Financial Freedom in Filmmaking
I was 20 years old and fantastically eager. Sitting on my $50 couch with our apartment door flung open because our AC wasn’t working and it was the hottest time of year in the South, I had my laptop balanced on my knees with every online gear review I could find pulled up on the screen.
I had been saving money from wedding videos and odd jobs for 3 years for this moment.
I was a young, enthusiastic up-and-coming filmmaker, and it was time to get a real camera body. I could finally toss the T2i and show up with a bigger camera and maybe even a nicer lens and finally gain some respect from the wedding photographers!
After 22 minutes of research, I was devastated to learn that my life savings wouldn’t get me that far. Narrowing my wish list to just a DSLR camera body (the lens would have to wait another year), I started to become overwhelmed with all the options. I could get one model, but it was rumored that, in only two months, a newer and greater Canon 5D was going to come out. What to do, what to do?
I bet you’ve probably experienced this moment at some point in your filmmaking career. We want the latest and greatest, but the price is too high. Or we buy the best, but then another model comes out that’s even better.
We buy more lights, more mics, and then more bags to carry it all. And sooner or later, the budget gets tight. With credit cards maxed out, we can create a cycle of taking on projects to simply pay off all the new gear.
This has killed the joy of filmmaking for many people we know.
But you don’t have to fall into this trap.
While we argue that your story is the most important part of a film ('cause it is!), you still need at least a few pieces of gear to create a high-level film for your clients.
Here are a few of the principles we follow to find financial freedom in filmmaking.
First, you don't have to buy all your gear.
Financial freedom comes from restraint. Sometimes it’s better to rent instead of buy.
If you’re looking to buy new gear but you're not sure which brand or model to purchase, rent it first.
A few years ago, we knew we needed to buy more cinema primes. But we weren’t sure which brand to go with. So instead of researching online, reading forums, and making a decision, we decided to get our hands on the lenses and test them out on a shoot. We sent an email off to Lens Pro To Go about our plans. They packaged and shipped us Xeens, Zeiss, and Canons in several focal lengths to use on an upcoming shoot. We got to test out each model for a fraction of their overall cost before we ever bit the bullet and bought the pricey pieces of glass!
We so strongly believe in renting to cut costs and gear waste that we recently made a film about it. Check out the three situations where we choose to rent instead of buy.
Don’t waste money on a piece of gear that you may not like after a week or two. If it’s a significant purchase, spend a small amount compared to the overall price and rent the gear for a weekend to try it out, so that you know you will be satisfied (or not satisfied!) with that purchase.
The second opportunity we take to rent gear is when the gear adds value to a client’s film. It's hard to find a cheap alternative for something like a drone or a Movi. In these cases, if you don’t plan on using that Movi for 80% of your shoots, then rent the Movi and add the cost to your invoice.
But there is some gear that financially makes sense to buy — which leads us to our second principle.
If you’re going to use the gear for at least 80% of your shoots, buy it.
There are basic pieces of gear that you will use for at least 80%, if not 100%, of your shoots. Your computer, editing software, camera body, memory cards, 24-70 lens, sound recorder, tripod, monopod, and primary lights all fall into this category. Your client expects you to have these pieces, so it’s much better to have the essentials than to constantly be renting them. Your ability to accept shoots, or to make a profit off of them, depends on owning that gear.
We have our own essential kit that we’ve shaped over the years. Here’s what we use:
- Red Scarlet
- Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
- Canon 50mm Cinema Prime
- Canon 24mm Cinema Prime
- Canon 85 mm Cinema Prime
- Xeen 35mm Cinema Prime
- iKan Saga 7" High Bright 4k monitor
- Benro Video Tripod & S8 Head
- Benro Aluminum Monopod with S7 Head
- Westcott Flex Lights (2x2, 2x2, 1x1) - (easy to pack and great for travel!)
- Rode NTG2
- Boom pole
- Sound Devices 744T 4-Channel Portable Audio Recorder with Time Code
- Tenba Transport Rolling Tripod Grip Case
- Tenba Transport Air Case Topload
- Tenba Roadie Roller 21
That’s still a lot to buy up front, so we asked our gear partners to help you guys out with a few discounts. Keep reading for some sweet promos!
We’ve made all of these mistakes at some point. A few years ago, we had shelves and shelves of gear. It got hard to walk into our studio! So we made the decision to downsize, keeping the essentials — even buying a few pieces that we knew we needed — and selling the rest. Now we rent things like a third camera for a shoot or an extra Movi, and it saves us so much. Also, who doesn’t like trying out the latest and greatest?
We figured that there may be a piece of gear that you'll want to rent or buy after this post, so we reached out to a few of our partners who happily created discounts exclusively for you!
We really encourage you guys to rent and try the expensive pieces of gear before you buy them. We asked our friends at Lens Pro To Go to join in on the fun with a promo that should help anyone looking to rent an entire film kit to test out, or a team in need of a few pieces of gear for a shoot. They are a company staffed by professional filmmakers who regularly work with the gear, so they can answer all your gear questions. Plus, they can ship all over the U.S. and the shipping and handling is included in the price!
The rest of these codes are only available for 1 week (July 4 - 11), so take advantage of these sweet deals before they end!