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6 Tips for Renting Equipment from a Film Rental House

  • May 22, 2021
  • Hurlbut Academy
6 Tips for Renting Equipment from a Film Rental House

Any seasoned filmmaker will tell you how their relationship with their local film rental houses is their lifeblood, allowing them to gear up for production without needing to spend thousands of dollars in purchasing expensive equipment. 

Yes, using a rental house can be expensive but it’s completely necessary. Plus, it’s more affordable than buying all of your own equipment.

filmmakers on a smoky set

There are many kinds of film rental houses. Some specialize in camera kits, others in production, art, lights, and G&E equipment. Now, there are countless rental houses in Los Angeles, New York, and other industry hotspots. But did you know that there are also rental shops scattered all over the United States? 

That’s why it’s a good idea to get to know your local rental houses and understand proper etiquette to maintain good relationships. 

With that in mind, learn below 6 tips for renting filmmaking equipment from a film rental house. 

How much does film equipment cost? 

To put it simply, lots and lots of money. And that’s just after your initial purchase. But when you consider the amount of money you’ll need to invest in new parts and upkeep, the cost is ongoing. 

film crew working on set

Let’s face it, the film industry is always changing and upgrading equipment and technology. What works today could be obsolete in a matter of years. So, even if you turn to sell it you’ll be hard-pressed to get back what you originally spent. 

Now, there are companies and filmmakers who have the capacity to house their own gear, but this isn’t the solution for every filmmaker. You may want to push back against the desire of owning your own garage full of film equipment, and instead, opt for your local film rental company. Plus, when you own your gear there’s the temptation to use it for every project, whether or not it’s the right choice. Story should dictate your gear choice. 

Benefits of renting film equipment

The benefits of renting film equipment range from saving money on expensive equipment and the space to house it all to paying professionals to maintain its conditions for working order. 

Chances are that even if you own your own camera kit along with a few lights, you’ll still require additional equipment pending the requirements of your production. Who’s got that kind of space

Of course, you’ll have situations where there simply aren’t any dedicated rental houses nearby. In such cases, you may find luck using an online option such as ShareGrid. However, for most professional filmmakers, having that face-to-face interaction at a brick-and-mortar location is essential. 

The reason being is if something goes wrong with the equipment, you’ve already established a relationship with the staff, and they’ll have the means to make it right. Especially if that means replacing equipment on the fly. 

1. Set your budget

Before choosing the film gear you would like to rent, you’ll first need to know how much money you have in your budget relegated to rentals. There’s a big difference between renting equipment for a short film as opposed to a commercial. 

If you’re new to renting, you will want to rely on your department heads. Once you understand the scale of your production, coordinate with your cinematographer, gaffer, assistant director, and production manager on what they’ll need to get the job done. This is a team effort after all. 

upm working on budget

And if you’re working small (or alone) then take that into consideration when renting. Again, scale your rentals to the size of the team you’ll be working alongside. So, if your budget is small, then communicate that to the rental agent servicing your order and see what kinds of deals they have and what older equipment they have that won’t break your budget. 

Another method involves creating a list of the equipment you need but ordering it from most essential to least essential. That way, if you’re cutting it close, you can curtail the gear at the bottom of your list. 

2. Understanding insurance for film rental house

Most film houses require that you provide some means of insurance before you walk out the door, and for good reason. As we mentioned above, film equipment isn’t cheap. For instance, just that one Kino Flo is a few grand. Losing or breaking a few of those will eventually land you in the poor house. 

If you don’t have insurance, you’ll pay for it in the form of an up-charge, usually around 10%. Another method is a deposit on your credit card that will be refunded after the equipment is returned in the same condition it was originally received.

film rental house

You can find insurance companies that specialize in film production online. But we’re actually going to abstain from giving specific referrals. However, it’s a good idea, especially if you own a production company, to have an insurance provider that will work with you. They will want to know what kind of production you’re operating and if there are any stunts or anything of that nature that could drive up your liability. 

Insurance isn’t fun but it’s entirely necessary, so be sure to work it into your budget. (You’ll find out why below.)

3. Build relationships with your film rental house

Building and maintaining relationships with film rental houses is crucial to your success. You’re both wetting each other’s beaks, so to speak. And the better relationship you have, the more they’ll toss you a discount or even better.

Charging Blueshape Granite Batteries
Blueshape batteries plugged in and ready to go!

It’s even good practice to gift them a case of beer or something healthier when you make a pickup or dropoff. Trust us, they’ll remember you for that and the next time they see you, you’ll be greeted with all smiles. You’d be surprised how much a $50 to $100 treat goes a long way! 

Another rule of thumb is to get your rental agents excited about what you’re doing. We’re filmmakers and what we do is pretty cool. And just like you, many people who work in rental houses are also filmmakers. By asking questions and getting to know them at the shop, this back-and-forth could lead to opportunities. This could mean representing your local shop in some way to receiving invitations to assist with tests or use as a resource to talk through challenges.

Depending on your relationship with the rental house, you may even be able to practice with gear that’s otherwise outside of your budget. 

Camera and gear check

During camera and gear check, check and then double-check everything works. There are too many times when a rental house might not be aware that something is broken or the gear is flawed in some way. Test, check, and make sure you’re able to do a full build while the shop is still open so you can get the parts you need. 

Another reason for having a good relationship with shop techs is that they will start to learn what you like in terms of gear and packing so they will start to know what sort of gear you like when you rent a certain piece of camera or gear.

4. Film rental house equipment pickup & returns

Rental house equipment pickup and dropoff is not always as simple as you think. In fact, this is a step that a lot of non-union and smaller productions shamelessly make, even in Los Angeles. They’ll send one PA to pick up and load a 3-ton all by themselves and if something goes wrong, they wonder why — or worse, blame it on the PA. So first, consider the amount of equipment you need. If you’re loading up a whole truck, you need to hire two PAs for the job.

Film equipment unloaded from 3 ton

Loading up

The staff at the rental house will pull and prepare your order for you before you get there in most cases. So, make sure you have a vehicle that can comfortably carry the load. You’ll have paperwork that you will need to go through with the rental attendant to check off that every item is accounted for. Later, you’ll need to repeat this process when you get to the location

Warning: Don’t lose the paperwork! Whatever you do, make sure you have a secure area where you keep all your papers pristine. 

line of parked film trucks

There’s an art to loading, and in some ways, it’s sort of like Tetris. Be sure you or whoever you hire is proficient in packing and using furniture pads and ratchet straps. Remember, if you break something it will only cause you headaches. 

Some rental houses will pack your order on a pallet and load it into your truck for you and other times it could take over an hour or more to pack everything correctly. The best advice is to use the space to your advantage. Heavy equipment should be loaded first, then after it’s secured start loading the lighter gear. Make sure everything is tied down so if you drive over a bump it won’t go flying. 

staging film rentals
Lights provided by Paskal Lighting

Give yourself enough time

Another thing to keep in mind is timing. Let’s start with picking up equipment. You will at the very least want to pick up your equipment the day before production and take it to your shooting location. If you can’t get into the location until the day of production, then find a good lock for your truck and make sure that you park in a safe and secure location

The proper time to conduct your returns is typically the day after production. So, if you go to one or a few different rental houses, you’ll need to unload the equipment and make sure everything is there, down to every stinger. 

5. Take care of equipment 

This tip goes hand-in-hand with how you transport your film equipment. Treat the equipment with care and always be organized. When you unload your equipment, stage it in a way that’s easy to find and pull. 

For example, if you order C-stands and lights, prepare the heads on the stands and line up the C-stands. Make sure your cables are stacked properly on the muscle cart so they can be easily transported to their destination. 

Organizing rented film equipment

If you’re outside, make sure you have solid ground that can’t get wet and roofing overhead to protect from sudden rain. Part of your success comes from the way you organize your equipment. These are your artistic tools to help convey your vision, and they should be treated as such. 

6. What should you do if you lose or damage your equipment?

Uh-oh! Your HMI just fell from its stand and smashed to the ground. Or, you dropped the lens and now it’s scratched. Not good. But such is life — just, whatever you do, don’t make a habit of it. Because, if you do, it will certainly spoil your relationship with the rental house. 

Renting camera lenses

First of all, take a deep breath and then call your rental rep to inform them of the news. Don’t worry, this isn’t the first time someone has lost or damaged their equipment. The best thing you can do is be honest, and if you were following the proper procedures (which we outlined above) at least you’re doing your due diligence. 

In the short term, they will help you replace the equipment so you can keep filming and make your day. But afterward, you will be responsible for the replacement or deductibles. (See, buying that insurance wasn’t so bad, now was it?) 

The bottom line renting through a film rental house

By following the aforementioned 6 tips for renting filmmaking equipment, you’ve established a rock-solid relationship with your rental house. Equipment is expensive, but with the right kind of bonding, you can enjoy deals that you otherwise wouldn’t receive. 

MBSE Lights in rental house
MBS Equipment Company

So, let’s rehash what we learned: 

  1. Set your budget
  2. Understand the insurance process 
  3. Build relationships with the rental house
  4. Rental house pickups and returns
  5. Take care of the equipment
  6. Communicate damages and losses with the rental house

And, you’re all set! When you treat rental houses like your colleagues (which they are) then you’ll reap the benefits of their friendship, and increase your odds for success.

Join the Hurlbut Academy today! With your membership, you’ll receive exclusive new lessons and courseware and join an international community of filmmakers!

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  • tips for renting film equipment