Your Camera… Your Money: A Budgeting Breakdown for Your Camera Department

Get real! You gotta have a DP. Can’t shoot a film without one.

This quickly dis­qualifies you yourself. What you need to know is that you should hire a DP who is a DP, not an AC, and especially not some kid who just graduated from film school. Let me explain.

WHO TO HIRE

There are four people in a camera crew. The leader, of course is called the cinematogra­pher (aka: DP, or director of photography). The next person down in pecking order is the operator, or camera operator. Then comes the 1stAC (aka: assistant cameraman or focus puller) and the person on the bot­tom rung is the second AC (aka: second assistant cameraman, or clapper/loader).

1. DP “Director of Photography”
2. CO “Camera Operator”
3. 1 st AC “Focus Puller”
4. 2nd AC   “Clapper Loader”

When a kid graduates from a four-year, theory-laden film school, the first thing he does is get a business card that announces he’s a DP Big whoop. He’s just graduated, shot a 16mm short and has never shot 35mm and knows little or nothing about shooting a low-budget feature on time and on schedule. Kids are calling themselves DPs but they’ve never really DP’d. Do you really want to trust all your money and your entire movie to this newly graduated college kid? Of course not. So let’s make sure that you hire a DP who is a DP.

After a kid graduates film school, the first job he or she will get in the camera world is as a van driver (driving replaced parts to shoots) for a camera rental facility. Eventually she’ll meet a “real” DP who hires her to be part of his cam­era crew as a second AC, who loads magazines, works slate (aka: clapper) and keeps camera reports. She’ll do this for two years and then move up to be a first AC. That’s the person in front of the camera with the long tape measure getting focal lengths for
sharp clear picture.

After this person “pulls focus” for a cou­ple of years, she then goes behind the cam­era and actually looks through the eye piece. Now he or she is called a camera operator. This is the person who literally operates the camera and keeps the picture
composed and makes sure everyone is in frame.

After doing this for a couple of years and working on shoots for about six or seven years, this individual is finally quali­fied to be a DP It bears repeating: please find a DP who has been working on 35mm camera crews as a second AC, first AC and operator for at least six years. Never hire the kid out of film school who claims to be a DP but in reality isn’t even a second
AC. I think you get my point.

WHERE TO FIND A DP

There are three places you can find a quali­fied cinematographer.

1. Film Commissioner
2. Film Lab
3. Camera Facility

First, most larger cities and every state has a film commissioner who publishes the local “who’s who” filmmaker’s directory. Film commissioners will know who the real DPs are in the local area and who are the pre­tenders and the unknowns. Call the film commissioners first. He/she should have three or four names to give you.

Next, call the closest 35mm film lab and ask the salesman, who knows he’ll make the lab $25,000-$35,000 richer if you shoot a movie, and ask for two or three referrals. Finally, call the local camera rental facility which has DPs renting cameras from it every week. From these three contacts you will get 4-5 names and will be able to select one DP who’s per­fect for you. After you pick your DP, he’ll pick his operator, first AC and second AC.

WHAT TO GET

Stop being so uptight about renting a 35mm camera package for your shoot. Renting a camera is like renting a car. When you rent a car from Hertz, Avis, Budget or Dollar, you never look in the engines or check their dis­tributor caps. So why are
you so anal trying to figure out every knob and dial on a camera?

Here’s all you need to know. There are four major manufacturers of 35mm cameras. They are:

1. Aaton
2. MovieCam
3. Arriflex
4. Panavision

All four manufacturers’ cameras work. Now let’s pick one. First, I would cross out Aaron, (unless you decide to shoot
Superl6mm). Next, MovieCam cameras have gotten a lot better than 15 years ago, and they have some advantages, but the problem is that the vast majority of rental houses don’t own one to rent. Thus, in practical terms, there is only Panavision or Arriflex left to choose from.

Panavision does not sell its cameras to rental houses. Thus, you must go to Panavision directly if you want to rent one.
Panavision has four or five 35mm cameras to rent. Its competitor, Arriflex, which sells to the camera facilities you’ll rent from, also has four or five models. From best (most expen­sive) to worst (least expensive), models for Panavision and Arriflex are:

PANAVISION ARRIFLEX
1. Millennium  1. 535B
2. Platinum  2. 535A
3. Gold or G-2 3. BL-IV
4. PanaFlex or X  4. BL-III
5. Panastar  5. 11-C

All the above cameras work wonderfully well except the Arriflex II-C, which makes too much noise and thus is only suited for shooting MOS (without sound) scenes. Obviously, the more expensive, newer mod­els, are better. A point to remember
is that when you rent a camera, the rate you see posted for the day or week is only for the camera, which is just a dressed-up engine. You still need to rent 15-20 other items to add on to the camera engine to make it a complete camera package. These items include:

1. 1,000′ Magazines  6. Tripods
2. 400′ Magazines   7. Follow Focus
3. Prime Lenses  8. Batteries
4. Matte Boxes 9. Rods
5. Zoom Lens 10. 7-10 add. items

WHAT TO PAY

What should you pay to get an excellent DP, cam­era crew and camera package? Of course, every­thing comes down to money. What you should pay comes down to what your budget is. As for the DP, if your budget is only $50,000, you ain’t shootin’ 35mm and you better find a DP with his/her own 16mm package (Arri SR1, SR2 or SR3) and pay $2,500/week (includes equipment) for one or two weeks. With a $250,000 budget, you can do a 35mm three-week shoot. Your DP will be needed for five or six weeks (one-two weeks prep, three-four weeks shoot and post). Paying her $2,500/week will be $12,500-$15,000. For a $500,000-$1 million budget you will hire your DP (two-three weeks prep, three five weeks shoot and post) at a fiat fee of $20,000-$40,000.

As for camera crew pay: On a 16mm, $50,000 budget you’ll only have one assistant for the DP at $750/week for two-three
weeks, totaling $2,250. For a $250,000, 35mm, three-week shoot you’ll need an operator ($1,000/week @ three weeks), a first AC ($850/week @ three weeks and a second AC @ $550/week plus a bit more for camera prep) totaling $7,000-$8,000. For a $500,000-$1 million shoot, budget for three-four camera assistants (a second operator loader for the second camera, probably an Arri II-C) which will cost $17,000-$20,000.

For camera rental: On a $50,000 budgeted 16mm one-week shoot you will secure the camera by hiring a DP who owns his own Arri SRI package. For a $250,000, three week shoot you will rent an Arriflex BL-IV package, ideally on a two-day week (pay for two days, keep it for seven days) at $3,000 $4,000/week, totaling $9,000-$12,000. For a $500,000-$l million budget, you’ll have two camera packages for four-five weeks, costing $25,000430,000.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Hire a DP who is a DP and has been shoot­ing 35mm film for at least six years. Then allow that DP to hire his own camera crew. That way the cinematographer is comfort­able with his support personnel. Finally, rent a 35mm camera package from a rental facil­ity near your shoot at a rate of approximate­ly $3,000-$4,000/week.

After celebrity actors and scripts, the most important checks you’ll write will be to make your cinematographer happy.
Please take the time to hire the best that your money can afford. God Bless and Happy Filmmaking.

Questions for Mr. Hollywood

Dear Mr. Hollywood:

I co-wrote and co produced a feature which is due for release this fall; now I’m on my own. I’ve signed a co-production
deal with a distributor to develop three films, and am looking for investors to put up the development money. My personal con­tacts are limited, and I’ve looked at capital services which sell access to databases of “angels” and “millionaires. “Are
these types of services legit? What are my other options for gaining the 300K to 500K I need?

John Ellis (Qellis33@ix.netcom.com)

Dear John Ellis,

This doesn’t sound kosher. If you signed a development deal with a distributor, then they are financing you. So why do
you need investors? If you have a bullshit deal with a distributor who will distribute your films only after they’ve been made with outside money, then dump that distributor. The eas­iest group of wealthy people who are daring enough to invest in films can be found in the Yellow Pages under the letter “D” for Dentist. The databases of angels is really only com­prised of people who have bought units in real estate limited partnerships. Anything is possible, but dump that distributor.

Dear Mr. Hollywood,

I understand that you have an extensive library of film books at your Film Institute. Can you tell me–what publication is the best guide for the for­mat and style of writing a good feature film treat­ment? And what is the best guide for writing a one-hour television spec script?

Stumped in Saskatchewan

Dear Stumped,

There are four books you should get. First, on format (how to type properly) get (1) Complete Guide to Standard Script
Formats: Part I.- The Screenplay
($18.95), (2) Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats: Part II: The Teleplay ($18.95), (3) TV Scriptwriters Handbook ($15.95) and (4) How To Write For Television ($12). For a complete list, snail mail to HFI, PO. Box 481252, LA, CA 90048.

Dear Mr. Hollywood,

I was thrilled to discover your web site because I’m in a loop and could use a little push from an expert. Can you suggest the name of a software program for moviemaking that I can use on my IBMIPC (not Macintosh) computer? I just need basic software for home video editing and moviemaking and really could use some advice on my best options.

Adam Kader (akader@sprint.ca)

Dear Adam Kader,

It appears you are looking for some very inexpensive linear and non-linear editing programs costing $300-$1,000. For
an excel­lent list, get the July, 1999, issues of Computer Videomaker (videomaker.com) and Digital Video (dv.com). My gut says that you will end up with Adobe Premiere 5.1. An interesting CD-Rom (not a computer program) that shows you how to make a movie, which can be ordered from my mailorder co., is “How To MakeYour Movie” ($89.95).

Dear Mr. Simens,

Two years ago I bought your tapes on film pro­duction. Since then I have gone on to write, direct and produce two documentaries and a commer­cial. I have also just completed my first feature film. In addition, I have written a behind-the­scenes book about my film titled How Politics Almost Killed A Filmmaker, because I cast several politicians who nearly drove me insane on the set. Still, due to their involvement, I was able to get a lot of media coverage. What would be the best way to try to get a deal for both the book and the movie? Right now I don’t have an agent representing me. Is that going to be a fatal prob­lem as I try to secure a deal, especially consider­ing the fact that I live in Philadelphia?

Jillian Bullock, Philadelphia, PA

Dear Jillian,

I’m glad my Audio Film School worked for you. Now let’s get you wealthy. I believe the best approach is to try and get a book deal with your film by simulcast on the web. To get an agent for your book deal, go to your local library and ask for
the reference librarian. Then asked that person for “LMP” This stands for Literary Market­place, and is a massive book that lists all the publishers, agents and editors. Happy dial­ing, and love those politicians. MM

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