Few can boast to working with Academy Award-winner Neil Jordan, being the BBC’s go-to expert for cameras, and supplying this year’s most anticipated film set ‘All Is By My Side’ with a range of high-end cameras.
John Leahy, founder of The Production Depot, Ireland’s leading equipment supply house, can do just that however, having supplied some of the country’s most alluring and successful film sets over the last eight years.
His company has just turned eight years old, and has celebrated by providing the BBC with a number of cameras for their Clancy Barracks location for ‘Ripper Street’, as well as Jimi Hendrix biopic ‘All Is By My Side’, starring Andre 3000.
IFTN caught up with John Leahy, who discusses how advances in technology have changed the industry, what production companies look for in equipment to get the right angle, and why he is the man to supply it.
The Production Depot has just turned eight years old. How did you celebrate? br>
We haven’t celebrated yet as it has been so busy we haven’t had a chance but it is great to see the Industry so busy! We recently supplied equipment and services on ‘Trivia’, ’Vexed’ and ‘Moone Boy’ and are currently supplying projects including ‘Ripper Street’, ‘The Fall’ and ‘All Is By My Side’ as well as some commercials, shorts and other work.
IFTN visited the ‘Ripper Street’ set last week , we know production is in full swing there. What has The Production Depot supplied for ‘All Is By My Side’? br>
‘All Is By My Side’ were testing all last week here in The Depot. DoP Tim Fleming (Once, Citadel) is back from the UK and he, and his crew, were doing the usual testing prior to the shoot. The film based around Jimi Hendrix is shooting for six weeks and they are shooting Anamorphic using RED MX cameras and a mix of Hawk Plus / V- Lite Primes, Grip package and Video Playback.
At the same time we are just over half way through the BBC drama ‘Ripper Street’ which is shooting on Arri Alexa Plus cameras and Cooke S4 lenses. We are also supplying another BBC drama in Northern Ireland called ‘The Fall’ which has a similar package.
The Production Depot has supplied equipment for some of the most successful Irish productions over the last eight years. What are the stand-out ones you remember? br>
Eight years ago we basically opened up on a bank holiday Friday in May and we started testing for ‘The Clinic’ series two on the following Tuesday. That was our first production and it ran for about 15 weeks. After that we supplied a series of many successful TV dramas such as ‘Showbands’, ‘Pure Mule’, ‘Murphy’s Law’, ‘George Gently’ and so on. At the same time we also started supplying feature films of which our first one was Neil Jordan’s ‘Breakfast on Pluto’ with DoP Declan Quinn. Since opening in 2004 we have supplied 37 feature films and 46 TV dramas along with a range of commercials, documentaries and shorts films.
Over the years do you find international production companies avail of your services more than Irish-based companies? br>
It’s a good mix of both. As 90 per cent of what we do is what we refer to as long-term jobs such as features and TV dramas, it would be half and half. At the moment we are mainly supplying UK and American co-productions shooting here along with Irish productions companies, but we’re looking ahead in the pipeline and there’s a lot more indigenous work coming up.
How does your relationship with the BBC work? Do they contact The Production Depot when it has an upcoming production? br>
The likes of the BBC would come in and co-produce with an Irish production company. Then a line producer is appointed and I tend to work closely with them and the DoP’s with regards requirements and fitting this to budgets. I’ve been renting equipment in Ireland for 20 years now and a lot of people in the industry have been using me through all of the different rental companies I have worked with over that time. I pursue all projects shooting in Ireland and the leads and contacts come in various ways, sometimes contact is through producers or line producers you have worked with before, or it may come through the DoP or even another crew member. At the Depot it is all about finding out what the requirements are for a production and what they need/want. Each one is completely different and because The Production Depot is a boutique company with its own equipment as well as aligned to many different suppliers worldwide, we can supply all the formats and variations of those formats and accessories etc to suit.
Do you monitor the equipment on set for the duration of the production? br>
We don’t remain on set at all. The Production Depot is a facility house. We supply equipment packages, service these packages for the duration of the shoot and supply 24/7 back up.
We work from a list of all the requirements using our expertise and knowledge and then and when the pricing is settled we monitor the testing of the equipment the week prior to shooting. Every job has a test period before they start shooting. Throughout that time, the crew adapt the packages to suit them and the production and we all ‘iron out all the kinks’ and by the end we ensure that they have everything they need. We provide extra equipment and specialist equipment if, and as, required, and also a full back up service if any equipment stops working or is damaged. We would occasionally drop in on the set every now and then to see how everything is going make sure everyone’s happy.
What are the main cameras The Production Depot supplies production companies with? br>
Equipment being used has changed considerably in the last few years. When we started in 2004 it was all film cameras for features and HDCAM cameras for TV drama but now we do not even carry any of these formats. Everything we carry is solid state cameras, no more film or tape. We can, and do, access 35mm and 16mm film cameras along with ‘tape’ cameras but the demand is very, very small.
Currently at the Depot we are mainly supplying Arri Alexa (PLUS, PLUS H/S & STUDIO) & RED MX Camera Kits. We carry some smaller solid state cameras as well such as Sony EX1’s. We have all these on shelf but depending on the format and type of equipment required, we access equipment from the UK, Europe or the USA. We also supply some REC EPIC cameras and larger XDCAM cameras.
How have advances in technology affected your business, was there a need to clear out old media to make room for new media? br>
Technology has changed, and is changing our industry in a huge way. Over the past eight years the advancement from shooting on film to shooting HD to shooting DIGITAL 35mm film cameras was expected but maybe not as fast as it actually happened. Things were changing slowly and we were supplying features and TV dramas with HD equipment but about four years ago there was a big change with the introduction of the RED Camera, after which followed the Alexa. After these Super 35mm Sensor cameras were released, this followed a multitude of other cameras arriving to, including DSLR Cameras that shoot HD Video.
As Ireland is small, we cannot carry every format available so we stick to the main cameras, RED and Alexa, as these are in demand and are being used worldwide. For all other formats, we can access other formats through different suppliers as required. In my opinion, the biggest change is that the market we are really in now is lenses, not cameras. The lenses for 35mm are now in huge demand as there the amount of camera that use these lenses has increased. The lenses we used years ago were put on the shelves because they were too ‘slow’ to use but now we use them because the cameras are so sensitive. With all the large sensor cameras around the demand for 35mm lenses is huge compared to when they were only used on 35mm film cameras.
Do you find that you’re meeting clients’ demands for the most popular cameras? br>
We are meeting clients demands. The majority of projects we do are long term and so there is good lead time to put packages together. What is proving more difficult is when people have lower budget jobs and want the higher end camera equipment and it’s just not affordable for them. The cameras are getting cheaper but the lenses and accessories are not. The Depot has always supported the industry when it comes to the likes of short films and all the different sort of projects that are done from the development end. We give a lot of time and discounts to these projects. Everyone obviously wants the best and latest equipment and we try and accommodate as much as we can.
What happens if a piece of equipment gets damaged on a shoot? br>
We have testing facilities in our building with space set aside with specific lighting and test charts. We insist as part of our terms and conditions that productions come in and test the equipment before they take it out. People renting our equipment are required to take out insurance to cover the equipment in case it is damaged or stolen. If someone is on a job and something happens to a camera it is then covered as it has all been tested beforehand. If it is something small like a connection or a cable, we can obviously replace/fix that, but if something worse occurs such as water damage, physical damage or theft, the client is required to inform us and their insurance company and our role is then to remedy the situation with working equipment so not to affect the shoot.
Have mishaps like this happened much? br>
There are always things going to happen, we’ve had incidents of equipment stolen and damaged on shoots but a very, very small percentage as against the amount of shoots we have done.
How does the rainy Irish weather affect the shoots? br>
The weather is a factor worldwide with regards to shooting and basically it comes down to the production and the crew. We are lucky in Ireland that we have very talented, highly trained and experienced crew. Our guys are working on the top end of productions in Ireland, the UK and further afield. In theory, a camera should never get wet. The crew always have weather covers or rain covers if the weather is that bad. Depending on time and schedule and budget, they also at times have ‘weather cover’ which is the option of moving interior.
We have supplied cameras to productions shooting on a fishing trawler, up the mountains in snow and in cold days up to minus 12 degrees. There is always an option of specific weather covers for cameras or else we just use clear heavy duty ‘poly’ bags that get sealed up so the camera can’t actually get wet, and when you’re finished you take the camera inside, cut the bag off and dry them and re-bag it again. Cameras should never get wet and the crews have obviously been trained to be aware of that. But you do get incidents where they can get caught unawares in storms and so on but that’s just part of it, everything can be fixed. Normally it’s not a problem.
The Production Depot has some competition in Ireland. Why should people go to The Depot over other suppliers? br>
Competition exists in all business but I do not worry about the competition as I cannot control what they do and they cannot control what I do. We supply a service, and I’ve been doing this service for 20 years. I know what the clients want, need and how to put together what they’re looking for. I give them this at a cost and basically we negotiate to the extent that we run a business and our business has to pay for itself. We have a lot of experience with equipment, experience in knowing how everything works and experience in knowing what people need. The Production Depot is here to make productions easier for the DoP and the producer, and also give them the best equipment and the best back up and that seems to work very well.
The Production Depot provides training courses for people looking to learn more about the technical side of the industry. What are some of the training programmes it has held? br>
We’re quite involved with the colleges. Sometimes people starting out tend to be put off approaching us as we are a professional rental company, but we’ve no issue with people calling or dropping to look at cameras or ask questions. We often get groups of people in and we take whatever cameras we have out and we show them how to use them and let them play with them and shoot some stuff. It always helps if they contact us in advance though.
We’ve done training courses around Ireland on the development of HD and digital cameras, and we’ve also ran some training courses for camera trainees entering the business where we would get people into The Depot for a weekend. These have been aimed at people who have completed a college course but have never worked on a set before. We bring them out and put them with some real crew for the weekend and the crew shows them how to work the cameras, what’s expected of them on set, and how to work in different scenarios such in the rain etc.
What is the next training course going to be? br>
At the moment we’re developing another camera trainee course, which is basically similar to what I just talked about, getting people in for a weekend and showing them cameras. We like to throw a film camera in there as well, and then we get a DoP in to focus on showing them how the cameras are used and a loader to show how to actually load film. It can be a shock to visit a set and the camera department having come straight from a college course and seeing how it all works.
What’s the best way for people to get in touch with The Production Depot if they want to avail of your services or book a place on a training course? br>
All our contact details are on the http://www.production-depot.com/, call us or mail us with any queries regarding equipment, formats or anything relating to cameras, lenses and grips. If we don’t know it, we know someone who does! We have people calling everyday with queries.
For more information on The Production Depot see their listing on the IFTN website.