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#1 Brendan Riel

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Posted 20 May 2015 - 09:33 PM

I'm a college student just starting off- everyone's heard that before, no? I rent out my school's Zephyr rig often and work on many thesis films with full F3 rigs that almost max out the rig. I also have a video production company with a few of my guys from school and we plan on moving out to LA to continue our company. Our company has a Dragon with nice lenses, and a bunch of lighting and grip equipment. The Dragon weighs a ton, which the Zephyr can't really handle. I've built up a decent reel with all of this footage I've accumulated over the past year or so of oping, and I'm looking to purchase my own rig but don't want to start small like most people do because I'm already beyond that. I need something that can fly the fully outfitted Dragon and even an Alexa because that's what some ad agencies in the area are using. It's taking a bit of convincing on my end for my folks to help me with this sort of investment. Basically, they want guarantees in an industry where guarantees are hard to make, especially at my point. I was wondering if people could share their advice and answer a few questions I have about things. Here they are:

 

-What does the average steadicam op make a year? Without telling me what you personally make (because no one likes to do that, I completely get it), just throw me some numbers; Is it enough right out of school with a killer real to meet other expenses such as owning a car/place to live and eat?

-If Im looking to fly a fully outfitted Dragon and even an Alexa because that's the stage that I'm at right now, then what equipment should I really be looking at that won't absolutely break my wallet like a $50k GPI Pro system? I really want to do front mount and like the feel of a larger post like the action cam and GPI systems. Should I mix and match components to build what I need and what would you suggest?

-How in the fuck do I finance something like this right out of the gate without any guarantee I can make it back? What are some of your stories- surely not everyone has $50k lying around to finance the best rig right out of the gate- yet how can you compete with these jobs and in the industry if you aren't right up there with the big dogs?

-Does getting a loan from your family as well as a loan from the bank and then going to different businesses/agencies and asking for upfront money really work? It seems to me that if you talk to an agency you don't know then they wouldn't want to give you money up front to do a job- it's basic business. Any stories from people who have successfully done this? 

 

The problem is I don't have anyone I know in the industry to ask these questions to- questions that I really need to know in order to go into the field because I really love the job and the creativity it brings. I love how everyone on set knows you by the end of the shoot and you feel like you accomplished some huge feat at the end- which might actually be true haha. Can anyone lend me a few minutes with a response to one or some of these questions and help me out? Thanks.

 

-Brendan

 

 


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#2 Louis Puli SOC

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Posted 20 May 2015 - 10:44 PM

Hi rendan 

Welcome to the steadicam forum .If you have a look in the steadi-Newbies section you will find 1278 Topics and 9182 replies on all the topics you have raised .As you are still at college I take it you have not done a 5 workshop yet .As you will read over and over again a workshop is the best place to start as all of the topics you have asked about are covered and many many others .

 

I would also be contacting local operators in Connecticut and ask if you could go out on shoots with them and watch or assist them  .

 

Good luck 

Louis Puli 


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#3 Lawrence Karman

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Posted 20 May 2015 - 11:05 PM

sigh.


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#4 Brian Freesh

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Posted 21 May 2015 - 12:00 AM

Look, I'm a helpful guy, I want the best for everyone.  As such I probably got more in depth here than I should have bothered, but here's the important part: Louis is right, take a workshop, take a workshop, take a workshop, and then practice till you hate steadicam, then keep practicing. And yeah, your answers are probably all already on the forum. Beyond that don't get cocky, you're not as great as you think you are.  But if you do get cocky, be right. Otherwise you're screwed. And don't come to LA if you aren't ready to struggle like crazy.

 

The Dragon weighs a ton, 

 

It does not. 

 

 which the Zephyr can't really handle.

 

Something(s) is likely wrong with your build.

 

 

but don't want to start small like most people do because I'm already beyond that. 

 

No you aren't.

 

 

It's taking a bit of convincing on my end for my folks to help me with this sort of investment. Basically, they want guarantees in an industry where guarantees are hard to make, especially at my point.

 

This is very smart and reasonable of them.

 

 

-What does the average steadicam op make a year? ... Is it enough right out of school with a killer real to meet other expenses such as owning a car/place to live and eat?

 

$0-$500k gross. Average? Define average... Coming out of school you'll be lucky to break the poverty line with steadicam + other income. At least in LA, can't speak for elsewhere.  You may have some minor advantages over other FOTB ops, but in this saturated market I have something you already know you don't have: Clients.  You can get them, but it takes time.  It's hard. Very hard.  I've seen people like you succeed greatly, and I've seen people like you fail completely.  The vast majority of the ones who succeed, myself included, do it after insane effort and plenty of failure. It can be done, and if you come out here I'll be the first one to encourage you and provide advice.  But I'll never lead you to believe it will be anything but hard.

 

 

-If Im looking to fly a fully outfitted Dragon and even an Alexa because that's the stage that I'm at right now, then what equipment should I really be looking at that won't absolutely break my wallet like a $50k GPI Pro system? ... Should I mix and match components to build what I need and what would you suggest?

 

Honestly a Zephyr isn't a terrible place for you right now.  Finding a used one would provide good value for you, and you already know the rig like the back of your hand.  You can absolutely fly a dragon on it, though heavy lenses and big builds will certainly affect the situation.  A stripped Alexa is doable from what I understand, but yes, you want to limit yourself as little as possible.  With a new Pro you'll spend ~$34k to ~$65k, not including a monitor.  Nor including a wireless follow focus, cart, stand, dock, batteries, or cables... oh lord the money spent on cables...

If you want a bigger rig than a zephyr, but want to spend less than $50k, your looking at a Pro Cinelive package, a Tiffen Archer 2, ActionCam maybe, Glidecam...  But your best bet is to buy used. There's plenty of great older rigs available that will get you started just fine, and it will be cheaper, allowing you to buy other used items to complete your kit.

 

 

-How in the f*** do I finance something like this right out of the gate without any guarantee I can make it back? What are some of your stories- surely not everyone has $50k lying around to finance the best rig right out of the gate- yet how can you compete with these jobs and in the industry if you aren't right up there with the big dogs?

 

I'm not a moderator, but I'd love if you'd watch your language. I mean, we're all adults here, no truly sensitive ears; but we're also all adults here, so let's be professional.

 

To answer the first question - maybe you don't. Most everyone saves up over time.

To answer your second - I saved and bought a Flyer with the help of a small loan. I learned on an Ultra 1 in school and used it for 2 years there. I came out to LA and thought I was hot stuff and wished I could get a big rig, cause that was "what I was worth".  I couldn't afford one so saved my pennies till I could get a small rig that I almost always overloaded. When I was able I presented a business plan to an investor that included a plan on how to reimburse should I fail to make it as an operator. I got that loan and bought a USED big rig because OTHER people told me I was ready to get past the Flyer. I bought the Flyer 7 1/2 years ago, the big rig 5 years ago. I have paid off those loans and upgraded to a better system.  In 7 1/2 years as an owner I've only been able to live off only steadicam/camera operating for less than the past 2 years. I consider myself very fortunate to have made it this far in 7 1/2 years, because I consider it FAST. I first picked up a rig almost 11 years ago, so it took 9 years before I made a living as a steadicam operator. Not everyone will take that long, but some will take longer. Don't assume one way or the other.

 

To answer the last question - You absolutely can not compete with the big dogs.  But it's not because of whatever gear you get. It's because you have no experience and no one knows you.  Don't try to compete with the big dogs, they'll resent you for it.  Compete with yourself. Be the best steadicam operator Brendan Riel can be. THAT'S how you build a client base and earn money. A good op is a good op no matter the gear, a bad op is a bad op no matter the gear.

 

 

-Does getting a loan from your family as well as a loan from the bank and then going to different businesses/agencies and asking for upfront money really work? It seems to me that if you talk to an agency you don't know then they wouldn't want to give you money up front to do a job- it's basic business. Any stories from people who have successfully done this? 

 

It seems to me you answered your own question. Getting a loan from your family and getting a loan from the bank really work.  But people who do not know you will not give you a loan, you have to actually do the work.

 

 

The problem is I don't have anyone I know in the industry to ask these questions to- questions that I really need to know in order to go into the field because I really love the job and the creativity it brings. I love how everyone on set knows you by the end of the shoot and you feel like you accomplished some huge feat at the end- which might actually be true haha. Can anyone lend me a few minutes with a response to one or some of these questions and help me out? Thanks.

 

-Brendan

 

It's not a problem that you don't know people, you will meet people.  This is as good a place to start that as any, but slow your roll.  This last paragraph of yours is the best bit of this post, it's the only part of this post that makes people like me want to spend this much time on a reply.  Keep the passion, but start working on humble.  You'll need it anyway, might as well get good at it sooner.

 

I wish you the best of luck, and If and when you move out here hit me up, first round is on me.  Unless it's at Jumbo's, then all the rounds are on Ron Baldwin.


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#5 Alan Rencher

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Posted 21 May 2015 - 12:51 AM

Brendan, listen you Brian. He is 100% right. Don't be the guy who gets his parents to buy him $60k worth of film gear, only to give it away to the lowest bidder because he can't get work. Nobody likes that guy, and it's detrimental to the whole industry.
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#6 Stew Cantrell

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Posted 21 May 2015 - 01:23 AM

There are also used rigs that are up for sale quite often.

 

Which I just realized Brian already said. After reading everything he said, I have to say that it's brilliantly put. 


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#7 Brendan Riel

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Posted 21 May 2015 - 09:24 AM

Louis- I appreciate your response. I will leaf through the posts in that section and I'm sure I will find some useful information. I was looking into ops in CT before but I don't think there really were any- but I can definitely take another look and maybe even extend my reach. Thanks.

 

Brian- Thank you for responding to my questions, I really am glad you did bother to put effort into it. I truly and genuinely do not want to come across as egotistical and cocky like you said in your response, but sometimes it's hard to state your position or situation without sounding so. If I don't say that I feel like I'm more advanced than a basic level then how will anyone know? Also, I wasn't talking about the Dragon itself is heavy, but rather our build of it is. Was trying to cut back on stating the gear we have BECAUSE I didn't want to come across the wrong way, but we have a cage, element technica 3 axis system, rails, innocinema power back module, cinetape, and a dna 6.6x6.6 swing away mattebox- it's heavy and I'm not setting the rig up incorrectly. Just because I didn't take a workshop doesn't mean I'm setting the rig up incorrectly- I have learned from a few operator friends I have who have done advanced workshops as well as the school's 6 hour one. With that said I do still have so much to learn, I haven't even begun to graze the tip of the iceberg here. Like I said, I really appreciate your response. 

 

-Brendan


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#8 Kevin Andrews SOC

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Posted 21 May 2015 - 08:19 PM

You're going to fit right in in LA. Go get 'em.


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#9 Brendan Riel

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Posted 21 May 2015 - 10:00 PM

Kevin, I appreciate the kind words. Thanks.


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#10 Mike McGowan SOC

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Posted 21 May 2015 - 10:10 PM

First few years you will make very little.  If you are super successfull you can make more than a brain surgeon. 

 

My advice on gear may differ from some of the other opps but I say go big or go home.  If you want to do this for a living get a PRO and a Preston.  My first chunk was (if I remember correctly, it was 1998) 52k loan from my best freinds fathers bank for my PRO sled and vest.  23k loan from my bank for a 2 chanel Preston.  The 20k I had saved up for a down payment on what would have been my first house on cables, brackets, carts and 'other'.  And I leased a new SUV (all that shit doesn't fit in a mustang).  Then 6 montsh later I maxed out a credit card cash advance to get my PRO arm.  I was a little over 120k (not including the SUV) for my first rig when all was said and done.

The stage your at doesn't really effect the camera you use.  I've shot with Alexas, 3D epic rigs, Black Magic pocket cameras and 5D's and everything in between.  But the Alexa is the industry standard.  They have a new Alexa Mini that's lighter but for the next several years, most television, most comercials and maybe half the features are shot on Alexas. 

I'd say get the money however you can.  If your parents will loan you the mone great, if they will give it to you for a birthday present, even better.  Max out a credit card, take out a bank loan, sell a kidney, rob a bank.

 

Yes, getting multiple loans works.  My situation above caused me to struggle like crazy for two  years then in year three I started to actually make a decent living doing steadicam and I had it all paid off by the end of  year 4.  To be fair I was already an established, working assistant so I had a lot of contacts even though I didn't have a lot of skill.  I also had family in the business which helped some but not as much as you might think.  It was 5 years before I started to not suck and 10 years before I could say I was 'good'.  I'm going on year 16 as a steadicam operator now and I'm still learning every day. 

 

I know it's hard (I still have a hard time with it) but try to stay humble.  You will attract more clients (and more help from the veterans on this board) with a humble attitude.

my 2 cents....

Good luck!


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#11 Mike McGowan SOC

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Posted 21 May 2015 - 10:13 PM

^^^  and I think Kevin might have been being a bit sarcastic...  Don't get offended, just roll with the punches.  Speaking of whiche, prepair yourself to be reamed like never before the first time you get an a hole dp or director that is expecting you to do things with the steadicam that it can't possibly do.  Thinks like walking on water and mind reading.


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#12 Brendan Riel

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Posted 21 May 2015 - 10:17 PM

Mike, 

 

I appreciate your taking the time to comment, I really do. Your story seems like a remarkable one haha, I can't believe you made your money back so soon! Like you said connections go a long way. Sometimes it's hard to notice sarcasm through text, so I actually thought Kevin was being serious haha, I'm not offended at all, I've got a hard outer shell, but at the same time am open to criticism and improvement (so you can get an understanding of my professional characteristics). Again thanks!

 

-Brendan


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#13 Kevin Andrews SOC

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Posted 22 May 2015 - 02:54 PM

Agree with Mike, if you want it bad enough do whatever it takes to get the money. High interest is nothing if you can tackle the debt quickly. Our business uses expensive equipment and theres nothing we can do about that, but we can try to own the best gear possible which will help us do our jobs better. 

 

And yes, I was being sarcastic ; )  Be humble, and you will stand out from the crowd rather than meshing into the LA grime. 


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#14 Brendan Riel

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Posted 22 May 2015 - 02:58 PM

Gotcha Kevin. It's a quality I'm working on  :)


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#15 Brian Freesh

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Posted 26 May 2015 - 04:23 PM

Mike and I are largely on the same page.  Regarding "Go big or go home" ultimately yes, but sometimes "going big" leads to "going home." If you do not have the means to go big then you either start with a smaller budget or save and wait longer to start. If you start sooner with a smaller budget, you'll raise capital more quickly to go big later, and you'll be doing what you love now.  If you have the means to go big now, feel free to do it, but know that finances will be more difficult in the short term (and in the long term depending on how well you do or how largely you fail). The good news is the gear holds it's value very well.  So if you fail completely you can make a lot of money back when you sell the gear, easing your financial struggle afterwards.

 

Regarding what gear to buy, depends on what you want to work on.  If you go exclusively into the live world for example there is no need to buy a Preston or any other brand FIZ.

 

You're not past smaller rigs because no one is.  It's not that you must start small, it's just that you happened to start small.  They're actually more difficult to operate in ways because they have less mass, so less inertia, so they do not want to hold one position as strongly as a big rig.  On the other hand, you can wear it much longer without tiring.  They're not better or worse, they're just different. There are so many cameras these days that are light enough for a rig like the zephyr that are used all the time, and now the Alexa Mini will be another. The rig doesn't matter nearly as much as the operator. At least until you get to a point in your career where you need more weight capacity on a regular basis.

 

If you know your dragon isn't heavy, don't say it is.  If you know your build is too heavy for the zephyr, say your build is too heavy for the zephyr (note how I did not need to list your components to say that).  Sounds like you need a clip-on matte box.  If you're going to use it for steadicam you should build it for steadicam. Something is wrong with your build that makes it too heavy for the zephyr, but "weighs a ton" is way too much hyperbole, especially without proper context.

 

But like Mike said, you're going to use a bunch of cameras that are not your dragon.  In fact, most of the time you will not use your dragon, except on smaller gigs where they are looking for deals.  Ultimately your Dragon will not do you much good as a Steadicam operator.  Maybe as a DP though. I've had maybe one opportunity a year in the past 5 years to rent a camera to the job. Probably not even that many. And they were all low budget, so the rental was not good.

 

Never said you were cocky or egotistical. I did say you are not as great as you think you are, which is true, but not terribly enlightening as it's true of most people. But it was my way of saying you are not presenting yourself humbly. The people I've seen crash and burn were all over-confident, which is perhaps another way of saying cocky.  So don't get cocky, that's all. Note that there is another way to fail other than a fast crash. If you are not confident enough you may never break out of whatever you define as a rut, never quite reaching the success you strive for.  That was me for awhile, I knew I was good, but I wasn't confident enough to assert that and it held me back.  It wasn't until some right place/right time happened, and I did some day seizing, and I got lucky that I became successful, and it was a while after that I became confident enough to assert it.  So don't be me (of the past) either.

 

Mike's story brings up an excellent point: Being in the industry before getting into steadicam helps get into steadicam.  From the point he started steadicam to the point he "made it" was pretty short, but he'd been in the industry for a few years already and had contacts and clients already. If you are able to find steady work as an assistant (for example) you will be able to save up for "going big" while making a lot of contacts, and learning a lot about working on set and what demands you will be asking of other crew members when you are an operator.  And, perhaps most importantly, you will be able to meet and learn from many different operators before you move up to do it yourself.  Once you are operating you won't have that opportunity.


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