Thought Piece | 12 minute read

How to build a film crew

Mallory Chen
Author

Mallory Chen

Mallory Chen is a production coordinator at Everpost. A Los Angeles native, she graduated from Williams College with a degree in psychology. Before joining Everpost, she worked in education and medicine in locales ranging from the Bay Area to Japan. She is a film/video and dance enthusiast.

There is no “I” in “Crew”

Pulling off a video production, regardless of length, is no small feat. A solid crew is a must to execute and elevate any creative vision. The strength of your crew members individually and as a team will play directly into the quality and efficiency of a shoot, as well as the degree to which the footage captures the concept laid down by the creative team. But how, you may be wondering. Where to look? Who am I looking for? What is a crew, even? You’re in the right place.

What is a crew?

Simply put, the crew is the production team. They may not be the main creatives in terms of story or overall vision, but their jobs are to employ their creative and technical abilities to bring that creative vision to life in the process of the shoot. Crew are not to be mistaken with cast, who are the talent that are filmed on camera. In this article, we’ll focus on the crew involved in pre-production and production; watch our talent videos for an up-close look at the roles within a post production team.

What kind of roles make up a crew?

Great question. There are many different roles; which roles you’ll want to fill depends on your budget and the nature of your production. You might have crew members taking on a couple or a few different roles at once. We’ll break it down by department. But first, let’s clarify – who are you?

Production department

  • Director: The head honcho. Steers the ship. Directs the creative process and the shoot.
  • Assistant director (AD): Quite literally, assists the director.
    • 1st AD: Makes sure the shoot follows schedule. May also handle coordination of the script or set, manage the crew, and/or direct background actors.
    • 2nd AD: Assistant to the 1st AD, typically needed for larger productions. Directs extras and makes crew call sheets. And for really large productions…
    • 3rd AD, or 2nd 2nd AD: Manages crowds of extras or prevents people outside the production from interfering.
  • Script supervisor: Makes sure continuity is maintained during shooting. Tracks camera angles, lighting, prop positioning, cast blocking, costumes, and hairstyles across shoots and alerts the director to any potential for discontinuity cropping up in post-production.
  • Producer: Oversees all aspects of production, including creative, logistics, finances, and distribution. Depending on the size of the production, there may be just one producer or a few different types.
    • Executive producer: Oversees the funding/business sides of the production. Might not necessarily be present on set during shooting.
    • Line producer: Manages the budget, daily finances, and acquisition of physical resources.
    • Associate/assistant producer: Assistant to the main producer(s).
  • (Unit) production manager: Oversees production logistics. Reports to the line producer.
  • Production coordinator: Coordinates paperwork, contracts, and logistics regarding cast and crew. Reports to the production manager.
  • Production assistant (PA): Supports production with a wide range of miscellaneous tasks; available to pick up slack wherever needed.
  • Location manager: Handles location scouting and securing permits as needed. Acts as the on-set representative for liaising with location owners. This job may be taken on by a producer or production manager.

Common role combinations, especially for smaller or lower-budget productions: director/producer, producer/1st AD, script supervisor/1st AD.

Camera department

  • Director of photography (DoP or DP): Cinematographer. Works with the director to dictate cameras and lighting. Translates the director’s vision into camera movement and framing.
  • Camera operator: Holds and moves the camera (Steadicam, dolly, crane, drone, etc.).
  • 1st assistant camera (1st AC): a.k.a. focus puller. Makes sure all shots are in focus, switches out lenses, and sets up and breaks down the camera.
  • 2nd AC: a.k.a. clapper loader. Labels and claps the clapper, loads film, maintains film records, and transports cameras.
  • Digital imaging technician (DIT): Helps to realize the DP’s vision in digital format. Handles archiving of footage for delivery to the post-production team.
The DP on a smaller production might double as the camera operator.

Lightning and grip department

  • Gaffer: a.k.a. chief lighting technician. Works with the DP and director to determine the lighting design. Oversees lighting fixtures, electrical equipment, and safety on set.
  • Grip: Executes the lighting and rigging set-up determined by the gaffer, director, and DP. Key grip is the head grip.
  • Best boy/girl: Assists the grip(s).
A smaller production might have the gaffer and key grip or grip as a combined role.

Sound department

  • Production sound mixer: Also called a location sound mixer, or sound recordist. Head of audio recording. Chooses and sets up microphones. Monitors and mixes audio input in real time.
  • Boom operator: Holds the boom mic as close to the action as possible. Assists the sound mixer in setting up microphones.
A smaller production might have these two roles combined.

Art department

  • Production designer: Designs the visuals of the shoot (set, props, wardrobe, make-up, etc.) in collaboration with the director and DP.
  • Art director: Oversees the execution of the production designer’s vision. Head of operations for the art department.
  • Set decorator: Acquires set pieces and dresses the set in alignment with the production designer’s vision.
  • Props master and/or stylist: Acquire and manage props handled by the cast.
  • Wardrobe stylist: a.k.a. costume designer. Oversees costumes and ensures they are consistent with the production design.
  • Make-up artist: Handles make-up for cast and does touch-ups throughout shooting as needed.
  • Hair stylist: Styles cast hair and does touch-ups throughout shooting as needed.

Other

Some other positions that you may choose to have if needed:

  • Visual effects supervisor: Oversees on-set VFX crew.
  • Photographer and/or videographer: Documents the production process behind the scenes.
  • Swing: Someone who can provide support to any role as needed and pick up any slack.

More production-specific crew roles might include stunt coordinators, choreographers, or animal wranglers, among others.

How many crew members should I have?

As you can see, a crew has potential to be very large. While no role is unimportant, not every production can afford to hire every kind of crew member. It’s important to consider your budget and what size of crew you’re capable of coordinating as you’re deciding which roles are most essential to your production and which positions you might want to combine. Remember that in addition to paying your crew members, you should also consider the cost of providing

food, compensating any parking or transportation costs, and any extra fees that your shooting location may charge for bringing in a larger crew.

At the bare minimum, you’ll likely want to have the roles of director, 1st AD, producer, DP, gaffer/grip, production sound mixer, and production designer covered. This will put your crew at about 5-7 people at the least. If you’re even further strapped for cash, it is possible to operate with even less people, but each person will be trying to fulfill multiple roles, which could trip up efficiency and result in a less polished result. Match your crew size to your production size. If you are in a position where your crew cannot handle the scope of your production, you may need to scale it down. Likewise, if you have the funds for an abundance of crew members, you have the option to be more ambitious with the parameters of your shoot.

Look for your people

You’ve made some executive decisions on what kind of crew positions you’d like covered – now for the search. If you’ve got some filmmaking experience, think about your connections: was there anyone you worked really well with in the past? Can any of your former colleagues or acquaintances recommend talented crew to you? You might be more successful in getting help from somebody you’ve worked with before rather than somebody who is unfamiliar with your ability and/or work style. If you’ve already got creative collaborators on your project (i.e. if you’ve already been working with a director/producer/writer), definitely put your heads together to contact your respective networks.

If you’re a newer filmmaker, don’t have much of a network, or have been unsuccessful with your connections, you can search for crew who are actively looking for work or put up job postings online (ProductionBeast, Vimeo, ProductionHUB, FilmLocal, etc.). You can even utilize social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram if you feel that your post will reach somebody of interest. You can try tapping into your local filmmaking association or film school to see if there are any fellow filmmakers eager to work on others’ projects. Those of you working with more generous budgets might consider hiring crew members from unions like the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE); these crew are to be paid at set rates and are thus usually more expensive, but are required to have a level of demonstrated expertise and experience to be part of the union.

Try to hire your department heads first (i.e. DP, production designer, etc.). These roles will need more time during pre-production to prepare and plan for the shoot, and can also be tremendously helpful in expediting the remainder of the crew hiring process. For example, a DP might have in mind camera operators, ACs, grips, and gaffers they’ve worked well with previously, and can more easily drum up a reliable crew.

Regardless of the method you use to find potential crew, be sure to pitch your project in a way that will make people interested in getting involved. Highlight what’s exciting or different about your production, and be clear and straightforward about details like time commitment, pay, and any other forms of compensation that might be provided.

The hire

As you consider potential crew members, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Budget. Are hiring rates negotiable?
  • Work style and personality. Do you think this person will get along well with you and your existing crew? Are they a good fit with the team and the production? Are there any potential red flags?
  • Experience. What projects have they worked on previously? Check out their website, demo reel, portfolio, resume, and/or IMDb profile.
  • Reliability. Consider recommendations and get in touch with any references.
  • Equipment. Does this person have their own equipment or kit? (E.g. Does a DP own a particular camera you’re interested in using?) Will they charge extra for equipment usage? Will you need to insure that equipment?
  • Availability: Does this person’s schedule align with the production schedule? How much flexibility do they have?
  • Versatility: What other crew position can a person take on? Are they willing to fulfill more than one role? Will they charge a higher rate for doing so?

As you collect names, compile your potentials into a master list with contact information, links to reels, availability, and any other notes you may have on each person. Color code and/or label your top choices. It’s good practice to have a few names in mind for each position in case someone turns down an offer or later drops out of the project. Unfortunately, there may be times when you begin working with your team only to find that someone is incredibly difficult, unreliable, or otherwise a poor fit, in which case it’s sometimes in the production’s best interest to let that person go. We recommend ranking your top picks by assigning them to one of at least three tiers, so you can easily identify who your next choice is if necessary. Even if you are able to book your first pick with no issues, you might consider contacting your backups anyways and asking if they are willing to be on soft hold - if they agree, these crew members would be on standby for your shooting dates, but are free to take on other jobs in the case that you do not come through with an actual job offer.

During or after your project, go back and update your list with notes on your experiences working with the crew members you hired. This should help streamline any crew searches you embark on in the future.

Paperwork (a.k.a. Really Exciting Stuff)

Once you’ve finalized your hires, you’ll of course need to provide each with a job contract clearly defining the terms of employment. You’ll also want to have them sign release forms for copyright and other legal purposes (see an example form here). Make sure to have all this paperwork filed in a safe and organized fashion.

There it is – your guide to building a fantastic and well-paid crew with whom you can go forth and conquer The Great Production. Make us proud!

Mallory Chen
Author

Mallory Chen

Mallory Chen is a production coordinator at Everpost. A Los Angeles native, she graduated from Williams College with a degree in psychology. Before joining Everpost, she worked in education and medicine in locales ranging from the Bay Area to Japan. She is a film/video and dance enthusiast.

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