Given the vast amount of of technical obsessiveness that exudes from this site, it’s ironic that I find myself writing an article on how obsessing over gear will never lead to the best creative results in your work. I absolutely feel that gear and technical know-how are critical to master and some of the biggest keys to success in this industry, but they need to be put to use in the right way and focused on at the right time. You need to have a goal and vision for what you want to achieve, and that should be what’s driving your excitement about the tools that you’re going to use in that process – not the other way around.
If you’re the type that naturally thinks about your gear more than your content, I have some fundamental insight for you that I believe will improve the relevance and substance of all your future projects from here on out. Firstly – if you consider yourself a filmmaker, director, creative producer, or any other type of storyteller, you need to step back and ask yourself why it is that you’re always focusing on your equipment, if truly it’s the story and the art form that you’re passionate about. The reason (in my opinion, based on my own introspection when becoming gear crazy from time to time) is that you believe if you have the right tools and therefore the right ability to execute a film to the highest technical level, only then are you willing to tell your story as you will be more confident in the quality of the final product.
Recognizing the flaw in this logic is important because it helps give perspective on what we’re really supposed to be doing – telling a story. Understanding that there needs to be a harmonious balance between art and technology to achieve the best final product is critical, and thankfully achieving this balance is relatively simple… Changing the order in which you approach the filmmaking process is all it takes on a basic level to find that sweet spot within your creative focus. Rather than going out and purchasing gear in hopes that you will then finally be ready to actually make something, do the opposite. Start making something and get the gear along the way that you need to make it happen. Not only does this put your focus back in the right place early on in the creative process, but it will also mean that when you do go out and buy gear, you’ll buy the right gear. So many of us have gone out and bought the latest camera or lens before we even know what type of work we are actually going to do with it. By letting your project dictate what you buy, you will find that you truly make better choices and investments as you are purchasing tools that have a purpose. There is no right or wrong camera. No single camera perfect for every job, so why even consider buying something before you know what you’re going to do with it? Imagine going out and buying a 5D, but then realizing your entire project needs high resolution slow motion, and you can’t even use it.
When the first steps in your creative process are focused on concept development, characters, and other story based elements, you will naturally give yourself much more time and freedom in that development period that can be used to flesh out a fantastic story and script, which of course is the backbone of everything you are doing. Take as much time or as little as you need to get it right, as long as you end up getting it done in the best way possible – which you will, since you won’t feel the self imposed pressure of having to go out and shoot something just because you went out and bought gear last month that’s collecting dust. As long as you have something to shoot first, then when you get to the second stage of the process (which involves buying/renting your gear and actually using it), you will get far more out of your equipment than if you had been just researching it online and testing it at home. The truth is that you can read about cameras all day, research them, watch footage shot on them (all of which are helpful things that I do on a daily basis), but it will only take you so far. Learning that way is a critical step in preparing you for what you’re actually going to be doing on set, but there are many skills you can only develop on set, and sometimes you need to know when you’re ready to go out and shoot.
So, in summary: Come up with a great story that’s worth telling, get the gear you need to execute your idea, and develop your technical and non-technical crafts further by actually working on set with actors.
And when you are ready to go out and shoot, be sure to check out my recent article on Why Lighting Is More Important Than Dynamic Range For Capturing A Filmic Image.