Hire or Tire? Filming on Location

Luggage for Munich
It’s not often that you get to film at your base. Most of my filming is done away from the office, away from my hometown, and even away from the UK. You’d have thought I would become a pro at organising equipment for trips “off-site”. However, I’m not.

The big question of ship or hire crops up every time when filming on location. Do you take along the equipment that you’ve spent a lot of money on, or do you hire when you get there and save on even more cost and hassle?

Digital equipment is pretty easy to get you’re hands on these days. Most major airport cities will have a film-hire company who’ll be able to hook you up with gear (depending on the quality of gear you need – not everyone stocks multiple RED’s or ARRI’s, or 16/35mm film if you’re going old school!) and a lot of companies will transport to and from your location for an extra cost. And in that way, you don’t have to worry about shipping, damage whilst in transit, lost luggage, and insurance – most hire companies work with insurance companies to provide short-term insurance and reasonable prices nowadays. And we haven’t even touched on Carnets! You’re travelling with a few CF/SD cards/DV tapes/flash drives, and your personal belongings. Easy!

On the other hand, what if you’re not familiar with the brand of equipment you get from the hire company? Not all jibs and dollies are built the same, some can be pretty complicated to put together and not everyone can afford to travel with an experienced grip every time. I know I can’t. You don’t want to look like you’re confused in front of the client! And why spend money on hiring equipment when you’ve already spent a lot of money buying the same things yourself?

These are all fair points, and I’ve found that, at times, it can be as expensive to hire as it is to pay the excess luggage, depending on what equipment you need and how good you are at economical packing!

I think a sensible approach is needed here. Let’s break it down.

There are some things that should almost always be hired. For me, one of those is lights. Most lights are pretty uniform across all brands. The quality and functionality may vary slightly, and you should always try to go with what you know, but on the whole hire companies will tend to stock more than one brand. Bulbs can easily break in transit, good cases are expensive and bulky, and, if possible, it’s always better to have a wander around in the space before you decide on how to light it. In some cases – the US being one – you won’t be able to automatically get the power you need to drive your lights from the UK. If I know a good company, and can do, I’d hire.

For me, the camera is a pretty personal item. I don’t particularly like using other people’s camera. Even if it’s the same as your own, the zoom, focus, even menu buttons can feel different. You have your own picture profiles. You get used to what you know, and you can have all the gimmicks, and extra stuff you want on you set-up/rig, but, at this level, the success of your film is ultimately going to be on the performance of the raw footage.

This goes for the tripod too. I know almost all tripods are pretty generic, but again, I tend to like the feel of mine and the way I have it set up. These items can add a fair bit of bulk to your luggage but I think it’s worth the hassle for the amount of time and precision you can save on the shoot. This is a personal choice though.

“Speciality Items”

So, this one’s kinda difficult for me. One the one hand, a lot of these items (jibs, dollys, tracks, monitors, drones etc) can be very bulky and are far better off being hired, possibly from a cameraman/woman who is used to working with them and can operate them for you on the shoot. But this can be very costly, and, at times, overkill on a small film shoot.

It’s here that really planning with the client and, if you have one, crew comes into to play. If you can plan beforehand exactly what you’re going to be doing on the shoot before you head out then you can select the best couple of “speciality items” to take with you.

That said, f you’re shooting a ‘run-and-gun’ documentary style piece then you won’t always know what opportunities are going to turn up. Similarly, in my experience, clients often change their mind last minute so in these cases it’s best to plan for a ‘style of shoot’ more than actual shot-to-shot mapping. For example, if we’re going for a time-lapse piece for a lot of the cutaways, I’ll take the electronic tracks and dolly. I know how to use these, and I don’t have time on location to be learning a new set-up if the hire company doesn’t have my Dynamic Perception ones.

A lot of this filler. Again, you have to make sure the base-coat of your film is there. If it’s an interview piece, get the interviews filmed well. If it’s a voiceover with cutaways, make sure you know what style you’re filming and plan as many cutaway opportunities and locations as you can. If you’re filming documentary style, make sure the camera is appropriate. A DSLR isn’t always best for hand held stuff.

I could go on and on, and a lot of the things I’ve learnt whilst travelling away to film are as a result of mistakes I’ve made and problems I’ve had to overcome. You can only do so much without a big budget so plan as much as you can, expect problems, and most of all, take the kit needed to get the shots that are the backbone of your piece. If you’re spending the client’s money travelling away, you need to give them a good product.


Some of my favourite recommendations:

San Francisco: Adolf Gasser
Chater Camera Inc

Atlanta: PC&E Atlanta

New York: Adorama Rental

London: Apache Rental

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