The size of your film crew can have a huge impact on your budget and logistics. Even if you’re not paying your crew, you’ll want to carefully consider your headcount.
On independent shoots, there are generally three film crew “sizes:” the microscopic, the run-and-gun, and the mid-sized.
The microscopic: 2-4 people do everything. This is great for smaller projects but can present challenges on more complex projects.
The run-and-gun: between 6-15 people strong, so most of the departments have at least one person in them. You even have a PA or two. Crews this size tend to respond quickly, but if one department is understaffed everything slows down.
The mid-sized: requires a layer of management to organize and control (the AD department). With a film crew this size you won’t have to worry about any individual department holding things up.
The chart below summarizes a “typical” crew of each type:
A Filmmaker’s 5 Laws for Managing A Film Crew
In addition to salaries, you’ll also need to consider these other costs.
1. MEALS AND CRAFTY
Feed your film crew well. With a ‘standard day’ of 12 hours, and a real day being up to 16 hours, food takes the place of sleep as the main source of comfort and energy in your life.
That usually means a hot lunch, and typically a simple breakfast as well. Plan on keeping snacks, fruit and veggies, coffee/tea, water and juice handy. Depending on the food and catering prices relative to where you live, this can mean up to $25-$28 per day per person. I live in NYC, which is fairly expensive, so I typically budget $15 for lunch, $8 for breakfast, and $2 for snacks (since snacks are brought in bulk, you have to guesstimate the per head costs).
2. HOLDING AND WEATHER
When shooting outdoors during inclement weather, you should have a tent or an indoor spot for people to go when they’re not needed on set, or where they can get some coffee or cold water. The bigger the film crew, the larger the space/tent and the more you need to spend on weather-related comforts. In cold weather, I usually budget for hand warmers, and a big thermos to hold coffee. In the summer, I buy ice by the bag and rent a Gatorador so there’s cold water or iced tea nearby.
3. RESTROOMS, CLEANING, GARBAGE
The more people you have tromping through a location, the more garbage you’re going to generate, and the more bathroom space you’ll want.
If you’re shooting indoors, check with the location owner about the plumbing/sewer/septic system. I’ve shot in some remote houses and had to bring in Port-A-Potties because the septic system wasn’t designed to handle 20 people at a time. If you’re shooting outdoors, find a sympathetic community center, church, or restaurant that will let you take care of business.
Never leave garbage around to be picked up by the location owner – nothing will get you kicked out faster. I rent a big push broom, and stock up on paper towels and giant-size garbage bags. In remote areas without regular pickups I’ll rent a dumpster (they’re not expensive); in the city I’ll find a way to get rid of our garbage.
If you’re shooting inside for a few days, rent a garbage can, industrial mop and bucket, or find a local housekeeper for hire who can clean up after you’re gone. This is money well-spent, because it will keep the owner happy and more disposed to say “yes” when you come back for reshoots later.
You also have get all those folks to and from the location. If you’re shooting in an area with decent public transportation or where everyone has a car, you can probably get by with having everyone show up on their own. If you’re not paying the crew anything, it’s a good thing to give them some kind of reimbursement.
Renting passenger vans can sometimes save you money over reimbursements and parking fees (if everyone brings their own vehicle, they generally expect some compensation for mileage/fuel/parking). It’s also less of a logistical headache to find parking for two vans as opposed to eight or more cars.
With the “run-and-gun” film crew, you’re looking at a single van. With a “mid-sized” crew, you’re looking at renting two or more vans, or a van and a mini-van (usually some people report to set on their own). Note that you have to take the cast size into account here as well.
5. PREP, WRAP AND POST
Some of your crew will need prep and wrap days. Don’t forget to budget for lunch and transportation.
Post staff – editors, sound designers, VFX artists, musicians, interns – don’t usually get breakfast or transportation reimbursements, but they do need to eat lunch. So budget money for meals.
It’s tempting to just want a huge film crew, especially if people are working for free. But go by what the script really requires. If you have a small cast, you don’t need big makeup and costume departments. If your script has a lot of day exteriors, you don’t need a huge grip and electric team. Having too many people around can just eat up your budget. Too few can make things grind to a halt.
It’s usually better to hire a smaller base crew, and add day players for those “big days.” Do you have any days in the schedule where most of the cast shows up? You might need additional hair/makeup artists and costumers. Have to change your aunt’s living room into an ancient temple? You may need a few more hands in the art department.
Just keep those above costs in mind, and you won’t be surprised at the end of the shoot.
Arthur Vincie is a writer, director, and producer. His last feature film, the lo-fi sci-fi “Found In Time,” won six awards, went to 25 festivals, and is now available on VOD. He’s currently producing a fiction webseries on the lives of NYC immigrants, “Three Trembling Cities.” His book on preproduction, “Preparing For Takeoff,” is published by Focal Press.