Hiring Your Crew

Anyone who has sat through the credits of a film can see how many individuals worked on that particular production. For the average Joe making a film in his basement in Ohio, the various job descriptions can be very confusing. On low-budget or independent films, a single individual can hold several different titles, while big-budget productions showcase the work of dozens of standard crew members and highly skilled specialists. Because the size of your crew is linked directly to the size of your budget, it can be tricky to get all the help you need.

Small-budget productions definitely have to cut corners, and this is done in any number of ways. Your cinematographer, for example, may also be your camera operator. An actor may be in charge of his or her wardrobe, pending approval of the producer or director. You may not be able to afford a caterer, so instead you provide bagels and coffee in the morning and make sandwiches for lunch. If you can't afford a full-time medic, you should definitely have a well-stocked first-aid kit on hand and know how to use it. Those are just a few of the things you'll have to compromise on when your budget is tight.

While a short film or documentary can be made with only a few people, a big-budget film may need hundreds of specialists. If you're hiring union labor, keep in mind that individuals will only do the job they are hired for — they won't bend union rules to take on something that isn't in their job description.

This chapter focuses on crew members who are considered essential to the average film production. That's not to say that you have to fill all of these positions, but at the very least you should have an understanding of what they do. Chapter 11 describes additional crew members who are generally hired for bigger budget productions.

So you've got your financing and your script is hot off the press after half a million rewrites — now you really need help. Regardless of whether your crew consists of three or three hundred, your hiring decisions are some of the most important you'll make during your filmmaking journey. Hiring these hardworking folks is not to be underestimated, as they all play a crucial role in bringing your vision to life in one form or another.

The variety and enormity of jobs connected to the filmmaking industry can seem overwhelming, with an intricate web of specialists and tradesmen commingling their verbal, emotional, artistic, scientific, and technological skills toward the same goal. From gofer to gaffer to director, each individual is as diverse, talented, and important as the next. With good common sense and intuition, you can assemble the ideal group of professionals.

Taking One for the Team

By way of introduction, it's perhaps best to think of a full crew as falling into several categories. Management personnel include producers, directors, unit managers, and script assistants. Cinematographers, camera operators, and all of those associated with the visual aspects of the film are part of the photographic team. Everyone involved in sound, such as the editor, boom operator, and foley artists, constitutes the sound unit.

A decorating team includes a broad range of specialists from wardrobe management and costumers to makeup, scenic artists, and set designers. One of the busier groups of individuals are the stagehands, which include construction experts, propmasters, grips, and gaffers.

How Many Do I Hire?

Determining the number of individuals you need to hire for a project requires careful study of the script and all of the film's design and technical elements. Will there be a lot of location shooting? Special effects? Elaborate costumes? Intricate sounds or lighting? All of these things come into play when assembling a crew that can work within the confines of your budget.

Pay for Play

The budget for any production will dictate the direction producers take in searching for production personnel. With a high-budget film, the news that the producers are hiring will spread like wildfire. Professional film production managers usually have access to a great number of potential crew members who are actively looking for work, and will knowledgeably pick and choose the best people for each production role.

Limited-budget film productions don't have the same luxury. The downside to bringing personnel on board for free is that more often than not, you get what you pay for. Reliability is a key consideration, and monetary compensation provides a great deal of incentive no matter what the position or specialty.

Getting the Word Out

There are a number of ways to get the word out that a film production is actively hiring. Trade publications and casting papers generally post notices free of charge. Film schools and colleges with film production classes can also supply a number of interested and reasonably well-skilled production personnel who may be willing to work for minimal compensation.

In major cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver, and San Francisco, there are a number of organizations that maintain bulletin boards containing resumes of experienced production people. There are also Web sites in these areas that list production individuals who specialize in every aspect of filmmaking. The sheer number and availability of hungry and willing crew people in these major filmmaking communities can make locating the film production in one of them a practical financial decision.

Interviewing Potential Crewmates

In general, it's the producer's responsibility to hire crew members. In most cases, the same rules apply to the filmmaking industry as to many other industries. This means carefully checking resumes and references and asking for portfolios or sample film reels when necessary. A potential crew member's salary and duties should be clearly presented and discussed prior to any final decisions being made. It's also important to gauge a person's dedication to her job as well as her attitude toward the production she is about to be hired for.

Independent Contractors

Some production crew members can be hired as independent contractors. These individuals work on a contractual basis, perform various functions and work unsupervised, typically setting their own hours. This can save on paperwork and accounting procedures because they are responsible for their own income tax matters. Location scouts and production designers, for example, can often be independent contractors. Individuals who are required to work a set amount of hours at specific times are considered to be employees and not contractors.

Before hiring anyone, the legal and accounting ramifications regarding income taxes should be carefully discussed with trusted legal and accounting advisors. At no time do you want to be dealing with hazy accounting issues, so make sure everything having to do with employment is crystal clear to all concerned parties.

Union Crews: Pros and Cons

Hiring a union crew comes with pros and cons. One of the pros is that union crews are invariably professionals who are skilled in the varied disciplines of filmmaking. These individuals are used to scheduling and budgetary constraints and work quickly and efficiently. On a big-budget production, the knowledge and experience of union crews can definitely keep production problems to a minimum. Keep in mind that if your film is being made by a union signatory such as a studio, you'll be required to hire union labor.

On the flip side, anyone considering hiring a union crew must research the limitations and regulations attached to that crew. Overtime, meals, pay scale, and duties are just a few of the things that are strictly regulated. On a low-budget or independent film, hiring union crews could be a financial deal-breaker, as each union member is confined to specific duties.

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