How To Build Your Web Series Crew
Stareable’s Guide to Creating a Show (Part 4)
Andrew Williams (director) and Brandon Smalls (DP) on the set of Brains
You’re going to get sick of me saying this, but filmmaking is a collaborative process. At this point in our “how-to” adventure together, you should have a script, a producer or two, a director, an organized script breakdown, and an idea of where you’re going to get the necessary cash. Now it’s time to build the rest of your team. This week, we’re talking how and who to hire for your crew.
If I’m being honest, on a no-budget production, crew is second priority to securing actors, but the more people you can bring onboard, the easier everyone’s jobs will be. And because having the same people behind the scenes the whole shoot isn’t as important as having the same actors on screen, you can be a bit more flexible.
You’re going to want to call on friends to fill out your crew, and that’s fine, but a few words of warning. First, prioritize crew who already have access to equipment. Hiring a director of photography (DP) with a camera is better than a DP without one, and hiring a lighting person with a lighting kit is better than your roommate from college who owns a table lamp. Don’t just hire friends because they seem excited to help. Only hire friends if they are a) already skilled at the thing you’re hiring them for, and/or b) clear on the expectations and responsibilities and ready to follow directions. I don’t care that you’ve been friends since childhood — if your friend can’t do the job or won’t follow instructions, don’t hire them. It’ll just put undue stress on the relationship as well as the production.
Because a crew is a luxury for a no-budget project, here’s my entirely subjective list of essential team members for any production, regardless of budget:
Sound. Audible not-staticky sound is more important than having clear footage. People will forgive a grainy image if they can hear what’s going on.
Art director or production designer. You’ll need this person to decorate the set, keep track of background continuity if you’re shooting on multiple days, and organize props.
Production Assistant. More commonly referred to as a PA, this person is just the grunt worker, who goes on coffee or emergency duct tape runs, helps set up and break down all the equipment, etc. It beats having to send your director to buy Band-aids in the middle of a shooting day and having a designated grunt person just makes everything run smoother. This is one of the most vital and, naturally, the most thankless jobs on a set, so if you don’t have someone happy to do it (usually someone younger than you, or a student looking for film set experience), rotate. It’s a humbling experience, and spreading that around might even raise moral.
If you happen to know more people, though, here are potential add-ons:
Director of Photography. This person controls the camera while the director controls the actors, allowing them both to focus on their particular roles more fully.
Script Supervisor. You know when you’re watching TV and the color of a coffee mug on a table changes between shots? That’s the mistake of a script supervisor, whose entire job is maintaining continuity so the production doesn’t look silly. Some things you just can’t fix in post-production.
Assistant director. They keep track of the organization and schedule of the set while the director makes decisions and focuses on the creative side of things.
Hair and makeup. Most actors, even men, know how to do basic makeup so that they don’t appear greasy or unkempt on camera. That said, having someone doing actor makeup will save a lot of time, makes everyone look more consistent, and makes your production appear much more professional than you might be in reality. This person can also be the one making sure eyeliner isn’t melting onto an actor’s face after hours of being directly underneath a really hot light. It’s amazing what you miss if you’re not looking for it, so having backup to look out for, well, looks, is incredibly helpful.
Of course, best case scenario is that you get to hire fifty different people, who are all specialized in different parts of running a set, but reality might not be so kind. Different scripts and different sets will require different combinations of people, and at the end of the day, you’re going to need to figure what works best for you and your story.
Now that you’ve built your behind-the-scenes team, it’s time to look in front of the camera. Next week we’ll talk actors, auditions, and good vibes.