How to assemble the best crew for your documentaryMar 14, 2023
Welcome back filmmakers!
Ready to up your production game and create something truly epic? Today we’re going to look at the big job of crewing! Whether you’re a budding filmmaker or a seasoned pro, assembling the right team for your project is essential!
If you’re ready to hire your crew then you’ve come a long way on your filmmaking journey. But as always, if you’re not feeling ready for the next step, you can go back and look at the previous blogs. I’m not going anywhere!
So who do you need on your crew? What are the essential roles that have to be filled at any shoots you set up? That’s what we’re digging into today so that by the end of this post you’ll know exactly who to hire and what you need them to do.
One is the loneliest number
Are you working alone? Planning to do all the filming, interviewing, directing, lighting, sound and location management all by yourself? Well, my hat is off to you. It’s a really tough gig to pull it all together by yourself. But sometimes, that’s what you have to do to get the ball rolling.
Perhaps your funding hasn’t come through or your budget is just too tight to hire some help. That’s ok. Do what you have to do to make your movie. But if it’s possible, I do think having at least one other to work with you on shoots is a huge advantage.
It comes down to what you’re trying to do on any given shoot. If you have lots of time to set up the lights and microphones before your talent arrives, then yes you could do it by yourself, but having someone else on your crew means you can check lighting and sounds, set up quicker, pack up quicker and if you have someone else to monitor the sound or cameras then you can focus on the task of directing and interviewing.
Remember, when you’ve got multiple cameras, mics and talent - it can get complicated very quickly. So I think the best way to juggle all these tasks is to have three in your crew, someone on sound, someone on camera and one person directing and managing the talent.
It’s ok for a crew member to wear more than one hat. For example, you may be the director and cinematographer. Then your sound person might also be managing the lighting. Or you might be monitoring sound while you interview and your crew looks after the camera and lights. It’s about making sure all the roles are covered and everyone is confident with the roles they are performing. And they know what the expectations are. Don’t assume your lighting person will be willing to pick up a camera, or that your sound person is okay to do the lighting. You have to discuss this when you hire them for the roles.
When everyone is clear on their role and responsibility, you’ll be on well on your way to a great shoot day.
Create the best work space!
An important concept to hold close during any shoot is the importance of the space. Though a larger crew can make things easier on the technical side of things, one downside is that it could have a negative effect on your talent. Having a lot of cameras pointing at you can be daunting enough! Let alone a crew of ten looking at you and hanging onto your every word.
Ok, I’m exaggerating, you’d be very unlikely to have 10 crew on a documentary shoot. But even 3 people can be a lot if you’re working in a small space.
The way your crew behaves will also have a massive impact on the shoot. So, when you’re hiring, try your best to screen your prospective crew. Ideally, meet them in person but Zoom is ok if they’re interstate. You should also check their reviews or ask for references if you can. But the reality is, you’ll never really know how they’ll perform till you see them in action. If you’re lucky, you’ll hire great people that conduct themselves on set with outstanding professionalism. But occasionally, you may get somebody who is less than ideal, and having to manage them can become a big task in itself.
We highlighted a prime example of this on the Moonshine Moonshot companion episode on YouTube. We were filming in Washington DC with important individuals who work in cancer control. To assist with the shoot, we hired a sound guy as an extra set of hands to help capture good-quality audio. Unfortunately, this person needed to regularly leave the location to smoke a cigarette. Considering the context, this was less than ideal and wasn’t a great look for us as filmmakers.
In short, what I’m emphasising is the importance of creating the best environment possible for your talent. How your crew behave and engage with your talent will ultimately affect your end product - so recruit carefully! A crew that is not acting in a professional manner can make your talent uneasy, nervous or might just have them questioning what they have got themselves involved with. Not a great way to build rapport.
Keep calm and carry on
I know it’s a cheesy saying that we all cringe at - but it’s a saying for a reason! And it’s an important philosophy when trying to manage a film crew because laughter may be infectious, but so are nerves.
When it comes to nerves, there is no one strategy that works for all people. So it’s really important that you learn what helps keep you on your game. And whatever that is, use that to come into the space with the confidence and calmness that allows you and the rest of your crew to flourish. If everybody feels like they are in the safe hands of a professional, the shoot should run like clockwork (Regardless of whether you’re a nervous wreck on the inside or not!).
Want to know the trick to being professional?
If you’re really wanting to make sure you come across as a professional, there’s one very neat trick that everyone can do… Be prepared! Preparation is key and that’s why the Moonshot series exists! So when shoot day comes you have all the resources and knowledge to lead your crew with absolute confidence.
So assuming you’ve done that, you should have all the tools to know what you need for your shoot. Because in the end, there is no right or wrong way to crew your film. It really is just dependent on your production, your resources and your goals as a filmmaker.
Keen for more? Settle down Tarantino! There is plenty more to come. In the next lesson, we’ll discuss the importance of getting consent from your participants. Trust me, the last thing you want to do is create a whole doco and then find out they don’t want to be in your film!
Until then, make sure you’re following us on Facebook and Instagram. And of course, drop us a DM or an e-mail if you want to get in contact!
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