February 4, 2016 at 9:39PM, Edited February 4, 9:40PM

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I've got a camera, now I'm a DP!

No, not really.

I've been reading a certain type of comment on NFS and other boards, and I think it's a sentiment that I see expressed online quite often.

"I don't get jobs because I don't have X camera."

or

"I need to buy the latest newest bigger camera because last years isn't in demand now."

or

"I have a T3 i, I never get any work...if only I had X Y Z gear."

You get the idea.

I don't really encounter this "I need X camera" sentiment on any of my sets or among my immediate peers. Mostly we wag on about specific bits of AKS we love and talk about buying it instead of always having the wrong item rented by production.

Which brings me to my question: How many of you only get jobs because you come with gear? How many of you, like me, may own a few bits of gear but rent a majority of your gear for every job?

And I guess that opens up additional questions, like, what market are you mostly involved in? and for the owner ops, how has owning helped your business and do you have any thoughts yay or nay to ownership?

19 Comments

I absolutely agree that nobody cares whether you own or rent your gear. They care about your reel, your recent references, your rate, and your energy/enthusiasm for their project. That said, there are projects where the deliverables are going to limit what gear you use. If they want R3D RAW files to grade, you cannot get away with saying "but CinemaDNG is just as good!". But if they do want R3D files to grade, and you do have some great references showing that you know how to handle a RED camera on set, nobody cares whether that camera belongs to you or a rental company.

I do get gigs because I have high-spec cameras that get people excited. And I will not get gigs that require high-spec cameras with which I'm not familiar. That's how the cookie crumbles for me.

February 5, 2016 at 7:30AM

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I do see a fair number of camera-op jobs where they state that they are looking for a shooter with XXX camera, which is often because they are are already shooting with this camera and want another shooter that will match with their footage.

Sometimes this is done to save money, where they don't have the budget to rent a proper production set-up so they try and hire people that already own the gear they want to shoot with. I see this with audio work too, where they want a sound recordist with a professional sound package.

For real DP work ( i.e. productions with a proper budget ) all they want to see is your reel and a list of projects you've completed.

February 5, 2016 at 7:54AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
33475

Film making is also business!

February 7, 2016 at 9:09AM, Edited February 7, 9:14AM

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Casey Schmidt
Film stuff.
161

If the gear you own is the only reason someone wants to hire you, they'll ditch you as soon as someone is cheaper or has fancier gear. That will always be a race to the bottom where you need to invest more and more while making less and less.

Owning gear is very convenient.
But you should be able to sell your skills properly.
Marketing, networking and acquiring jobs are also skills you need to get the jobs you want for the clients you want. The best situation is when the client wants YOU more than YOUR GEAR, because that shows the client understands that the craft is more than pushing 'rec'.

Unfortunately, the world isn't perfect, so there will always be people hiring gear with a button pusher, instead of hiring a DP with the right gear for the job.
Then it is up to you: join that race or not.
Every situation is different, so I can't tell what the right decision is...

I'm lucky enough to have clients that understand why I rent gear or not and why I don't own every piece of gear suited for every situation.
At the same time: I have gear of my own as well, making it easy to act quickly (if my gear fits the job).

February 7, 2016 at 4:54PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9942

Its a solid mix of both... Gear and skill. Lets not negate the fact that gear is very important. So if you can make the provision to upgrade your gear then upgrade your gear whilst you improve on your technical skills

February 8, 2016 at 7:09AM

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Wentworth Kelly
DP/Colorist/Drone Op
2767

Agreed! A mix of both. As your talents skills increase, chances are the need for better professional tools will too. Just be smart about the money. I imagine there's no worse feeling than not being able to cover rent because you took out a 50k loan and are now realizing you weren't at a sustainable point in your career to make such a big leap. Spending money you have as it comes in shows healthy growth and sustainability with you, your gear and your place in your market. Once you reach a certain level, you'll know when to dive deeper.

February 8, 2016 at 7:25AM, Edited February 8, 7:25AM

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Casey Schmidt
Film stuff.
161

So far I've never had a client ask about the gear that I own. I think there was one gig where we talked briefly about what my rental plan was, and that was it. That was a couple years ago. If they actually cared enough about a specific camera type and weren't willing to rent it then we're probably not going to end up working together.

February 10, 2016 at 6:53AM

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Steven Bailey
Writer/Director/Composer
1237

I have the same experience: my clients don't ask about the tools, they ask about possibilities. "Can you do this/that?"
Only fellow filmmakers ask about gear or some smaller marketing agencies that are looking for very quick and low cost solutions.

February 10, 2016 at 7:46AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9942

My clients ask for something, I tell them what gear can do what they want, then I rent it. I've always gone over what gear would work the best in each situation.

February 12, 2016 at 3:19PM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
1891

From the talented DP's I know and work with, all say that - at one point or another - their gear has played a factor in their hiring. That's a sad fact, but it isn't absolute nor is it rule. In short, the people that think a better camera yields better work (a poor call of judgement, imo) will ask you what type of gear you own (owning = lower rates, right?) and base their decision on that. Others could care less what you shoot with as they know any and all cameras can be rented; the DP's talent, attitude, passion and experience is what matters.

Personally, as a director, I couldn't care less what you've shot on or what you have access to. I really don't. Character, talent and experience trumps technology, always. A poorly lit/composed/exposed shot is shit, even in 8K.

Kendy Ty shoots on a T3i with a single lens (Sigma 35mm, I believe). I'd be hard pressed to find many people pull off the same images he does, let alone with a consumer grade camera. https://vimeo.com/150928234

I pity the DP that only sells his camera and not his skill sets; artists in the rental business.

February 10, 2016 at 10:12AM, Edited February 10, 10:12AM

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Braden
682

30mm! Subtle but magnificent difference. It is such an awesome focal length. Borrowed it a lot back in the day and am thinking about getting the MK2 version. Wish it was more common among budget prime lens setups.

February 11, 2016 at 11:31AM

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Steven Bailey
Writer/Director/Composer
1237

But at the same time, you wouldn't have a total noobie into film that has an Alexa. Only people that are really serious about their work have equipment that costs more than a car. On the other hand there are some very good people that don't own awesome camera's. While the camera they own doesn't determine their skill level, you'd be hard pressed to find someone unskilled wielding a Weapon or an Alexa.

February 12, 2016 at 3:26PM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
1891

In theory it sounds correct; if someone owns an Alexa they MUST be serious... or bankrolled by their parents (more common then I'd care to admit).

The funny thing is, do you think Lubezki OWNS an Alexa 65? He's as wealthy as contemporary DP's come and I'd be surprised that he'd own such a camera when his productions pay for anything and everything he (and the director) may desire. That's the ironic thing -- once you can afford all of these wonderful products you find yourself not needing to buy them because your budgets cover the rental of anything you need. And it's not only Lubezki and the high-end DP's, many working DP's that I know or work with often don't have extensive kits. Sure, they may have a solid base kit (a RED this-or-that setup, as is often the case), but they're by no means in a race up the gear-porn mountain to have the latest and greatest.

I've always felt that filmmaking is one large battle and production is the true test of your platoon. I need a lieutenant that can command his troops without my guidance (leadership), turn PVC plumbing into a pipe bomb (innovation/creativity under stress), execute a plan of attack (deliver on time and within means), hit the enemy 1000 yards away (master his tools and artistry) and trudge through the no-man's land where lesser filmmakers fall and die (commitment, persistence and faith in the project). I could care less what brand of rifle he shoots with, how powerful the scope is or the finish on his stock -- I want the character, ability and talent required to win the war.

Unless he owns a Star Destroyer -- then we sip cocktails and press the big red button. Problem solved.

February 12, 2016 at 9:47PM

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Braden
682

I was roaming around my dead grandfather's attic gathering toys as usual when a gust of wind blew from the window. The wind was so strong it lifted a blanket off an old chest. I opened it and found a super 8 camera with the name DEAKINS etched in child's handwriting. I took the camera and the chest slammed shut with a ghostly scream! Trembling, I left downstairs holding the camera tight. To my surprise the camera didn't work.
I couldn't sleep that night, I was tossing and turning. That's when I heard it... CLICK, CLICK, CLICK. I knew that sound! It was the sound of FILM running through a camera!
Quickly I ran to the camera. I found it shaking violently on the table, I reached my hand out then... SILENCE. It stopped...
I carefully inspected the device, I held it. It felt heavier than before! It couldn't have loaded film in without help. I looked around. That's when I heard whisper... "DEAKINS"
I turned to look at the camera.. did the camera just talk? I carefully placed my eye in the view finder... BAM! Colors everywhere! Colors that I never knew existed! Is this what God could see!? I felt power going through my body.. I quickly pulled away. I felt weak. My hands were heavy... but my eyes! My eyelids were too heavy!
I ran to the bathroom, knocking into walls like a blind man. I felt the mirror.. My hands felt wrinkly. It took all my strength to open my eyes but I did. That's when I saw it! The Horror! My skin was wrinkly all over! My hair was white!! I looked like I was 66! I pulled away seeing the world differently. Numbers scrolled across the walls as if I were in some kind of Matrix! They were footcandles! I knew where the sun was! No wait... I can control it!
I AM DE-
Anyway, long story short I would recommend buying a c100 mk2.

February 11, 2016 at 5:59PM

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Filmbaker
Writer/Director
482

February 11, 2016 at 6:05PM

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Braden
682

I didn't post this looking for an answer, but I've found it.

February 11, 2016 at 10:05PM

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Zack Wallnau
Cinematographer & Tinkerer
565

From my experiences the Video and Film industry works on an arc on the y axis is how much a employer cares about the gear and on the x axis is price level. as your starting off no one cares about the camera you use you can shoot on an iphone because you are your own employer. as you progress up the arc your getting to levels where you are making decent money and then the company starts caring about what gear your using because this is where the employer is trying to get the best gear and bang for their buck. I lay somewhere inbetween the top of the arc and the first point, as People do care what gear i use on occasion but more often then not they are happy i have a camera that i know how to use. NinjaMonkey strikes me as a person who is at the top of this arc, companies/people are spending pretty decent money on the video production so they care alot about the camera equipment being used because they want the "best" but they dont quite have enough faith in the DP to pick the right camera. once you get past the peak, the slope increases dramatically, Companies care less about the gear they are spending a ton of money, they care more about the dps skills and have enough faith in the Dp to pick the best camera for the job. Ive worked as DP on a few of these shoots on fluke incidents and my experience is shortly after the peak. The upper extremity is the hollywood industry. The camera is chosen to be the best for the project, and they can afford to rent any camera they want because its in the budget. If the Dp say for this shot they are using Gopro Hero 4 black edition they use that camera, if the Dp says for this shot the best camera is a c500 then they use that camera and if the DP says hey maybe we could use a couple t3i's for this sequence of shots then after a little of convincing they do just that. This is just my experience so if anyone else sees it differently, Id be happy to hear what you have to say. Sorry Ninja Monkey if I miss interpreted your situation This is just going based off the things I've read that you've posted in the past couple weeks as i see a lot of your comments recently. I also apologize for any miss spellings or crappy grammer.

February 12, 2016 at 6:55AM

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Carsten Weizer
Independent swiss army knife of a film maker
300

This is how I feel about the title of this post: Don’t only hire DPs because they own a RED Camera! - https://www.indiefilmhustle.com/red-camera/

February 12, 2016 at 9:33AM

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Alex Ferrari
Director / Producer
1098

In my experience as an up and coming DP equipment absolutely mattered until it didn't. The reality is most clients and would be dp's mistake videographer or camera op for being a dp. I did it starting out as well.

Being a DP is not the same as a camera operator as others have mentioned. It's not the same as being a filmmaker. Technically one can be a cinematographer and not be a DP even. As the defining difference is cinematography is a vocation and DP is a management position within that vocation according to Jim Denault ASC.

When I was starting out equipment was the sole reason I got hired. I knew this and I bought G&E equipment over expensive cameras. I learned the technical side of things and thought I was a DP. It wasn't until I truly understood visual story telling and also learned how to lead a crew that I realized what being a DP really meant. Not coincidentally around that time I started getting hired for my reel and not my equipment. I upgraded to a Red Scarlet and got no more work. Once I learned how to utilize the camera to it's full potential I got more work from my reel. Now I am getting interviews because of my reel and getting jobs because of my knowledge of how visual story works. Nobody cares what camera I have and really they don't care about my reel beyond getting the interview. They care about my art and even more important my personality.

So the short answer is yes equipment matters until you have the experience, knowledge, and network to work on a level where it doesn't matter.

I have asked many ASC dp's and successful movie directors for advice. The same advice is always dispensed. Keep shooting, never give up, and find your unique style. That is something nobody else can reproduce.

You must be able to compare your work to the work of the people getting the jobs you want. You must be able to identify why theirs is better. Having a critical eye and good taste is the real mark of a good cinematographer. You must be an artist if you want to sell yourself and not your equipment. That doesn't just happen because you decide it. It happens by experience. Some people are born with talent. Others must learn it. Everyone must earn their experience and skills to be an artist in demand. That's been my experience and your results may vary.

February 26, 2016 at 12:10PM

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Samuel Laseke
Director of Photography
74

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