Camalot is a cine equipment rental company in Amsterdam. It was founded in 1997 by Philippe Vié and Bernd Lesscher. They had a habit of being the first in line to buy the latest new equipment. That legacy continues today.
Since January 2023, Sebastiaan van Zuylen (above right) and Yke Erkens (above left) are the new Managing Directors and owners of Camalot, with Philippe and Bernd exiting the company. Camalot provides high-end cameras, lenses and accessories to the European market for feature films, streaming series, television dramas, commercials and documentaries. They rent a wide variety of cameras from ARRI, Canon, Panasonic, Sony and RED, and have an enviably large collection of the latest Full Frame lenses, anamorphics, vintage and rehoused optics.
Jon Fauer: Did you undertake a hostile takeover of Camalot?
Sebastiaan van Zuylen: Haha, no, it was not hostile at all. Bernd and Philippe, who started Camalot 25 years ago, wanted a change. And we’ve been running the business for a few years now, since around 2018. From the beginning, we had conversations about the possibility for us to one day take over the company for real. And then, on the last day of 2022, we signed the documents. Starting January 1, 2023, Yke and I are the new owners of Camalot.
Yke Erkens: Since 2018, we were entrusted with the responsibility of running the day to day business. Bernd and Philippe stepped back from the daily operations and took on more of an advisory role. We think it’s a good fresh start and a new beginning with a bright future.
Congratulations. Did you buy the company?
Seb: Yes, we were able to buy it without an outside investor.
Yke: It’s sort of a management buyout structure. Bernd and Philippe have been really helpful, I don’t think we would’ve been able to do it without their help. And it’s a bit crazy because I’ve been involved with Camalot for almost 20 years. I think it’s great that Camalot continues in this way because it guarantees that the future is still there and it will continue for our business.
How and when did you two gentlemen start in this business?
Seb: Before Camalot, I studied law here in Amsterdam. I didn’t really enjoy it but I stayed in school, and then Philippe offered me an internship. He said, “You can work here for six months to figure out what you want to do, but if you want to stay, you will have to do it on your own.” Not many people know this, but Philippe is my uncle. Because of that, we decided early on that I would only deal with Bernd on work-related matters. So I had to prove my worth to him.
But it worked out pretty well, I stayed on and I have been here for 15 years, starting as an intern and then doing logistics, prepping equipment and getting familiar with the equipment. After a while, I realized that I quite liked this type of work. I’m here to stay. But I wanted to finish my education and got a business degree at the university while still working here.
Yke: When Bernd and Philippe started, just the two of them were working here for a few years. They bought two DVW-700 digital video cameras because they wanted to be a digital film company from the beginning. They were located in Amsterdam and there was no real cine rental company because all the television work was in Hilversum. And they wanted to go more into features.
There were a few film companies renting analog cameras. But Camalot started with digital film cameras. They grew more and more. At some point, they needed people to work for them. So they approached me. At that time I was working as a field sound engineer and I turned them down.
They then hired somebody for planning. That was Monique. But not long after that, they asked me again and then I decided, “Okay, let’s try it.” So I was one of the first employees at Camalot. That’s how it all started. We got more equipment. It got busier and busier. Then I started to set up the technical department, which we still have and is now being run by Maarten van Waning and Pieter Minnegal.
But at some point, I found myself sort of stuck in the position I was in. I wanted to do something else. I went a totally different way.
Where did you go?
Yke: I applied for a job as an air traffic controller.
Jon: Wow. That’s even more stressful than the rental business. Yke: Yes. There was a selection process. I got through it all the way. Seb: And you told Bernd and Philippe, “I’m leaving next month.”
Yke: Bernd was really emotional about it. And Philippe really liked it. But, of course, they didn’t like the fact I was leaving. It was a good one-and-a-half years, but ultimately I didn’t pass some simulator tests. So, I started a DIT services company and did that for about seven or eight years. And then in 2018, I returned and they folded the DIT company into Camalot.
How do you divide up the work at Camalot?
Seb: My side is much more business-oriented and Yke is much more technical. That makes us a good team.
Yke: Seb is more the Managing Director. And I’m like the air traffic controller, except instead of being in a tower, I travel to support our jobs and sometimes I’m gone for one or two weeks.
Seb: Yke is involved with multi-cam shoots, technical matters and with the post-production side of the shoots that we do. I’m more involved in doing quotations, sub-renting and so on.
Who decides what equipment to buy and when?
Seb: The two of us together. We agree on most things immediately.
Yke: And some of the equipment is a no-brainer. When a company announces a new camera or lens, we want it. Some things are not obvious. That’s the stuff we discuss. Shall we try it? Can we afford it? Do we want to take the risk?
Where do you see Camalot going in the coming years?
Seb: Right now we have a great team of 16 people. We are very happy with our mix of experience and youth. I would like to expand the multi-cam business a bit more while not necessarily sending Yke away for more weeks each year, so there might be room for improvement on that end. On the production side, everybody’s still looking for how you get to the next level.
It would be great to be a part of that, see how we can make sure it grows. We are also actively expanding our operations in our Belgium office, which is being run by Gert Bauwens. For example, we now offer lighting rental as well as camera equipment in one package, which is much more convenient for our clients there.
We’ve also started the Camalot Diversity Grant together with the NSC (Netherlands Society of Cinematographers) to promote diversity and inclusion in the Dutch film sector. We’ve awarded two grants so far to two promising students, and the third one is currently being discussed. We hope other companies will join the NSC and us, so we can expand the grant to more students.
Yke: The future is how we can help people on set. And how we can help producers to take it to the next level, because my personal opinion is that as equipment gets more advanced, it can do more for you. But in the meantime, things like metadata, HDR and SDR are going to require more knowledge and more skill by people on set for the whole process to get done right.
What I would like to see is for companies to have us on board not only for the equipment, but also for the knowledge and service that we can provide. I think that the high-end rental business will continue to exist and maybe expand, but people need more and more support and knowledge.
Seb: It’s about raising the bar on what we consider a high-end rental company now and creating a new level of working as a high-end rental company—and everything that comes with it.