The concept of renting rather than buying gear isn't new to the professional video production world. What would be the point of buying expensive gear that won't be used often when you can just rent? The thing is, this concept isn't just limited to "the pros."
In this post, we'll mostly focus on one gear: The Camera. The misconception out there is that since low budget filmmakers have little to no budget for their films, they can't afford to rent, and therefore they must buy a camera or they'll have no chance of filming anything.
So pretty much filmmakers with a budget rent, and those without one buy. It sounds a bit weird when I say it like this, but a lot of us do work like this. When I'm hired for a project, like a music video or commercial, I always rent all kinds of gear because there's a budget, but when working on a personal short film, I only use the gear I already own.
"Independent" doesn't mean "no budget"
We have no problems shelling out thousands on gear and software, but for some reason we avoid spending a penny on our own projects under the pretext that it's a "no budget" project.
There's no such thing as a "no budget" project!
Seriously, this whole No Budget Filmmaking thing is a myth. The gear you're using on set, your camera, your computer, and your software cost money, so where's the no budget part? "No Budget" is really just a fancy term that means that everyone involved in the project is a volunteer. That's it.
What I learned while camera shopping
I've had my Canon t2i since 2010, and for a while now I've been wanting to upgrade to something better. My budget was $5000, but the problem was there were no $5000 cameras that I really deemed worthy of $5K. The Blackmagic cameras came close, but the fact that they only went up to 30p means I'd be screwed if I ever needed to do a slow motion shot.
I wanted to move away from DSLRs altogether, so a 5D Mark III wouldn't be a suitable upgrade either. I looked at the C100, but to me it wasn't that big of an upgrade over my t2i, plus no 60p! Why Canon would release a $5000+ camera without features found in its $500 DSLRs is beyond me.
Truth be told, the only 2 cameras that I felt would be worth owning were the RED Scarlet or the RED Epic, but these were way out of my budget to buy.
And then the light bulb turned on!
Why the hell was I crying over the fact that I can't afford to buy a RED? Seriously! People don't just buy a RED, they rent them!
My dumb self: But, but... I'm a low budget Filmmaker, I can't rent a RED for a short film!
My smart self: But you can spend $5000 on a camera that you'll no longer want a year after purchase?
My smart self was right! It wasn't that I had no budget for a short film, I just wasn't planning on spending that budget properly. Instead of budgeting food, rentals, props/wardrobe, and compensation for my crew, I just wanted to get a shinny new camera and then try to spend as little as possible on the actual production.
A Smart Alternative to Buying a Camera
Budgeting is part of the film business (keyword here is business), and in order to move forward and do the things I wanted to do, I realized that I needed to drop the no budget filmmaker mentality.
So I had a vision! What if, instead of spending $5000 on a new camera (that would indeed be outdated within a year) I used that money to fund 2 short films at $2500 each? I found out that I could rent a RED Scarlet for as little as $500 a week, which would still leave me $2000 for locations, food, props/wardrobe, and even compensation for my cast and crew.
So as long as production for each short film didn't go over one week (scheduling is part of the business also) I could shoot 2 films on a RED while still having the budget left over to do things I've never done on personal shoots. That's a much better investment than blowing $5k on a camera, isn't it?
I also realized that I could use these short films to showcase current and upcoming RodyPolis products. So not only would I benefit by having 2 new great films in my portfolio, but these 2 films could also be used as advertisement for my products. Owning a new camera can't do all of that!
Your situation might not be exactly like mine, but it doesn't have to be. What I want you to do is to start thinking beyond the "no budget filmmaker" mentality. Films have budgets, so before spending a lot of your money on gear, consider if renting won't better help you achieve your goals.
I understand the desire to spend all your money on gear so you can use it whenever you want, but that's really not as important as some of us make it out to be. When you actually have a specific project in mind, take the time to budget it and you'll realize all the stuff you'll be able to do when you just rent.
So don't worry if you can't yet afford to buy the new Blackmagic 4K, or a C300. With the money you'd spend buying these cameras and accessories, you can do so much more if you just schedule your shoots and rent (or borrow) a few stuff. Cameras come and go, so focus less on gear and more on your goals as a filmmaker.
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