Level Up!

As we’re all aware that you can build a business from videography, there will be times when you invest in equipment. There will be times when you divest from equipment. The hope being that you divest your equipment when prices are high, and invest in equipment when prices are low. At all times, you bear in mind that equipment must pay back its original capital (what you paid for it) over time, but some kit can’t be a ‘line item’ (something you explicitly charge for).

So, you may buy a camera, and allocate a portion of your daily rate to pay for that camera. In a year or eight, it will have generated enough income to cover your ownership (the capital cost, the interest on any loans, the maintenance cost of keeping it working and the insurance cost of, well, insuring it), and whatever the accountant says to ‘write it off’.

But do you do that to your tripod?

Another way of looking at this is to get an idea of how much it costs to hire the kit you use on a daily basis. Well, maybe not all of it, but a full camera bag (including batteries, stock, a few accessories), a couple of microphones, and some sticks to put it all on, and some cans to hear it all on. That hire cost can be saved by owning your own kit, but the cost of owning your own kit must be recouped by charging for your own kit as if you had to hire it.

Now, having established that any purchases you make MUST be a revenue generator in a direct or indirect sense, what happens when you sell some kit that’s been written off, been a revenue generator and has since become a dust generator? Whoopee, free money.

It’s a bit like one of the many ‘FaceBook Farming Games’ you will have heard about. You’ve ‘levelled up’ and have been awarded a sack full of coins to invest in your farm/kingdom/videography business. Watchoo gonna doobout dat?

It would be lovely to go out and splurge on something you’ve always desired – that Steadicam system you always dreamed about, a full-on DSLR system with ALL the glass, or whatever. But really – the adult in all of us has to say: ‘what will generate enough cash, or enough ‘experience points’ (client goodwill/stickability/attractability) or enough ‘skill points’ (your own awesomeness/speed/capability) to pay for this quickly and earn enough to buy yet more toys?

Just like lottery winners, you need to know that a pot of cash needs to be invested in such a way that it returns enough profit to pay for its generation cost, AND keep its value over time (so it beats inflation) AND then generate an income for you on top of that. The inflation proof income generation of a million quid may be quite modest. You can tell I married an accountant. It makes great pillow talk.

And so here I am, having levelled up because I sold my Z1s and all their accessories, not willing to put the coins into the bigger pot, but to dedicate it to getting more experience/skill points. Okay, that’s a really nice position to be in, and I really hope you find yourself in that position too. But, then how does one ‘not screw it up’?

Okay, so ignoring all the toys… (I wanted Canon L series glass), what will your AUDIENCE see?

– Upgrading SD cards to SxS: speeds up your acquisition in time critical situations. I doubt this situation affects many, but it would get me from end of shoot to warm bed quicker on every job. Very expensive though, and nobody will see the difference.

– Upgrading to daylight running Fluorescent lamps. Sigh, how often are you asked to do an interview in mixed tungsten and daylight, trying to get the outside without burning it out, having dimmed your puny little tungsten lamps you bought so you don’t fry your subject? Clients will see (and feel) this difference, sort of, but they probably won’t pay for it over standard tungsten.

– Getting into DSLR – now, there’s an investment for the modern videographer. Trouble is, you’re going to expose yourself to a whole new world of want. Clients will see the difference, but you’re going to have to do a whole lot more work for it, AND you are going to need really silly expensive stuff: LCD viewfinder (£250), shoulder stock (£350), batteries (£100), lenses (at least £1500), new bag, software, training – it will end up the same price as a brand new pro camera. But the pictures are worth it. Honest. Buy a 550D and a Tokina 11-16 and find out.

– Invest in a few high end plug-ins. I’ve already managed to get a job to pay for Magic Bullet, and I’ve been with Colorista for a long time. DVmatte Pro has made chromakey a joy, and FX factory has done great things for me. They will for you, so long as you buy them for a job based on how many hours it saves you. Clients don’t pay for plugins – not directly, anyway. But they’ll like the expensive look you can make (‘expensive’ is subtle – use the Magic Bullet waveform monitors to stop things oversaturating or blowing out, and explore the curves to add richness).

– Buy a Steadicam – get the shots you can only dream about as the camera floats around your scene. However, the learning curve is steep and requires arms like Popeye unless you get an arm and vest. You’re not going to get usable results in the first three months. You’re not going to get good enough until there’s a year of it under your belt. You’ll get lucky now and again, with shots that make the show, but you’re never going to be a full-time Steadicam operator (OTOH we may not want to be).

– Get a bunch of crash cams, including the GoPro Hero HD and a little DSLR. With this setup, you’re going to get shots that you will never ever get any other way. Put a GoPro on the end of a broom handle or three, and pretend it’s a PoleCam. Put a DSLR in the corner of the room and shoot timelapse like there’s no tomorrow. Clients love these shots, but you’re signing up to a whole lot more kit in your kit box.

Or just calm down and mix and match.

Microphones, tripods and lamps don’t go out of date, and will last a long time. I think I’ll level up a lamp or two (a Kino and a dedo spot), add a 50mm f1.4 lens and get a slider from the Z1 cash. Each one of those will be seen by clients. Will I earn any more on a daily rate? No. Will I get repeat bookings? Will I get fans? Will I be proud of the new work? Yes. That will generate the extra income, be it ever so small. But over time it adds up.

Oh, yes, and I need a GoPro Hero. And a 24-80mm f2.8. And a Steadicam. I really want a Steadicam. And a MacPro. And Adobe CS5. And Boris Continuum. And most of the Foundry plugins.

Oh dear…