Choosing the best owner operator for your grip and electric production needs

For smaller productions, it is becoming more common to hire an owner operator for grip and lighting on set.   An owner/operator is someone who both owns a grip and lighting equipment package and typically works as a gaffer or key grip on the production.  Occasionally you will also find DP owner operators who provide their own camera package.  Here are some key considerations if  you are trying to select an owner operator for your next project in Arizona –


Does the owner-operator carry proper insurance?

Safety first.   From our experience in the Phoenix market, there is a wide spectrum from “fully insured” to no insurance at all.  Be particularly careful about how the equipment is being transported to set, and if the owner operator carries worker’s comp insurance on themselves.  Also make sure that it is in fact the owner of the equipment who will be working the job.  A recent trend has been to “bait and switch” to a different non-owner crew member for the job itself, which exposes the production to tremendous risk should something go wrong.  Using an owner operator can be a good way to avoid having to provide production insurance to a local rental house, but just be sure you are not transferring all that risk on to yourself!

If you are hiring additional grip and electric crew, make sure you understand how they may or may not be covered by the owner operator.

What is the condition of the gear?

This can be a very difficult thing to assess remotely.  Like insurance, this can run the spectrum to “good as the rental house” to “I’m embarrassed to be seen with this light!”.  Maintaining the gear is very important, because the last thing you need is gear going down while you are shooting, or creating a safety hazard.

What is the contingency plan?

It is important to understand that owner operators are a single point of failure for your production.  It is worth asking the question of what happens in the event the owner operator is sick, their truck breaks down, or they decide to how to a more lucrative job.

Is pricing upfront and fixed?

One of the best reasons to choose an owner operator is the ability to negotiate a package deal for both the operator and the grip and lighting gear.  However, make sure you get everything you bargain for!  There is a local Phoenix owner operator who is infamous for the “nickle and dime” fees after the project is over.  I’m not just talking about expendables.  If a large amount of expendables are used, then a charge is warranted.  The bigger concern is adding hundreds of dollars for additional equipment that was not disclosed up front.

Normally the way it happens is that additional high-priced lights come with the truck “as used”, meaning they come on the truck, but it is extra to use them.  Your initial quote doesn’t include this amount.  Suddenly on set, the owner operator “needs” to use that light, which happens to be on his truck, and voila! You get to pay more.  You might not even know it until you get the bill.  It never struck us as fair that the person who benefits from choosing what specific pieces of equipment should be used should benefit from those choices.  Likewise, keep an careful eye on overtime and understand the costs associated with it.  It is ironic that production companies who look to owner operators to control costs get burned by less-than-professional behavior.  If you are hiring an owner-operator, insist on an upfront quote and ask about “as used” items.

A professional owner-operator in Phoenix

Phoenix Production Services is an owner-operator based in Phoenix and serving all of the Arizona market.  While it goes without saying that we are fully insured and maintain our gear, where we really stand apart is pricing and our ability to roll with the punches.

As an owner operator team, we provide all the benefits of a traditional owner-operator, but with the professionalism and backup to handle the curveballs that production invariably throws at us.   There is always someone at the shop to answer the phone and email, meaning changes and questions get handled quickly and easily.  We have multiple trucks, and multiple people that can drive the trucks… meaning if someone’s car doesn’t start or something gets damaged on the previous day’s job, there is a backup plan for making sure the gear and crew you need show up on set.

In terms of pricing, we prefer to be upfront and honest.  The majority of our clients prefer a fixed, up-front price for all necessary gear and crew.  No surprises.  No mileage or expendables surcharges.  No surprise “as used” additions.  You’ll get an upfront estimate, and that’s the price unless the scope of the project changes materially.

If you are thinking of hiring an owner operator for your grip, lighting, or camera needs in Arizona, give us a call!  We’d love to work with you.