In the last two months I’ve been filming by day and editing by night. I’ve now captured and edited almost two hours of completed footage in my 8 hour documentary series on education. I’ve been learning A LOT as I go and in addition to everything else, I constantly read and learn from books and the internet to continue improving as an artist.

In reading across different forums on the internet, it seems to be getting more and more fashionable to bang on people who have a decent supply of equipment and I think what is getting lost in the translation is that there is a reason to have equipment.

These people who are so quick to try and knock someone down a few notches because they “have so much gear” and constantly state that “all you need to make a film is a camera and one lens” are really missing the point and doing themselves and everyone else a big disservice, particularly newcomers to the filmic world that have little more than their enthusiasm to go on.

Trying to put myself in the mind of a person saying such things, I believe that most of them mean well and are trying to encourage newcomers by getting them over the point of “I don’t have gear so I can’t make a film” or “I have to have all this gear before I make a film” but in doing it in this way they are denying such newcomers what is in essence the key point that needs to be made.

Gear for gears sake is of course only for the rich. There are very very few working professionals that I know which do gear for gears sake. For a master of the craft, every piece of equipment has a use and those that don’t are usually rapidly put up on ebay for resale.

Imagine a painter who was given a canvas and a brush with a jar of black paint and told “All you need to create a painting is what you have in your hands.” This would of course be true to a certain degree and one could eventually create stunning black and white works of art after they had become skilled enough in the use of just those three simple things. In Asian culture alone there are thousands of examples of this.

But what about color? Wouldn’t such an artist want to begin to experiment with blues and reds and greens? I think so. I’ve never met a musician who only used one note to compose a masterpiece.

And that’s all gear really is. It’s just another “color” that makes up part of what you are painting. It’s just another note in the crescendo of your symphony. That’s all it is: a tool which enables further artistic expression.

The crucial point is not to have the gear, but to know what you are trying to say and what piece of gear will let you say that. As a filmmaker you could do a simple tilt down with a camera and a tripod as an actor comes down the stairs gradually becoming larger and larger in your frame, or you could use a jib or crane to follow them as they came down never increasing their size in the frame while continually moving away from their forward motion. These are visually two very different ARTISTIC EXPRESSIONS, although the action being filmed is exactly the same. But what was the filmmaker trying to symbolize about that actor with how they framed and moved the shot?

Beware the person who says “That’s just an abstract, the audience would never notice the difference.” The audience notices EVERYTHING. Every move of the camera, every zoom of the lens, every angle and every composition. They absorb every single moment and action that occurs and the sum of those thousands of “absorptions” is what will have them saying “It was a masterpiece” versus “I enjoyed the popcorn.”

In all the truly great films, every single thing that happened in that film happened for a precise reason.

This brings us to our next point: Gear is a double edged sword. It equally exposes the genius and the fool. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a camera moving around and lens sizes changing for no reason at all other than the filmmaker “thought it would look cool because they had the gear to do it.”

The amateur can get lost in the endless possibilities available with modern equipment and this is for a reason.

A person who is getting lost trying to decide on gear is only getting lost because of one thing: they haven’t decided what they want to say yet.

Once a person knows what they want to say, solving the gear which will help them say it is a very rapid matter.

Can you tell an amazing story with just a camera, tripod, one lens and a computer to edit it and output it. Yes, you can. But the truth is that it will be nowhere nearly as powerful as an amazing story told with proper use of the full array of tools at the disposal of the modern filmmaker.

THE LAW IS: KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY FIRST, THEN GET THE GEAR THAT WILL HELP YOU SAY IT.

The person who ignores this and buys everything in sight versus the artist who follows this rule of thumb is the difference between Gear Obsession and Artistic Expression.

There is another side to all of this which is: RENTING vs OWNING. And I’ll take that up next time.

My gear list is as follows:

Cameras: 

2 Canon 5D Mark II

1 Sony HD Handycam

Lenses:

– Zeiss CP.2 21mm, 35mm and 85mm with a 50mm Makro on backorder

– Canon 14mm, 24-70, 50mm 1.2, 70-200, 100mm Macro 1.4 extender.

– Redrock Micro Follow Focus V2

Monitoring:

– Zacuto Z-finder

– Marshall 6.5″ Camera Monitor using a Zacuto arm for mounting

Mounting system: 

– Redrock Micro Rods, Mattebox and bits and pieces used to tie everything together

– Viewfactor Contineo powered cage

Movement Systems: 

– Kessler Crane with 6, 12, 18 lengths and flexible dolly track

– Kessler CineSlider

– Kessler Revolution head and timelapse motors

Sound: 

– Rode Boom/Shotgun Mic

– K-Tech Boom Mic

– 2 Wireless Lav Mic’s by Seinnheiser

 

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