It seems today kids all over the world are becoming more proficient at technology at a younger and younger age. If you’re child turns two, then they are probably more likely to already know what a smartphone, or tablet is, mostly because we as parents are seen on these devices all the time.
Of course what happens when our children see us constantly using these magical touch screen wonders? They see something shinier than that boring, beeping, archaic toy laptop we gave them. They gravitate towards the much shinier object not unlike us as filmmakers gravitating towards the next best camera.
Let’s chat a little about that.
This year at NAB, thousands of vendors across the world gathered in Las Vegas, Nevada to showcase the latest and greatest gizmos and gadgets for filmmakers. From lenses, to cameras, to drones, NAB has it all and one can easily get lost in the myriad of “shininess”.
However there are many things to consider before setting foot into an NAB show, or before shooting your next film or video. These are principles that apply to all of us filmmakers who sometimes just can’t seem to be satisfied with the gear we currently have. Believe me, I am guilty of this probably more so than most so don’t get me wrong. Let’s dive in.
Throw Out the Idea That Newer Is ALWAYS Better:
Newer is not ALWAYS better and you should get that out of your head right now. Phil Bloom, arguably one of the foremost authorities on DSLR and mirrorless camera systems, says, “Cameras are essentially tools, tools to help you tell stories. Good tools make your job easier. They for the most part don’t make the story any better other than they might make it easier to tell the story if you aren’t fretting about your tool!”
You can check out a far more detailed understanding of which camera might be right for you on his blog. Phil couldn’t me more right. Cameras are tools and yes good ones can make the job easier but it doesn’t necessarily mean your film will be a better film. You can shoot a cruddy film on a good camera and it will still be a cruddy film because the story was terrible, or you simply didn’t have a clue what you were doing.
Focus On the Gear You Have:
Sometimes we fail to realize that we can create a short film, a brand video, a music video, or even a feature film on the camera equipment you already have. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera is a very affordable camera that is used even by large studios. Even the pocket camera version is a fantastically affordable piece of gear that can be used to film a movie.
Take a look at this beautifully shot short film by Vladimir Philogene using a Blackmagic Cinema Camera.
Here is another example. This film, Invictus was shot by Christopher Ogden using a Canon T3i.
Don’t Compare Gear With Others:
One of the absolute worst things you can do is compare gear with other filmmakers. This gets you nowhere fast because while you’re sulking about the fact Johnny Director across the street has a RED Epic he spent his life savings on, that somehow makes you less of a filmmaker which is absolutely not true.
Unless you have gobs of money in the bank to burn, chances are you aren’t able to so easily go out and grab a RED Epic anytime soon. If you really want to shoot a film on a RED, then you can simply rent one for your film so long as you understand how to use it. Remember a tool is only as good as the person using it. If you give Phil Bloom a little handheld Panasonic HC-W570 HD camcorder and you give an amateur director a RED Weapon, we can guarantee that Phil will likely produce an incredible piece vs the amateur with the “industry standard” equipment.
Moral of the story here is, stop comparing. Just stop and go film. Save up if there is a camera you really really want, but don’t be foolish and take out a loan just to be on the same level as Johnny Director. You will very quickly regret it.
Utilize Your Creative Strengths:
Storytelling. That is what is at the heart of virtually every film. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you are a good story teller, you have the potential to be a great filmmaker regardless of what gear you have. Some of the best stories were told on non-cutting edge cameras. Shane Hurlbut, ASC and his team shot the very well produced theatrical film “Act of Valor” on Canon 5D Mark II’s. Even when the film was made, the Mark II was nowhere near what some might call a contemporary piece of industry level gear, especially for a feature film, and especially one made by the great Shane Hurlbut.
Part of being a great filmmaker is understanding what you’re good at. Once you are able to figure out your strengths as a director or cinematographer, you will be more prepared to tackle projects without needing to have the latest and greatest gear in hand.
New Gear Isn’t Bad:
Don’t get us wrong. We love new stuff just as much as the next film junkie. We aren’t against new gear at all, in fact quite the opposite. That said, the point of this article is not to bash anyone who buys new stuff all the time, and it certainly isn’t a homage to those who refuse or can’t afford new gear. We are simply encouraging all filmmakers to not get so focused on the next shiniest camera or lens that comes off the assembly line, but rather focus on whether you have tools at your disposal and within your budget already to tell your story effectively. If the answer is yes, then what are you waiting for? Go out and shoot. That “must have” mentality can thwart the creative process when you aren’t even out of the the pre-production phase of a project.
Establish a solid plan to move forward and only upgrade when it makes sense and when you can actually afford it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying a 2016 model anything. If you can do it, go for it. If not, it’s OK, keep making films and don’t ever let the camera conundrum stop you.