Filmmaking Lesson #1: It’s Not About Equipment.
Filmmaking is not about the equipment. I know that may seem crazy, after all, you kinda need a camera to make a film. Yes, you will need some sort of camera, but these days, in the all new accessible world of filmmaking there is entirely too much buzz & focus over the camera, lenses, and sound equipment. So for a moment, lets forget about RED, GoPro, Zeiss, Movi, and the rest of them and talk about what truly matters; story.
Check out the libraries of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Redbox, Hulu, etc. and notice how many truly pathetic miserable movies are out there; hundreds of thousands! Why so many horrible movies? Because getting good equipment is easy and telling a truly good story on film is not.
Years ago, I took a freelance film gig involving filming a musical extravaganza and at the time I had a basic DSLR, viewfinder, and nothing else. Not even a tripod. Guerrilla filmmaking at it’s best right?
I’ll never forget, this guy appeared out of nowhere, like Dumbledore apparating next to me (if Dumbledore exchanged his wand for a super-awesome camera). I looked up from my camera and there he was, all smug and stuff. (OK, actually he was very nice and not smug at all, but in my mind he was totally smug). He had a large Manfrotto tripod with an expensive Benro video head mounted to a slider which I barely noticed because I was too busy staring at his camera; a Canon EOS C100 with attached EF 100 – 400 f4.5-5.6L telephoto lens. My jaw dropped. Or, at least I think it did, I don’t really remember. If it didn’t drop, it should have.
Suddenly I felt junior varsity. This huge crushing wave of inadequacy crashed over me and I felt small, tiny, embarrassed that I would be here filming this musical extravaganza with my puny toy camera. I felt like one of those people who shows up at the gym on January 1st as part of some new years resolution, with all eyes staring at me, the guy who is clearly out of place.
I believe the guy asked me some nice questions about how I was doing and the weather but I didn’t really pay attention because I was too busy trying to shrink away into a dark corner somewhere. I finished filming that day but I can say my confidence in myself as a filmmaker took a severe hit. I was pretty depressed getting home and I kept wondering to myself, ‘How am I ever going to get enough money to buy all the right (expensive) equipment it takes to be a filmmaker?’ Maybe you have had this same question. Maybe you price things on Amazon and B+H every week like I did. Maybe you have a wish list hanging on your wall like I did. We do these things because It is easier to focus on all the things we do not have rather than get to work making films with what we do have.
Fast forward a few months. It just so happened I got a call from the people who had hired the professional guy-with-super-awesome-camera requesting that I edit his footage of the event along with mine. I remember sitting down, loading his video files onto the computer and my first glance through all his shots. I remember thinking, ‘These shots don’t appear superior to my shots.’ In fact, I don’t think the average person would be able to tell the difference between the two. “How could this be possible?” I thought. He had the camera. He had the equipment. He had everything; and yet, side by side, my footage from my tiny insignificant toy camera was every bit as good. In fact, speaking with some bias, I thought some of my stuff was even better.
This is how I learned this lesson in filmmaking; filmmaking is not about the equipment. Film is about telling a story with truth, beauty, and conflict.
Sure equipment helps, but there will always be bigger and better cameras. Someone will always have a better rig or setup, better locations, better actors, better everything. So don’t focus on what you don’t have, get out there with what you do have and tell a beautiful story. The truth is, whoever tells the story the best, wins.