When you are building a crew for your first, second, or even 100th movie, it’s always good to ask yourself just how much crew is necessary to complete the film. Do you really need all those people loafing around the set? Trust me, you won’t have to worry about left over donuts…the actors will take care of that.
Unfortunately, there is something of a Hollywood stigma that it takes a ton of people to make a movie. There is a Los Angeles based company that has just moved to my little town that operates this way. They try and hire 30 people at $100/day, and everyone runs around with their heads cut off for 5 days, until half the crew quits and the other half finishes the movie 10 days behind schedule. The fact is in my town there aren’t even 30 people who can make a movie…there are 10, and I know them all. None of them will work for $100/day for a big production company (but they’ll work for free for friends, or students).
Is this logical? In this particular production companies case….yes…well sorta. The problem is that these sort of companies produce B movies with has-been and never-was Hollywood actors from the 80s, and dump them off on the DVD and foreign markets for a couple hundred thousand bucks. Unfortunately, these minor league Hollywood actors are still Hollywood actors, so if they showed up on set and saw only a dozen people, they’d call their agent, curse them out, and leave. These people –with few exceptions– have that stigma built in that it takes some ungodly amount of people to make a film. These companies have their core crew, and the rest are just ‘props’ to convince the big name that a real movie is being made. Now, every now and then, one of the low paid people steps up to the plate and makes a difference. Then they get pulled into the real crew.
But more importantly, is any of this logical for you? Absolutely not! Even when you aren’t paying people, every extra person on set costs you something. Whether they are sucking down the craft services, standing in the way of the people actually working, or maybe just bothering you with the suggestions of “you know what would be cool”, any unnecessary person is a burden. In the world of computer engineering, it’s a well known fact that 3 good programmers will finish a project on time, while 20 will never finish. The same is true for film.
This is why I stress that every beginning filmmaker should work for free (but not for those big companies –for students and other indies). The reason I say this, is you aren’t really working for free…you are auditioning your crew. As you work for free on someone else’s project, you can see who is good to work with, and who is more trouble than they are worth. I’ve done this for the last two years. In the process I’ve found ten extremely skilled people, who are great to work with…and who can shoot an unheard of 10 pages per day.
How to determine what you need
What you need will depend alot on the complexity of your project. A five minute short might not need a script supervisor, but a feature definitely will. That said, the best way to determine what you need is a priority system. You need crew in this priority:
- DP/Camera – Someone to run the camera
- Sound/Boom Operator – Someone to hold the boom
- Gaffer / Lights – Someone to move the lights
- Script Supervisor – Someone to take notes and Slate
- Make up – Someone to make the actresses look pretty and embarrass the guys
- Production Assistant / Runner – Someone with a car to go get all the stuff you forgot.
And that’s it. Yes…that’s it! You can shoot a movie with only 6 crew members. And for that matter, if you are even more crazy you can have less than this. In fact, ultimately you only need two people : One to work the camera, one to work the sound. The reason is that for 99% of scenes, those are the only two people with an active roll while the camera is running. In other words, when the camera stops, there is no reason the sound person can’t apply make up and write script notes while the camera person moves lights. But ideally, I like shooting with these 6 people because it keeps everyone active constantly. Your worst enemy in keeping a set running properly is people sitting idle too long.
I’m sure I’m getting nods from some people out there, but others probably think I’m nuts. Only 6 people???!!! Yes…and it is my preferred method of shooting. In fact, I can say that even on sets with as few as 3 people, I’ve never said “Damn I wish we had more people here to help out”. On the other hand, I have been on sets with 9 people and said “I wish all these $**#@* would get out of my way.”
When you have 50 million dollars and 4 months to throw around, go ahead and go crazy with a 100 person crew. But as an indie, you’ll never regret keeping the crew small.