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Get More From Your Production Budget

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The relentless squeezing of production budgets means that we are all keen to make the most of the money that we have and this article aims to offer some sensible advice. Article credit: VMI.

Firstly, some good news. Broadcast equipment is getting cheaper, so the questions always asked by Production Companies are the following, which we will attempt to answer:

• How to compare rental prices from competing rental companies?
• What equipment to use?
• Whether to buy or hire?
• Or, if buying is considered, then when is the right time to buy?

Comparing Rental Companies

It is surprisingly hard for Production Companies to compare the prices of different rental companies. Quotes are prepared in different formats, equipment specifications differ, as do shooting packages, so here are some things to consider.

Always compare basic equipment spec of main items
To give an example, the Sony FS-7 camera shoots 4K and is popular with our clients but it has the following limitations:

• It is a lightweight camera
• Has a delicate viewfinder bracket
• Only very few mounting points for essential peripherals.

To make the camera more versatile as a rental item, VMI supplies this same camera in an enhanced configuration:

• Complete with ARRI bridge-plate kit
• ARRI top handle (can carry the weight of large lenses safely)
• ARRI cheese plate (so LOTS of mounting points as standard)
• Electronic EF lens adapter (to use EF lenses with it)
• 2 x large XQD cards
• Choice of either 3 x large batteries or
• Anton Bauer batteries to facilitate running additional peripherals on board (such as monitor or video sender)
• All of this fits into a custom flight case and is included within the rental price
• These pricey accessories add around 30% to the cost of the purchase of the camera and are not additionally charged for and not many rental companies include them as standard issue.

The reality is though, at some point, the weak viewfinder bracket WILL break and the flimsy handle may snap (if it is carried unassisted with a heavy film lens affixed). If you are unlucky, it may be on your production and cost you money. At best, these minor inconveniences may slow you down and limit shooting options.

Thus comparing headline rental prices between rental companies may not be entirely meaningful as some suppliers may add additional chargeable accessories for the kit to work properly and some will supply the same items but with a better level of spec, so be wary here.

Transparent Pricing and Price Promise
VMI likes transparent and simple pricing to make it easy for our clients. We pride ourselves in being unusual by publishing all of our rates on the web, including package prices of more than 2,000 different equipment packages. Click here for details.

VMI Price Promise

New for 2016 is the VMI Price Promise.

• Price Promise 1: We constantly monitor our competitor's published rates and endeavour to always price our kits competitively based upon a comparable level of specification.

• Price Promise 2: If you receive a formal quote for a package which beats VMI's price, then we will try very hard to price-match it.

In the same 2015 client survey, you told us that we were competitive but we don't take this for granted. We constantly review all of our competitors frequently to ensure that we remain so.

If all else fails, then ask for a deal.
Pricing fairly can only take you so far. Sometimes you may simply not have enough money in your budget to meet a rental price but still want to use your regular rental company. If a production can't stretch to our published kit rates, then we always encourage our clients to speak to us first. We want happy clients and we may be able to negotiate or find solutions for mutual benefit, as there is often a deal to be done.

If you are struggling with your budget, then ask for a deal. Don't push it and always be fair with the rental company as there needs to be give and take in any relationship!

More discount is better, right?
Rental Houses value regular clients by rewarding them with discounts and with some companies, these can be very generous. Unfortunately, just as basic camera rental specification is hard to compare, there is also a great disparity amongst rental companies around basic hire rates, so look out for discount being offered on inflated rental rates.

Some rental companies like to offer generous discount rates on inflated daily rental rates. Don't be deceived by assuming that a higher level of discount from one given rental company will necessarily be better value than a smaller level of discount from another company. Compare the overall kit price to be sure – usually hire rates are broken into subsections of lighting, grip etc. (see below).

Lighting Comparison
Some lighting companies charge for every cable and stand, whereas VMI supplies light kits which always include a stand, jumper cable, extension cable and Y cord (where appropriate) all within the standard rental cost. Even if the headline rental rate is cheaper elsewhere, then you may still end up paying more for the kit.

See the Photon Beard Daylight double light kit in its custom case with generous kit provision including the VMI wheelable lighting tube (all included in the standard cost of the light kit).

When comparing different quotes, always check the category subtotal for lighting and grip etc to compare category rental pricing.

What Equipment to use – surely a standard shooting kit?

…Err, standard shooting kits don't exist!
There are so many different variants of lenses (which include EF & PL mount) and too many types of tripods, matte boxes, follow focus units etc. to choose from for any standard to exist.

VMI offers more than 30 basic camera models from stock. Of these, we have 15 prime lens options and 12 standard variants of kit standard which work across the range. This creates well over 2,000 pricing options and does not even begin to consider the EF and PL zoom options which are also very popular. (Our most popular shooting kit is the Canon C300 double zoom and tripod special).

If pricing these efficiently is a real headache, then comparing quotes between rental companies is even more difficult when product specification may not be uniform.

VMI likes transparent and simple pricing to make it easy for our clients. We are unusual by publishing all of our rates on the web, including package prices. Even our downloadable Hire Rate Card and iPhone App are automatically generated by our website every day to ensure that both are fully up-to-date.

However, what is unique about VMI is the complex algorithms built into our website which calculates all conceivable lens options and compatible shooting kit options available to every single camera, the rates of which are automatically calculated on daily and weekly prices so that you can compare them side by side.

This was such an enormous headache to produce, that to our knowledge, we are the only company in our Industry who calculates this for every camera and it necessarily means that you can compare equipment groups, lens and kit options which your team may not have previously considered. All this is done with clarity and transparency. The VMI way.

Don't assume that specifications of shooting packages on differing quotes will be the same. Check all quotes for accuracy diligently.

Logistics and refinements. Make it silky-smooth
Transport and logistics is necessarily expensive. Some rental companies offer free delivery and collection but ensure in advance what the terms and conditions for free transport are to avoid incurring unexpected transport charges.

VMI is always innovating to offer refinements to our shooting packages such as the 2015 GoFilm innovation.

• This new approach was introduced exclusively by VMI after receiving feedback from clients about our cases.

• GoFilm facilitates a more convenient transportation option by minimising the number of flight cases provided by supplying a smaller number of modular wheelable cases.

Our clients have really taken to the GoFilm concept and it is offered without additional charge to clients. Smaller kits may mean smaller production transport and this can save you money. Check terms and conditions for free transport to avoid incurring unexpected transport charges.

Bespoke Requirements
Productions sometimes have complex needs demanding bespoke solutions, so ensure that the rental company can deliver these.

When Offspring Films required to shoot nocturnal Tarsiers with Canon's ME20 ISO 4m super low-light camera in a shoulder-mount configuration, we had to design a shoulder-mount package in order to make it work.

Custom equipment configuration has always been an integral part of what we do. Our Fiilex lighting package for example has many custom refinements and our 'Bullet Time 360 rig' has been completely redesigned by us to make it altogether a better product for hire.

Ensure that the rental company can cope with bespoke requirements.

Ensure adequate support provision is in place
Complex equipment requires comprehensive support and this is one area where owning your own equipment puts you at a real disadvantage over renting.

You will only buy one camera, whereas a rental company may have 10 and if you are in the USA when a camera fails, then peace of mind comes with the knowledge that a replacement camera can be with you the following day.

Mechanical line-ups have been replaced by ensuring that cameras are running the correct firmware and supplied with appropriate cabling and accessories to ensure that everything works seamlessly together.

The quality of support team is essential
• VMI has a dedicated Head of Cameras, Gerard Botha, who has spent 25 years in film and TV and oversees the equipment fleet

• Kevin Oaten is VMI's Operations Director who has 30 years' industry experience

• Michael White, previously 25 years at Aimimage, runs the camera department

• Collectively, VMI's 6 main Managers have over 170 years of combined industry experience to call upon

• VMI technicians are hand-picked and they all really care that our service is perfect

• 7-day 24-hours support are the standard and the level of equipment failures and complaints are reassuringly low.

In our 2015 client survey, you rated our customer service 4.7 and we worked very hard to earn this.

People never plan to fail, they simply fail to plan
You have a camera list and a deal which works at your budget but how do you know that it is the right equipment package unless your crew test it?

VMI's Rental Desk team are well-trained and our bookings system is carefully designed to offer kit combinations that work together and offer all complementary accessories as options.

We run two fully-equipped camera test rooms in London (one in Bristol) which are offered without charge to clients ahead of their hires and this testing time permits kits to be finessed by your crew and to ensure appropriate packing options and make essential equipment and case substitutions before the shoot begins which can save valuable time later.

Check that the rental company offers camera test facilities.

Ensure that you book a camera test with your crew to iron-out any problems before the shoot.

To Buy or not to Buy, that is the Question…

(and if I do, then should I buy now?)

The pace of technological development is accelerating, so is now the right time to buy?

• The answer is that there will never be a right time to buy a future-proof camera

• Manufacturers have a vested interest in selling new cameras and technology, so constant development means that you, as the consumer, win with reduced prices, better images and improved workflow

• The bad news is that whatever you may choose to buy today will invariably be out of date in a few years

Even if you do commit to a camera, then it won't be suitable for all productions.

We carry upwards of 30 models of camera for a reason, as they all do something a bit different.

• Small sensor cameras – Sony PMW 500/200 or Canon XF-305
• Compact, large-sensor – Canon C300
• Diary-cam (extreme compact large sensor) – Canon XC-10
• For hand-held Doco camera – Sony PMW-F5 or F55
• Compact 4K doc camera – a Sony FS-7, C300 Mk II, Varicam LT
• Full size camera with film lenses – RED Dragon, ARRI Amira or ARRI Alexa.
• Gimbal-based productions – Alexa Mini
• Sometimes, DP choice dictates that they have to use an Alexa Mini… (we have all been there).

Indeed, even if you do buy a camera system, it might not even be suitable for your next production and this could be an expensive mistake for you.

Camera accessories are expensive
All of the bits needed to make a camera work properly are surprisingly expensive.

Cameras straight out of the box need a LOT of accessorising to make them useful.

We find that Production Companies who own their own kit often have essential items missing and we are regularly approached to supply them with more batteries, mounting arms, cables or specific adapters to help them complete their kits.

We carry all of these items from stock but they usually form part of existing camera kits which can be expensive, as they frequently can't be split from the main items.

• By choosing to hire rather than to buy is to take out obsolescence insurance

• If you do buy, then you will feel obliged to use your camera kit on all future productions irrespective of its suitability, simply because you own it

• If you do this, then your camera may spend a long time sitting on a shelf and you may still have to hire regularly in any case. (The whole reason why you bought in the first place).

• It is more tax efficient to rent than to buy, as you can claim 100% of rental fees day 1, as opposed to limited capital tax allowances on purchased plant

We are passionate about our business and offering shooting kits to surpass your expectation at a competitive price.

Finally, the best proof of whether we are doing a good job is whether you would recommend us to others – from the same 2015 survey, you told us you would, so a big thank you from VMI for to all of our clients and team for making this possible.

Article credit: VMI. Barry Bassett, Managing Director, VMI. May 2016.


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