We need to talk.
I know that headline was a bit antagonistic, and I'm sorry, but I had to get your attention. And now that you're here, I'll be nicer, I swear. It's just that I've had something on my mind lately, something quietly discomforting, and maybe even borderline malevolent. It's something that I've come to know as Gear Acquisition Syndrome – GAS for short – and it's a form of mass artistic paralysis.
You see, GAS is a way of thinking, or rather a psychologically-crippling state of mind, in which someone becomes convinced that they can't produce something worthwhile or meaningful until they've acquired certain pieces of gear, say a GH4 and a set of Nokton hyperprimes, or an F5 and some Zeiss CP2s. The thinking goes that it just wouldn't be prudent to produce work with their current, terrible, awful, shitty gear, like a T3i and a nifty fifty. I mean, why would you shoot something now with your inadequate old gear when gorgeous image (or sound) quality is right around the corner with your next purchase.
That's where the malevolence of GAS comes in. If it were ever really as simple as just making your next purchase and getting on with your filmmaking dreams, everything would be well and good. Unfortunately, many film sites constantly and perpetually enable GAS in their audiences by covering technological advances like white on rice. And believe me, having written much on the subject of new tech, I can attest to how great it is. It's easy, requires very little thought or analysis, and the stream of technology news is seemingly never-ending. Plus lots of people click on technology stories, so for many sites, it's a great way to bring home the bacon, if you catch my drift. But for you, the aspiring filmmaker, this constant stream of information serves a more dubious purpose most of the time, and no, it's not to help you become a more conscious, educated consumer.
Say you decide to purchase (insert camera name here). It's got most of the features that you would ever need in a camera, so you start saving your money. "Once that sweet camera is in my hands," you think to yourself, "nothing will be able to stop me." Two months later, on the front page of every filmmaking site, (insert camera name #2 here) makes its debut. It has more features and costs a little more, but the images it produces are just spectacular. So you do what any rational person might do. You discard your original plans and opt to save for the better product.
And then NAB rolls around, and you just start shouting at your computer, "WHAT THE HELL IS EVEN GOING ON AND WHY CAN'T BLACKMAGIC JUST ACCEPT THE CAMERAS THEY ALREADY PRODUCE?!?" And sure enough, you're back on the Blackmagic bandwagon again, waiting for (insert camera name #3 here) to be released. Several months later, the process starts over.
This would be a good time to take a little bit of a breather from my rant to segue into the video that originally prompted me to start writing this article. It's a lovely little roundup of conversations with prolific filmmakers (including our very own Joe Marine). Cinema5D's Sebastian Wöber caught up with these folks at NAB last month, and what they had to say on this very subject is illuminating.
Now, where was I? Oh yeah. Even if you overcome the massive clusterfuck of figuring out which camera to buy, then you actually buy it before something better comes along and makes you change your mind, and even if it's everything you could have ever wished for, chances are that you'll probably forgo making something creative until, say, you've also purchased a gimbal stabilizer. (Shoulder rigs are so two years ago, didn't you know? Get with the times.) A basic tripod and a slider just won't cut it for you, not with your artistic ambitions. And come to think of it, neither will those vintage Nikon primes that you've been using for years. No, you need cinema glass now.
That's the problem with GAS. It's not, nor will it ever be, a one time affliction. It's constant and ongoing, and the flood of new products keeps us creatively paralyzed and in a perpetual state of cripplingly-indecisive stasis. This process quite literally drains us of our creative juices, and not in the fun way, or even in any way that produces something tangible or worthwhile. We spend hours hopping around to various blogs and forums, trying to squeeze every little tidbit of information out regarding our potential future purchases. In truth, a good portion of us will never even make those purchases. We're just wasting time.
None of this is to say that you shouldn't pay attention to gear news and make informed choices when you decide to purchase new gear. Filmmaking is an inherently technical endeavor, and it's smart to evaluate your needs and make sure you purchase gear that meets those needs, at least to the highest extent that your budget will allow. But when we become crippled by anxiety and the paradox of choice, it becomes very easy to lose site of why we were even attracted to filmmaking in the first place.
As Joe wisely says in the video above, "This new gear is only as good as you are, and no one piece of gear is going to make you better." Right now might be a time for some critical self reflection from all of us. We should be asking ourselves if we've really outgrown our current gear – is it legitimately holding us back in any way, or are we just telling ourselves otherwise because the film blogs are hailing the benefits of a shiny new toy? Maybe we need to invite the uncomfortable possibility that we haven't actually outgrown anything, but that instead we just lust after new equipment because we like the thought of it propelling us to new creative heights. We like that thought because it's easier and safer than actually creating content and sending it out into the world, and putting in the time and effort to grow creatively to the point where new equipment actually becomes a necessity.
I'm not suggesting that everyone stop reading gear stories immediately and go live in the woods to craft the next great screenplay, although, let's be honest, that would be awesome. All I'm saying is that we should start becoming a little more conscious and critical of this gear-addicted culture that we've created. This new technology is a blessing in so many ways. Its ubiquity and inexpensiveness have quite literally broken down the barriers of entry into an artistic medium that, only 15 years ago, was prohibitively expensive for most people. Now, even our smartphones are capable of making films. The old barriers are gone. This never-ending cycle of gear acquisition, however, is proving to be an even more impenetrable barrier for many of us. It's time to realize that it's entirely self-imposed, and that even the lowliest camera today is capable of capturing great images.
We all started reading this site presumably because becoming a better filmmaker was high on our list of priorities. Somewhere along the way, we stepped aboard the train of obsessive gear acquisition, and that priority fell by the wayside, whether we knew it or not. The time has come. Let's jump off the train, and get back to what's important. Let's make some goddam films, people!
This post first appeared on No Film School in May of 2015.
If you enjoyed this article, you'll love the Filmmaker's Process newsletter. Each week, we share our latest posts, a weekly filmmaking resource, curated stories from around the web, a short film that we love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.
Are you ready to take your filmmaking to the next level?