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Big Fancy Cameras, Professional Work, and "Industry Standard"


Matt Kieley

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I've recently started applying to freelance Director of Photography jobs, but one thought has been nagging me: do people take you less seriously if all you have is a cheap DSLR or Mirrorless camera? I feel like my reel, which is all BMPCC, Sony a6300 and even some T2i, should speak for itself, but a lot of jobs I see posted on Mandy and elsewhere demand Red, or Alexa (I never even see a mention of Blackmagic). I think these are producers or directors who are hiring a DP because they don't own equipment, and possibly don't know anything about cameras other than Red and Arri because they're "the industry standard". I understand some people just want "the best" and so they look to what Hollywood and Indywood are using. I understand why they would want to use the big fancy expensive cinema cameras. I know I can get great results with any camera I use--I've proven that to myself with all of this buying, trying and selling cameras I've done for the past year+, but I wonder if I could just be disregarded entirely when I say I have what are basically cheap mid-range cameras. To any DPs here working on narrative films, have you ever been passed up for not owning a Red or some sort of expensive fucking camera? Or do you get work based on the strength of your reel and convince the producers or whomever to shoot on whatever you want because you're the DP and you're in charge of that department? Do you have to have the strong reel AND the expensive equipment? Do you feel like the fancy camera opens more doors? Or is it just as competitive no matter what you own and how good your reel is?

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I know of one or two DPs who own expensive kits like that. Reds or Alexas. It worked for them, they got work from bundling the camera in with the deal, and they gradually paid the camera off. But the majority of people I know who are working consistently and supporting themselves well don't own any camera except something like a t2i for personal use. Partially because different cameras are better for different shoots, mostly because they're getting hired for their ability and not their gear. Yes, if you're being hired mostly for bundling a cheap rental then that cheap rental will open doors to you... but only with bad shitty clients. So yeah, it will open doors for sure... imo, the wrong ones. Most commercial sets cost $250k/day. Lower end shoots still cost five figures a day. Is saving a few hundred dollars on a camera rental really that important to anyone but the most miserly client? Is the most miserly client the one you want?

There is a middle ground of C300 and FS7 ops who work as wet hires for lower rates ($600-$800/day wet hire, maybe a lot more but that seems to be the agreed upon low end) and seem to do REALLY well because they get tons of work for mostly documentary style stuff, tv and web. Usually they can pay off their small camera ($20k investment rather than $200k investment) in the first six months while still making money and after that it's just gravy. Talent helps there but all you need to be able to do is operate competently and reliably. But when it comes to Alexas and Epics... I rarely see owner/ops unless they own their own production company or are independently wealthy or just crazy ambitious. The cost of the crew to support those cameras is thousands of dollars a day, anyway, so most cheap professional clients don't want the hassle. A lot of student films do, though, and if you're in a city with a lot of film schools you can do okay just with that since you can recruit a free crew of film students and still ask a decent rate for yourself.

In my experience the most important thing is who you know. You want to know people who are looking for DPs. You also have to be able to do the job reliably. That's about it.

I've witnessed a number of DP hiring decisions and it's usually just who's easiest to work with. What camera someone owns almost never matters at all. Having a good reel of course is very helpful.

Edit: for narrative specifically I can see having a higher end camera being a strong selling point. For breaking into indie films (where rates are low but passion is high) having a good camera could be a significant factor.

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rent bro. Let them know you have access & experience to the high end stuff they are looking for. You never know, you may be talking to someone who doesn't know shit about cameras so they will be comfortable just knowing that you have the experience with what they know as "high end". Someone is bound to recognize your talent regardless of the equipment you own, your work is really good man

3 hours ago, HockeyFan12 said:

 

In my experience the most important thing is who you know. You want to know people who are looking for DPs. You also have to be able to do the job reliably. That's about it.

I've witnessed a number of DP hiring decisions and it's usually just who's easiest to work with. What camera someone owns almost never matters at all. Having a good reel of course is very helpful.

 

^^ so true

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