Hey everyone, Ive been looking through the forum for a few months now, this is the first time I've had anything to post. I've learned a lot reading all your posts already, so Just thought I would finally introduce myself. I go to Temple in Philly, and I've been operating a little under a year now using lighter rigs, and the schools equipment. Last semester I took a class which gave me extensive access to a pilot. Now I'm doing an independent study for the rest of the year, where I have almost unlimited access to the universities ProVid and bartech wireless fallow focus. I've been using them to op some low budget student/indie/promotional stuff; mainly doing things for free for friends, I have a few low paying gigs coming up, as well.
I definitely still need to practice a lot, but I've decided I want to pursue steadicam op'ing professionally. it seems like I'm going to be able to take the plunge and finance a rig around december or january. I'm confident I can line up plenty of low/unpaid jobs before then to keep practicing.
I'm looking into the PRO Cinilive package as long as I can get a large enough loan to finance it with the accessories I need. I'm still doing my research, both on the rigs and the loans, but things are looking hopeful at the moment.
I was wondering if you had any last minute advice, before I make any purchases, or for once I have a real rig? After reading the forum a decent amount, it seems like one of the biggest things I'm worried about is becoming known as an under cutter. So far I haven't felt comfortable charging much, if anything considering my equipment and experience level. Right now I'm still mostly working for the reel footage, and the experience, but I'm getting a lot more comfortable with the rig, and I'd like to try and change that soon. At this point I don't think I'm undercutting because I'm generally working for productions that could never come close to affording a professional operator, and wouldn't have used steadicam if I hadn't offered. My main question though is how to charge a reasonable rate after I've purchased the rig? While I'm still starting out, I don't want to risk being labeled an undercutter, but at the same time I'm worried about being completely outclassed by ops with 30 years of experience, and nicer rigs. It seems like you have a pretty small tight nit community, and thats something I eventually hope to be a part of, so I'd rather not step on anyones toes while I'm just starting out.
Anyway thanks a lot for everything I've already learned reading your posts, and thanks for taking the time to read mine.
Hi Sam. Welcome to the forum. Buying a rig is great fun, but choosing the right equipment is important. PRO is a great brand, you can't go wrong there.
I don't live in the US, but perhaps a independent view on your work situation sometimes can be helpful. If not, just disregard this post.
I'm not going to comment on your freebie jobs, because most of us here has at one point done it.
When I started out, I often spoke to the other ops in my market. I was totally honest that I should charge a little less than those who had more experience than me. They agreed. But the difference wasn't big. The fee for the equipment was always equal to the other ops, regardless of their experience. My services I charged slightly less for. Usually about $100-120 US per day. These days I charge what they charge. Working since 2004 as a Steadicam op.
I don't have any problem with new ops in my market who charge less. But the difference should be small. If it isn't, I usually speak to the other ops in the area and we speak to this op and politely advise him not to undercut next time. This is important, because a lot of your jobs will probably come because other more experienced ops may turn a job down. Then they may advise the client to call you, but if you're known as a undercutter, well you get the picture.
My advise to you is to speak to the other ops in your market. Ask them what they charge their clients. I think it would be fair if you charged slightly less for your personal services. I think it's totally fair that clients pay more for experience. Ops work hard for more experience and should be rewarded accordingly.
Thanks a ton for the advice man, really appreciate it. I know a few guys who are starting out in my area, and are doing pretty well So I'll make sure to get in contact with them and try to meet some other guys around here. I know they hold the operator classes outside Philly Some times, So If I can get enough money from my loans I'm going to try and take one. I haven't looked into those too much, but it seems like a great way to work out the kinks in my form and meet some other operators. I live in Philly right now, but I'm back and forth between there and New York all the time, So if anyone in the area wants to grab a beer and talk steadicam, I'd be more than happy to meet up.
At the moment, I don't have any student debt, and after talking to financial aid, it seems like I qualify for a pretty good amount of loans at the moment, which don't appear to have to go towards school. I have to look it over more, and I've started looking into some private small business loans, and companies known for financing film equipment. So if anyone has any companies they would recommend, or recommend staying away from, I'd love to hear your feedback.
You should really take a workshop first, not as something that you will do if there is money left over.
You are about to make a 30K - 200K purchase. As a general statement one of the biggest regrets that some operators have is that they would have bought a different rig if they had gone to a workshop first. Typically a bigger rig.
It is the best 600.00 you can investment in your career.
You also need to budget the money to go to a week long workshop once you have some work under your belt. This will allow you to have some practical experience to begin to hone your story telling skills.
Don't forget there is more to your kit than just the rig. Carts, cases, follow focus, camera plates, batteries, chargers, mounts, c-stands, rain covers, ready bags and cables.
Oh the specialized cables that you will need to have. I believe that we are in the 8K - 10K range of cables that we own and there are still cables on the list that need to be purchased. I also know that others have probably double that into their cable kit.
I think our Zephyr rig cost us about 10K or 12K, however we have probably 30K or better invested in the rig and still don't have everything that we want for the rig. We are about to spend another 10K on batteries, mounts and some more cables.
I would do workshop first, then start looking into your rig.
OK, thanks, thats great advice, I'll make sure to take a workshop before making any purchases. One of the things I like about the PRO rig, is that its totally modular. It seems like the biggest rig in my price range, but at the same time, as I get more jobs, and pay it off, I can upgrade it. I sort of assumed that would take care of the problem of wishing I had invested in a different/bigger rig, but I'll definitely take a class first instead now.
I've been pricing out rigs, wireless fallow focuses, monitors, transmitters/receivers, batteries/plates, but I've been sort of over looking the cables. I knew they were really expensive, but I was budgeting $2-3000 for them. I definitely didn't expect it to be that much so I'm really glad you warned me. Which cables would you recommend, and is there anywhere in particular you'd recommend purchasing them from?
Sam, there are varied opinions on which cables to get first, how many backups, etc. There are many threads on the subject, including your question on who to buy from. I suggest you search the archives.
I suggest you start with the cameras that are commonly used in your local market on the kinds of shoots you want to do. Make sure you have cables for at least those cameras, as well as for your ff, tx/rx, etc. If you buy new, many of these cables are not included. If used, you can often score a bunch of useful cables included with the gear.
Also, if you want to do live TV you will need a fiber optic jumper and maybe coax and/or triax jumper, as well as cables for power and signal for program return monitor and on-camera prompter.
It's common to start incrementally and also to rely on other local operators for backups. I don't have $10k invested in cables, but I bet I have $3k. The fiber jumper is the single most expensive cable I have, at $600 I believe. Most sled cables seem to run in the $150-$250 range each. Short video coax cables $30-$60...?
Once we got our JBoxes in place and basic power cables we started to knock down the list of cameras we work with.
We start off with two or more based on how often we are going to be connected to something.
Paralinx cables we have a bunch since we use them in multiple places. Red One, we only have a primary and back up since we have only seen the camera once. Epic/Scarlet we have multiples since we keep seeing it.
Terry West is great about turning cables around in a few days, so once you book a gig you can call and get them from him within a few days. If you get in a pinch you can always rent or borrow from other ops.
Part of our pre-shoot ritual, no matter how many times we do it, if at all possible we still build the rig and connect cables to make sure everything is working and we aren't forgetting anything.
It has saved us more than once. We don't just do this with Steadicam we do it with all of our shows/shoots/events. It also allows us to keep our gear pristine as maintenance doesn't go by the way side or go unnoticed.
We probably have more cables than needed, but we believe in the NASA theory. Back ups to backs up if we can afford it or it makes sense.
Awesome guys, Thank you, I tried to learn as much as possible about the gear, and read through archives for most of the parts. In hindsight I was definitely so excited about the bigger parts of the sled I didn't really do My research on the cables. I know the Steadicam Operators handbook has a section with the 8 most common cables you need, I forget exactly what they are off the top of my head though. So far I've mainly been flying epic/scarlets and with the schools rig I haven't had much trouble flying, powering, or getting video from those, Its definitely something I need to do my research on a lot more, so thanks for pointing that out. I'll make sure to check out the archives, and check that first if I have any questions
Unless you are borrowing money from friends and family, anyone loaning you money is going to want reasonable proof that you have the ability to pay it back. A $100,000 four year lease with ownership at the end will cost you around $2200 a month. You might not spend that much but to be competitive and self sufficient you'll almost certainly spend $60,000 overall if you start with the CinePro by GPI-PRO.
Some very basic questions you should write down and be able to answer clearly (but not here on the forum) are:
Who are your potential customers?
Where are you going to find them?
How are you going to contact and develop a relationship with them?
Are those potential customers using the services such as Steadicam that you are offering?
Who are your potential competitors as you work your way up the ladder of levels?
What are the generally accepted going rates in your area?
How many days of work per month do you need to make a living and pay your loan?
How are you going to support yourself and your new loan debt during the first few years of start up?
How much will equipment, liability, health, workers comp and disability insurance cost you?
Do you have a reserve or contingency fund for emergencies such as broken gear, broken legs and other "life happens" emergencies?
These are not even half the questions you need to answer honestly to yourself and if you plan on a bank loan and even a family loan, it is very likely a lender will want to see a business plan outlining in detail how you plan to build and live this dream you have and be able to sustain it long enough to pay them back.
What rig and AKS to buy is a lot less important than how you plan to make a career and living with it. You can always rent and sometimes borrow gear but you can't rent a customer. Literally the clients are the horse to pull your cart / equipment.
Anything and everything is doable or at least most things are including becoming a working operator. However, all you have to do is watch this forum long enough and you see an awful lot of new ops who jump into it focused on equipment instead of running a business and 12-18 months later they're selling that gear in the Forum Marketplace.
I'm a newbie myself and have just built my first rig, which happens to be a full sized one so I'll give you my story and you can take it for what you will...
Started with a work shop, had it in my head for half a year that I was going to buy a zephyr. Kept training with a local pro over the year, in addition to honing my skills operating, I also learned how a young person in my situation (student loans, bills, rent, etc) could turn this into a reasonable business, as a newbie.
I started working full time retail right out of school, tried my best to put away half my pay checks every time I got one in addition to putting all of my freelance pay into my savings account. Kept waiting and saving, kept noticing gear for big rigs at a reasonable price here on the forum and decided I'd rather be limitless in my weight ranges, so big rig it was.
It's now about a year and a half since I've finished school and I managed to buy an old PRO1 sled, and old PRO vest and I'm on a lease for my steadyrig arm which can hold 13-63 pounds. In total I paid a few thousand more than I originally planned, so that I can carry 40 more pounds and everything works wonderfully... Along the way got to meet a pile of operators who sold me gear, made some more industry connectionss and am getting jobs. I have a little bit of interest on the arm, but at this point will pay it off sooner than later.
It was a tough road, but a way better one than having to pay a ton of interest on gear that lets say, a well seasoned operator would be able to pay off comfortably. You can obviously make your own decisions, but as my mentor Janice Arthur would say "buying new gear is sexy, but not necesassarily practical".
1) take a workshop
2) you're worried about undercutting.
a) you're a newbie there is no such thing as undercutting when you start
when you start working your butt off on jobs and getting abused for a few hundred bucks you'll know to charge more.
c) the experienced ops arent worried about you. When you get some real experience and credits those guys will let you know.
d) you are getting a loan from a nonfilm lender so you can borrow whatever you want but have you asked yourself.
1) my payment is $500 a month, can you cover that EVERY month?
Good luck but you're asking some questions too far ahead. In your mind you're having this fantasy of success and trust me we've all had them. We've also seen lots of newbies get a huge package dumped on them from some relative and they all fail because they didn't do the work to earn it or they thought all the hard work was done when in fact it had just started.
Good luck on your move to being a working operator. You live in PA. Make plans to attend the next Full workshop in Philly, There you'll see a bunch of different set ups,and get to try the lightest and the heaviest, from the experience you mentioned you've gotten over the last year or so, I did not see any experience with heavy weight.
That is something new folks don't always think about. Say you've been strapping on a vest, arm, and sled with an epic, and the entire collection of gear weighs about 30-35lbs. Great. Now another camera set up, may need to have an onboard recorder, seperate from the camera, some audio receivers, a ring light, and an HD transmitter, now you've only added like 9lbs... BUT 9 lbs will feel like 30 if your not used to it. Every minute will be taxing.
All the more reason to try some big rigs on and really take them thru their paces.
maybe meet up with Tom and head over to a local rental house, Meet and Greet them, See if they'll let you build the rig with Tom and fully set it up with accessories, Start feeling which muscles will need conditioning... Gotta start somewhere.
and then a couple of Top stage to 4 pin XLR Female cables, You'll be able to power any Broadcast camera with the cables, and any other camera that can take either an AB battery or a V Mount battery by using the adapter plates and the XLR4F cables
Seriously thanks a ton everyone. It really means a lot that so many of you took the time to give me such thorough advice. It's given me a lot to think about before I make the investment, and to be honest I don't have all of those questions answered yet, so I think thats something I'm really going to have to focus on before I make any big decisions. It seems like I was definitely getting ahead of myself a bit, so thanks for slowing me down.
As far as bigger rigs are concerned, thats not really an issue I foresee having, My main hobby is working out, and one of the things that attracted me to steadicam in the first place is how physically demanding it can be, while still playing a really important part in the making of a film.
After looking into my financial situation a little more, and looking through the forum, I think I'm going to try and get a used rig. I'd looked through the used section before, but I hadn't realized how quickly all the parts add up until now, so It seems like a great way to get the whole package for a lot less money.
Anyway Tom, It would be great if we could meet up some time, I'll shoot you a text. Sam Campbell's a great dude, and it seems like he's been doing pretty well since he graduated, so thats awesome to hear you've been helping him out.
Welcome to the community. I also financed my 1st rig, which was the PRO Lite, and thought I'd share some of my experiences with you as a sort of heads up.
First off, like Robert said, you will need a business plan. Robert helped me with mine and I'm sure he'd do the same for you. The lender at the bank told me the only reason they were giving me the loan was "because of my business plan, otherwise, they would have laughed and walked away." It ended up being almost word for word what the bank used to pitch their lending business to new markets, only they paid 300k for someone to come up with their business plan. So if you do it right, it can be well worth your time and money. I would also suggest not borrowing from a friend or family as it has the potential of ruining the relationship.
Apart from that, I would plan to spend around 15-20k more than the steadicam kit for cables, batteries etc. This will get you the BASICS of what you need to get started without blowing the budget. I also put 5k in a CD at the bank as part of the collateral and had another 10k saved as a cushion. My point is, it takes more to get started than just purchasing the gear, especially if you're borrowing to do so.
You also need to consider that borrowing the money is not going to be a tool to get you started. There's also a considerable amount of risk that comes with borrowing vs. paying in cash. And you need to be prepared for that risk before making the plunge. It was 5 months before I got my first full paying job! Remember that cushion? It can go fast when you're just starting out! Again, there's more to it than just owning the gear. It's an every day job to make the right contacts and land the right jobs. The phone may ring a lot, but you don't want to take the bad jobs just because you've gotten yourself into a desperate situation. That's why I think a lot of newer operators take the lowballing, undercutting jobs you specifically say you want to avoid. So, be prepared to avoid them before you even borrow money.
On the other hand, if you're smart about your decisions starting off and take the time to do it right and learn your market, craft, and plan for the future, you can make a very successful career for yourself.
We both still have a lot to learn, but hopefully what I've already learned in my first year with my gear will help you make the right decisions.