I have operated a photo and video rental studio for several years now and before that rented quite a few, so I know a little about this business, having been a photographer for over 25 years.
Running a photo studio is a little like running the Grand Budapest Hotel – you have to be on top of all the details and personalities involved. Most people are going to pick up on the atmosphere of the place and the attitude of the studio manager right away. Remember that most cast, crew and clients walking into to a studio for a shoot might be walking into the place for the first time. They may have seen photos online but have not experienced it first hand, so first impressions are important.
There are 2 immediate prerequisites- someone to politely greet them and also to direct them to where they want to set up and get to work. This breaks down to a hundred details that have to be addressed right away: showing everyone where everything is located, dressing rooms, makeup stations, bathrooms, catering in the kitchen, parking, as well as the controls for the music, heating and AC systems and internet wireless. Most important is where to put their gear so that it’s not in the way of someone else or themselves when they start to shoot. This all has to be done as easily and quickly as possible when people arrive and as they settle in. This brings me to the definition of a studio manager vs. a studio host. A studio manager is someone who knows how to turn on and off the lights, basically the same as a stage manager. A studio host is someone who greets everyone and makes sure they all have a place that they can comfortably, safely and efficiently work, not unlike when you host your own fabulous party. This is what I practice and tell my employees is the most important part of what they do.
In light of that, are there sufficient places to sit, a green room for talent, separate makeup, hair, wardrobe? Where are the carts for cameras, computers and tables for accessories, props, etc.? Since everyone works differently, this all has to be flexible in order to be successful for each particular person. So, a good studio should have options and versatility. Ambiance, comfort, traffic flow and workability all come into play. Are there different shooting areas besides just a white cyc? Are there backgrounds and walls that are conducive for a shot? Perhaps there’s some furniture that can be used? Sure, it’s great if the client brings it all in, but you know, inspiration can strike at the last minute and it’s also nice to have things on site that are part of the rental.
This brings up another important point – what’s included in the rental and what’s not? At McCaddenSpace – all the grip equipment is included as well as the ladders, tables and furniture. As a former assistant, I know how painful it is to lug around more than a dozen 20 lbs sandbags as well as the rest of the gear. I want to make it easy for everyone here as well as no surprises in terms of add-ons. Sure, the studio could make $5 a C-stand and $2 for each apple box and sandbag, but is it really worth nickel and dime-ing the renter over this? More than that, it’s difficult for the renter to predict exactly how much grip they will need after the budget is already set with the client.
Another important point and the number one gripe I hear about other studios and stages is their requirement that the renter has to rent the studio gear and not bring in any of their own camera or lights. I understand the business model of this policy – the studio makes their money on the gear just like the movie theater makes their money on the concessions. However, this can really irritate a client who has invested in his or her own gear and prefers not to rent. Since a lot of what I’m talking about in terms of running a good stage is making the client happy, I believe the studio should let people do what they want in terms of gear. McCaddenSpace Studio has lighting for rent if you so desire or if you do not – there is no “corkage fee” if you bring in your own.
Speaking of corkage, Party/Event rental is one area that I could make a lot more money in but I have chosen not to. Why? This is a professional photo and video rental studio. People come here to work. It is not a nightclub or a bar, so basically I don’t want to deal with alcohol and drunks. Not that you can’t crack a beer or pour a glass of wine in here after your shoot, but parties are in a whole different category. Plus I’ve got a lot of nice furniture and carpeting here and no matter how you clean the place, it will always smell like booze. Plus, things tend to get rundown and broken if you go that route. I do seminars and business events here but I draw the line at bacchanalia. I like to think that my clients appreciate that.
So whether you’re looking for a rental space or you want to start your own studio, it’s not terribly hard if you have common sense and know the business a little, but it is detail oriented. What’s important is to treat people respectfully, since they are your boss for the day and try to make them feel comfortable so that they have everything they need. Being a good host is a lot easier if you have everything in place. Then the studio becomes the host and everyone can get their work done while they enjoy the vibe.