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Getting the Most from Renting Gear

Motion picture and video producers are finding that renting equipment is important to making their money work in today’s era of smaller budgets.

By Dawson Gaither Peden

Today’s market is filled with camera systems, from the Canon C300 to the ARRI Alexa XT, and cinematographers demand even more camera and lens options. That brings producers in to many camera rental companies across the country. Producers’ budgets can vary in order to meet tighter deadlines, plus they must deliver more format options for the public’s ever-expanding entertainment needs. Content providers must reach viewers in many ways that make a producer’s work that much harder after they wrap the production.

[Top to Bottom] Equipment rental house Cineverse in Miami displays its wares in a variety of settings.

Before you rent: Ask the right questions

Going into a project, a producer will often talk to the client, distributor, editor, and director before hiring the best cinematographer for the project. The next step is to determine from where the camera equipment will come. Producers rely on owner/operators, production companies, and advertising agencies or, of course, camera rental companies. When choosing the correct gear, there is a mix of all parties that comes into play; at the end of the day, the rental house is the best choice for most productions due to cost, variety of equipment, rigorous maintenance, and age of the equipment.

When you pick a camera rental company, you need to ask a lot of the right questions before deciding on your rental package. Know what you need and have a detailed camera list from your cinematographer. If he or she asked for a Canon C300 with a PL lens, make sure that’s what you’re getting so there are no problems later.

Ask how the company services their lenses and camera bodies, and make sure they complete this process after each rental – you don’t want to end up with filthy equipment. Make sure the rental period is from one to three days based on your shoot days; normally, three billing days equal seven days of use. Also, if you have production insurance, make sure the company doesn’t charge you a fee for that on top of your equipment rental rates.

Make sure your camera crew protects and takes care of the rental equipment, because if it gets damaged, your production will have to pay for the repairs. You may also want to keep your equipment inside a safe location when not shooting and in a professional camera van when traveling from set to set.

Always hire seasoned camera assistants to work with your rented gear; this will help your production move along. And always make sure your camera crew cleans the equipment before returning it to the vendor since many rental houses charge for returning dirty gear. The last tip I suggest is always return the equipment before the deadline so you don’t incur more costs or another day’s rental charge.

Avoiding common pitfalls

Some of the pitfalls I’ve seen include where producers have production assistants call in the camera order without checking the order for themselves or sharing it with the cinematographer until the day of the camera prep. Inevitably in these situations, almost everything needs to be changed before it leaves for the shoot. Some producers worry about their budget instead of the best equipment for their production, and in post find they made a big mistake. I’ve seen producers go from shooting with the 4K Red systems to an ARRI Alexa 2.8K with 1080p images and not realize until post that they can’t zoom into the image as they did when dealing with the 4K files.

Some inexperienced producers want to use a camera system way out of their budget range and they end up failing to complete their project because they ran out of money. I suggest carefully selecting the correct camera technology that fits the budget for your project. The rental market offers camera systems starting at $500 per day and go all the way up to $5,000 a day.

Most productions will be better served to rent rather than purchase camera equipment. When you own equipment, over a two- to three-year period after the warranties end, manufacturers’ parts and repairs can cost as much as the original cost of the equipment. If you have a long-form project and plan on shooting it with a DSLR camera and lens system, as opposed to a cinema-based PL-lens 3K to 4K system, then you may consider purchasing since the total cost will be one you can afford even when adding service and repair cost.

Lately, cinematographers have been using vintage camera lenses such as uncoated glass, older Angenieux zooms, anamorphic primes, or even damaged filters for a specific look, while using workhorse cameras such as the Red Epic, ARRI Alexa, Sony F55 and Canon C300 for most TV show and commercial productions. The trend is shooting 1080p to 4K-image capture and 4K archiving for future distribution. There are more specialty add-ons like remote camera drones, camera sliders, low-angle prism lenses, ladder pods, camera stabilizing systems, alternative dollies and short jib arms to help make the image move, float or look different in a non-traditional way.

No matter their professional background or equipment preferences, cinematographers all have an eye on what they feel is the best way to share their vision with the world. Some are able to move from their cellphone and personal video cameras to ARRI and Panavision film camera systems. I find that all cinematographers have at least one common trait – a vision of how they want to capture an image using a certain type of camera system and lens choice. They all feel these must be used to complete the story they are telling. Dawson Gaither Peden is a motion picture rental manager at Cineverse Miami.

July 22, 2014