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How much should you spend on kit when getting started?

Welcome to episode number 4! I can't believe we're here already, episode number 4 of my 31 day series where I answer your questions about creating a career or a business that you love. In today's episode, it's another short and concise one and I'm sure you'll be happy to hear I’m answering the question of: how much should you spend as an initial investment when you're just getting started?

This is a full transcript of the podcast episode. Instead, you can listen to Alex talk about this topic on your favourite podcast platform:

Okay, we're gonna dive in. So how much should you spend as an initial investment when you're just getting started? The simple answer to this is as little as possible! The biggest investment that you should be making, if you're just getting started in your career, or you are kind of pivoting towards something new or learning a new skill set, the biggest investment should be your time. You need to spend as much time as humanly possible upscaling, practising, and also getting a feel for whether or not you like it because until you really get hands on and start doing the thing that you want to do, you're not going to know whether you actually like it. I used to think that I absolutely loved cinematography, and I was obsessed with cameras. I love watching all of the YouTube tutorials on camera settings and looking at the different kind of F stops and things like that. That's how me and Ben Claremont first got introduced because I just loved watching his in depth videos about every camera. Then as soon as I got my hands on the camera and started going out shooting, I realised quite quickly that, that is not what I prefer to do. I much prefer directing and producing. So then I started to get someone else to do the filming for me, but it wouldn't have been unless I had the equipment and I started to go out and make stuff. I really realised that I didn't necessarily like that side of the job. So the answer is as little as humanly possible.

If you're just getting started in 360, or VR, I think obviously, it depends on what your interest is because if say, for example, you are just getting started as a unity developer and you're gonna need a slightly better bit of kit than someone who's starting out in 360. But the answer still stands that you should try and spend as little as possible until you really know that you are going to like doing that thing. So if you can borrow someone else's gear and do that, if you've got like a relatively small amount of money, maybe spend it on hiring something for the day. I think you can in England anyway? You can hire a VR ready laptop, because obviously, the computers that you run VR headsets on if you're going for a desktop powered headset needs to be a particular spec. So maybe you can hire a laptop in the UK for about 15 to 20 pound a day. So that's not that much. You could go to meet ups where they have demos and kind of get in with people that have the equipment, get a taste for it.

The next step if you are sure that you like it, and you want to dive in and maybe it's something where you don't know anyone with the kit, or you don't kind of have access to a hire place. So let's say you want to be a 360 photographer, but you don't have that access, then I would suggest looking for a cheap secondhand 360 camera or a cheap secondhand VR headset. The reason I would say that, rather than investing all of your money upfront on something that you're just a new beginner in is because the technology changes so quickly. The number one investment that you need to make is in your skill set because ultimately the headsets will change. The cameras will change. The software that powers everything will change but if you want to understand the fundamentals of creating a 360 video, if you invest your time and knowing that you need to have the camera at a certain height to make people not feel sick, you know that you need to stabilise it, you understand how 360 directing works, it's the fundamental skill sets behind the technology that are really going to carry you through.

So I like this analogy that someone uses elsewhere on a podcast I was listening to, they use the analogy of the average person will go out and spend hundreds of pounds to buy the best tennis kit. They buy, the designer tennis shirt, the designer shorts, they invest in…like the most highly sophisticated, incredible expensive cushioned tennis shoes that support their ankle in just the right way and give them the maximum amount of speed. They invest in the professional tennis racket, and then they get on the court, and they get their ass handed to them by someone who's just wearing whatever…maybe kit they had lying around. They're wearing, destroyed crappy trainers, and they're playing with a racket that they got off Gumtree or Facebook marketplace for a quid and they get destroyed. Because whilst that other person's spent all their time going out and researching ino the kit that they should own, and the clothes that they need to wear to give them, you know, the best chance of doing it, the other person was out on the tennis court actually practising and actually getting good. Then that person when they get good, that person that hadn't invested any stuff, like when they get so good that then they're like, they really getting into it, maybe now they start investing in themselves, because they really like it, and they're getting good at it. Maybe then they can upgrade their racket or look at specifically what's going to kind of help them.

Realistically, especially in this industry, this tech industry, it very much attracts the kind of people (and I'm absolutely one of these people I'm not saying I'm immune to it) it attracts people like magpies who love new tech. It’s new and shiny, and I just want it every time there's a new 360 camera, I have to say to myself… I don't need this camera, though, I've already got seven perfectly good 360 cameras sitting on my shelf. Realistically the photo quality, if you know what you're doing, is not necessarily going to be that much different between the addition of the One X that came out a year ago versus, you the new one. Yes, of course, there are technical differences and yes, if you are not necessarily well versed in taking those shots, then of course the difference is going to be very, very noticeable and by investing in that time to understand that, actually, I can get a really good photo with my first gen cam, I can get a beautiful 360 photo because I know the conditions that, that camera works in. I don't need massive resolution because it's only going to be shown, you know on my Facebook page. Ultimately, the difference between the photo that I'm going to take on my old piece of kit versus the new one is purely down to me and my skill set and relying on the technology to be the thing that sets you a part is not a good idea. So that was a bit of a rant aut it all comes from the place of when I started in this industry, because there wasn't that many cameras around and there wasn't many headsets around. So I would just invest in everything because I had no idea what I was doing. I invested in the cardboard, and then I thought I should probably invest in something a bit better. So then I got the Samsung Gear and that sorted me out for ages but then the Oculus Go came out and I was like, oh well you know I've put in enough hours with the gear and I'd used it often enough with clients to kind of think well, actually it might be worth me getting a Go because I need to kind of know for my clients sake that this headset is better. But for example, I've never owned a Vive or a Rift, I've never needed to, because the majority of my work is in 36 and I'm never really, as a consumer, I'm not like a gamer, so I would never need a headset. Obviously now, the beautiful thing about the quest is obviously that you can turn it into a desktop VR headset if you want to. So, you know, the Quest is a really good investment, if you are going to kind of work long term in this industry and this is a thing, I'm sure there'll be a Quest to come this September and I'm sure there'll be new gear that's coming out later this year that will have some new high resolution but realistically, if you are not a very good director, or just video maker, if you're not a good photographer, if you're not a good unity developer, it makes it will make no difference how good your equipment is. Now, am I saying that you could rock up on a client shoot and have the shittiest, basic, tattered equipment? No. This is where we get into the nuance right? But I would say is that actually, before you get your first client, you will probably need to put in your hours to learn how to use the camera, to learn how to build a good experience on a headset, you will have to put in those hours anyway, before you can even approach clients. And then your first clients that you're going to go after should be the low hanging fruit because you're going to be so nervous about doing your first project and you've got no proof that you can actually do it because you never worked for a paying client before that, you're probably going to go to someone that you know?Someone that’s a friend of a friend or a family friend or something, you’re going to start there. Or maybe you're going to offer to do stuff for free? That's how I did my original VR work and alongside some agency stuff, I was kind of saying - okay, I bought a car, and I said to my car dealer that I would love to create a video for this and then if you like it, you can use it, you could send it to the car manufacturer and they can use it in their marketing material. Or they can we can have a conversation with the marketing department about using it and that’s ended being something that happened. I did those early shoots that I did for free or for nothing, you know, barely kind of anything. And I did them with minimal equipment, just like a consumer 360 camera, just because that's all I bought. I didn't go out and buy a professional 360 rig, I didn't go out and buy, you know, the state of the art headset. In fact, back then, I think that was one of the first ones that I was doing when I still only owned a cardboard at home but I did it because there was no pressure because they I wasn't charging them. There wasn't going to be a pressure of the client being on set with me because I was making it in my own time. So I made a really good product and then I got interest and they were like - oh, hang on a second, this is really interesting. And then I use that as a way to get more clients and then it became worthwhile investing in a new setup, it was worthwhile investing in a better camera. Then I went from my consumer camera to the GoPro Omni, which was the professional camera of the day when I was kind of getting into it. From there, I just carried on and then that was when I very quickly realised that I didn't actually like cinematography. So I was like - oh, I'm just always gonna use someone that has their own kit. That’s what they like doing and I'm gonna stick to directing and producing. I'm so glad because If I'd gone out and kept upgrading the equipment, even when I bought the Omni that cost me (second hand) two and a half thousand pounds and because I got that, I had to upgrade my laptop because my laptop couldn't run the footage from the AMI because obviously it's six different GoPro feeds that you're feeding into the edit suite. So then I had to pay out another two and a half grand for my laptop because I'm a Mac user and you know, it comes with a lot of downsides being a Mac user in the VR industry. So, you know I've spent five grand on a new camera and a new laptop but If I hadn't invested a lot of time before that to up skill, to be good at using a camera, to be good at getting clients to have some portfolio pieces to know that I was going to make that five grand back, I would no way in hell have spent that kind of money on equipment.

So when you get started, don't worry about what kit you've got. It's completely irrelevant. You need to be spending time on perfecting your craft, and deciding whether or not you actually like the craft. So get yourself a secondhand camera or get yourself a secondhand VR headset or a secondhand laptop, whatever it is…borrow the kit! If you can just work with what you've got, then up skill and then when you're in a place where you're you've got those skills, well that's it, then you’re on to a winner, right? Then you've got that skill set, you can make your money back because you can get more projects, you can get more clients, then you can upgrade your equipment. So yeah, to a certain extent you do have to look the part with clients, but there’s been filmmakers that have gotten into Sundance with feature films filmed on iPhones. Would I rock up to a corporate client and film something on an iPhone? Probably not. Why? Because it doesn't look the part if I'm charging them but there's going to be someone in the world…like a massive director like Steven Spielberg, who can rock up and say - I'm going to film this on an iPhone and no one questions because he spent years building up the kudos, building up the kind of respect to be able to do that. He built up his skill set, he knew the equipment wasn't the most important thing with creating films, with creating decent pieces of art, like it wasn't about the technology. It was about the story and what we are talking about is the same kind of thing. You're not necessarily going to be able to go to a client and charge them three grand a day with a One X but you might be able to go to the local real estate place and charge them 350 a day with a One X.

So yeah, anyway, those are my thoughts on initial spending. So the takeaway is spend time, that is the best investment that you can make. Time, time time, the technology will change. We are in the early days of VR, so it will change rapidly. Every six months, there'll be something new that comes out and the technology will age very, very quickly. Don't spend more than you need to.

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