Filmmaker On a Budget – 2011
Every year we challenge our video pros to apportion their film equipment budget. This annual exercise grew up in response to filmmakers who would come to the forum announcing they had a $5,000 equipment budget and trying to figure which $4,999 camera to buy. There’s more to making movies than the camera!
Last year we welcomed Ron Hoeltge to our group of regular contributors. Also please note the prices quoted were those at the time the article was written. Prices change so shop competitively.
Bill’s Total: $13,707.71
Things have change dramatically in film production in the past couple of years. For one thing, I’m calling it digial film production instead of video production. Except for big budget Hollywood movies and some TV shows, most people are making “films” digitally. Instead of saying we’re shooting video today, it’s more appropriate to say we’re shooting digital film.
The reason I think things have changed from video production to digital film production can be directly attributed in large part to the DSLR revolution. Unless this is your first time on a camera-related website, you know about DSLRs. It should probably be called the big chip revolution. The high end cameras started acquiring big chips around the mid-2000s. Then RED came along and dropped the price for a camera body, lens and all you’d need to shoot to under $40K, much less than a 2/3” chip HD camera of only a few years earlier.
Chip size comparison chart by Matthew Duclos
Side by side camera comparison
For my camera, I have to pick the 5DMKII. The reason I’ll spend $2500 on it instead of $1800 on the 7D? Simple: lenses. The availability of high quality, manual, fast prime lenses is the reason I moved to the 5DMKII. The fact that it’s higher resolution and better quality was a secondary consideration.
Canon 5D MKII $2,499
One really sweet thing about DSLR digital film shooting is that you can use high quality still camera lenses at a fraction of the cost of “real video camera” lenses. Like the DSLR itself, there are compromises. A big oe is the short focus throw of the automatic lenses. Another is breathing. Another is click stops in the aperture control. Even so, people like Shane Hurlbut are shooting beautiful images with DSLRs and still camera lenses.
In addition to the Zeiss primes, I’d recommend the Canon 70-200 f4 L lens. It’s the lens I use for shooting most interviews for documentaries. The 70mm is wide enough for a good medium shot of the subject, and the 200mm end is long enough to get the tight forehead-to-chin shot. I like to change focal length between takes, and the zoom allows that. The f4 is fine on the 5D. To maintain enough depth of field in an interview so the subject doesn’t go in and out of focus when leaning forward or backward, you really need to shoot at at least an f4 anyway. I also like this lens because it is smaller in diameter and lighter in weight than the faster 70-200 zooms from Canon.
Zeiss ZF 50mm f1.4 $ 725
Zeiss ZF 35mm f2 $1,004
Zeiss ZF 25mm f2.8 $1,004
Canon 70-200 f4L $659
Cinevate Nikon to Canon EOS adapters $38.95 x 4 = $155.80
The next thing on my list is the Cineroid electronic viewfinder. “What?” you ask, “no Zacuto or Hoodman?” Nope. This EVF goes a long way to making the 5DII more like a “real” video camera. It even has zebras. Redrock Micro is coming out with one that is supposed to be a couple hundred bucks cheaper, but it’s not out yet so I can’t recommend it. Zacuto is coming out with one as well, but it will require the purchase of their LCD viewer and is more expensive. I haven’t seen the Cineroid in person yet, but I really can’t find anything wrong with it from all the reading I’ve done.
Cineroid EVF $ 800
NOTE; Or, Redrock if it comes out soon.
If you do any handheld work with a DSLR, you’ll need a rails support system with handles and a shoulder mount. With the 5DMKII, you also really need a follow focus system. For these items I like Cavision. Their equipment is solid, well made and a good value. Sure, there are better systems out there and you’ll pay a lot more for one. Everything I’ve seen from Cavision is solid and reasonably priced. Also, you can email email@example.com and get quick responses to any questions you may have.
Cavision rails $199.99
Cavision shoulder pad $ 84.95
Cavision handgrips $82.99
Cavision Follow Focus $484.95
Lens ring gears. I am using Redrock Micro lens gears but they add a lot of diameter to the lenses and make them more difficult to store. They’re around $50 each.
If you’ve shot with a standard video camera, you may not know what a neutral density filter is; you just cranked that little wheel on the side for bright light shooting. DSLRs don’t have built-in ND filters, so you have to add them to the end of the lens or to a matte box. Just like on a film camera.
An ND .9 (3 stops) will allow you to shoot outside. If you want to shoot down in the mid ranges of your lens aperture in bright sun, you’ll stack an ND .6 on top of the .9. If you want the shallow depth of field, you’ll probably add a .3 to that. You can buy ND filters in about any configuration you want, and there are adjustable ones. I prefer B+W filters, or the high end Tiffen ones.
You’ll notice that I haven’t specified a matte box. I think they’re too much trouble if you change lenses a lot.
ND filters – B+W or Tiffen – ND .9, .6 and .3 About $125 ea. X 3 = $375
There are lots of tripods out there, some cheaper than the Libec 38, and many more expensive. The Libec 38 is, in my opinion, one of those really good value items. The head is smooth with no bounceback. The 2-stage legs go up high enough for most things. The center spreader is convenient. You can get it with a ground spreader if you prefer. It’s heavier than the equivalent Gitzo but costs about 1/3 as much. I first bought mine for the XH A1. The head handles the 5DMKII with all attachments fine. I wouldn’t want a lighter head than this, though.
Libec 38-M $595
When it comes to lighting, you simply can not have all the lights you may need for any given situation. You could spend $100,000 on HMI lights and then find yourself in a jam because you need a tiny Lowel Prolight or something. What I’ve always done is buy the lights that get me through most things, and then I rent HMIs or other lights as needed.
I use two types of lights: Daylight LEDs and standard tungsten lights. I am suggesting two of the 500LEDs and a smaller one that’s about a 150-200 watt equivalent. (Be aware that when they say “500 watt equvalent” that is more like a 500 watt tungsten light in a soft box. LEDs will not give you the throw of an open face tungsten light. They will give you more throw than the equivalent fluorescent and are a bit more harsh, so you’ll want to use diffusion gel when in close to a subject with the lights.
Also on my list is a 3-light set of Lowel DPs. These have always been an industry workhorse. They last forever, you can shoot one at a dark wall 50 feet away and light it, you can diffuse them for lighting people, you can bounce them off foamcore, white walls, etc. If I’m stuck out in the middle of western Kansas on a zombie film shoot and can only have one set of lights, I’ll take those DPs.
Fancier 500LED $229.99 X2 = $460
Fancier LED $129.99
Ephoto 1000LED $389.95
Lowel 3 light DP kit $1269.99
The Lowel kit comes complete with stands and case. For the LEDs you’ll need some stands and bags to carry them in. Steve Kaesar has these items at great prices. The stands look like the lights—made in the same Chinese factory, and I’ve bought stands at twice the price elsewhere that look exactly like these. There’s a variety of cheap bags on the site too. I keep a set of Lowels in the hard bag that’s about $40.
http://www.skaeser.com/servlet/the-811/PRO-HEAVY-DUTY-10%27 About $200
As far as I’m concerned, the best value in a tripod track dolly is the Eazy dolly. Instead of two wheels on each corner, it has four. It rolls perfectly smooth on the aluminum tracks. You can add as much track as you want at $100 per section. I have a total of 16 feet, which has proved to be more than adequate for the dolly moves I’ve done in the past year. Disadvantage is that there are no curved tracks, but you can’t beat the price. I haven’t needed any curved tracks so far. You can spend a lot more on a dolly but not without a good reason.
Eazydolly with 12′ of track and camera base $605
You need Compact Flash cards to record your digital film. I’ve spec’d four 16 gig cards. If you’re shooting a movie, you probably have a laptop computer and you can always download your footage after a day’s shoot. I’ve found that four 16 gig cards get me through most things without a need to download until I’m ready. I’ve never used up all my cards in a day. I’m a believer in good cards.
4 16 gig CF cards at $140 Delkin Combat Flash… $560
I’ve used the Zoom H4N sound recorder since I got my first DSLR. It’s a great recorder, solid, well built and provides good quality sound. For the type of work I do, I don’t need a thousand dollar machine. I think the Zoom is great for most people. So is the Tascam DR-100. I am recommending the Tascam over the Zoom for one reason: The Tascam has a gain adjustment dial on the side.
As far as mics—for years I used the Sennheiser MKH 416 and MKH60—both expensive shotguns and very good. But the Oktava MK-012 sounds about as good. I know of one professional soundman who shoots on features who now uses the Oktava. It doesn’t have as tight a pattern as a longer shotgun, but it also doesn’t have the boominess problems in some indoor spaces that you get with shotguns.
I also like the Røde fishpole. It’s heavy, not light and sexy like the $300+ carbon fiber poles. But it’s well made and another of those really good values.
Tascam DR-100 recorder $ 289.95
Oktava MK-012 $385
Sennheiser wireless EW112 $599.95
Rode 10′ fishpole $129
My total here is about $13,700 (if my arithmetic is close). That only leaves about $1300 for miscellaneous items. Believe me, you’ll need it…bags, C-stands, cables, gels, stepdown rings, lens caps for the stepdown rings, a fishpole holder for a C-stand. That $1300 won’t last long but if you’re careful you can get what you need, maybe a small jib. Trust me—there will be more to spend money on.
There are different ways to spend this $15,000. I’ve put a lot into lenses. After you’ve gone through three or four camera bodies, you’ll still be using the lenses. And the Lowel lights Others might say, to heck with that, I’ll spend just over $1K on a Canon 24-105 and I can make a movie with that. Another person might say, give me the T3i for $800 and a cheap kit lens and put the rest into sound gear. The point is, you can get what you need for $15K these days and you can make a movie with that gear with no apology or rationalizing needed any more.
The $10K Challenge – Chris Poindexter
Since this challenge is a budget for a feature, I went with some items to help block out parts of background. Specifically a green screen and green screen lights and a second “B” camera. To afford that on a $10K budget I scrimped on the glass. The lenses I did get are entirely decent, but there wasn’t the budget for Bill’s Zeiss and converted Nikkor glass. I felt it was more important to be flexible than to sport a $1,000 lens.
Chris’ total: $9,560.21
Cameras: (sub-total: $3024.04)
Since this was a feature, I went with an “A” and “B” camera. I picked the Canon 7D because of its rugged dependability and the T2i as a backup because it uses the same lens and has the same APS-C chip and 1.6x multiplier as the 7D. I can use any of the lenes, any of the supports and mounts with either camera. It did cost more for storage cards, since each camera takes a different type of storage card.
Canon 7D $1,699.00
Hoodman Hoodloupe $79.90
Canon T2i $699.00
16GB Combat CF Card x2 $289.98
Lexar 64 GB SDHC x2 $256.16
Lenses: (sub-total: $593.95)
I’m no doubt going to get grief for going with just 2 lenses, one of which is a zoom.
Canon 50mm 1.8 $134.95
Tamron 17-50 $459.00
Camera Support (sub-total: $2970.67)
I went with the Zacuto Crossfire because of the adjustable follow focus that would fit either camera and work on or off the tripod. I were going to change anything, I might swap out the CrossFire for a less expensive follow focus and rails and use the money to get a Zeiss 35mm.
Manfrotto Tripod with Video Head $228.17
Zacuto CrossFire $2,137.50
Eazy Dolly $605.00
Audio: (sub-total: $1064.91)
Zoom H4n $319.95
Aluminum fishpole with cord $175.00
ME66 Shotgun Kit $569.96
Lighting: (sub-total: $1,271.94)
LED panels w/ stands x2 $479.99
uLite Green Screen w/ lights $249.90
Century C Stand x3 $386.95
Studio Flo with softbox $129.95
Equipment bags: (sub-total: $634.90)
Tenba TriPak $86.95
Tenba Attache $547.95
That leaves me about $200 left over for gaffer tape, pizza, gloves and a roll of black foil.
The $5K Challenge – Ron Hoeltge
Editors note: Ron’s experience really shows through in his attention to detail in his equipment budget. Two items in particular are indespensible but seldom considered: The sand bags and a pair of work gloves. Part of every gaffer’s kit on the planet yet usually tossed in the “miscelaneous” category in our equipment lists. Any competent filmmaker could take this equipment and produce a quality feature with a look far in excess of the budget.
Ron’s Total: $4998
Camera: (sub-total: $1927)
Canon T31 body: $800
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L zoom lens: $1050
Tiffen 77mm UV Protector filter: $32
Extra Battery: $45
Camera Support: (sub-total: $730)
Libec LS38M 75mm 2-stage Aluminum Tripod System: $535
Cavision RS1580D-SPE Shoulder Pad System Package w/Dual Handgrips: $195
Audio: (sub-total: $970)
Audio-Technica Shotgun Mic (B&H) Kit (includes AT875 mic, boompole, shock mount, handgrip, cables, windscreen, case): $580
Zoom H4n portable digital recorder (includes 8gb SDHC card and wired remote control): $320
Sony MDR-V6 Closed Back Stereo Studio Headphones: $70
Lighting: (sub-total: $1371)
Cool Lights Tungsten Fresnel 1100w Kit $965
Kit includes 1 ea. 150w compact tungsten fresnel, 1 ea. 300w tungsten fresnel with scrim set, 1 ea. 650w tungsten fresnel with scrim set, 3 air-cushioned stands, 1 portable fixture carry case. Each light includes barn doors, yoke, baby stand adapter and bulb. Scrim sets include full single, full double, half single and half double color-coded scrims in nylon carry case.
Avenger A205SCBKIT Century “C” Stand with 40″ Grip Arm Kit, Black – 10.75′ (3.26m): $154
Matthews RoadRags Kit – 18″x24″ (includes single net scrim, double net scrim, silk, black flag and 2 collapsible rod holders): $193
Interfit Collapsible 42″ 5-in-1 Reflector Kit with Mounting Bracket: $39
PBL Heavy Duty Studio Sandbag (set of 2): $15
Performance Select suede cowhide leather and denim work gloves (large): $5