This was in response to a college graduate who was looking at purchasing equipment as a way of getting into the industry.
Owning your own gear is a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand you have the potential to make extra income and make attractive deals for Producers but at the same time, what will be an attractive deal to one will become a burden to another.
Fortunately, I am in a position where I can make strong representations regarding my equipment and, based on years of experience, show Producers the advantages and demonstrate them by having them call many other Producers who have benefited. Things are changing though. There are many rental companies all after the same films and the rates offered by Producers are plummeting as rental companies fight with price cutting for every piece of the action. I really believe you should not go into more debt for the sake of equipment at this stage.
During your break-in period you need to be completely free of any ties and be willing to shoot whatever comes along. Equipment forces you into the position where you have to keep working and in the end you will be making your choices of films based on economic necessity rather than on creative progression. Also the majority of theatrical releases, even low budget, are shot on High End HD or 35mm so owning a camera package can be a very expensive proposition, especially if you stop working.
You need to be creating opportunities as a DP based on creative ability rather than on presenting an attractive deal. The last thing you want to hear is what a great deal you give. I make a point of not doing any deals. I have a rate for myself and my equipment and that’s it. Of course, it is much easier now than it was when I was first beating the boards. I just feel, looking back at what I had to go through, that equipment would have been a burden. Keep in mind these are only my thoughts. I am a great believer in forging your own pathways, being the guy kicking up the cloud of dust rather than one of those struggling to see through it. So there may be a very creative way of packaging your talents and equipment so the combination works. You need to weigh the pro’s and cons. I would be going full tilt to get onto Features…regardless of equipment in the beginning. I had never owned equipment before purchasing two Arri 535 packages…not the slightest interest…and I know the amount of work I was getting could not have supported the huge package I needed to make it a viable route. As work started to snowball, it became a realistic pursuit and I took the plunge.
Remember also that some studios and networks have a “no employee equipment” policy and this can, on occasion, lead to you turning down a job because you need to keep the gear working. Creatively this can lead to some bad forced decisions for your career path so you need to look very carefully at the financial commitment against how much the gear needs to work to meet the obligation.
This is beginning to sound a bit like yes you should/no you shouldn’t. Unfortunately there are no absolutes but hopefully my thoughts will help you, in some small way, choose a path which will lead to your goal.