How did you find yourself in the equipment rental industry, and can you tell us about the early days of Platform Studios?The company was actually founded by my brother in 1989, and at that point it was called Mad Studio. It wasn’t until 1995 that the name was changed to Platform Studios. My brother had fallen in love with photography when he was young. He got lucky and ended up working in the industry, and then decided to start his own equipment rental company. I got into it because of my brother, and can say with certainty that his passion for this stuff rubbed off on me. I’ve personally been a part of this endeavor since 2000, and I’ve now completely taken over.
In the early days, the company did some post-production work, and only dabbled in equipment rental. Things took a big turn in 1996; we were the first company to acquire 16 mm and 35 mm film cameras. They were ARRI cameras from Germany, and production houses had just started to shoot in film, so it was great for us.
By 2003, we were still only renting out cameras and lenses, but we decided to expand into lighting, grip equipment, crews, electricians, gaffers, big trucks for transportation, generators, etc. We were also the first company to get ARRI lighting, which was a big deal since it’s one of the best brands globally.
Is the market in Lebanon competitive?When it comes to the Middle East, Lebanon is a hub for shooting TV commercials. Regional production houses love to shoot here because of our weather, locations, and experienced crews. We also have a lot of great equipment that can be very hard to find anywhere else. A lot of shorts get produced here as well, and also some feature films, but I’d say that the vast majority of projects that get filmed here are TVCs.
In terms of competition, there are definitely other smaller players around, but most major production companies rely on us. We offer full support, we have an incredible amount of equipment, backup equipment, lighting… the works. Last but not least, we provide great overall service. They trust us.
Why do you think Platform Studios has grown to become the largest equipment rental company in Lebanon, and one of the biggest players in the entire Arab region?Like I mentioned, we were the first company in Lebanon to actually have film cameras. We would always attend exhibitions and fairs all over the world, so we got our name out and we made sure that our equipment was always up-to-date. When it comes to technology, especially film and video tech, it’s imperative to stay ahead of the curve, and that’s been one of our strong suits.
The major transition came in 2011 when the industry started to gravitate away from film towards digital. Rather than resisting change, we quickly adapted, and prospered because of that.
Another reason we’ve done well is because we constantly look to have the best equipment, whether it’s lenses or cameras. We always aim high, and we invest a lot in lenses in particular. Foreign DPs are often surprised and impressed that we have all of this state-of-the-art equipment available.
Our prices are also quite fair regionally; it costs about twice as much to rent equipment in Dubai, even though we deal with much stricter customs regulations.
As a man who’s constantly around equipment and who knows his way around cameras, where do you stand on the film vs. digital debate?In Hollywood, they still shoot with film. It’s mostly digital at this point, but some directors refuse to make the transition. Platform actually still has ten film cameras -16 mm and 35 mm. But unfortunately, we’ve had to change with the market.
Almost everything in Lebanon is shot digitally, but last year we actually shot a short using a 16 mm camera, and we worked on a TV commercial the previous year where the director of photography insisted on using a film camera. But that only happens about once every two years.
I feel like there’s more respect when it comes to film. When you buy film rolls, there’s less room for error; you need to rehearse more. With digital, you have the luxury to shoot as much as you want and you can fill up as many memory cards as you’d like. It feels like something was lost in the transition from film to digital.
Digital will never fully look like film. It might be ninety or ninety-five percent of the way there, but it’ll never really have the same look and feel.
What are the biggest projects you’ve worked on, both local and international?Some of the highest-profile local projects we’ve worked on include Nadine Labaki’s Caramel (2007) and Et Maintenant on Va Où? (2011), Zozo (2004), Ziad Doueiri’s new film, The Insult, which isn’t out yet. Also, Mon Souffle (2014), a film by Jihane Chouaib. We also worked on Film Kteer Kbeer (2015).
The most successful international film that we shot was The Hurt Locker (2008), which ended up beating Avatar for best picture at the Academy Awards; it was shot in Jordan through a sister company. We filmed scenes for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), which was also in Jordan. We were lucky to work on Brian De Palma’s Redacted (2007), as well as Zero Dark Thirty (2012).
Can you tell us about some upcoming projects that you’ll be involved with? Anything that gets you particularly excited?We always hope to work on more feature films, but it’s quite difficult in Lebanon. A lot of these projects require big budgets and raising that kind of capital is challenging, to say the least. It’s easier to secure funds for commercials, and that’s one of the reasons we get to shoot so many of them. But we’re currently working on some very interesting local feature films, and that’s all I can share for now.
We’re not currently involved in any international projects, and that’s mostly due to the fact that foreign productions aren’t shooting in Jordan as much as they used to. American productions tend to pick one country and work there for a number of years, and Jordan was huge from 2006 till about 2012. It’s a question of safety and practicality, and for now they’re choosing countries like Brazil to sub for Middle Eastern locales.
by Anthony Sargon