Thursday, February 14, 2008

Another Boring Post About Working Waaaay Behind The Camera

I've mentioned that I got my start in the Film biz working at an equipment rental house. In Feature Films, its almost unheard of for a production company to own its own equipment. Paramount and some of the other studios, have trucks full of gear, but usually that stuff is already working in their studios, so when there's a Paramount picture shooting somewhere else, they'll rent equipment locally. Most productions are being done by a company that's formed to make the one movie they've got in production and then one of the major studios is only involved as a distributor. So, in most cases it wouldn't make any sense for a production company to actually buy a few tons of expensive equipment that they'll only need for a couple of months. rental houses. To further complicate this system, some equipment manufacturers won't sell their equipment. They choose a few rental houses spread around the country to be their licensed distributors and then lease the gear to only those rental houses. A couple of examples of that arrangement are Fisher and Chapman camera dollies.

So, anyway, years ago, a friend of mine went to India to shoot a film. He's a cameraman and also owns a Camera Rental House. Arriflex is one of the camera brands that you can actually buy and his rental house owned a number of them. Logical man that he is, he figured, I'll take my own camera to India and save a bundle.

So, he and a few other people packed up and flew to India. Their schedule had them arriving in time to do a week worth of scouting and other prep before they'd actually start shooting. They thought that would be plenty of time for their camera to clear Customs.

Now, here's the thing. India has a thriving film industry. You've heard of Bollywood, right? It turns out (at least back then), that because there's 15 - 20 official languages and hundreds of distinct dialects, they'd shoot the same movies over and over again in a variety of dialects. So, there's plenty of equipment already in Indian rental houses. And India wants you to rent your stuff from them.

Two days from starting filming, their camera was still stuck in Customs so they rented a camera locally. They called the guy in customs once a day during their two week shooting schedule. The camera cleared Customs late on their last day of filming.

When they went to pick up the camera (to ship it back to the U.S. unused), they met the lovely Customs Officials who had been inspecting the camera. It turns out that Indian Customs has a few employees who are technicians, trained by Arriflex, MovieCam and Panavision. They had completely disassembled the camera and catalogued every nut, bolt, screw, spring and other component of the camera. Then they put it back together in the best condition it had been since leaving the factory.

The lesson? If you want to know how long it takes for a camera to clear Indian Customs, the answer is "three hours less than your shooting schedule". On the bright side, its a great way to get a free overhaul.


John the Scientist said...

Did he pay extra baggage charge to the airline on that camera? I bet that charge was less than what he rented the other one for.

Nathan said...

I was being glib. He definitely spent more renting than he would have if he'd had access to his own camera, shipping charges included.

MWT said...

I think your title is too self-conscious. Let us, your fearless readers, decide whether it's boring or not! If it is, you'll have no comments and nobody will ever hit it from google. ;)

All that said, I think that's a very amusing story.

Nathan said...


I shall endeavor to not color your reaction with needlessly leading titles from now on.

Also, just to put things into context for y'all, when I say camera, you should be aware that a film camera, by the time you include the body, lenses, accessories, filters and other such stuff, usually comes in an average of about 20 cases. We're not talking about something you can toss in the overhead.

Jeff Hentosz said...

Let me go on record as loving the movie biz wonkishness posts. Thanks. Back in high school I wanted to be -- well, basically, what Tim Burton is now (except without having re-made Planet of the Apes). I was big into Super8 clay animation and what-not.

I met a guy once, years after I'd put my silver screen ambitions on the shelf and become a newspaper reporter, who collected filmmaking equipment. He didn't do anything with it, he was just fascinated by it and had picked up pieces over the course of a couple decades. He had 16- and 35-mm camera bodies, lenses, film magazines, lights, sound and editing equipment. Most likely a clapperboard.

I often wish I had gotten to know him, sucked up to him and gotten into his will, because I haven't a clue what happened to him or his stuff, and our one mutual friend died ten years ago, and now that I'm old and decrepit I finally have a great idea for a movie.

Nathan said...


Feel free to send me any of your great movie ideas. I'll be happy to steal them.

I'm guaranteed to post more "behind the scenes" stuff, since I've got more than 25 years worth of 'war stories' saved up, but I hope to keep this site pretty eclectic.