A WMM Original Article Written by Valentina Vee
$1-$200,000 – education. Some people can read a screenwriting book, become inspired, and write the next Oscar-winning tragi-comedy. Other people can attend USC for an advanced degree in screenwriting and end up penning Taco Bell commercials. Either way – this job comes down to two things: talent and ambition. Write a lot and write often. Unlike acting, your education is not a barrier to entry. Rather, it is a way to better your chances of understanding how to write a screenplay both on a technical and an idea-driven level.
$0-$250 – writing software. There are a plethora of screenwriting software programs available for purchase online. They range from free-ware Celtx to the studio-standard Final Draft ($250). Other programs include Adobe’s Story Free (comes free with an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription), Movie Draft ($40), Movie Outline ($200) and Scrivener ($45). I suggest researching and choosing the right one for you. As always, it isn’t the program that makes a great script – it’s a great writer. The most iconic films of all time were written on typewriters, after all.
$20/month – a website or blog. While this isn’t necessary, remember that you’re not the only writer in town. It might be smart to build up your writing portfolio and showcase yourself online. Buy your own domain (.com, of course), and if you’re not a design guru, use a service that’ll allow you to integrate something like WordPress, Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace.
$0 – lit agent. As for acting agents – you should never give any money up-front to a literary agent or manager. They will take a portion of your profit after your script is sold. Here’s a list of the Lit Agencies that represent screenwriters in Hollywood. Obviously, you don’t need a lit agent if you’re making sketches for the Internet with your friends. But if you’ve written a modern classic and want it up on the big screen – it’s important that you have somebody to help pitch it to major players.
$0 – another job. It’s all great and good to be writing a breakthrough hit based upon the story of your life, but unless your family is rolling in piles of money, you need a way to support yourself. It’s great to get a job in a lit agency or a production office. But it’s also no shame to work at a summer camp or babysit for money. After all, every additional experience you have could be a possible future story in your arsenal. Make sure to take advantage of interesting opportunities to travel and put yourself out of your comfort zone!
MINIMUM COST OF SCREENWRITING IN LA: $0 to start
$1-$200,000 – education. Much like a writer, nobody is going to care what university you went to and what you studied there. You can learn cinematography from Nofilmschool, if you absolutely have to. But being in an academic environment and connecting to other talented people who are writing and directing short films will provide you with immediate and plentiful opportunities to practice your craft.
$3,000-$15,000 – camera. This is obvious, right? But why such the wide margin? Well, many new cinematographers consider that it’s necessary to own at least a Red Cinema Camera or an Arri Alexa in order to be considered legitimate in the field and to get work. But if you think about it – many major production companies either already have their own equipment or will rent whatever equipment you think you need for each shoot. The only thing you have to bring is your ditty bag ($200) and your skills. Whereas starting out you may need to cut your teeth on a Canon 5D Mark II/III (always using Magic Lantern, right?) or one of the new Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras, I wouldn’t suggest blowing your budget on a cinema camera – especially when there are other more necessary expenses. If you absolutely MUST purchase a full-frame, non-DSLR body, I suggest the Blackmagic Cinema Camera in either 2.5 or 4K. While there are several firmware updates that still need to come, it is by far the best bang for your buck in terms of getting film-like dynamic range into your shots. You may also have noticed that I didn’t include any film cameras on this list. That’s because film is dead. There – I said it.
$10,000-$70,000– lenses. You may have noticed that I priced lenses higher than cameras on this list. It’s not a mistake – lenses are the most important tools you need, along with any mounts and filters they require. Professional camera bodies come without lenses, therefore you need to spend quite a few dollars to even capture a single image. Though many people rent or borrow lenses, I suggest having a few high-speed primes in your arsenal. First, chose a series of lenses that will work on most cameras. I suggest purchasing Canon L or S-series lenses because they seem to be standard enough to adapt to any cinema camera from the Blackmagic Pocket (using an adapter and a Speed Booster, of course), to the Red Dragon. If I were you, I’d get a 14mm, 35mm, 50mm, and a 135mm to cover yourself – all with the lowest f-stop you can afford. If you’re really fancy, purchase a set of Zeiss Primes ($70K) and be solid for the rest of your life.
$2,500-$12,000– lighting. Here’s where it gets tricky: while productions may ask you to use their cameras, they might be short on the sort of lights that you want to work with. It is important to, at least at the start, have your own lighting kit. Obviously, an Arri Kit (complete with c-stands and screens) will serve you well. Some 4-Bank Kino Flows are also an option. Ideally, you would be able to get both of these kits. If you really don’t have much to spend on lighting, try some work lights, LED light panels, and china balls. There are also ways to create DIY lights following tutorials from the likes of Indy Mogul and Film Riot. Of course, don’t forget to purchase a few reflectors. (Fun fact: the first piece of film equipment I ever bought was a 5-in-1 reflector. I knew that with just this one item, I would be invited to AC on various productions. And I was!)
$10-$15,000– stabilization. Many cinematographers are also camera operators. And while on a large production you may have room the budget to hire a steadicam or MoVI operator, it’s more likely that you’ll be using your own equipment or handing said equipment off for others to use. As a beginner, you don’t need to own your own jib or 10 feet of dolly track, obviously. But having an item or two (like a tripod, slider, and shoulder rig) is required. Everybody is going to have a different preference (depending on accessibility, budget, and shot type), so I won’t get into specifics here.
$2,000-$15,000– various other things. Matte boxes, external monitors, c-stands, batteries, cases, gels, etc – it all adds up! If you’re serious about cinematography, you know this better than I do. If you’d like to become serious about cinematography – B&H’s Professional Video page is your best friend. Check below under “Sound Technitians” if you’d also like to include sound equipment in your arsenal of tools.
MINIMUM COST OF DPing IN LA: $17,500 to start
$0-$200 – education. Depending on your learning style and necessity, all you might need to learn to edit is a few good books like Walter Murch’s Conversations or On Film Editing, some YouTube videos, and a lot of free time! But on the off chance that an employer needs to see an official certification, you can take the Apple Pro test for $200, spend thousands on Avid Camps, or even major in editing! Hint: don’t major in editing. Let your work speak for itself.
$200-$870 – software. Three programs rule the world of professional editing. Adobe Premiere ($19.99/month), Final Cut Pro X ($299.99), and Avid Media Composer ($864.95). Personally, I would recommend purchasing the entire Adobe Creative Cloud ($49.99/month) so you can get access to AfterEffects, Audition, Flash, and a host of other helpful programs to add to your arsenal. The best part: they all work together!
$160-$280 – hard drive. There are a multitude of hard drives out there that are fast enough to edit from, but I recommend the Lacie Rugged ($160 for 1TB) or the G-Drive ($280 for 4TBs). These have been found by personal observation to be the least likely to just up and die on you. Word of warning: never move an external hard drive while it is connected! They’ve got moving parts.
MINIMUM COST OF ACTING IN LA: $360 to start
$230-$1975 – sound recorder. Now, this is the area of gear I know least about, so I had to ask a few sound friends. The minimal recorder that will cut it for a casual shoot is everyone’s trusty Zoom H4N ($230). If you’d like to go pro or semi-pro, look out for at least a 2-track CompactFlash Recorder like the 702 from Sound Devices ($1975).
$60-$1200 – microphones. On top of having a shotgun microphone and/or a boom mic, you will also need to outfit the actors with lavs. The industry standard is the wireless Sennheiser system, which will run you $600 per mic (and you’ll need at least two). I personally use the Rode SmartLav ($60) for interviews. It connects directly to the RodeRec App on a smartphone and works remarkably well.
$800 – mixer. If you need to monitor audio on-set, you’re probably going to need a field mixer like Sound Devices MixPre-D.
MINIMUM COST OF DOING SOUND IN LA: $1000 to start
You may have noticed that I’ve left off some important Hollywood crew positions: directors and producers. I’ve also neglected gaffers, grips, best boys, colorists, production designers, DITs, wardrobe stylists, shoppers, makeup artists, composers and a plethora of other specialties. For the latter group: I’m sorry. This post has become far too long and I’m now in danger of it turning into a nonfiction book. There are many other resources you can find that will address your specific needs.
Directors and producers: you are the biggest players in the game, and therefore you need to know about every single job I’ve already listed. For example: directors need to sympathize with actors, so it might be good to try an acting class or two. They are also often the writers of their own work, so it’s helpful to own screenwriting software. Producers need to know how to plan and budget, so knowing the costs required for certain camera equipment or agent fees is a must. Both directors and producers need education in their respective fields, but the nature of that education is less quantifiable than in other careers. Therefore, to you I say: good luck! It’s no wonder you make the big bucks – nobody can put a dollar-value on what you do!