“Expendables” are generally classified by smaller items that are not permanent and get replaced every shoot like tape, sharpies, canned-air, etc.
For the order, I took a list of expendables I submitted for a feature film I was 1st AC on sometime last year. It was a low-budget feature film being shot on the RED One. Here are the items I ordered:
(1) 1″ Roll Red Paper Tape
(1) 1″ Roll Yellow Paper Tape
(1) 1″ Roll Blue Paper Tape
(1) 1″ Roll Green Paper Tape
(1) 1″ Roll Orange Paper Tape
(1) 1″ Roll White Paper Tape
(1) 1″ Roll Fluorescent Pink Paper Tape
(1) 1″ Roll Red Cloth Tape
(1) 2″ Roll Black Paper Tape
(8) Eyepiece Chamois, Large Round
(2) Twin Tipped Black Sharpie
(2) Kleenslate Dry Erase Marker
(1) Box of 12 Bic Pens
(1) Staedtler Lumo-Color Markers 4-Pack
(1) Kimwipes, Small Box
(2) Dust Off Plus – 10 oz. Refill
(1) Dust Off Plus Nozzle
The list was intentionally meager to suit a low, low-budget film and thus I found it to be perfectly suitable for this “shootout.” It doesn’t have much extra fat on it, just what I would consider essential expendables. Although, I’ll admit, some items are left off the list because I already had them.
Choosing the right suppliers was key in conducting this shootout correctly. To make it fair, I took the list of expendables and checked it against a supplier’s catalog. If they didn’t have one of the items I ordered, they didn’t make the cut. I was surprised at how many online retailers actually didn’t have some of the simpler things, like colored paper tape. But despite this, I came up with three sites to order from:
The obvious choice and one of the most popular suppliers of not just expendables, but almost every tool/piece of equipment of the filmmaking trade. While based out of Burbank, CA, their online store is like the Amazon of the film world.
2. Expendables Recycler
Heading into this, my favorite and preferred supplier for expendables. It’s a small operation run out of Van Nuys, CA but the people working there are top notch and the prices are bottom shelf – a great combination. They specialize in selling used (and new) expendables and will even buy them back after a production is over.
3. Barbizon Lighting Company
A retailer with a presence located near me in Washington, D.C. and recommended by Cinematography.com poster Brian Smokler. I hadn’t heard of them before this, but was pleased that they are on the east coast and have a healthy selection of camera supplies.
Part of the reason these places were chosen is because they had a web presence and/or a web store so that anyone across the country could order from them. To start with, I simply would add items to my cart that were on the list. This was easy for FilmTools and Barbizon, although I found that the whole “shopping cart” method gets very tedious when having to add many items at once.
While shopping online at Barbizon, I also discovered that you could request a quote. In an effort of fairness, I sent off my list in case they offered lowered prices for going directly to them. Unfortunately, the prices were the same, although Barbizon did have items I requested on my invoice that they did not have listed in their online store.
For Expendables Recycler, they don’t have an online catalog or price-list. They do this because they sell used expendables and thus their prices are always in flux. Luckily, I still had the invoice they gave me for the list of expendables. I simply went with this quote that was provided to me.
3rd Place – Barbizon Lighting Company ($225.95)
I was glad to find an expendables retailer near me in the Washington, D.C. area, but was disappointed by their prices especially when compared to the other two suppliers. While not bad for purchasing a few expendables here and there, if placing a large order, there would have to be some kind of discount negotiated to make the price more reasonable and competitive.
2nd Place – FilmTools ($166.59)
Part of the reason FilmTools is so successful is because they offer a large selection and lowered prices. By far the most comprehensive catalog of not just expendables, but an assortment of equipment. This price was compiled by simply adding items to the shopping cart, but FilmTools does say it offers discounts to Production Managers placing large orders.
Winner – Expendables Recycler ($126.87)
Confirming what I already felt – that these guys are my favorite – Expendables Recycler comes in as the winner with the most rock bottom price offered of the three. About $100 cheaper than Barbizon and $40 cheaper than FilmTools, low-budget productions should be looking here for the most savings out of their dollar. The other perk of Expendables Recycler is that productions can sell the supplies back and get some money in return.
The results aren’t terribly surprising to anyone who has ordered expendables before. Local shops and equipment suppliers, like Barbizon, often have to charge more for their expendables because they don’t order in bulk like a FilmTools does. It’s the whole economics of scale thing going on. What I was surprised about, however, was the difference in price being so large. My expendables order was fairly modest and on a bigger feature film, that price gap could grow tremendously.
Whether shooting a low-budget short, or a fully-funded commercial, being able to stretch a budget as far as possible is important and can make you look good in the eyes of a production. Not only that, but I believe it is part of being a professional to give quality recommendations for purchasing or renting items, equipment, etc. Next time you’re placing a big order of tape, canned air, or even a shoot’s worth of eye chamois, you’ll know where to go.
Disclosure: I was not and am not paid by any of these companies to recommend or “plug” their products. I simply have been pleased with their service and quality before.