Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Rental House?

February 15, 2008
HD / Video Camera
Rental Checklist

When I talk to people just getting into advanced video production, I’m always struck but how obsessed they are with having to buy their own gear. And of course they’re usually stunned at the cost of all of it. Though I think a five thousand dollar camera is cheap, relative to the cost of the gear used to produce feature films and commercials, it’s still expensive for an individual.

So I ask them– “How many movie cameras do you think Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson own?”

The answer is, precisely none–or at least none that they use to shoot their movies. They rent. While there are a very few directors who own their own gear, (Robert Rodriquez and George Lucas come to mind), these are by far both the historical and present exception. Producers generally rent all of it, whether they be shooting a commercial, a corporate video or a feature film.
For that matter, if you want to shoot with Panavision equipment, you have no choice, their cameras and lenses are only sold, not rented.

The reasons are many. Prime is that they just don’t use such an expensive item often enough to make it worthwhile. It’s like buying a Motor Home that you’ll only take out once a year. Also, no one camera or lens is perfect for every task. And equipment is updated and obsoleted all the time. By renting, a producer can always have the most up to date equipment– and know that it’s in perfect operating order, completely checked out by the rental company before it’s picked up. Plus there’s all the ancillary lenses, specialty cameras, camera mounts, filters etc etc that need to be rented anyways. That gear can easily end up costing as much as the camera alone. So it makes sense to rent it all as one big package. When the production wraps, it can all be returned to the rental house– no concern about paying for a place to store it, or pay for maintenance on the inevitable wear and tear that occurs!

However–when renting a video camera, it’s vital to check it out before leaving the rental facility.
The personnel there will be glad to see that you are concerned about their equipment.
They’ll likely have a space set aside just for customers to check out gear.

Perform the following checks:

  • Batteries charged?
  • Camera powers on, from both batteries and AC adaptor?
  • Image in viewfinder? Image from monitor out of camera to a monitor?
  • If renting a monitor, is the monitor working? Set up monitor to color bars from camera to test.
  • Insert tape, make test recording. Play back test on color monitor.
  • Lens Check. Check for dirt and scratches, front AND back of lens.
    If using filters ensure that filters fit on lens, no stripped threads.
    Check all rented filters for scratches.
  • Back focus check. Use a backfocus chart to check backfocus of zoom from tele to wide.
  • Check condition of additional lenses you are renting. Make sure they fit on the cameras and are correct type, and cable connections fit.
  • Check that audio gear works in connection to camera. Do an audio playback test.
  • Tripod mounting plate in case, and correct one for camera, with mounting screws?

If unsure of any camera function, or operation, ASK QUESTIONS!

Do it now before you are in the field.
Get a contact phone number for after hours problems.


Why I’m here, and so can you!

February 12, 2008

Anyone who’s met me knows I love to share my experiences and knowledge, especially anything to do with my career choice as a cameraman. I’ve had some static web pages up for a long time, and I’ve taught workshops and college courses in film production. I also was the director of a film degree program at a four year college. Now I’m back to work as a full time free lance Director of Photography.

Over the years, I’ve come up with what I think are some clear and practical explanations of lighting and camera concepts. My goal is to use this blog to put those out there to a wide audience and with luck get some feedback and learn some new things too.

To best introduce myself, I present the Demo Reel I was using just before I got swallowed up in the academic world. (I am working on a new one, I promise!