Get the Latest BuZZ Each Week

Transcript: Digital Production Buzz – March 1, 2018

HOST

Larry Jordan

GUESTS
Ned Soltz, Contributing Editor, Red Shark News, Ned Soltz Inc.

James DeRuvo, Editor-in-Chief, DoddleNEWS

Les Zellan, Chairman, Cooke Optics

Carl Cook, Director of Television and Cinema, East, VER

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Larry Jordan: Tonight on the Buzz, we are talking about renting gear.  With production equipment evolving so quickly, sometimes it’s better not to buy new equipment, but to rent it when you need it.  We start with Ned Soltz.  Ned describes the process of renting cameras and shares his experiences in renting out the cameras he owns through a rental house.  

Larry Jordan: Next, James DeRuvo, Editor-in-Chief of DoddleNEWS describes his experiences renting out his gear through a crowd sourced website.

Larry Jordan: Next, Les Zellan, Chairman of Cooke Optics and maker of Cooke lenses describes how they consider all their customers to be rental houses and house that affects their manufacturing.

Larry Jordan: Next, Carl Cook, Director of Television and Cinema East for VER describes what a rental house does and how it can benefit a producer to rent their production equipment through a traditional rental house.

Larry Jordan: All this, plus James DeRuvo with this week’s DoddleNEWS update.  The Buzz starts now.

Male Voiceover: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking, Authoritative: One show serves a worldwide network of media professionals.  Current: Uniting industry experts.  Production: Filmmakers.  Post-production: And content creators around the planet.  Distribution: From the media capital of the world, in Los Angeles, California, the Digital Production Buzz goes live now.

Larry Jordan: Welcome to the Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry.  Covering media production, post-production and marketing around the world.  Hello, my name is Larry Jordan.  Cameras and other high quality production equipment are not cheap and most of us are not shooting every day, which means, all that expensive gear is sitting on a shelf, costing us money and collecting dust.  This week, we decided to take a look at different ways to rent our gear for our next project.  There are several ways this can be done, through personal contacts, crowd sourced websites and traditional rental houses.

Larry Jordan: Over the course of tonight’s show, we’ll talk about all these options, with the people who’ve used them and know them best.  It’s always a nice feeling to point to a camera or any expensive piece of gear and say, I own this, but all too often, we let the camera we own determine which camera we’ll use for our next project, which may not be the best creative choice.  Renting saves us money and gives us far more creative options.

Larry Jordan: Tonight we’ll learn how the process works, when it makes sense to rent and when it makes sense to own.  Before we start though, I want to invite you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com.  Every issue, every week provides quick links to the different segments on the show, plus articles of interest to filmmakers and, best of all, it’s free and comes out every Saturday.

Larry Jordan: Now it’s time for our DoddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo. Hello James.

James DeRuvo: Hello Larry.

Larry Jordan: Alright James, what’s news this week?

James DeRuvo: This is camera week on the Buzz. Sony introduced a new 4K full frame mirrorless camera called the Third Generation A7 line, the A7 III.  It has a 24.2 megapixel backside illuminated Exmor sensor, five access image stabilization, it can shoot 14-bit Raw, 4K HDR video, S-Log2, S-Log3 and, just for fun, high frame rate up to 120 frames per second in HD.

Larry Jordan: Well where does this fit in Sony’s product line?

James DeRuvo: Well that’s what’s interesting about it.  Because Sony refers to the A7 III as its basic 4K mirrorless camera, but with all those features, plus it oversamples two and a half times the image data, so that you get no pixel bedding, it’s hard to believe this camera is an entry level model, but that’s what they’re calling it.

Larry Jordan: Well that’s one Sony camera, you said it’s camera week, does Sony have a second announcement?

James DeRuvo: Well, it’s not a camera per se, but it supports cameras.  Sony has announced this low priced $70 sync cable for their RX0 action camera.  It’s called the VMC-MM2 and what it does is it enables you to sync your RX0 action camera with your Sony brand mirrorless camera, so that you can get a second point of view that’s synchronized with you’re a camera.  That way, it frees up a user to do two different forms of content at the same time.  They also actually announced this at CES, but they’ve also come out with this camera control box that can sync up to 100 RX0 cameras, so that you can create a nice little bullet type effect.

Larry Jordan: What do you see Sony’s goals to be with the RX0 camera?

James DeRuvo: Well, I think the RX0, you know, it’s Sony’s GoPro killer, but, honestly, GoPro has its hands full with lower priced alternatives that are a tenth the cost.  They’re not really worried about yet another higher end model.  But the RX0 is incredibly diverse and it enables you to do things like bullet time through their camera control module and this sync cable is going to be great, it’s going to enable one man wedding photographers to be able to shoot two different vantage points at the same time and keep everything in sync.  I think they’re just expanding its capability.

Larry Jordan: That’s two major announcements from Sony, what else is in the news?

James DeRuvo: Canon announced the new 4K M50 mirrorless camera.  It comes with a 24.1 megapixel APS-C sensor that shoots 4K video with Canon Log at 24 frames per second.  But, there’s a few downsides.  First off, because it’s an APS-C sensor, it’s a 1.6X crop.  Then, on top of that, you get another 1.6X crop when you’re shooting in 4K.  Then, on top of that, it loses dual pixel autofocus when you’re shooting in 4K and it doesn’t have HDR support.

Larry Jordan: What’s the significance of it being mirrorless, what does mirrorless get us that mirror does not?

James DeRuvo: Mirrorless gives us a smaller camera, lighter, because you don’t have the shutter mechanism involved and a smaller footprint, which is really great if you are shooting out in the field.  If you’re a wedding photographer and you’re lugging around a lot of equipment, making it smaller and lighter is always a good thing.

Larry Jordan: Who do you see as the market for this new Canon camera?  Who does it compete with?

James DeRuvo: I don’t see how it can compete with Panasonic’s GH5 since the APS-C sensor isn’t being used to its fullest capacity and ends up being smaller than the micro four thirds of the GH5 and don’t even talk about the Sony Alpha models, because they’re full frame.  At the end of the day, this is largest aimed at a video blogging crowd on YouTube and not much else.

Larry Jordan: We’ve got announcements from Sony and Canon, what other stories are you following this week?

James DeRuvo: Other stories we’re following this week include Sigma 14-24 Art lens finally has a price and shipping date, DJI’s Phantom 5 could have interchangeable lenses and fly longer and Adobe plans to shut down their Story Screenwriter App, but you have a year to get all your stuff before they do.  Oh and it’s five weeks to NAB.

Larry Jordan: Five and a half, but who’s counting.  James, where can people go to get all these breaking news stories?

James DeRuvo: All these stories and more can be found at doddlenews.com.

Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the Editor-in-Chief of DoddleNEWS and joins us every week.  But, James, this show is talking about renting gear and I know you’ve rented your gear, so, I’d like to invite you back a little later in the show to talk about your experience in rentals.  Is that okay?

James DeRuvo: Oh absolutely.  You know, not many people realize that, with all this equipment that you have, you’ve got extra revenue just waiting to be made and being able to do it in a shared environment is a great idea.

Larry Jordan: We’ll talk to you in just a few minutes.  James, thanks for joining us this week.

James DeRuvo: Okay Larry.

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Larry Jordan: Ned Soltz is an Author, Editor, Educator and Consultant on all things related to digital video, he’s also a Contributing Editor for Red Shark News and, best of all, he’s a regular here on the Buzz.  Hello Ned, welcome back.

Ned Soltz: Hello Larry and greetings to all of our listeners as well.

Larry Jordan: They are happy to hear your voice.

Ned Soltz: Oh, absolutely.  I am sure somebody’s going to be happy to hear my voice these days.

Larry Jordan: This week we’re talking about renting gear.  When should we consider renting gear instead of buying it?

Ned Soltz: The whole question boils down to return on investment.  When you look at a piece of gear you just sometimes have to get the stars out of your eyes, just like with new cars and ask yourself honestly, do I really need to invest capital into this, into what is essentially a depreciating asset.  What possibilities do I have?  What kind of new business could I potentially and realistically attract with this new piece of gear?  

Ned Soltz: Sometimes things are just so expensive to purchase that it really doesn’t pay to purchase it.  The example here is glass.  We’re seeing some phenomenal cinema glass now in what I call a mid-range. Let’s say from maybe about $3,500 to $12-15,000 range, in many cinema primes or cinema zooms.  Now these are wonderful pieces of glass, but you really invest in that only if you’re going to be using that on a day-to-day basis and you have that client kind of demand, otherwise, it’s far more economical to calculate your rate and what you’re charging and so forth based upon factoring a rental into it, in order to achieve what you want.  That may even allow you to go to the next level of cinema lens.  I’m only using that as one example.

Ned Soltz: Cameras become yet another example.  There are some situations that a DSLR, or a mirrorless work perfectly. There are other situations where you may want a fully kitted out, high end Sony or VariCam or a RED and that might be out of your range, but you know that the client’s going to pay for it, or the artistic demand is there.  In that case, you rent as well.  There’s the economic and artist decisions.  I think that’s what goes into it first.

Larry Jordan: What should we be aware of when we’re renting a piece of equipment?

Ned Soltz: There are levels in which you rent and we’re talking about individual renters, because I rent individually.  Then you look at levels of rental houses.  There are web-based rental houses that will send your gear out overnight and I’ve dealt with a few of those before.  There are, what I call, more discount rental outlets, that seem to be lower than the major rental houses in terms of price. Then you have your big, larger major rental houses, which seem to have higher published rates than anybody else, but which also might be more open to negotiation depending on the amount of equipment, the length of time and the customer relationship that you have with them.

Ned Soltz: In the higher end, essentially you’re going to have checkout facilities you’ve going to be able to go over the equipment with them, you’re going to be a little more confident that that equipment is coming to you in tip-top shape, rather than from one of the discount types of rental places, where you’re basically going to rent, you’re going to pick up your gear and what you’ve got is what you’ve got.  I think it all depends, again, upon levels of risk that you want to take and what your budget is.

Larry Jordan: Should budget be the driving factor?

Ned Soltz: To me, budget is a driving factor, but budget is never the driving factor.  There really has to be a balance between budget and between what you think is going to give you the most dependable service.

Larry Jordan: If you’re renting a piece of equipment that you’re taking on a shoot, how do you familiarize yourself with that gear prior to the shoot?

Ned Soltz: In many rental houses, that are a higher end rental house, you’ll have a checkout with the rental agency, which means they will set it up, they will go over it with you and give you some basic familiarity.  Otherwise, if it’s a piece of equipment you’re not familiar with at all, of course the tendency today is to crowd source everything on the web and we know everything that you read on the web is accurate.  But if you don’t believe that, then you may want to rent that piece of gear for an extra day or two, just to run it through its paces.  That’s what many professionals will do.  The least of what you want is to be on set and reading a manual or calling tech support.  It’s worth it for the extra day or two.

Larry Jordan: What happens if you damage the gear, or something goes wrong?

Ned Soltz: That’s where your insurance comes in.  Because, I hope everybody has got production and liability insurance.  But along with your production insurance, your insurance agent will specify and you’ll pay for a rental gear insurance, up to given limits and you pay for how much limit you want.  I think I’ve got about $25,000 on my policy.  Then, when I want to rent something, I will get an idea of what I want, I’ll have them review it and give me a quote in writing and that will often have the serial number of the product as well.  I then give a shout to the insurance company, who will then email or fax an insurance binder to the rental house, to indicate that you’re covered.  In other cases, where it’s not, the rental house very well may take a deposit on your credit card, not charge it, but authorize it, to the extent of the value of the equipment.

Larry Jordan: The flipside of renting is an owner renting their gear to someone else and I know you rent some of your gear to individuals.  What experiences have you had in renting your own gear?

Ned Soltz: My experience has been very positive.  First of all, I have one camera that I leave with a rental house on consignment at all times.  Some months I get a very nice check and some months I get nothing, it just all depends on what the demand is.  But it is a piece of equipment that I had pretty much paid off, through amortization and through work and I wanted the successor model, even though this particular model of camera is perfectly accurate.  So I figured what I would do is, I would put this camera to work, helping to pay for the new camera and so far that’s been the case.  

Ned Soltz: It’s been very successful left with this facility and, therefore, the insurance and everything else is between them and the client.  I’ve not had any damage to the product at all, but I know if the product is damaged or destroyed, I’ll collect my money from insurance and that will be it.

Ned Soltz: Generally, rentals that I’ve had have been more word of mouth than advertising.  What I require, of course, is the certificate from their insurance company and because I’m an individual, I can certainly take the time to familiarize the person with the equipment.  The downside is, I’m not a big rental house, I’m not a one stop shop. Primarily I rent cameras.  Let’s say I’m renting one of my cameras, I’ve got a limited number of lenses.  If lenses that I have are going to be adequate to the client that’s great, otherwise, then, they’ve got to source a lens or a camera from me, they’ve got to source a lens from somebody else.  As a result of that, it becomes very difficult when you’re going to multiple sources.

Larry Jordan: Where can we go to find out how much we should charge for gear that we’re renting out ourselves?

Ned Soltz: I go to the various rental houses online and I see what they’re charging online and I try to scale my pricing accordingly and scale it lower than what the going rate would be at a commercial house.  Because I’m not offering the full service that a commercial house will offer.

Larry Jordan: Is there a reasonable time to rent a piece of equipment?  In other words, how long should we hold onto equipment before it becomes unrealistic to rent?

Ned Soltz: I think, when you reach the point here nobody wants it anymore, the product is not obsolete, as long as people still want to use it.

Larry Jordan: What tips do you have for somebody who wants to rent gear and has never rented before?

Ned Soltz: I would say, the first tip is, decide upon your budget.  Once you’ve decided upon your budget, then look at the needs that you have in that particular shoot, try to match the equipment that you need for the particular shoot and, then, see if that falls within your budget.  

Ned Soltz: If you find that your needs are far greater than your budget, you have to either reassess the budget amount that you have, or you then have to scale down your objectives, or if it’s in the case of something that’s for a specific client, you may have to tell the client that, for the price we have agreed upon, or discussed at least, we can’t deliver you this particular quality that you’re looking for.  You don’t want to do that, that’s a point of last resort, which is why you want to clarify with your client exactly what they want and then get your cost of equipment together before approaching your client with a quote, based upon the level that the client wants.  

Ned Soltz: Now, of course, a client may very well come to you with totally unrealistic expectations and you quote high, because you’ve had to rent equipment far higher.  At that point you have to work with that client to say, it’s just not going to be achievable within the budget that you want.  Then you get into other general business practices of, how much do you keep cutting your prices and cutting your prices to the point that it’s no longer realistic for you to be in business.  That’s another set of issues, you know, of the high school kid with the DSLR cutting your prices.

Larry Jordan: Ned, I enjoy talking to you every time we chat, because I learn something new.  For people that want to follow your current thinking, where can they go on the web?

Ned Soltz: Best place to go on the web these days is redsharknews.com where I’m writing with some degree of regularity and both product review, as well as industry opinion and I would welcome any comments that anyone has to any of my Red Shark articles.

Larry Jordan: Ned Soltz is the Contributing Editor for Red Shark News and Ned, as always, thanks for taking the time to join us.

Ned Soltz: Thank you Larry.

Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the Editor-in-Chief for DoddleNEWS, but he’s also a videographer and someone who’s rented his own gear, which is what we want to talk with him about now.  Hello James, welcome back.

James DeRuvo: Hello Larry.

Larry Jordan: Why did you decide to rent your own gear?

James DeRuvo: Honestly, I did it because I was writing an article about the emerging trend of the shared environment.  You can use Uber or Lift to make a living with your car, you can use Air BnB to make a living with your house or apartment, videographers and photographers for a while now had various opportunities to rent their unused gear through such sites as ShareGrid and, so, I wanted to just see, well how does this work?  I listed all of my camera gear on ShareGrid and made a nice little profit in the meantime, so that was a very interesting experience that I wrote about.

Larry Jordan: Why ShareGrid?

James DeRuvo: I kind of like the name. It was easy to remember and I like their website interface.  The whole idea behind it is, is that you would list all of your stuff on ShareGrid and then people would contact you via email, or text message and then you would arrange to meet with them at a neutral location.  They have already paid for the rental, because it’s all done online.  They inspect the gear, you sign on a piece of paper and they take it off and then you meet back together a couple of days later and you get your stuff back.

James DeRuvo: I was skeptical because I thought, okay, you know, what’s going to happen?  But it ended up being a very nice experience.  The people who I rented my gear to tend to be millennials, younger filmmakers who are just starting out, but they’re very excited about this whole shared portal opportunity, rather than going into a big professional rental store.  You know, we have all of this camera equipment. I’ve got three Gimbals and five GoPros and two different SLRs and a camcorder, you know, 90% of the time they’re just sitting there, so why not put them to use and make a little extra money?  That’s why I did it.

Larry Jordan: What insurance do you require?

James DeRuvo: All of the insurance is handled through ShareGrid. They have their own insurance waiver and you do have to pay for the insurance.  It used to be that you were given the option of self-insuring, or using their insurance service, but now they require all renters to buy the insurance, so everything is protected.  When they first started, insurance was a really kind of touch and go issue, because they were always giving people the option of paying for insurance or not and then, I guess they must have had a problem with losing too much gear and so they required insurance after that.  

James DeRuvo: Another thing that you’ve got to make sure of is, if you turn down a rental more than four or five times and I was just too busy to do it, then all of a sudden you stop getting requests.  You’ve got to make sure that’s all above board.

Larry Jordan: Do you quality the people that you rent to, or is everything handled through ShareGrid and you just trust them?

James DeRuvo: It’s kind of like Ebay where you have feedback ratings.  You give feedback ratings to the experience and, then, the higher the rating, the more trustworthy the renter and the more trustworthy the person who’s renting the gear.  It’s in your own best interest to provide a positive renting experience, because that will increase your feedback rating and then people are more than likely wanting to trust you.  Whenever I would get a text message from ShareGrid saying, “Hey, someone wants to rent from you,” I can go online, I can look at their profile, I can see what they’ve done in the past, see comments about how people have done and then I can decide whether or not to rent to them or not.  It’s a really nice social experience that, for me, worked out quite well.

Larry Jordan: How do you determine your rates?

James DeRuvo: They kind of give you an example, you can go on and look at what other similar products are renting for on ShareGrid and then you can determine it from there.  Or, if you just want to, you can just charge less or more, depending upon what you want to get.  But, obviously, if you’re going to be charging more than what other people are charging, you’re not going to get very many rentals and you could put a rental on sale every once in a while and give them an extra day, or that type of thing. It’s really casual and kind of open and I like it.

Larry Jordan: If you were to rent gear for yourself, as opposed to rent your gear to others, would you use the same website?

James DeRuvo: I would use ShareGrid, but I probably wouldn’t use it for something that’s kind of out of my range.  Like, if I wanted to shoot with a RED Helium for the very first time, I probably wouldn’t go to ShareGrid because I wouldn’t have that customer support behind it. So I would go to LensProToGo or Camera Lens to do it, because then I could get support behind it, so that, if I run into some problems, I’m not trying to chase down the owner of the camera gear, I can just call LensProToGo and they’ve got somebody there that can help me.  

James DeRuvo: I think, it largely depends upon what you’re renting and what your budget and project is.  The thing about shooting film is, there’s no real rules per se and, so, I think it just largely depends.  If you’re just going out and you need an extra GoPro, ShareGrid’s the way to go. If you’re wanting to get a shot at the RED Helium for the first time, then I would go for a larger concern that will give you the kind of support that you’re going to need to run it.

Larry Jordan: What advice do you have for someone thinking of renting their own gear for the first time?

Larry Jordan: Be organized.  What I mean by that is, make sure that you have all of your stuff properly labeled.  I did have one experience where they rented two different GoPros from me and another guy and they got the GoPro switched.  Then, I had to go back to them a second time because they got the batteries mixed up.  You want to make sure that everything that you have is labeled. You want to make sure that you have like a form that you give them to sign so that they know what they’re getting, they’ve checked off everything.  Organization will set you free.  

James DeRuvo: That is probably the biggest thing that I would recommend, if you’re going to rent your own gear, is make sure you have all your serial numbers on all the rental information that you have.  Your contact information, if not on the gear, on the case that the gear comes into, make sure that your gear is easily identifiable, that all your supporting gear, like batteries and camera mounts and all that stuff are properly identified, so that you make sure you can get everything back and list everything. Everything that you’ve got in your kit, list it on the rental piece that they sign, so that they know that they’re signing for, not just the camera, but for the batteries and the cables and then give them a copy of that, so they can check off, okay I’m giving them back.  

James DeRuvo: Then, when you go to pick up your gear, you do it all again, you sign that you’ve picked up everything that you need, so that there’s no misunderstandings.  That is going to go a long way towards making sure you get your own gear back, but also that you have a positive rental experience.  Because, if they see that you’re organized, that you care about your gear, then they’re going to want to rent from you again because they know that you offer not only good gear, but a good service.

Larry Jordan: For people who want to keep track of what you’re thinking and doing, where can they go on the web?

James DeRuvo: I’m the Editor-in-Chief of doddlenews.com, I’m always there.

Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the Editor-in-Chief at DoddleNEWS and, James, thanks for joining us, we’ll talk to you next week.

James DeRuvo: Alright, have a good weekend.

Larry Jordan: Les Zellan is the Chairman of Cooke Optics, best known for their precision lenses for film and television.  Not only are their lenses available for purchase, they are also available to rent and that’s why we wanted to talk to Les today.  Hello Les, welcome back.

Les Zellan: Thank you, I’m glad to be here.

Larry Jordan: Before we start talking about rentals, describe Cooke lenses.

Les Zellan: Well, you know, we’re making now about 65 different lenses every month, use various formats, from Super 35 to the newer large format cameras.  We have anamorphic lenses, we have the lenses that started the whole modern lens revolution, the S4s, 5Is and the anamorphics, the new S7s, which are full frame.  You know, we are trying to keep up with the camera guys and all the new formats that they have.  In fact, the S7s that we introduced last year at NAB actually got to the market before the cameras did.

Les Zellan: Our goal is to give cinematographers and videographers the tools they need to capture the images that they send all over the world.

Larry Jordan: Well, do you sell, rent, or both sell and rent your lenses?

Les Zellan: We are a manufacturer and we only sell, we don’t want to compete with our customers and, traditionally, our biggest customer are rental houses.  But my philosophy goes one step further, that is, I consider anybody I sell to, be them an individual, or the biggest rental company in the world is our own company.  If I sell to an individual, he’s going to put those on one of his jobs and undoubtedly rent them to that production and deny a rental company that rental.  

Les Zellan: We look at all of our customers as rental companies, be them individuals or some of these gigantic rental companies.  We try to create everybody fairly and pretty much the same.

Larry Jordan: Does your manufacturing change, knowing that your lenses will be principally rented, which generally means subjected to harsher treatment?

Les Zellan: No.  The motion picture industry is, shall we say, not gentle on equipment. Whether it is an individual, or a rental company, so we would like to think that our lenses and our products are built to the highest standards. Frankly, whether it’s an individual, or a rental company, a lot of stuff happens on a set, equipment is often times mishandled, with the best of intentions.  Again, we build everything to the highest possible standard as we can.

Larry Jordan: Equipment is always expendable on a shoot, I know what you mean.  Tell me about this collaboration you have with your rental houses.  They’re your largest market.  Do they give you feedback on what they’d like you to create?

Les Zellan: We’re in an interesting marketplace, because, the rental houses which are our largest customers are not our user actually.  You know, the user is their customer, the Director of Photography, the Cinematographer that walks into that rental house and says, I want a Cooke lens.  There’s a little bit of a disconnect, but yes, we pride ourselves on listening to the industry, we talk to all the rental house customers, we happily accept their feedback, we talk to the end users, the Cinematographers, we talk to assistants.  The best example of this was the design of the S4s.  

Les Zellan: Just so you know, the S4s this year have turned 20 years old, they’re still our bestselling product.  They have become more or less the standard of the industry.  I know we really nailed the design because, almost all of our competitors have at least copied the ergonomics of the S4s.  The way we came up with that was, we talked to three groups of people, we talked to the Cinematographer and the DT and, frankly, they’re pretty much the easiest group.  They like Cooke lenses, they like the Cooke work, they like the warmth of the Cooke, they like the way they render the images and the contrast and the Cooke look has been consistent for almost 100 years now, so we know what they want.

Les Zellan: Then we talked to the assistants and these are the guys that really are at the sharp end.  They’re the guy that picks up the lens, they’re the guy that puts focus on it, they’re the guy that actually handles the lens.  They had an enormous amount of input into our design of the S4s and subsequent lenses, the size, the shape, the ergonomic of the lens were really, in large part, due to their input.  Then we also talked to the rental houses.  You know, the rental houses gets a lot of feedback from their customers on what they want, but they want some specific things.  

Les Zellan: Time is money and if a lens goes out on a shoot and it comes back and it takes a week to clean that lens, that whole set of lenses may be out of commission for a week.  One of the things we did with the S4s and our subsequent products is tried to make them as easily serviceable as possible, so that a rental house can turn them around very quickly.  An S4, for example, takes about an hour to do normal cleaning and service on it, some of our competitors take a day to do that.  We listen to people at every level of the industry and try to satisfy their needs.

Larry Jordan: For a DP who’s thinking of renting Cooke lenses for the very first time, what advice do you have to help them pick the best lens for their project?

Les Zellan: Well, you know, that’s always an interesting question and an impossible question for me to answer, because, I am really a firm believer that the choices that he makes should be driven by the story.  Too often now, you know, we introduce a new product or a new focal length or one of my competitors does, it doesn’t matter and all of a sudden people say, oh I can’t shoot my next movie unless they have that new camera, or that new lens, or that new whatever.  That just seems to me like crazy talk.  How did you shoot your last movie without that product, you know?  It really needs to be story driven.  I wish I could answer that question but I really can’t.

Larry Jordan: Let me come back at you, because I think you can.  How do we determine how your lens will affect our story?  I agree totally that we want to pick the lens that enhances our story, but, what criteria should we use in judging which Cooke lens is going to be able to reinforce that?

Les Zellan: If the Cooke look is right for your film, then it’s simply a matter of picking the difference between the Mini S4, the S4 or the 5i is just the speed.  The Mini S4 is [28], the S4 is two and the 5i is 1.4, but the look is consistent.  You know, when they shot Hugo, I don’t know, five or six years ago now, they shot that with two sets of fours, two sets of fives and two sets of Minis and depending on what camera we used in the Minis, depending on the shot, they would either use the fours or the fives.  

Les Zellan: That extends also into our other lenses.  For instance, if you were going to shoot with a full frame camera, like the Venice or the Arri LF, or the RED Weapon, you know, the now S7 series, but the S7 series color and color balances in a look is consistent with S4s and fives and the minis.  The same is true for our anamorphic lenses.  If the Cooke look is right for your film, then it’s simply a matter of ticking, what format am I shooting and what speed do I need.

Larry Jordan: For people that need more information about the lenses that Cooke makes available, where can they go on the web?

Les Zellan: They can go to cookeoptics.com.

Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, cookeoptics.com and Les Zellan is the Chairman of Cooke Optics.  Les, thanks for joining us today.

Les Zellan: You’re so welcome, thank you for having me.

Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you to, doddlenews.com.  DoddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries.  It’s a leading online resource, presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry.  DoddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platform specifically designed for production.  These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in-depth organizational tools for busy production professionals.  

Larry Jordan: DoddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers.  From photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts and everything in between, Thalo is filled with the resources you need to succeed.  Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals, or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go, doddlenews.com.

Larry Jordan: Over the past 20 years, Carl Cook has held many different positions within the New York production community, Editor, Production Manager, Camera Tech, Rental Manager, Sales Executive.  Now, at VR, Carl is the Director of Television and Cinema East, with a focus on reintroducing VER as a top tier camera rental house and service provider in New York City.  Hello Carl, welcome.

Carl Cook: Hello Larry, thanks for having me.

Larry Jordan: How would you describe VER?

Carl Cook: We’re a global provider of production equipment, we have 36 offices worldwide, within that, camera aside, we also rent audio, LED, lighting.  We also have full engineering capabilities for our broadcast division.  The way I like to put it is, it’s a global company but with a local focus.

Larry Jordan: Now, in your intro, I said that you were a rental house and service provider, what services do you provide?

Carl Cook: Beyond your kind of run of the mill box rental, if you just wanted to place an order and pick something up, whatever that item may be, we go far beyond that.  We provide poor engineering support, consulting, for production companies who are working on multi-chain, large, live event productions.  We’re at the ground floor conversations with production.  To give you an example, we did an AC/DC concert in Wrigley Field.  There was 22 cameras, there was a blend of 35mm digital 35, the other half was studio cameras.  

Carl Cook: What’s unique about our service is, we’re able to come in, with all of our equipment, with our background in broadcast and our background in cinema, bring in our engineers, our techs and our consultants, we can sit down with production, outline what our capabilities are, listen to them and they’ll tell us their vision and we’ll make it happen.  When the gear leaves the rental house, our job isn’t over, we see ourselves as an extension of production, so we’re right there with you the entire way.  We’re a 24/7 business and we’re always there at a moment’s notice.

Larry Jordan: Let’s focus on the independent filmmaker. Generally you’re renting one camera, maybe two, but it’s not a big live production, but it’s a film production.  How does the rental process work?  How can you help them decide what cameras and gear they need and come up with a price that makes sense?

Carl Cook: That’s actually a great question.  You know, I don’t want to lend the impression that, just because of the size and scale that VER operates, that we’re not a friend of the independent filmmaker, or the student filmmaker, in fact, on the contrary.  We have relationships with the local universities in all of the cities that we have a presence in.  In terms of what we can offer them, it really comes down to two things, ultimately the creative decision on the camera, which we’re happy to show a prospective client camera tests, lens tenses, they can come in, spend a day at our facility, you know, just hang out with our camera prep techs, with our lens technicians and just have a conversation.  

Carl Cook: The second thing is, of course, the budget.  We all know that independent projects can be a micro budget and where VER excels in that regard is, because we are a larger company and we have such a vast and deep inventory, we can afford to discount these packages to support these projects, because we have other long-term larger projects that are kind of fueling the machines.  

Carl Cook: To be frank, it’s more about the relationship, especially on the cinema and independent film side.  We know that these young and independent filmmakers, they’re going to be on another project and they’re going to have a long and lustrous career and we’re interested in becoming parties with them.  We don’t really want to focus too much money or what kind of budget these productions have.  Then it just comes down to simple paperwork that they have to fill out, to establish an account with us and then they’re ready to roll.

Larry Jordan: Let’s talk about that paperwork.  What do you need from a filmmaker to rent gear to them and what do they need for insurance?

Carl Cook: The most important aspect of renting equipment, from any rental house, is production insurance and that doesn’t mean liability insurance, it means insurance for the equipment.  It’s typically up to the broker, the wording and what our people accept, but it typically is a special addendum and the insurance form that says miscellaneous rental equipment and then it’ll have in the far column, to the value of 500000.  

Carl Cook: Beyond that, there’s a little pamphlet that we send out, that’s one or two pages, with pretty straightforward questions.  It’s not invasive at all, we have a department that handles that.  They can call you, they can get in touch with you, they can walk you through the paperwork, it really doesn’t differ much from vendor to vendor.  Of course, we do our due diligence.  There’s a portion of the process where we can’t just accept an insurance certificate for a $1 million on face value, so they’ll do some behind the scenes due diligence to check the validity of that.  

Carl Cook: When everything is on the up and up, the key is to be insured and you can make payment with a credit card, with a check, there’s a whole host of ways.  We’ve really gone through great lengths to make it as simple as possible, to get that set up, because that’s the boring part of the business and nobody really wants to deal with that.  In fact, we’ve recently revamped the process to streamline it even more and you can get all the forms on our website, or by calling any of the VER offices.

Larry Jordan: When should someone decide to rent equipment over buying it?

Carl Cook: That’s a great question.  It comes down to what the needs of the particular production are.  On the episodics, you know, television, teacher films, where it’s higher end cinema cameras, whether it be film or digital, more often than not it’s a rental product, for a host of reasons.  The equipment’s just too expensive to buy, it would take an army of people to maintain and there’s so many specialties involved with the optics and with the cameras themselves.  When you’re working with a rental house, you have that layer of redundancy, if something goes down, all you have to do is make a phone call and “Hey guys, my camera’s down, I need one like yesterday” and, you know, a rental house will respond.

Carl Cook: Now that suits those projects.  I’ll use reality television as an example.  Some of the lower budget reality projects, that are successful shows on cable, that will go four or five year and lean more towards a lower end or prosumer style camera, in some of those instances production opts to buy.  We have some of our greatest clients who own their own gear too.  What goes into the actual rental and when you’re’ dealing with a rental company is, the support, that’s the thing that gets missed a lot.  If you just kind of look at a spreadsheet and say, well wait a minute, why would I rent this camera for four months when I can buy it for this?  

Carl Cook: If that’s your matrix, it’s not going to make a lot of sense to you, because you step back and realize that, well wait a minute, we have a lot riding on this production, we don’t’ have an Equipment Manager, we don’t have a Lens Technician, you know, we don’t have certified Sony or Arri technicians.  To answer your question in short, it really just depends on the nature of the production.  There are instances where it may make sense to buy.

Carl Cook: One last piece that’s important to know about that is, even when an owner/operator, so a DP or an AC, is working on commercial projects and they opt to buy a camera for themselves, the only thing I would say to that is, you do pigeonhole yourself with the technology.  Every year and a half cameras change, lenses, audio, lighting, things like that typically have a much longer period of amortization for a rental house, or for anybody trying to get their money back.  

Carl Cook: But the cameras themselves, that technology changes so rapidly.  To make a capital investment on a technology that 18-24 months after the fact, Canon, Sony, Arri are going to release a new product, you pigeonhole yourself into using that same camera for all of your production.  You just don’t have the vast inventory.  

Carl Cook: We just say, you know, let us do the work and worry about getting the money back on the cameras, you know, you rent it from us and we can support it and when a new camera comes out, guess what?  We’re going to be the ones that are going to end up taking the hit and we’re going to buy it.  If you want to come test it and rent it, then you can do that.

Larry Jordan: What advice would you give a producer who is thinking of renting for the first time, what should they keep in mind?

Carl Cook: I think it’s important to have a frank conversation about the budget, upfront.  We can provide suggestions for products that are a little more budget friendly.  The other thing too is that, just looking on paper at the actual rate of a rental and this is something that we deal with, with producers, quite a bit, it’s important for the production community to know that, what goes into the rental rate is a host of things.  It’s not just what the product costs, it’s what the market will bear, it’s what it costs to service it, so there’s a whole host of things.  

Carl Cook: I would say, from my perspective, for a new producer who wants to rent for the first time, transparency and trust is not just on the producer’s part, but also on the onus of the rental company too.

Larry Jordan: Carl, for people that want more information about VER, where can they go on the web?

Carl Cook: They can go to ver.com and you can see all the other work we do, that’s not just camera and optics.

Larry Jordan: Carl Cook is the Director of Television and Cinema East for VER and, Carl, thanks for joining us today.

Carl Cook: Thank you so much Larry.

Larry Jordan: I was just thinking, I own a camera, but for the last three video productions I’ve produced, we rented all of our production equipment.  Using the camera I owned would have been a lot cheaper, but the project itself would have suffered.  Renting gave me an unlimited range of creative options, in terms of the look of the project, our flexibility during production and picking gear that our production team was comfortable using.  

Larry Jordan: As I was preparing tonight’s show, I realized that, with our upcoming Buzz coverage of the 2018 NAB show, we’re renting again, except, this time, it’s for a series of live audio shows, not video.  For the first eight years that we covered NAB, I owned all the audio gear that we used for the show, we drove it in, set it up, aired our shows, packed it up and drove it home.  

Larry Jordan: Last year, we rented for the first time and it did not go well.  We didn’t communicate well with the rental house that supplied us our equipment and crew, or they didn’t listen clearly.  Either way, both the crew and the gear were insufficient.  The first day’s broadcasts were not ideal.  While not all the problems were caused by bad system design, a lot of them were.  But, overnight, they went back to their warehouse, swapped out all the wrong equipment for the right gear, moved staff around and brought in an entirely different crew and the rest of the week’s shows went much more smoothly.

Larry Jordan: For me, this is one of the key benefits of working with a high quality rental house, they have a very deep bench.  If what you have doesn’t work, or it’s the wrong thing for the job at hand, you can get the right thing as fast as a delivery truck can get there.  Nothing beats good planning, but sometimes, even the best of plans don’t foresee everything that can and does go wrong during production.  At times like these, it’s good to know that someone’s got your back.  Just something I’m thinking about.

Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests this week, Ned Soltz with redsharknews.com, Les Zellan, Chairman of Cooke Optics, Carl Cook with VER and James DeRuvo with doddlenews.com.  There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website, at digitalproductionbuzz.com.  Here you’ll find thousands of interviews all online and all available to you today.  Remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Saturday.

Larry Jordan: Talk with us on Twitter @DPBuZZ and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com.  Our theme music is composed by Nathan Dugi-Turner, with additional music provided by smartsound.com.  Text transcripts are provided by Take1 Transcription, visit take1.tv to learn how they can help you.  Our Producer is Debbie Price, my name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to the Digital Production Buzz.

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BuZZ Flashback

Five Years Ago Today on The Buzz…


Deborah Calla talked about the 9-week Diversity Workshop run by the Producers Guild of America to improve diversity in media.