Hi Film Folk,
And, oh yes, it IS an art. Read on!
NB/ First and foremost, we’re presuming your project is a short or a micro-budget shooting in no more than 8 days straight. Any project above that time period is a different ‘animal’ and should be approached in a different way.
It’s About You
Now, obviously there are thousands of you out there, all at different stages on different pages and all with a different will for your film. So, before taking anything to heart, make sure you look yourself in the mirror and acknowledge where you are on your journey, who you know, what you have access to and what the goal is for this film. Are you just practicing? Is it a bit of fun? Are you wanting to go the festival route? Or are you wanting to use this short to finance a feature with a similar story? Only YOU know this!
Be clear on who you are and what you want before taking the plunge and asking too much or too little of other people.
Done that? Then you’re ready to crew!
Here are 5 tips for choosing your film crew on an ‘expenses only’ project:
1. Interview/Investigate. This should be the most obvious one but it’s surprising how many filmmakers fall for an embellished CV and a dash of enthusiasm and then ‘hire’ somebody that is not appropriate, is unreliable, unskilled, uncommitted or worse! Quiz them over what they have done, what kit they have worked with. Don’t know that detail yourself? Find someone to do it for you!
Make sure they are 100% happy with the ‘expenses only’ situation, especially if they have a lot of work on their CV. Oftentimes, some people will apply for work and then try to force money out of you once they’ve gauged how desperate you are/how big your budget is. Don’t let them play dirty. Find people that WANT to help you.
On the other side, there’s nothing more infectious that enthusiasm. Nice people are great to take a walk in the park with but can they do the job?? Your ideal here is nice people who can do the job.
Saying: ‘Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted’
2. Look for crew with an obvious need. Flip it around. What are the main reasons that a crew member might help you on a project? It might be one or all of the following: for experience, to work on a high value production, to work with high value actors or to expand the list of things they can do that they might not get the opportunity to do on bigger productions.
Of course, if your project doesn’t have anything super interesting or challenging to do in it, then you might hit a brick wall (but then you must ask, why are you doing it?!) Ideally, your story and the tasks within it should be hooking your crew, just like an audience.
Create a need and a desire to want to work on your project and you’ll have a much easier time finding people! It always comes back to you!
Sound recordists are notoriously difficult to find (at least here in the UK). Look at Stephen Follow’s breakdown of Shooting People here. Get on the hunt early on and make connections with people. Find a need in someone or create one!
3. Be careful choosing multi-hyphenates. It’s possible that they might be a powerhouse in knowledge and technical skill but often multi-hyphenates are either undecided on what they want to do or are directors trying to experience every role they possibly can on a set. Depending on what you want for your project and how big and serious it is, this may not serve your production! That’s not to say you shouldn’t work with somebody who has other aspirations, you just must be careful that the agenda is pure and helpful and that they can do what you need them to do.
Remember, their role is to do their assigned job and do it well not to ‘observe’.
Story: Director Tom DiCillo experienced shaky dailies on his first film ‘Johnny Suede’ because his DOP was jealous of his opportunity to direct.
4. Don’t just hire for the kit. Choosing crew because of the kit they have might sound like good mathematics but if they can’t use it, then you’re on the rocky road to despair. We’re going back to point 1 here. Research. Look at reels and talk to them. Make the right choices.
5. Be realistic about what you can get. Get real. You’re not going to get Gravity style VFX for free or persuade a working professional with 30 years experience (that you don’t know) to work for travel and a sandwich. We can’t account for personal favours and the connections you might have, but be realistic of what you are asking for from TOTAL STRANGERS!!
Don’t know enough about the industry/workflow/pipelines/time-scale/budgets for various roles or departments? That’s YOUR problem. You are in an age where it is plain and simple to find the answers. There are VFX, Production Design and Cinematography communities all over the internet – try Reddit or Creative Cow or the myriad of other online communities. There are hundreds of people happy to advise!
“The key to being realistic is to know reality!”
Conclusion: So go forward, be cautious and make the right choices. Remember, you should be honoured that these people, whether friends or total strangers are willing to assist you on your project. Even if you are the next Christopher Nolan, you are NOT NOW. Nobody owes you anything, so find ways of creating an attractive project and be thankful every step of the way.
Get that marriage and group dynamics perfect and it should be plain sailing!