Don’t Hire Jerks

You’d think “don’t hire based on physical appearance” isn’t something I’d have to mention. I mean you’d think that if you didn’t live in LA.

One of the most important aspects to getting your project done right is setting up your team. It goes without saying that in picking your department heads you’ll need people you are confidant can get the job done, and have the aesthetic sense you know will get the director what he/she needs. There’s lots more to keep in mind though:

Crew Scaling

Depending on your budget level, you may only have the money to feed a certain amount of people and your DP has to go without their 2nd, 3rd, 4th ACs, dolly drip, camera operator, etc. Take a good look at your budget and see how many people you can afford to pay. From there, figure out the logistics of having certain numbers of people onset. It might sound awesome that 10 of your buddies are willing to lend a hand for free but if they don’t each have a very specific job to do, a large crew can seriously slow down the pace. On top of that, bored people WILL eat all your craft services, leaving no more Sweet And Salty bars and Peanut M&Ms for your tired, hungry department heads. Essential crew only.

But they just really like the script and want to help out wherever! No.

With small budgets, your Gaffer may not get any grips. Your 1st AC may need to act as Dolly Grip. Your Sound Mixer may also need to boom op. If you can afford a makeup person at all (even if they’re working for free you MUST pay them a kit rental for their expendables), you may need to be sure they can do hair as well. You probably can’t afford wardrobe, unless costuming is a really important element of the script.

Backgrounds

Say your budget is super tight. You stumble on a really high-level DP that’s willing to work with you for crazy low rates because they love the script so much. They also come with a RED. Eeek! It’s like a dream come true! Maybe not. Because this DP might have gotten a little too used to the larger budgets they’ve been working with for the past few years and will find it difficult if not downright stifling to work under those budget limitations. That’s not to say they’re lazy. If they have taken on your crazy low-budget film, it’s probably because they have a specific vision for it that excites them, and if your budget doesn’t support that vision then it might not be quite as fun to work for so little money. Don’t let this discourage you from pursuing the very best people you can, but be sure you’re communicating all the realities before you ask people to commit. It’s a matter of fairness, but it’s also about ending up with the best project you can- an excited, talented DP with a low-budget background and his own 5D may make a lot more sense than a high-level guy with a fancier camera package.

Personalities

You heard the sign.

You don’t have to love everyone you’re working with, but you sure as hell need to have the ability to control the tone of the set. Everyone needs to treat everyone with respect and get the job done. Don’t hire jerks, even for free. If you do accidentally, we all have, then focus on damage control and don’t work with that person again. A good idea is to get references for people you’ve never worked with- see if you can call another producer that’s worked with the person in the past, and get a sense of what they’re like. It’s also a good chance to get acquainted with another producer. If another producer called me tomorrow about even a very close friend, I would be 100% honest- I can think of some people that I absolutely love onset, but are not very self-motivated in post-production. I can think of others that are very talented in some aspects, but need to be wrangled in a certain way to stay focused or else they have the potential to effect your schedule. Don’t hire jerks.

Bringing YOURSELF Aboard

Another important element is to understand the project and team you’re taking on before you commit to producing, especially if you have never worked with the other people involved before. You may love the project with all your heart, but get to know your director, any executive producers and any other locked crew as well as you can. You still might want the project even if they’re not ideal, but you have to know whether you can deliver what they are asking for. Don’t blindly accept projects just because the writing’s great, unless they are paying you well enough to afford the ulcer medication. If you have practically no budget and your director has never heard of a set that didn’t include a Gaffer AND Key Grip that both make a high and equal day rate, you either need to have a serious conversation right then and there about crew scaling or you need to extricate yourself from that situation.

I could go on and on. We are very fortunate to have developed a great stable of crew members that we love working with. If you ever need referrals or additional advice on crewing up, please don’t hesitate to email.

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