Ever notice that the same directors and producers always seem to work with the same filmmaking crew? There’s a reason for it. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They know how each person performs in their role and most importantly, their personalities don’t clash.
We all have our horror stories with that one member on set. Whether it’s been on your own project or on someone else’s, we’ve seen that one crew member who (seemingly) does their best to wreak havoc. What’s even worse is when that person doesn’t get fired (we’ll get to that later).
7 Ways To Build A Strong Filmmaking Crew
Wouldn’t it be better just to avoid all of this? Let’s chat about how we can build a strong team from the ground up.
1. Figure Out How You Work
Do you run your sets fast and loose with a lot of humor? Or run your sets very rigid with little banter? Do you get upset easily? Are you good at delegating? Do you accept responsibility? Figuring out how you work is key for the next part because at the end of the day–good or bad–this is all going to fall on you.
2. What Roles Do You Need To Fill?
You’re going to need a few core filmmaking crew members:
- DP (Director of Photography): Your right hand man (or woman). Without a doubt the most important filmmaking crew role. They usually come with a camera package, know framing, lighting, etc. A good DP also may have their own small crew that they’ve worked with or may be able to recommend further crew members.
- AD (Assistant Director): You’re left hand man (or woman).
- AC (Assistant Camera): This person will help the DP.
- Gaffer: Works with the DP and handles all matters in electricity.
- Key Grip: Works in rigging.
- Sound Mixer: Responsible for recording sound.
- Boom Mic Operator: Handles the boom mic for each take.
- Make-Up & Hair: Putting make-up and hair for all the actors.
- PA (Production Assistant): Gopher. Extra pair of hands on set to help with set-ups and break-downs.
- Swing: Will take on the odd jobs that come up on set.
- Script Supervisor: Help you with continuity, etc.
- Producer: The Producer will have to wear a few different hats, including acting as location manager. It’s important to have someone intercept problems so you can concentrate on directing. Director’s cause the fires, Producers put out those fires.
Look inside and outside of your network. Inside your network are the people you know. Maybe you’ve bumped into someone at a networking event and maybe you follow each other on social media. You could approach them with the script, and any other details about the project.
People with gear are usually professionals who do this for a living and are in demand, therefore your pitch has to be solid and provide something of merit. Also if you haven’t spoken to this person in a while, or worse just met them, don’t ask for a favor right away.
If you don’t know anybody, consider doing some research. Ask for recommendations, ask to see reels/portfolios, etc. These people are “outside” of your network. Once you meet with enough people online and offline, both in and out of your network, you will start to build a team in your head.
3. Hiring The Filmmaking Crew
As my friend and fellow producer perfectly put it, “can you do your job and could I live with you in a cornfield for a month?” Get to know your filmmaking crew. Communicate with each other privately, one-on-one, what is expected from each of them.
Hire slow, fire fast.
The first part is obvious but the second part is even more important..I once hired a DP because he had an amazing camera. He refused to come to preparing meetings, and was arrogant and rude over the phone and on emails.
When we got to set, he had no clue about any set-ups, what the project was about, etc and decided the best course of action would be to argue with me in front of everyone. Needless to say it didn’t end well for anybody. Why didn’t I fire him? Well, the producers blocked it. After all, he had a great camera…
Never be afraid to pull the plug on someone. With the above story, I should’ve fired the DP BEFORE the shoot. I should have hired someone else I worked with before. That person’s camera wasn’t as good, but I know from working with them previously, that I get along with them much better…which would make the project itself better.
4. Responsibilities And Results
What are the goals for each day? Are they possible? Giving goals will give you and your team something to shoot for. At the end of the day, they can look back and see everything they’ve accomplished.
If you don’t set shorter goals, you’re just moving toward the main goal of finish shooting. Giving milestones and deadlines will encourage your team to work together.
5. Celebrate Successes To Motivate The Right Way
When something goes wrong, don’t throw one person under the bus. Instead, you and your team should come together to solve the problem creatively. As a wise man once told me, everyone is allowed one mistake so make it a good one if you mess up.
On the set of Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn gave out tiny jars of Play-Doh whenever something went exceptionally well. Why? It’s a way to motivate crew. Over the course of their 85 day shoot, James gave away 40 jars. That’s less than one jar a day, those jars of Play-Doh where highly sought after.
6. At The End Of TheDay, It’s All Your Fault
Whether the project turns out good or bad, it all rests on your shoulders. Let’s say you hire a producer. On the first day of shooting, he shows up two hours late. When he finally gets there, he forgot something at home so he turns around and drives home.
While he’s gone, there’s a problem and you have to stop directing to go and put out the fire. Who’s fault is it? Your fault. After all you hired the person.
7. One Last Thing
Always feed your crew. PLEASE take it from me. A well fed crew is a happy crew. Some crew respond well to fast food. Others like Chinese buffets. Know your location and your filmmaking crew, and you can figure out something.
Each time you go through this process you’ll have more experience (hard skills) and people skills (soft skills), which will help you gauge talent and character even more.
Dave Bullis is a writer, director, producer, and podcaster in the Philadelphia area. His podcast, The Dave Bullis Podcast, has won numerous awards for its quality and content. The podcast is available on iTunes, and Google Play podcasts.