Two Naked Dogs Studios

Story vs Gear

August 3, 2016

Every few years, I come to a crossroads in my career and in my aspirations. Anyone who calls themselves a photographer or filmmaker, especially in the days of DSLR filmmaking, experiences this. Our gear has become well-worn. It’s time to upgrade and we find ourselves at a significant crossroads. Do we upgrade our camera or do we focus on our craft by upgrading the supporting tools of the trade.

If you’re not following me, there’s a lot more to filmmaking than simply a camera. When you operate as a crew of one, as I often do, or with a small crew, you have to think about many things aside from the camera. I am often both director and cinematographer for my projects so not only do I have to lead my cast, I lead my crew to get the desired look I need as a director. This means lighting, set dressing, practical effects and the likes. When I travel to a shoot, especially for a narrative, I often have a car load of additional gear with my camera. I carry my entire lighting set up which, at this point, is only two soft boxes and two Fresnel floods. It’s not high-end equipment but it gets the job done and I’m not swimming in debt to own it.

Now I find myself at that hellish crossroads that it’s time to upgrade a camera. I’ve been filming my documentary and a few short films on a Canon 60D that I’ve had for nearly 4 years. It’s a little early for a full upgrade but it is something I need to be considering within the next year. I am, however, conflicted, as many who find themselves in the same situation often are.

At this point in my career, I have to make a definitive decision about what concentration I need to take. It’s very similar to picking a major in college. I’ve spent a better part of the last 15 years as a one-woman crew on projects but now that I find myself a part of “larger” crews, it’s time to focus.

I love directing. I love being a cinematographer. I love being in charge but there is beauty in allowing someone else to make decisions and I simply focus on the look or the cast. I say all the preceding to share that many of us in the film and photo world experience this. The decision we make can shape our course even further.

I ask myself if I really need to upgrade. In short, no. I don’t. My budget doesn’t allow for me to make the jump to a 4K or full frame camera. Would a full frame camera be great? Absolutely. Does it offer anything above that? Not to make it worth the money. I’d love to have a C300, C500, Ursa, Red or another high-end cinema camera.

I’ve come to the conclusion, however, that now is the time to focus on story; writing, directing, cinematography. I’d rather spend my hard-earned money on lighting gear to make the image stronger on set. I’d rather add to my practical effects arsenal. I want to make entertaining media. Who the hell cares what it’s filmed on?

Anything short of theatrical release doesn’t merit the insane amount of money needed to upgrade. That’s a harsh reality, even for me. I, like many, want that sweet ass cinema camera that can shoot 6K but then you take into account the lenses, the cards, the computer (if your current one can’t push the footage), and all the additional accessories. It’s nuts and the average viewer doesn’t care to start with. How many documentaries, even today, use standard definition 4:3 footage? A lot.

It’s time to tell stories. Let go of the gear and take hold of story. Make it look good with what resources you have. This is as much for me as it is for anyone else.