Confessions of a Recovering Gear Head
- March 23, 2016
- Shane Hurlbut, ASC
By Benjamin J. Richardson
Hello, my name is Ben, and I’m a recovering gear head.
You might say I’ve been suffering from something called G.A.S. and no, I didn’t have beans for dinner. I’m talking about Gear Acquisition Syndrome. That urge, no – need – to acquire every new piece of ever improving gear. From the fastest lenses, to highest frame rates. That smell of new, that rush of the unknown, that promise of something better. Something that will free me from my current technological limitations, something that will open my creativity and release it to new heights. All I had to do…
… was click “Buy Now.”
“But did you hear how the new camera is a half stop cleaner in the shadows, with better color, and lower compression?”
“Desire hath no rest…” It hurt not to have it.
And just like that my freedom was lost and my creativity hindered, or so I thought.
The change wasn’t immediate. I wish it was. I wish I could sit here and tell you that one day I woke up and realized that the camera is just one thread amongst countless that weave together in an elaborate tapestry to create our images. If only I could tell you that, I would have saved thousands. Tens of thousands. Not to mention the countless hours wasted watching “tests” or reading reviews from armchair experts. All that time that was spent staring and comparing spec sheets, leaving me in a state of paralyzing indecision, wasted. That is, until I began digging into the Hurlblog.
It is Shane’s tests, but more importantly his commentary, that began to open my mind. I wasn’t just taking everything at face value, like what’s “sharper” or “flatter.” I listened to the way he described the characteristics. I marveled at his ability to articulate what he was seeing in all these cameras and lenses, like if they made Monette seem older or younger. More importantly, though, was how those strengths and weaknesses could be leveraged creatively. In short, there isn’t just one singular best of anything. Everything has its place. An obvious statement, sure, but I constantly find myself in conversations about what is “better.” What’s the “best” camera, light, lens, whatever? And that is the thing. There is no best. It seems that everything has its place.
But I couldn’t own EVERYTHING… or could I? No, let’s not go there. That’s that G.A.S. acting up again. Haha!
Around the time I was diving into Shane’s Inner Circle, I was at a gala to raise money for Vera House, a local not-for-profit that houses and counsels victims of abuse. Director Solon Quinn and I had shot a short film in support of their cause, but producer Benjamin Schechter, being as busy as he was, wasn’t able to be there for production. So this is the first time he’s seeing the film, and they’ve got this thing playing on these two huge dueling projects, and he leans over to me and he says:
“That RED looks amaaazing.”
I say, “That’s not the RED.”
“Wow, the 5D RAW really is incredible. Isn’t it?”
It wasn’t RAW…
“That’s JUST our 5Ds!?!”
At that point, Solon had to quiet us down. Well, one of us anyway. Haha.
Just a 5D! You should have seen his face! It was stark white, and you would have thought he had seen a ghost. I was worried about him, really, but he just took a big gulp of water and stared on at those dueling screens in disbelief.
See, we had just spent tens of thousands of dollars upgrading from those 5Ds to the RED Epic. Then the director and I went back and shot the whole thing on a few 5Ds, and he couldn’t even tell the difference. Neither could the audience.
We chose the 5Ds not because they had the most Ks or a great codec, but because their color and texture felt right for the job. And it worked! The cameras disappeared into the story.
That may have been the beginning of my recovery from G.A.S.
But some lessons need to be learned the hard way, and that year every film nominated for an Oscar was shot on particular camera system that was just all the rage… so we figured why stop at a RED when you can spend twice as much and get a camera three times the weight? I mean, bigger is better. Right? We bought ourselves an Arri.
It’s a great camera, really, but regardless of the rumors, merely turning it on did not cause my set to light itself or my actors to hit their marks. The lens didn’t hop out of its case and attach itself to the camera. I mean, the least you would think it would do would be to focus itself. Right? No, none of those things happened. God rays did not shine down upon my set, and the day was like any other.
In fact, since then I’ve shot on multiple camera formats, sometimes all at the same time, and you know what? All the cameras were more alike than different. The biggest difference I could discern is how I personally interacted with it. Shoulder mount, hand holdable, blocky, small, good on a MōVI, etc.… I stopped focusing on the one system that could rule them all. I started to embrace them each for what they were.
And suddenly I was free again. Free to explore, free to experiment, free from the resale value. I was an artist again, shaping and sculpting light. I was treating each camera as a different film stock, a different “emulsion” as Shane would say. It was then that I really began seeing why someone would use all kinds of different cameras on a production.
And I wondered, with all that time and money spent, what else could I have done? What else could I have invested in?
Knowledge doesn’t depreciate with time. It doesn’t get obsoleted when the Mark II or III comes out. It just gets better – as long as you keep learning. Knowledge is what the Inner Circle gave me. The camera and lens test are great, very informative. The LUTs are beautiful, and the events are always fun, but it was the knowledge that was priceless. It was the knowledge that made me a better artist.
I think in a way, learning helps keep us youthful too. It helps sustain the wonder we have for the world. That in turn inspires us to see the world in new ways and be more creative.
By investing in knowledge, I was investing in myself, my future, and my art.
So before you click “Buy Now,” maybe think about what else you could do with that money that would make you a better artist.
Go to a seminar – get hands on experience. Join the Inner Circle and learn from the best, or go somewhere you’ve never been before. There’s a whole world out there full of color, light and texture we haven’t even dreamed of yet. Those are the things that have made me a better artist, a better cinematographer, and a better human being. It might just work for you too.
I’m just another filmmaker trying to make my way and felt the need to share my story. Maybe it’ll help some of you. Maybe there’s some of you out there with a story to share too? I’d like to hear it, I think we all would. How are you handling your G.A.S.? 😉