The paradox of LA’s indie filmmaking scene is that the creative souls are always short on cash, and the cash-rich ‘suits’ are always short on creativity. You may have a vault full of ideas, but without solid production value, your project is going to have a hard time standing out. The historical solution to this problem has been to sell your soul to a financial-backer who can pay for locations, gear, and talent. However, thanks to advances in technology, in recent years it’s become easier than ever to maintain financial freedom and fund the project yourself. Since Giggster’s got location rentals covered and IMDb has talent on lockdown, we thought we’d share our advice on the next big production expense: filming equipment rentals.
The Golden Age of Camera Rentals
I’m not a cinematographer, so when a friend first told me how much he paid for his ARRI Alexa Mini I simply didn’t believe him – $50,000 for a camera that doesn’t even include a lens?! As a non-filmmaker, it was hard to believe, especially when he told me that the technology would only be competitive for a 3-5 year lifespan. But he saw it as an investment—the filmmaker’s version of a Malibu beachfront condo. Yes, he was going to enjoy it himself, but when he wasn’t using it, he could rent it out for steady side-income. The proliferation of these types of renters in cities like Los Angeles has made it easier than ever to get your hands on top-tier gear at a reasonable price. Websites like Craigslist, ShareGrid, and KitSplit have helped connect the community and put pressure on industry veterans to elevate their customer service and keep their prices competitive.
Our Ranking Methodology
This isn’t one of those ‘Top Ten Diet-Foods’ list you see on your Facebook feed—we did real research and pulled together a solid methodology of what makes for a great production rental company. We’ve conducted dozens of renter interviews, reviewed countless equipment catalogs, and read through hundreds of online user reviews.
From this tireless research, we’ve created our definitive list of the Top 10 Rental Companies in Los Angeles. As a disclaimer, all of the companies that made our list are great—but since we don’t believe in ‘Participation Trophies’ we also felt the need to rank them from most to least awesome based on our subjective research.
The Top Ten Equipment Rental Services
10) Lightstone Rentals
As mentioned above, all of the companies on this list are legit equipment rental options, but inevitably, someone has to come in last. Based on our ranking methodology, that ignominious award goes to Lightstone Rentals. This ranking isn’t based on renter horror stories or personal vendettas but merely a lack of distinguishing features to set them apart from the competition. Founded in 2012 and based out of Glendale, Lightstone has a smaller gear inventory (approximately 277 items by our count), no delivery services, and very limited online customer validation. They also have one of the most limited websites on this list. On the bright side, they have competitive rates and also offer 1 day weekend pricing, which is an awesome option for smaller production budgets.
9) Deck Hand
Deck Hand is one of the most experienced companies in the Hollywood rental scene. With almost 20 years in business, they’re clearly doing a lot of things right. They stand out for being one of the easiest companies to rent from with an awesome website and free delivery in LA. The two reasons that they’re ranked at the bottom our list is that they have a small equipment inventory and a very limited amount of online social validation. While they might be amazing, no one we talked with had rented from them, and unlike everyone else on this list, they have almost no online reviews of their services.
8) Edge Studios & Grip
Edge Studios stands out from the rest of the companies on this list by providing a high-quality studio stage in addition to an impressive inventory of gear for rent. If you need an all-in-one solution, these guys are an awesome choice. It’s a great space, centrally located in Mid-Wilshire, and they can accommodate unusual hours and specials requests. In regards to their gear rental services, it’s pretty run of the mill. They have a bigger inventory than Deck Hand and Lightstone but don’t offer many special services or deals.
7) Brainbox Cameras
Brainbox was probably the toughest rental company to place on this list. They do pretty well in all of the key categories of our ranking index: they have a decent website, a competitive gear inventory, and a lot of great special services and discounts. However, unlike their competitors, they also have a disproportionately high number of negative reviews. While you can’t trust everything you read on the internet, after a certain point, you have to assume that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If you’re looking for a great price on your rental, Brainbox is one of the best options. Just make sure that before you pull the trigger, you take some time to read the feedback from previous customers.
6) Castex Rentals
Castex is a living legend in the Los Angeles equipment rental scene. Founded in 1954, they’ve been in business 28 years longer than the next oldest company on this list. In a town as fast-paced and superficial as Hollywood, this longevity is an incredible testament to the quality of their services. They also have killer inventory, with 790 unique items available for rent. As you might expect from a company founded 64 years ago, they don’t have a particularly modern online presence. Their website is functional, but dated, and they don’t have very many online customer reviews. In their defense, when you’ve got customers that have been renting from you since the 70s, getting more stars on Yelp is probably not a top priority.
5) Stray Angel Films
Stray Angel Films is firmly positioned in the top tier of traditional rental companies in the city. Founded back in 2003, and conveniently located off the 405 on Santa Monica Boulevard, they should be a top choice for anyone located in West LA. In addition to boasting a great location for gear pickup, Stray Angel offers a diverse assortment of add-on production services ranging from directors and grips to graphic designers and make-up artists. The website is clean and functional and contains an inventory of nearly 600 items for rent.
4) LA Camera Rentals
At first glance, it might come as a bit of a surprise that LA Camera Rentals is ranked so highly on our list. Their website is outdated, their inventory is small, and they’ve only been around since 2011. So what gives? The main reason is that our ranking methodology is heavily weighted to consider positive customer feedback. Based on the reviews we’ve read and the renters we talked to, these guys are killing it with their customer service. They also offer a solid selection of special services such as sensor cleaning, gear delivery, and photo studio rentals.
3) World of Video & Audio
Operating since 1982, these guys are among the OGs of the equipment rental game. They do just about everything well, with a solid website, great reviews, impressive inventory and a long-list of additional services. They operate with more of a corporate mentality than some of the other companies on this list, which can be seen as a positive or negative depending on your own rental priorities. What goes without saying is that these guys are true professionals and will be able to accommodate even the most complex equipment requests.
KitSplit is one of two companies on our list that breaks from the traditional rental company model, providing an online marketplace for individuals to list and rent equipment from each other. Even accounting for duplicate items, this gives KitSplit an incredibly diverse (and competitively priced) inventory of gear. According to their website, they have 30,000 active users and an inventory of 4,300 pieces of gear which is more than the previous 8 companies combined. Also, since you’re renting from other people, pick-up, drop-off and delivery options are far more plentiful. There are a bunch of great insurance options and you have the support of a 3rd party (KitSplit) if anything goes sideways. The only downside is that unlike some of the smaller rental agencies where you can rely on the advice of an equipment professional, you may have to deal with owners who don’t know anything about the equipment they’re listing.
ShareGrid is the big man on campus in the equipment rental world. Founded in 2013 (one year before KitSplit), these guys were the first company to launch an online marketplace for filming equipment. In four short years they’ve taken the crown as the undisputed kings of the equipment rental space with an inventory of 20,389 pieces of gear in Los Angeles alone. In addition to this huge inventory, they also boast a best-in-class website, great educational resources, and tons of convenient delivery and insurance features. If that wasn’t enough to sell you, their rental services are also available across North America with healthy rental communities in New York, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco.
If you have the budget, buying your gear, or renting it directly from manufacturers like ARRI and Panavision is probably the way to go. However, if you’re on a more lean budget, working with a rental company is a great alternative- especially in Los Angeles. While we’ve undoubtedly left some great businesses off the list, hopefully, this ranking is informative and will help you narrow down your options the next time you’re coordinating gear for a shoot.
If you’ve already got your gear covered, the next thing on your list is probably going to be tracking down some decent places to shoot. We built Giggster to help producers and location managers finding filming locations without going into a stress-induced coma. Our site features thousands of commercial and residential properties, with transparent pricing and super-responsive hosts. Take a look below, and let us know if you’re feeling the vibe.