Local Industry | Reports

Full Circle:The Merger of Rule Broadcast and Boston Camera

1 Jun , 2008  

Written by Jared M. Gordon | Posted by:

John Rule and Brian Malcolm talk mergers, futures, and how a new space will serve local filmmakers.

In April, media equipment sales, rental, and service
companies Rule Broadcast Systems and Boston Camera Rental Company merged
operations to become New England’s largest production equipment source. 
Together, the companies have 44 years of experience in helping filmmakers big
and small find the right package for their budgets and visions. 
What can the New England filmmaking community expect from
the merger?  Rule Broadcast Systems’ founder and president John Rule and Boston
Camera’s general manager Brian Malcolm discuss the future of their companies,
their offerings, and their new facility in a recent interview with
Jared M. Gordon: You’ve created New England’s
largest source for production equipment sales, rentals, and services.  What
sorts of changes can filmmakers and video professionals expect? 
John Rule: Well, first and foremost we plan on using
our combined inventories to appeal to a broader range of people.  What we’re
doing is combining expertise and improving what we do by combining the best
practices of both companies into one company that’s better than either was
We plan on expanding into new areas of equipment.  For
example, before this merger, I wouldn’t ever have thought about buying a Sony
F23 package because if I did, then Boston Camera would have to buy one, and
Boston Camera was thinking the same thing.  The net result is due to competitive
pressures, neither one of us bought one, so the community as a whole didn’t have
access to that kind of equipment.  There may be enough business in town to
support one of those cameras, but certainly not enough to support two.  Since we
both address the high end of the market, it makes much more sense and is more of
a benefit for us to combine.  Our energy is going into our new building right
Brian Malcolm: At Boston Camera, we have a primarily
film background with 16mm and 35mm and Rule had a lot of broadcast background
but together we were competing with each other in a lot of areas and doubling up
on equipment.  With a combined inventory and force, we’ll be able to get a wider
range of equipment without doubling up as we did when we were competitors. 
We’ll offer a broader range of equipment, more experts working together to help
clients, better packages, a lot more people to handle the flow of equipment, and
the ability to deal with larger orders during an influx of feature filmmaking in
town.  We’re getting a lot of second unit work on a lot of features, and pretty
much everyone that’s been shooting in town has used some equipment from us, such
as The Surrogates and The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. 
JMG: Do you have an idea of what your clients are
saying about the merger? 
Rule: It’s funny because I expected there to be at
least some nervousness on the part of our clients, but it’s been unanimously
well-received.  People are saying that it’s a good thing, they understand that
we are an integral part of the community here, and that we provide a unique set
of services.  There really isn’t any question about our support for the
community.  Our customers really understand what we do, and they know that
combined, we’ll do even more. 
Malcolm: My impression is that everyone in town
thought it was kind of a natural progression.  I haven’t heard anyone saying
anything negative, in fact a lot of people have even been telling us, “I told
you so.”  John and I go way back, and now everything has come full circle.  We
worked together at Boston Camera, John having hired me in 1986 to work there,
then he left to work for another company and started Rule Broadcast. 
JMG: In your years of experience, how has changing
technology influenced both the business and the art of filmmaking? 
Rule: Technology has done amazing things.  It’s
enabled a lot more people to get into the business and make images, tell
stories, and pursue a career in a business that has traditionally had a high
cost for entry.  In the last 18 years, the changes have been remarkable because
of the democratization of access to the equipment.  We see high school students
who already have a visual skill set that only a very select few would’ve had
back in the 1980s.  We’re seeing people who know how to shoot with an edit in
mind and people who understand how to convey a story through visual images. 
They’re doing this with their camcorders at home and they’re shooting movies,
sometimes making it into a career.  It’s really the evolutionary nature of the
medium.  The more access a normal kid has to filmmaking tools, the more they’ll
use them.  When we started seeing DV camcorders in the home or the ability to
digitize from tape directly into a home computer so that someone could edit,
that’s when things really started to change.  Having Netflix for that matter,
just having access to a vast historical record of the finest directors and
cinematographers have helped to inform their own discovery. 
Malcolm: At one point we were just film and most of
our business was commercial-based with few features.  When digital video became
the next logical choice, we saw a tremendous increase in independent film work. 
The production community itself has changed quite a bit.  Instead of having a
few large commercials shooting on film, we had more do-it-yourselfers and
one-man bands producing commercials for clients.  We have a lot more clients
than we used to.  We used to have a handful, but our base has increased tenfold
in the past five years thanks to the democratization of the business, the cost
effectiveness of digital video, and the dropping expenses of the equipment. 
JMG: Why is now the right time for this
Rule: We’ve been talking about it for a long time,
and I think that it just makes sense.  Part of it is because of the direction
that the technology has taken, because it has gone off in a huge number of
directions.  When we first started, Betacam SP was dominant and now between the
multiple tape formats and non-tape formats and compression schemes and frame
rates, there’s a lot more research and development that needs to go into
preparing a package for a customer.  When they pick up a camera from us, the
agreement is that we understand not only how the camera works but also how it
plays with others. We have to know how it will work with different editing
systems and computer systems.   
There’s a tremendous amount of research and development
that goes into sending a camera package out.  The costs of the equipment are
dropping, and so the rental cost therefore drops as well.  Still, we have to
double the amount of labor because we devote  a huge amount of effort to
understanding the gear so that we can support it and recommend to our clients. 
Despite this, the average rental is probably
half [the cost] of what it used to be.  [Our research] also helps on the sales side,
as we don’t sell things that don’t work.  Things that don’t seem to be built to
last, we don’t sell.  Things are really tested in the rental business, and if it
does well there, then we’re ready to sell. 
Malcolm: With a lot more formats and equipment
diversity out there, there’s a lot more for someone to choose while pursuing a
project.  We are able to join forces to offer that kind of diversity.  We pool
our resources and discover the best way to handle different production
situations.  There’s almost too much to know in terms of the gear out there, so
we’re not only pooling resources for gear, but also for a great staff to support
the equipment.  People who work for us now have to know more than they would
have 10 to 15 years ago.  In our new facility, we’re hoping to extend ourselves
further with lecture halls and classes.  We are looking forward to embracing the
public more.  The community already depends on us for information, and we’d like
to formalize that in the new building. 
JMG:  Between video and film, which do you see your
clients favoring, and which do you prefer? 
Rule: The single most important mantra that we
follow is that there’s a different tool for every job, and it’s our job to make
sure that the tool is aligned with the task at hand.  Whether we’re recommending
a tool to a customer or deciding what to buy or sell, foremost on our mind is
what is job the tool is intended for.  Some projects are artistically or
technically designed to be shot in high definition and there are some that
clamor equally loudly to be shot on film.  It depends, but our clients don’t
seem to favor one over the other.   
One of the things we
will concentrate on is digital cinema and that’s where the combined experience
comes into play.  Rule is really good at the electronic aspects of digital
cinema, while Boston Camera is really good at the lenses, the accessories, the
packaging, and the presentation of a system for filmmakers.  Between the two of
us, we can put out a really well done, reliable, consistent, and effective
package for digital cinema, and that could be for an independent feature or a
high-end commercial project.  I guess it comes down to a cultural question.  The
future of high-end is clearly digital cinema, and to be a part of it, you have
to be as comfortable in the film culture as in the electronic culture.  The
merger does this for us. 
Malcolm: I definitely come from a film background
but have learned the digital video world.  I think that everyone, even diehard
film people, have to embrace digital video.  It’s here to stay.  Film is still
very viable, but it’s only one of the choices people are making.  Film also has
a much more understandable post-production workflow since it has been around a
while.  Now with digital imaging, people need more leadership, and that’s
something we have to get involved in: coaching clients and helping them
understand how pre-production choices affect post-production. 

JMG: What’s next for Rule Broadcast Systems and
Boston Camera? 
Rule: We’re moving into a new building together and
we have big plans for the space.  It’ll have a lecture hall with weekly events. 
We’ll have showroom where you can come in and touch, feel, and play with cool
tools.  With the lecture hall, besides technology and production demos, we’ll
also use the space to do more filmmaker-based events like holding some filmmaker
collaborative meetings there.  I can also see doing things with the AVID/ Final
Cut users group.  We want to use this space to contribute to the local
community.  This is a big thing of mine: with all of the concentration of
Hollywood coming to town, everyone tends to forget that we do have and always
have had an active local filmmaking community, and that we’ve always done our
bit to be a part of and add to that community.  That will just increase with the
new space and resources as a result of the merger.  We’ve always been about
education and we like helping people learn new things.  At Rule, we used to hold
lectures for years every Tuesday, where the public was invited to come in, but
we ran out of space at our current facility.  In the new building, we’re going
to get back to that so that everybody knows that they can come on in and learn
something new.  That consistent offering is one of the best things that we can
do for the community. 
Malcolm: We’re definitely going to be expanding some
of the services we offer.  We’re looking into growing our audio and lighting
departments, another reason why the merger makes sense.  It lets us explore new
areas of growth. 
Learn more about each company at
and www.rule.com,