You have a great screenplay to work with, you’re past pre-production and now it’s time to get the tape rolling. Except, there’s no one to roll it. You have no movie without a crew and you can’t achieve success in cinema without talent behind you.
This is why it’s important to know how to find the perfect crew for your movie. A good crew is the backbone of making any great film.
The actual film production phase is where the bulk of the work lies. Today, we’re going to focus exclusively on just this part of filmmaking. You’ll need to bring together a well-oiled team to turn ideas into a captivating motion picture you can be proud of. But where do you even begin to look for talent for your movie? In fact, what types of people will you need to hire in the first place? How much is that going to cost you? Not to worry, we’ll be tackling these and more production concerns momentarily.
Another important question that should be at the fore of your mind as well is how big a crew you’re really going to need?
Establishing essential roles and doing away with the unnecessary can save your budget a huge dent. Below, we take a look at the bare minimum for crew for a basic movie.
We’ll be taking a look at the crew basics for a modest feature or short film. A more extravagant concept such as Star Wars, for instance, will naturally require more hands on deck. For example, the production of Iron Man, a superhero film with a similarly extravagant plot, required over 3000 crew members in totality.
Unless you’re planning a big-budget feature and have the resources to spare, you don’t need such massive numbers on the payroll. You can make do with a handful of talent, sometimes even less than 10, once you know what positions take priority. Remember, this focuses only on the crew for the production phase of filmmaking and not pre- or post-production staff:
He does more than just yell “cut” and “action.” The director is one of the more important production roles in any movie. He wears many hats, but primarily the director executes the screenplay, controlling visualization and the film’s artistic direction. Actors and the technical crew, under the guidance of the director, work to realize the movie vision as intended.
The director oversees all these elements and other details, such as what props are going to be used, to ensure continuity in storytelling, theme, and mood. He communicates your film’s vision to the crew and ensures all these little aspects are in line with your ideas for the movie.
As an auteur, his or her vision impacts all aspects of the visual storytelling.
Let’s illustrate what that means with a simple example. Maybe you’d like to create a certain sense of desolation around a particular character. You want the audience to feel the character’s despair and want the mood around him to be melancholic. To execute that, the director works with the lighting, music, and other departments.
He may even determine lens choices, upon consultation with the director of photography, if he believes that affects the mood you’re looking for. In a nutshell, the director guides scenes and actors, coordinates all production departments, and executes your artistic vision.
In terms of what you are going to pay a director, several factors come into play. Most importantly, experience plays a huge role. Studio film directors typically cost a lot more than budding directors. Generally speaking, you may need to pay a director at least $19,000 for a feature film. A shorter movie may set you back about $13,0000. A director’s salary also depends on a movie’s budget, the length of the project, and pedigree. The weekly median pay stands at approximately $2000/week on the lower end.
The line producer is another vital cog in the filmmaking machine. Among his responsibilities, the line producer has a huge say in how the budget is spent. He is in charge of the crew contracts, takes care of the paperwork, and hires some crew members.
A line producer saves your project money by steering clear of financial disasters and pitfalls, setting monetary limits, and ensuring they’re strictly adhered to. When the camera starts rolling, the line producer monitors production spending. He oversees the day-to-day logistics, including equipment rentals and whatnot.
The line producer typically has good contacts in the industry and also bears in-depth knowledge of filmmaking. He is also well-versed with personal insurance, and other health and safety legislation and ensures the production avoids any legal breaches. Aside from his accounting duties, he may also organize shooting and production schedules. When the director isn’t too pleased with the budget he has to work with, it is the line producer’s job to get him on board.
He also plays the role of the liaison between producers and the rest of the crew.
A line producer may cost you about $1,000/day when we’re talking about a low-budget or student film. With a more accomplished resume, an experienced line producer may ask for more. There may also be other perks to consider as well like housing stipends, kit fees, etc.
The director of photography, sometimes known as the cinematographer, also has a huge say in the outcome of a film, in terms of look and feel.
He works in tandem with the director, and a grip crew, to bring your movie’s vision to life through camera movement, framing, and lighting.
The DoP molds the visual aesthetic of your movie and is often an unsung hero, rarely getting deserved credit. He has comprehensive know-how in cinematography encompassing blocking and composition among other elements. The DoP comes in early on in the process to interpret the script and flesh out thematic styles.
Here’s a DoP talking about his salary and duties:
Lighting setups can vary wildly from scene to scene. Sometimes it may be as simple as a single china ball. Other times it’s a lot more elaborate. The DoP guides these choices and he is often thought of as a cinematic painter. He layers darkness and light to communicate emotions and other subconscious elements across shots.
True to his title, the director of photography also takes charge of lens and camera selections, along with the kits that come with them. The wrong choices would create style discontinuity and affect the tone of your movie. It is his job to ensure that doesn’t happen.
The cameraperson or crew is also under the supervision of the DoP. He works with this team to ensure each shot is properly framed. Another part of the job that requires a keen eye and a focused mind is camera composition and movement, which constantly changes across production. You may pay the DoP at least $1,100 a day. A more accomplished resume may cost you four times as much, maybe more.
A grip is any technician that offers support to the filmmaking crew, mostly in terms of rigging. When you think of setting up things like lighting and shooting equipment, that’s where grips come in. There are different types of grips depending on the purposes they serve on set. For example, those who physically move the dolly are known as dolly grips.
It is not uncommon for grips to juggle other supportive roles as well instead of focusing on just the one. You can think of a grip as the helper around the set for all sorts of manual, but technical, chores. Sometimes, grips may also be tasked with equipment maintenance.
Often there’s an entire grip department dedicated to the job, with a key grip overlooking proceedings. His second-in-command and the crew’s “foreman” is the best boy grip. For a small-budget feature, the line producer can independently hire grips to assist with the production.
The DoP may also take on supervisory duties for grips, especially when they are assigned to the camera work or cinematography department, which is primarily what they do. Not any Tom, Dick, and Harry can be a grip. It takes special know-how, training, and experience to handle and set up delicate filming equipment and tools in a way that keeps both equipment and people safe. Grips go to film school before they can practice.
They also play a significant role in movie production. Through strategic rigging, they set up desired camera angles important to the plot as well as help stabilize camera movement for decent shooting. Grips also assist in implementing certain lighting effects and techniques. Each grip may set you back about $800/day or more.
It is the sound engineer’s responsibility to ensure that sounds line up with the actions that accompany them. Even an offset of a second or two and the visual and audio incoherence can be very distracting for the audience.
Aside from ensuring the symmetry of audio-visuals, the sound engineer may also come up with sound effects for your movie as need be.
Before he can do all that, the sound recordist, first of all, chooses the recording equipment perfect for the job. He offers different sound solutions according to varying needs from scene to scene and in line with what the director wants from each unique situation. The sound recordist or engineer decides when to use a boom mic and when it’s suitable to go with a portable option. He also sets up the equipment across scenes to not only capture good quality but also implement the director’s audio objectives for various scenes. In case of a problem such as background noises, he brings that to the director’s attention. He in turn decides whether to do a retake or deal with it in post-production.
The sound engineer also plays an important part in the post-production process, offering audio corrections where necessary. An industry average of at least $1200/week guides salary expectations. Please keep in mind that, as with all other figures mentioned herein, this is just an estimate based on statistics of average pay from past years. These salaries may vary according to union membership, experience/pedigree, location/state, among other factors.
Characters simply won’t feel the same way without these unsung heroes chipping into the cause. Hair and makeup artists not only make your characters look good, but they also give the actors a personality transformation so they can step into new roles. If the director wants a character to look younger in a flash black, for example, the makeup artists make that happen.
The artist partners with the director to implement and maintain characters’ appearances in line with the style of the story. He may even take on additional aesthetic duties such as scheduling dental appointments for actors, choosing prosthetics, wigs, colors, beards, extensions, and more.
(Prosthetics are special effects that create the illusion of cuts, wounds, werewolf faces, etc.)
Artists also collaborate with the cinematographer or camera crew to see how the lightning conditions interact with the character’s hair and makeup, thus informing better choices if needed. They are among the first to arrive on set during production, ensuring actors look the part and that the schedule can be observed. In big-budget productions, make-up and hair duties may be designated as two separate roles. It’s quite common though that they are merged into one job.
In period pieces, the artist gathers research in hairstyles and facial appearance to ensure the film doesn’t feel out of touch with those times. Salary expectations for the job average about $700/day.
Like the hair and makeup artist, the costume designer also stays true to plot timelines and other elements through clothing. Via research, he ensures attires match the location or time period. He may sew or design the props and costumes that characters wear, ensuring the choice of wardrobe matches the character’s status, age, culture, personality, etc. Other times, the costume designer may opt to rent clothes as opposed to making them.
By the time production rolls around, the designer would have gone through the script and has an understanding of the overall plot and tone. Some may come up with a costume plot to guide the selection of attire across the storyline. This may encompass a costume storyboard which will need the director’s approval first. The designer also oversees and guides clothe changes during the filming process. Costumes and props affect film in terms of attitude and feel, which varies across scenes. The designer makes sure the costumes mirror the mood and tone of what’s going on each time, as guided by the director.
Costume designers ensure costume deadlines are met as well and oversee dress rehearsals and fittings. An entry-level costume designer may cost the production at least $800 per day. A more experienced professional may negotiate for twice as much.
As the title would have it, the set designer creates the set for the scenes in film, including furniture, draperies, and the overall scenery. He is an important member of the team, contributing to the visual lure of each shot. The set designer designs the backdrops, which are usually pre-meditated and pre-approved from sketches, taking into account the color, composition, lighting, and mood across settings. He collaborates with the costume designer, producer, and director, to bring these important aspects together.
Designers research the intended portrayals of certain time periods in history, and ensure each set conforms to the trends. From the actual set itself to creating props, he has a say in important mise en scene. He gets the go-ahead first from the director, who is shown blueprints and scaled models of props and sets. The set designer is on hand to rectify any set problems that may arise during filming. He also changes set and prop requirements according to the needs of each scene.
The set plays a vital part in the audience’s perception of historical periods, season, location, culture, and time of day. So the set designer can influence the style and theme of your movie. A film set designer may cost you at least $800/day.
The production assistant, or PA, is the go-to guy for your film’s director. He offers support to the director or producer, in terms of communicating what the former would like from the crew during filming. It is his job to ensure the crew is prepared for production each day. He makes call sheets, encompassing items and actors needed, and also breaks down what scenes are to be shot that day. He also sees to it that costumes and makeup/hair are done every day.
When a problem comes up during filming, the PA brings it to the director’s attention. He serves as his eyes on the set and may also announce the beginning and end of scenes. When the director or production needs certain supplies, the PA is the one to run these kinds of errands. His job description also entails assistance with crew and cast transportation and managing equipment.
Production assistants can also help keep clean and maintain the set. They’ll assist with the clerical work and man the phones if there’s an office in need of such duties. PAs can basically help out across all departments of film. The expected salary for each personal assistant is at least $400/day.
At this point, you probably have an idea of what kind of people you’ll need to get your movie over the line. Now comes another tough question. Where do you even begin to source film crew?
Luckily, the digital age has truly made the world a global village, providing many answers to that question. Things are a lot easier now than they once were two decades or so ago. The online age has provided numerous opportunities to unearth gems when you need them. From Facebook to LinkedIn, you can get creative and find affordable crew outside of mainstream sources that more often than not lead to costly options.
Instagram has evolved into more than just a social media hangout for lovers of visual content. It is the present world’s digital portfolio and your film’s DoP or director may be right around that corner. Instagram is a marketing platform where budding directors and DoPs come out to show their passion, creativity, and expertise, often to impress fans and possibly open a door of opportunity in the process. Many filmmakers use Instagram to put out their work and generally promote themselves. It is a nice place to feel out your options before making any commitments about your crew.
You can look up individual and random cinematographers in the search panel, determining from their profiles and work samples whether they have what it takes to achieve the vision you have for your film. Then later on you can narrow down candidates according to location and how you feel their work entwines with your concept, among other preferences.
Alternatively, you can join cinematography or general filmmaking groups and figure out if there’s someone there you can work with. You can get in touch with a community of directors and creatives in mere taps. You may even stumble upon talented makeup artists, costume designers, and set decorators. Some groups you should consider include cinematogr and filmindependent.
Instagram’s older brother Facebook can also be a goldmine for affordable talent. With a specific internet search, you can get a curation of all kinds of specialties down to your preferred state, from grips to producers, and sometimes even directors. Normally, when hiring a filming crew, a director may already have a circle of familiar professionals he’d prefer to work with because of experiences in past projects.
You don’t have to source every individual position yourself, one good pick at the top can see other positions below filled automatically. In terms of groups, there are endless options, with more coming up by the day. Some are even specific to roles, locations, and the nature of production.
You should check out Freelance Film Crew- Los Angeles, which has close to 30k members. It is a community of freelance professionals and encompasses those hiring and those looking to get hired in the film industry. You can find all sorts of crew here, including production assistants. Other groups worth your time as well include I Need a Producer/ Fixer/ Crew and I Need a Day Player. You can find many other options online as well depending on your geographical requirements, budget, etc. All these groups have certain guidelines, including minimum pay rates for certain roles. Be sure to take some time to go through the about section. Also, you’ll need to request to join the group first so send a request early enough. If you have the budget for it, you may also run social media ads advertising the positions you’d like to fill.
More accomplished and experienced directors, and film crew in general, tend to lean towards LinkedIn. The platform features comprehensive profiles and is a social media for professionals of all sorts. You can post job listings there and you’re likely to find good talent. LinkedIn is a great place for unearthing diamonds in the rough and proven professionals as well. When creating a job posting, be sure to stipulate the kind of skills you’re looking for, the length of the project, and the budget in terms of pay to avoid disagreements later on.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to go into detail about a role’s requirements and responsibilities. LinkedIn also additionally offers the option to select from pre-existing niche skill options what is vital for the position.
LinkedIn avails alternative application processes you can use to your advantage. Candidates can apply directly via LinkedIn profiles or you can set up an external application form or test of some sort on a third-party website. Once enough people have applied for the position, you can go through candidates’ work experiences and certifications from individual profiles. The job posting is billed on a monthly plan and you can close it anytime once you have what you need.
You can also set up your profile to showcase on the job post so that applicants have an idea of the person they may work for. Moreover, consider LinkedIn filmmaking networks or groups such as Film & Television Professionals.
Vimeo and YouTube are the planet’s leading video-hosting platforms, reaching millions and offering a similar ocean of professionals to choose from. There are over 30,000 filmmaker channels on YouTube alone. Many indie filmmakers are always posting their works on there, showing the world what they can do.
You can expand your industry networks on both platforms, get a first-hand taste of the people you’d like to work with and their skills.
You can then easily reach out to them to via a direct message or through the comment sections once you determine that you like what you’re seeing.
Some YouTube channels that might interest you include Film Riot, Filmmaker IQ, Indy Mogul, Lessons from the Screenplay, No Film School, and Cinecom. Net, among others.
On Vimeo, via the Staff Picks curation, you can also sample incredible short movies and inquire about the teams behind them. These platforms are especially useful for recruiting affordable cinematographers on their way to the top. Like with all other online leads, be sure to also check references and confirm qualifications or experiences for crew candidates.
That said, YouTube and Vimeo are not only for the upcoming. They also feature many established professionals and proven industry heavyweights who might be interested in your production, particularly if you’re working on a new experiment.
You may also find what you need on a reliable crew website such as Mandy.com, for instance. Don’t have any clue about where to find a sound engineer? Or is it a cinematographer you’re looking for? Mandy.com offers basically every production ingredient you need for the process. Whether that’s special effects artists, costume designers, a props master, line producers, a boom operator, or drone cinematography, you’ll find it all. It has a huge network of more than 2 million members, including TV/film actors and other professionals. Hence there are many options at your disposal.
You can sign up for free, specify your role as an employer, and probably narrow down your category to “Film and TV production.” Then, you’re good to go. Mandy.com is also appealing for its ease of navigation.
Production Hub is a good alternative or supplement to Mandy.com. It is a more comprehensive website/film directory, breaking down crew into many pre-, post-, and production groupings. Notable categories include Casting, Wardrobe/Hair/Makeup, Film Commissions, Grips, Production Facilities, Directors, Transportation, Production Companies, Sound Mixers, and Camera crew. Production Hub also encompasses several equipment vendors listed on its expansive directory in case you’d like to purchase or rent filming gear. In total, the website offers more than 150,000 verified professionals and you may find what you’re looking for by posting a job/request or via specific keyword searches. Of course, there are other options as well beyond these two.
Directors, producers, writers, and other film crew may have an agent to take care of the business side of things for them. They turn to this middle person/company, who promotes their brands or business and takes charge of networking duties, negotiating contracts, and finding jobs. You can find talented crew for your production by reaching out to these agents. Film directories such as the one discussed above (Production Hub) can offer agency options in your area. The DGA (Directors Guild of America) website may also offer clues. Signatory agencies are listed on the website.
However, many good professionals in the industry don’t have an agent nor are they listed with the DGA. That leads us to another crew sourcing option herein which is joining film clubs/workshops in the locality. You can find these physically by asking around or by looking them up online. Filmmaking classes may also point you in the right direction. The instructor may know a person or two who you might be interested in working with.
Don’t forget to maintain your networks as well. Build relationships with your crew, have fun, and make friends, so you don’t have to start the recruitment process from scratch on your next project. A good crew is the cornerstone of any good production, so build and maintain a circle of talent you can consistently rely on.
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