whether you're a DP. Can it add to your day rate? Just making those calculations is something that can [make a difference]. It should be paying you, not vice versa.
FC: That's a great point. Using credit cards, but using them in a smart way where you know you could avoid the finance charge. In terms of how much research did you do before you decided on that was the camera that you wanted? Again, it's different because you're the head of No Film School, but in terms of someone else that doesn't run a website. How much do you think they should devote to researching?
RK: There's no such thing as the "best" camera. There's only the best tool for the jobs that you do. Depending on whether you shoot documentaries or whether you shoot weddings or whether you shoot features, all of those things are going to be different. Ultimately, it's great to be a filmmaker now because the tools are so good. They work in various lighting conditions. They can shoot different frame rates. They have audio inputs. The DSLRs are being hacked to do RAW video. It's an amazing time to be a filmmaker, and I wouldn't worry about, "I have this camera, and he has that camera. Therefore, his movie's going to look better or worse." It's not going to be the make or break point.