What does the crew do?
The crew for a very small indie production might be as small as two people. The first person is the filmmaker (producer, director, cinematographer, etc.) and the other is the assistant (sound, script, continuity, gaffer, grip, etc.).
If you are using anything other than available light then at least one gaffer to hold reflectors during filming is probably necessary.
Selecting a filmmaking crew
On your first attempts at making a short you will be calling on friends and other wannabe filmmakers. If you've been networking you should have found a few people by now.
A good source in most cities is to go to craigslist.com and place an ad for "crew" in the "gigs" section.
Don't get more people than you need while realizing that some of the people who absolutely, positively promise they will be there just don't show up at the last minute. The promise of good food on the set and beer and pizza after filming will do more than anything else to improve attendance.
Shortly before you actually start filming have a training session where everyone gets to try the equipment and go through the process of filming scenes. Try to get some of the actors to show up for the training session. You want to foster a feeling of friendliness and teamwork as early as possible.
Don't pick your crew too far in advance because people will forget and make other commitments.
One tip I've learned is that your crew doesn't necessarily need to know what they're doing to start with, as long as you get smart people who understand what you are trying to accomplish and are really interested in the film. (Another reason to have a really Great Script!)
Smart people who care will learn really fast and get really involved in doing a good job. They will also start spotting little mistakes and making suggestions for other ways to try things.
Listen to what people say without losing control of the set. Other people's ideas are often very useful and give everyone a sense of ownership in making the film the best possible. Suppress your ego and listen with an open mind.
Sometimes you will reject suggestions. Remind everyone that you as the filmmaker/director and author of the movie are the final authority on how things will get done. This is your movie. If people have a problem with that concept let them know that if you were helping them make their movie you would let them make the final decisions.
If they still try to take over the set ask them politely to find something else to do with their time besides helping you with your movie. If you find yourself with an actor with an attitude problem it can be a real problem.
As you productions get bigger you'll be able to start hiring professional crews. People who know what they are doing can make a movie move much faster and enormously improve the quality of the final product.
The first person you want to get once you can afford to hire some professional crew is a good sound person. Good sound makes a film so much clearer even if the images are marginal.
Filmmaking crew meetings
An important part of the director's job during preproduction is to lead the crew meetings where everyone will learn their role in the filmmaking production process. The more clearly the director can make their vision of the process to the main crew members the smoother the entire production will go.
If the production is a very low-budget one and many of the crew are inexperienced then it is very smart to have a technical training session before the actual production begins. This session is to familiarize everyone with the equipment that will be used and with the procedures that need to be followed during the production to ensure safety and efficiency.
Crew for a bigger-budget film production
Once your budget is large enough to actually pay most of the crew a salary you can take a different approach. Instead of hiring a lot of individuals you just hire the "department heads", or "keys" and they will hire the rest of the crew. They will get people they've worked with in the past that they know are dependable.
Who are the key department heads? The Director of Photography (DP), Production Manager, Assistant Director and Production Designer.
Another way to locate professional film crew members is to list your production on The Mercury Report. It won't cost you anything to list your production. Crew (and actors) subscribe to the report and will contact you to apply to work on your production. Productions of all sizes and budgets can be listed.
The LONG production crew list
As the production gets larger you will find yourself increasingly in need of more people to handle various aspects. Doing everything yourself isn't very smart and isn't even admired in the film world. Filmmaking is about collaboration. Here is a list of just about everyone who might be involved in a bigger-budget production.
Even if you will be working with a much smaller crew it is very useful to go through a list like this to see all the jobs that will need to get done eventually.
Who will handle the various tasks? Figure that out at this point during preproduction and you won't have to fight about it on the set.
Preproduction crew members
- The story editor supervises several story analysts who work for the studios. The analysts read screenplays, books and other literary efforts looking for potential movies. The analyst then writes "coverage" (a synopsis) of the material. The story editor reviews the coverage and passes on promising prospects to the studio bosses for possible development into a motion picture.
Writer - The term "Written By" in the credits is a Writers Guild of America designation meaning "Original Story and Screenplay By." The writer creates and shapes an original story, or adapts a book, play or other work for use on the big screen. A script may go through many writers, so the Writer's Guild of America must often determine who gets screen credit as the Writer.
- The dialogue coach helps actors learn their lines and master accents and dialects that are necessary for their roles.
- The location manager reads the script, decides what locations are necessary for the film, then scouts for them. The location manager visits possible locations and takes pictures to help the director find the best setting. After locations are chosen, the location manager acquires all the permits and permissions necessary for filming.
- The set designer takes direction from the art director about the look of the set, and then plans its technical construction.
- The art director, or production designer, designs and supervises the construction of sets for a movie. This person needs to be well-versed in a variety of art and design styles, including architecture and interior design. He or she works with the cinematographer to achieve the right look for the production.
Costume Designer - The costume designer creates all the costumes worn by the cast on a production. This person contributes to the overall look of the film, as well as the style and interpretation of the film's characters.
Production crew members
Unit Production Manager
- The unit production manager (U.P.M.) reports the daily financial operation of a production to the production manager. Sometimes the U.P.M. will scout for locations and help the production manager with overall planning.
- The line producer supervises the movie's budget. This includes unique expenses like a star's salary as well as daily costs like equipment rentals. The production manager reports his or her expenses and needs to the line producer.
- The production manager (P.M.) makes business deals with the crew and arranges for the production's technical needs. This includes everything from obtaining the right technical equipment to renting accommodations for actors and crew.
- The director is responsible for all creative aspects of a movie. The director usually helps hire actors, decides on locations and plans the shots before filming begins. During filming the director oversees the actors and crew, sets up shots and keeps the movie on schedule and on budget. The director is usually hired by a producer, unless he or she is also producing the film.
- The assistant director (A.D., or First A.D. in larger productions) works to make the director more efficient. The A.D. plans a shooting schedule by breaking the script into sections that can be filmed in a single day and in the most efficient order. During filming the A.D. manages the set, helps line up shots for the director, calls for quiet on the set and coordinates the extras. The assistant director is often a member of the Directors' Guild of America.
Second Assistant Director
- The second assistant director (second A.D.) is a liaison between the production manager and the first assistant director. The second A.D. usually works with the cast and crew and handles paperwork, including call sheets (who needs to be on the set and when), actors' time sheets and production reports. This person also helps the First A.D. place extras and control crowds.
- The continuity person tries to prevent embarrassing gaffes in the final film, such as an actor wearing a hat that mysteriously disappears in one shot then reappears in another. The continuity person logs how many times a scene was shot, how long the shot lasted, which actors were in the scene, where they were standing and any other intricate details -- like that disappearing hat!
- The cinematographer, or director of photography (D.P.), helps create the look of a movie. The D.P. directs the lighting for each scene, helps frame shots, chooses lenses, selects film stock and ensures that the visual look of the film conforms to the director's vision. The cinematographer usually does not operate the camera on set (this is the duty of the camera operator).
- The gaffer is the chief electrician on the set, and is responsible for lighting the set according to the instructions of the cinematographer.
- The camera operator is a member of the camera crew and runs the camera as instructed by the director and the cinematographer. The camera operator is responsible for keeping the action in frame, and responding quickly to the action as it unfolds.
- Often there is a first and second assistant cameraman. The first assistant cameraman is generally responsible for the maintenance of the camera. The first assistant cameraman also changes lenses, maintains focus during shots, marks the spots where actors will stand and measures the distance between the camera and the subject matter. The second assistant cameraman fills out camera reports and is often responsible for loading and unloading camera magazines, which contain the film. (Also see film loader.)
- The film loader is a member of the camera crew in charge of loading and unloading the camera's film magazines. The film loader also keeps the loading room in good, clean condition.
- A Steadicam is a body frame that helps the Steadicam operator keep a hand-held camera steady. This allows the Steadicam operator to follow the action without the jerky movement seen in normal hand-held cameras. Steadicam operators need special training and require much strength and energy.
Production Sound Mixer
- The production sound mixer (or recordist) records sound during filming. This person is also responsible for mixing the various soundtracks into the film's composite soundtrack, which is then put onto the film with either a magnetic or optical stripe.
- The boom operator is a sound crew member who handles the microphone boom, a long pole that holds the microphone near the action but out of frame, allowing the microphone to follow the actors as they move.
- The key grip is the chief grip on the set. Grips create shadow effects with lights and operate camera cranes, dollies and platforms as directed by the cinematographer.
- The dolly grip places and moves the dolly track, then pushes and pulls the dolly along that track. The dolly is a cart that the camera and sometimes its crew sit on. It allows the camera to move smoothly from place to place during a shot.
- There are actually two separate best boy positions -- the best boy/electric and the best boy/grip -- who are second in command to the gaffer and to the key grip. The best boy/grip is in charge of the rest of the grips and grip equipment. The best boy/electric is in charge of the rest of the electricians and the electrical equipment.
- The stunt coordinator lines up professional stunt people to take the risks that make the movies so exciting. The stunt coordinator makes sure that all safety regulations are followed and that all safety equipment is on the set and ready for action!
Visual Effects Director - The visual effects director's job varies according to the needs of the production. Sometimes the visual effects director helps with effects on the set. But he or she could also be called upon to supervise separate teams of effects technicians working away from the set.
FX Coordinator - FX is film shorthand for special effects. The job of the FX coordinator differs from film to film. Special effects range from complicated computer animation to helping Superman fly to simple on-set logistics like making a shower work.
Property Master - The property master finds, maintains and places on the set all essential props for a scene. A prop is a moveable item that is essential to a scene.
- The leadman answers to the set designer and heads the swing gang (the people who set up and take down the set) and the set dressing department.
- The set dresser is responsible for everything on a set except props that are essential to the scene. The set dresser selects items like drapes, artwork, bed linens, dishes and anything else, to make the set a realistic environment.
- The costumer, or wardrobe person, takes care of the costumes on the set, keeping them in good, clean condition, and making sure the right actor gets the right costume.
- The make-up artist is usually a licensed professional who applies any make-up to an actor above the breastbone to the top of the head and from the tips of the fingers to the elbow. (Also see body make-up artist.)
Body Make-up Artist
- Union rules state that the body make-up artist apply any make-up below the actor's breastbone, or above the elbow (Also see make-up artist).
- The hairdresser is licensed to cut, color and style the hair of actors in a production. He or she also styles and cuts wigs when necessary. Usually the hairdresser provides all the necessary equipment and rents it to the production on a weekly basis.
- Often called a gofer or a runner on the set, the production assistant (P.A.) performs small but essential tasks for the cast and crew.
Production Office Coordinator
- The production office coordinator (P.O.C.) handles the production's office duties and stays behind when a production goes on location. He or she coordinates the crew, makes sure paperwork gets done and answers the phone. The P.O.C. also puts together new versions of the script as changes are made.
- The unit publicist makes sure the media are aware of a production by sending out press releases, arranging for interviews of cast and crew, setting up on-set visits and organizing media kits, which include publicity pictures, video and audio clips and plot summaries.
Second Unit Director
- The second unit director heads the second unit -- a separate production crew that shoots sequences not involving the main actors. These can include background shots at remote locations, shots used for special effects and scenes that are not essential to the plot.
- The production caterer provides all the meals for a production, especially for on-location shoots. The caterer makes sure that the food provided meets the needs of the cast, often including special items for the star of the movie.
- The people responsible for coffee, beverages and snacks on the set. They also perform various small chores.
- The transportation coordinator makes sure that actors, crew and equipment have some way of getting to the location shoot. He or she coordinates the use of everything from limos to semis.
- Background is the term for the non-speaking extras seen in the background of a scene.
- A day player is an actor hired on a daily basis. This actor only has a few lines or scenes. The day player must be notified that they are finished by the end of the day; otherwise they are automatically called back for another day of work.
Postproduction crew members
- The post-production supervisor oversees the finishing of a film once shooting ends. He or she attends editing sessions, maintains quality control, and coordinates audio mixing, computer graphics, and all other technical needs.
- The editor works with the director in editing the film. The director has the primary responsibility for editing decisions, but the editor often has significant input in the creative decisions involved in putting together a final cut of a movie. The editor often starts work while the film is still being shot, by assembling preliminary cuts from the daily footage. Increasingly, editors work on computerized editing consoles without touching the actual film.
- The color timer works with the cinematographer. He or she works in the lab to correct and balance the color of the film to the director's wishes for the look of the scene.
- The negative cutter takes the negative of a movie and conforms, or matches, it to the final cut of the film as decided by the director, editor, producer, studio and anyone else who may be involved. Final prints of the film are made from this conformed negative.
- The foley artist creates sounds that cannot be properly recorded during the shoot. This often includes creating foot steps, thunder, creaking doors and even the sound of punches during a barroom brawl.
- ADR is an acronym for automatic dialogue replacement. In this process the actors are called back during the post-production process to re-record dialogue that wasn't recorded properly during the shoot. The editor supervises this process and matches the newly recorded lines to the actor's mouth on film.
- The music mixer is part of the team that prepares the final soundtrack for a movie. The music mixer carefully balances and mixes the film's musical score to integrate with the dialogue.
- The matte artist is a member of the special effects department who helps create locations that never existed. He or she constructs backgrounds (either with traditional artists' tools or, increasingly, with computers) that integrate with the live action filmed on a set. A good example of a matte painting is the yellow brick road in "The Wizard of Oz."