Am I Too Focused on Fancy New Shiny Things?
I love the latest tech and try to be an early adopter as often as my wallet permits, so it’s no surprise it has followed me into my career. Buying new equipment is part of running a business in this industry, but how much of a difference does it actually make? Do I really NEED the gear, or do I just want the gear? I have bought a few things over the years I thought I would use every day and it was the second coming of everything! In the end, it was used just a few times and never touched again. It doesn’t always make my projects any better than they were without the gear and, more often than not, there is a huge learning curve. I have to ask myself, as a small independent company, do I want to dedicate my time to learning a new piece of gear I may or may not use someday?
Take Your Red and Shove it!
Filmmaking is a very subjective piece of art that brings out fiery debates on what is good and what isn’t. I often come across elitists tout about how great their 40k camera is and how much better their films are. I can’t deny I would love to shoot on an ARRI or Red Weapon, and those cameras are pricey for a reason, but does that really mean my films are inferior? Can I justify any of my current projects on such as hefty price tag?
I have to admit that I cringe when I see posts from guys who “only shoot on RED.” I have to admit part of it may be the tech guy inside me being jealous, but another part of me is upset because it seems they may have lost what’s most important to making a film: Storytelling.
I Shot my Feature with JUST a Phone and a Piece Of Fruit.
Over the past few years, there have been some features, like Tangerinecoming out, that were shot on nothing than an iPhone. The filmmakers wanted to make sure their story could be told and that their budget was spent on making that the story the way they wanted. Thus, on a minimal budget, they used 3 iPhones, a lens adapter and a few other cheap pieces of equipment. The outcome was a great looking, award-winning film. Not bad for an everyday piece of equipment that sits in your pocket or purse.
After the success of Tangerine, the other elitists came out of the woodwork ranting things like “gear doesn’t matter at all” and “shoot on film only, digital is the worst.” This gives me the same bad taste in my mouth as the “RED-only” guys because, once again, it takes away from the storytelling aspect of film.
As wonderful as Tangerine turned out to be, I believe it has more to do with the story they choose to tell and those who told it than what gear they used. I have seen plenty of Indie Filmmakers with both cheap set ups and expensive ones put out horrible unimaginative videos. So, the experiment finally proved your gear doesn’t matter or does it?
So, the experiment finally proved your gear doesn’t matter or does it?
Soul Searching for the Answers
As I searched within myself for what really mattered to me, I found that I lay somewhere in the middle. A lack of gear should never stop you from making a film or video. There are already so many roadblocks that you shouldn’t add any more. Be creative and find a way to tell your story that fits with what you have. Almost every screenplay I have ever composed is written with my gear and budget in mind. I don’t try and write a new episode of Star Wars with the hopes I am going to film it myself. If all you have is yourself and a camera, you can still tell a compelling, visually appealing story. This comes from talent, preparation, and some ingenuity.
On the other hand, I have seen people try to make a huge Sci-Fi film with a DSLR and a green screen. That’s not to say I’ve never seen good effects done on a budget and with a small crew, but more often than not, it comes across cheesy and takes away from the plot.
What About Me?
I started out with a Sony Z5U camcorder, some soft boxes, and a Rode shotgun mic. I created over 50 videos in 2 years. Since then, I have purchased a Sony FS100, A Panasonic GH4, a Sony A7S ii, and a GoPro Hero 4, a Lowel light kit, a Tascam audio recorder, a 7k mac pro and so much more I can’t even think of right now. How many videos have I created in the past 3 years? About 20. The new gear didn’t make the production process any faster, if anything it slowed it down. The gear I’ve purchased has allowed me to expand my videos and films and helped get me bigger gigs, but in the end, I am still left with my talent as a storyteller and as a filmmaker.
I wanted to see what would happen if I stripped all the gear away and worked with only the basics. I created an experimental film using only myiPhone 6S plus, a single actor and 2 locations. Currently, this piece is still in post-production, but the results are pretty exciting. It is one of the most visually interesting projects I have ever done. Freeing myself from huge rigs, excess crew members and a complex lighting setup allowed me to focus on just the story and what was in the frame. It has been an exhilarating experience no matter what the final reception will be. It was a journey back to my roots that I will never forget, and it helped me get back in touch with my inner storyteller.
Who am I now?
Did it change my view of gear? Yes, and no. Now that I have reconnected with a stronger focus on the story and not the gear, it has grounded me a bit. Although I have to be realistic and know that there are some limitations as to what I can achieve, especially since I do a lot of commercial work. I am not going to get a gig with Comcast, Doritos or any other brands with just an iPhone and one crew member. There are still plenty of pieces of equipment and gear that I feel will only make my life as a filmmaker and as a professional easier. Thunderbolt SSD drives for added storage, Steadicams for more fluid tracking shots and a Cinema Camera for visual effects-heavy projects. I still regularly update my B&H list, but now I don’t let my gear dictate my storytelling, and that alone was worth asking myself how gear focused I was.
In the end, I will tell you and anyone who asks to just go make a film! If you have a story you want to tell, go tell it. Don’t wait for the fancy new camera to come out, or until you have enough money for a RED Helium, just make your damn film
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!