IFH 126: Should You Own Your Own Film Gear? – Ask Alex



Top Apple Filmmaking Podcast

20+ Million Downloads

Right-click here to download the MP3

Happy New Year IFH Tribe! We are now in 2017 and this will be ana amazing, creative and monumental year for us all. I wanted to start off the year with an “Ask Alex” episode. On this episode I answer the following tribe member questions:

  • Though I plan on hiring a DP for my movies, I’d like to invest in my very own camera equipment and lights. (Was thinking about investing in that BlackMagic Cinema you keep raving about.)

    However, I’m being advised NOT to buy my own camera and lights! I was told that unless I’m planning on being a DP myself, and unless I plan on keeping up with all the new models of cameras coming out (which can be expensive), that buying camera equipment makes no sense.

    What say you? Shouldn’t an independent filmmaker seek to have his or her own filmmaking arsenal, just in case? Shouldn’t directors at least try to go out, shoot, get a feel for the camera, etc., so that they are better directors, even if they’ll never be DPS? 

  • What advice would you give someone working with non-acting actors who will be getting little to no pay?
  • So If I go to submit my film to contests and festivals will I have problems with people in public in background shots?
  • Would make the background more out of focus help?
  • I have scenes in stores. Do I need to blur product labels?
  • When is the perfect time in pre-production should you start casting?
  • How important do you feel it is to shoot on film if your plan is to go to the big film festivals hoping to get a distribution deal?  Taking Dov Simens DVD class he stresses its important, but the content is in the age of miniDV, so technology has changed quite a bit since those DVDs were produced.  Although I know the story is really more important than digital vs film, which do you feel the major film festivals are looking for today or does it matter any more?  I’m looking to shoot mostly film (~75%) and mix some shots and coverage that are shot digitally (~25%).

Let’s get to answering some questions.

Alex Ferrari 0:57
And I want to start off the year with a an episode of Ask Alex. I wanted to answer questions from you guys. And but before we get to that, there is a ton of stuff I want to talk to you guys about first and foremost, to start off the new year in the indie film Hall. Film School I've added probably around 20 to 30 brand new filmmaking courses covering every topic you can imagine. And there are a lot of them are on sale for 10 bucks. So head over to indie film hustle comm forward slash film school. Now also a bunch of those courses are in the indie film syndicate, which I am offering one free month for the next prepare for the next week or so today's Tuesday. So it'll be done on Sunday and over to indie film, syndicate calm and use a coupon code New Year 2017. And you'll get your free month of the membership check things out, I just added a ton of new courses to the membership and a lot of cool stuff happening in the Facebook group as well. So guys, are we gonna make this a good year are we all going to follow through with our resolutions, because I know I've already started on some of my resolutions. And I have a crazy amount of stuff I'm going to try to get done this year. And it's going to be pretty nutty. And I can't wait to share all the news about this is mag I do have some news. But I will let you know as soon as I'm able to let you know. And I truly hope I see some of the tribe at Sundance this year because I will be going to do that workshop for black magic discussing this as Megan how I shot it edited and colored it in DaVinci over at slam dance on Saturday, the first Saturday, as well. I'll leave all that information in the show notes. Of course, if you want the show notes, head over to indie film hustle calm for slash 126 so let's get to answering some of your questions. So tribe member Colby asks, should filmmakers own their own gear should they you know, get their own arsenal of stuff, because the things changed so much. And cameras changed so much. And it's kind of waste to buy a new camera today, because tomorrow there'll be a new one that you want. Well, this is my, my experience with that I like to own my own gear. Now, I don't have the most expensive gear, I don't have an Alexa sitting in the back, right now in my office, but I have a bunch of cameras that I own, I have my own lighting gear, I own a bunch of different gear, but some things are gonna last for a while. So like lighting, gear, lenses, things like that, those are gonna last you they're not going to be replaced as easily. Now as far as cameras are concerned, try to buy something that's has a lot of bang for your buck, it's gonna last you for at least a year or two. Now I'm also a big, you know, Amazon and eBay seller, I sell everything, I barely have anything anymore. Anytime I need cash, I just start selling stuff on Amazon and eBay. And those those camera gear, the camera gear and film gear always sells very well it has decent resale value. So make sure you get good stuff and then resell it later. The benefits of having your own gear is that you get to play with it, you get to test it, you know, I can easily go out and rent something much cheaper than owning it, but I have to go out rent it, we have to get insurance, and then you only have it for the time that you that you're going to rent it for. Or you have your gear and you can pick up and go wherever the hell you want, you can start doing tests, you can start shooting short films, you can start doing a lot of things, I'm a big advocate of owning your own gear, as you get bigger and farther along in your career, you might want to upgrade and buy other cameras later on. But then it turns into a business. So you know, if you buy a $5,000 camera Are you going to be able to generate $5,000 in the next year off that camera. If you are then it's a perfect business expenditure, no problem at all. Same thing with post production equipment. You know, if you're able to generate so much money with that equipment, it makes sense to own it. Now if you you know spending a little bit of money to buy your own camera gear and stuff like that, just to do your own projects, it's not that big of an investment. But the bigger the investment, the more return on that investment you should have, whether that is to shoot your feature film, which you're going to sell, or if you're going to be doing other kinds of projects. So I hope that answers your question, Colby. Next question comes from Joseph. And he asked, When is the perfect time in pre production for you to start casting? Well, I would start casting. Once the money is in place, why don't you have a production to go, that is a go and you're not waiting for money for money to drop or anything like that. To be safe. I'm trying to be safe here. There's many people who do it many other ways, but the way I do it is once I know that there's money in place to make the movie, start preprint start, start casting as soon as possible. You know, as long as you as soon as you have dates, and money. That's the thing because you can't really cast without dates. Because actors need to get things in their schedule agents need to schedule their clients. So you need dates and you need cash and then everything else is back. You know you go backwards from there. So once you have a date of production date, whether that's for eight weeks ahead, 10 weeks ahead, whatever it is, you can start casting Our next question comes from Hunter And he asks, What advice would you give someone working with non acting actors? Who were who will be getting little or no pay? Yeah. That's a really great question Hunter. Um, well, I've worked with non actors in my career, and, and I've, I've worked with actors who've got little or no pay. It all depends on the human being, it all depends on the person you're dealing with, you could have a non actor who's really energetic, really wants to do the project. And life becomes a lot easier when you have someone that you're not paying. And again, these are not actors. These are not just like non actors, even people who are not actors, people who are not interested or doing you a favor, you just asking for trouble. Because when you rev up the whole Carnival, they say, to bring up production and cameras and stuff, and you are really relying on a non actor, a non professional to do that, you're risking a lot, because if you get that whole crew out there, you're paying other people, or at least even wasting other people's time, getting locations moving out there to shoot, you know, something, and that actor doesn't show up, or gives you attitude, or doesn't want to do that non actor gives you attitude, doesn't want to do it, you're hurting yourself, you're really shooting yourself in the foot, because you're going to hurt relationships all around. Now, if you're doing something small at your house, very controlled very this or that doesn't really matter who shows up or doesn't show up. That's not that big of a deal. To get them motivated is another question altogether. Again, it always depends on the human being, and what their motivations are, to do the project that they're doing with you. Now, one thing I always like to do, and I've learned this over the years is you really got to pay people something. If gas money, gas and food money, something, if it's 25 bucks, if it's 50 bucks, it's something, it gives them a motivation to be there, because they're going to get paid something, when you're paying somebody nothing, even for an opportunity or whatever, it really is it you're not going to get the best out of them, no matter who they are, no matter what actors are and what kind of favors they're pulling for you. And that goes also for crew, you know, Lester, they're really good buddy of yours, or somebody who really wants to work with you. And you know, you can trust them, always want to give them at least some money for gas or for food, or for something, you know, because that really helps them motivates them to be there. So those that's my advice, we're working with non actors and with, you know, non union actors, if you will, when working on an independent film project. Hunter also asks another really great question about shooting a film guerrilla school. If I go to submit a film to contests and festivals, we'll have a problem with people in public in the background shots would it make with making the background more blurry or out of focus help. As far as working with background extras that are not on your crew, you just grabbing them? In documentary world, it's fine, you even in documentaries, you should always get a release. But if you're going to do that in a guerilla style out in the world, which I've done, always try to frame them out as much as you can. But if you can't try to get them out of focus, if they're out of focus, no problem, the big thing is that you can't recognize them, you should always get a release, or that you cannot recognize their face, you can shoot the back of their heads, the side of their heads, as long as you cannot recognize their face. Again, always ask an attorney for legal advice in regards to this because this is kind of a legal situation. We did that with Meg, there was a scene where we were out in the world. And there was a place where there was some extras people that were walking around. And I made sure to frame them out as best I could. And then also when they passed, made sure to get the back of their heads. And if you got the back of their head, you got extra production value because you got bodies there. But But you should be careful with it. I've heard multiple stories. You also ask if you have products in a store? Should you need to get them out? Do you need to blow them out? I think I've answered this question before in the podcast, but I'll answer it again. When you're dealing with product lines, if you can get them clean, great. If you're going to go to major distribution, they're going to want you to have those clean, or fixed in post. But do not blur them out. That's horrible. That's like the worst thing you could do is blur out a logo in a feature film, it looks horrendous. So you'd have to get them done properly with visual effects and paint them out or not have them there in the first place. That's one school of thought. I had another friend of mine who released a movie through a very big distributor. They had stuff all over the place and as long as no one is like doing something derogatory with that product. So like let's say someone chokes on m&ms in the middle of the scene and m&ms are all over the place and the logos are everywhere. And you know the guy chokes and dies, m&ms, probably not going to be real happy with that. So you got to be really, really careful when it comes to that. But movies like clerks, you know, Kevin Smith's film, they shot in a convenience store, they shot on video store, and they talk about movies. You know, this other guy shot a whole movie in Disney World with copyright problems, everyone that got released. So there is there definitely look as an attorney specifically, but I've heard different stories from different type of filmmakers who've had both on both set gambits that they need to clean it. And as long as nothing's being done poorly with it, they don't need to clean it. Now the last question today is from tribe member Courtney. Courtney asks, How important do you feel it is to shoot on film if you plan to go to the big festivals, film festivals, hoping to get a distribution deal that he took that he took the dub Simmons DVD class, and that he stressed that he needed to shoot film, but that was also in the age of mini DV? So what do you suggest? He also says that, that's he's looking for to shoot mostly 75% of the movie makes some digital footage that will cover about 25% of the movie. Now coordinate two questions. The first question is, is shooting on film necessary to get into big festivals even if you want to get a big distribution deal? No, in today's world, absolutely not. It is not a necessity shoot film anymore. 90% of films or projects are shot digitally now. And film is definitely not a prerequisite by any stretch of the imagination. Now with that said, super 16 shooting Super 16 or shooting 35 millimeter is great. And it will give you something unique at a Big Film Festival. But at the end of the day, guys, it's just a format. And if you think yes, because you shot your movie on 35 millimeter, you've got a better chance of getting into Sundance or south by or any of these big festivals. The answer's no. They don't care. They really don't care. They want a good story. It's just it's just a format. So Courtney, I would suggest that I see that you're going to shoot like with an arrow yes are three. Great, you have to understand why you're shooting with film. You know, we sell obviously a masterclass on shooting Super 16. And it's a very viable format. But there is a cost involved, there is a substantial cost involved. So you have to ask yourself the question, why are you shooting film? Do you want to because you want to shoot film? Because you want to get that experience? Do you? You know, is it your dp who's pushing you to shoot film because they want to shoot film? I don't know why the reason is, but you should ask yourself that question. Why? Why do I need to shoot this on film is a story absolutely necessary to shot be shot on film, the new movie Jackie, that just got released was shot on Super 16 millimeter. It makes perfect sense, aesthetically, to shoot that film in Super 16 millimeter. Because of the time period they're trying to get the vibe they're trying to get with the movie, the whole thing. It made sense. Same thing with the wrestler. Same thing with black swan, those were creative choices by the director. But that direct those directors have a lot of money. You're an independent, independent filmmaker and don't have a lot of money, I would seriously consider shooting in a digital format. Because film is an unforgiving beast and you better know what you're doing. And it's it could eat up your budget so quick, you'll make your head spin. So I would be much more client on shooting with an Alexa. If you afford if you can afford film, you can afford an Alexa. And you know if The Revenant and all these other big movies are shooting with an Alexa, I think your project would do very well as well with it. And also the workflow is going to be a lot easier moving forward in post production. If you've never shot film before. And this is your first experience shooting film. I'd be very, very leery of it because I could just see it going downhill very, very, very quickly. I've seen it happen too many times. I've had many projects come through my doors that have done this specific thing thinking that shooting on film would give them some sort of edge. It does not. It only gives you an edge if you've got a good story. If you have a good story, you can shoot it on your iPhone. It doesn't matter. It's all about story guys. And if if you are going to decide to shoot on film, try not to mix it with digital it's not going to work really well. You know if you're going to mix it with digital, just shoot digital, you're going to shoot film shoot all film, but mixing formats in any scope by the way can guy this is a general note for everyone listening. Please, if you can do not mix cameras, or formats or platforms, when shooting your independent movies. It drives me crazy as a post production guy. You know when you shoot an entire movie And then you got GoPro, you know for establishing shots. Are you kidding me, you know how hard that's going to be to try to match it's actually impossible it's really impossible as a dp really knows what they're doing it's going to be extremely difficult. So please for the love of god don't mix formats try to shoot everything with the same camera you have to have the same camera three have the same camera, but do not mix platforms don't shoot what you know one with you know one cameras canon one camera Sony one cameras are red. Don't do that, guys, please. It really is rough. Unless you do extensive testing. And you bring it in and you feel that you guys can cut it together and it's going to look good on the color grading is going to work, then maybe, you know, I've had experience with shooting Alexa. And then they also throw in a black magic, because aesthetically, they're very similar images and you won't be able to tell the difference with some pickup shots or something like that. But please don't do it. So that's it for this episode. Guys, I hope you learned something. And if you want to submit your own questions, email me at IF H [email protected]. That's IF h submission [email protected]. And listen, if I see if I pick your question to be answered on the podcast, and if you want to get anything we talked about in this show, head over to any film hustle comm forward slash 126 for the show notes. So guys, I wish you all an amazing 2017 I know it's going to be amazing for me, I guarantee it because I'm gonna bust my hump. I'm going to hustle like there's no hustling. You guys think I've hustled now, up until now. Wait until you see what I do in 2017. It's gonna be crazy. And I wish you guys nothing but the best. And I know you guys will all get to your goals. You just got to do something small every day to get you closer to your goal. Because that consistency, it's what's going to get you to where you want to be. And also we have a lot of awesome interviews coming up with some really cool guys and gals that I've been talking to during the holidays. I'm getting all those, those interviews, getting them all ready for you. So stay tuned for some awesome stuff coming up from indie film, hustle, and the podcast. So as always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.




  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)



Where Hollywood Comes to Talk

Oliver Stone

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Platoon, Wall Street, JFK)

Edward Burns

(Brothers McMullin, She's the One)

Richard Linklater

Oscar® Nominated Writer/Director
(Boyhood, School of Rock)

Eric Roth

Oscar® Winning Screenwriter
(Forrest Gump, Dune)

Oscar® Winning Writers/Directors
(Everything, Everywhere, All At Once)

Jason Blum

(Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver)

Oscar® Nominated Producer
(Get Out, Whiplash)

Chris Moore sml

Oscar® Nominated Producer
(Good Will Hunting, American Pie)

(Menace II Society, Book of Eli)

Marta Kauffman sml

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Last Samurai, Blood Diamond)

Emmy® Winning Writer & Showrunner
(Friends, Grace and Frankie)