Brazil: Visiting the Rental House

On my first day in Brazil, I visited the rental house with Mush and Heeka.

I brought my Canon 5D, a slew of lenses and two GoPro cameras with me from the States, but we’ve arranged to rent a second 5D camera body, two tripods, a small monitor, a wide angle lens, and some accessories from Universo Imagens here in Sao Paulo.

Visiting the rental house is a time-honored ritual on international shoots. The most interesting rental house experience I can recall was in India several years ago. In a small warehouse crammed with a variety of battered and somewhat obsolete lighting instruments, a dutiful staff brought out each light we were renting, then plugged in and turned on each one. I’d seen this ritual before and was impressed that almost every light actually worked.

Then I noticed that, because of rain pouring in under the rollup door, the floor was wet. In fact, the staff members were standing in puddles, barefoot, as they plugged in and demonstrated their lights. I backed cautiously away, nodding approval at the demonstration, but a bit cowed by the unholy mix of water and electricity.

On another shoot in Taiwan, the staff demoed all the lights, in the usual manner, then offered to sew black cloth onto their open flag frames, overnight. As long as we rented the frames, they would do the sewing for no charge. It was then 10 pm on a Sunday night, but the timing didn’t seem to faze them.

I was amazed, but satisfied with their service, and trotted off to use the powder room. Humming a happy tune to myself, my ballcap pulled down low over my eyes, I bounded up the three steps to the men’s room, failing to notice that the top of the door frame was about 6 feet above the ground. And I’m 6′ 4″.

Bam! I slammed into the doorframe, stunned, and fell to the ground. A man standing at the urinal, his junk still in his hand, heard my impact, turned, looked down with concern, and said over and over, “Okay? Okay? Okay?” And after a minute, I was okay.

But back to Brazil. Along with Mush Emmons (who will shoot second camera) and producer Ricardo Goncalves of Brazil Films, we stopped to examine and probe the gear we’ll rent locally. I’m very lucky to have Mush on our crew. He’s a native San Franciscan, and I worked with him years ago on shoots in the Bay Area. Now, married to a Brazilian woman, he’s been living in Salvador in the Brazilian state of Bahia for ten years, and many San Francisco-based crews have hired him to shoot, light, or produce their South American shoots.

Mush (on right) and Heeka (aka Ricca, second from right) negotiate at the rental company.

Mr. Emmons’ real name is Andrew, but he still goes by his old family nickname of Mush, the origins of which are lost in the obscure reaches of my memory (or his). Ricardo goes by the nickname Ricca. Since R’s in Portuguese are pronounced more like breathy H’s in English, this nickname sounds more like Heeka. Thus my rental house visit with Mush and Heeka.

(By this same oddity of Portuguese, “rock and roll” is pronounced “hock and hole!”)

The first rental items we looked at were the two Sachtler 15 tripods we had ordered. On closer examination, though, we realized that, despite looking just like the equivalent models made by the venerable Munich-based Sachtler company (including the requisite seven gears in both pan and tilt modes), these tripods bore a logo strangely similar to Sachtler, but slightly different. It turns out they were made in Beijing, clever knock-offs of the real thing.

Sachtler knock-off tripod, made in Beijing.

I wasn’t surprised. Arri lights have long been duplicated (down to the exact color and design of their instruments), manufactured in China, and sold factory-direct on eBay. And I’ve heard similar stories about other film equipment items.

The Beijing tripod knock-offs worked pretty well, though they seemed a bit less rugged than the real Sachtlers. Despite the tripods seeming to be pretty new, one of the tightening latches for locking the leg height was already broken. And the imitators failed to include the Sachtler side-carrying handle, a huge mistake that makes the tripods just as awkward to carry as most non-Sachtlers.

The 5D, “tarted up” with follow focus, monitor, and Zacuto viewfinder.

The other things we checked out were accessories for the 5D camera. All these were standard issue items, but it’s always fun to see my little 5D tarted up with accessories: follow-focus, monitor, Zacuto viewfinder, and extra lenses.

At the rental house, from the left: Bill, 5D, Mush.

We went on to scout a number of locations, including a park with a bench made of eucalyptus and a very cool mural, and a train station built by the British which resembles Covent Garden in London. But tomorrow we’ll also stop at our lighting rental house. Since Brazil is a pretty sophisticated country, I doubt we’ll have puddles on the floor.

Esacao da Luz, the old train station in downtown Sao Paulo, built many years ago by the British. Doesn’t this look like Covent Garden?
Metro station with photo installation.
The author, on a eucalyptus bench, in front of a rubber tree at Ibirapuera Park.

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