“Work with good people from the beginning and you’ll be fine,” writer/director Yulin Kuang advises on her Forget The Box podcast episode. This is advice most of our podcast guests have repeated- hire good people if you want to make good web series. However, for low- or no-budget filmmakers and filmmakers just starting out, it’s not as simple as finding the most qualified, experienced candidate. Noticing red flags is a skill, and one I hope to help you develop. What follows will be every red flag myself and fellow filmmakers have seen in potential collaborators, how serious each is, and how to note them before it’s too late.
Filmmaking is very exciting, but it can also be kind of boring. Anything from a long production meeting to a particularly lengthy lighting set up during shooting can lead to a cast or crew member zoning out, and every once in a while, it totally makes sense. However, zoning out becomes a problem when it starts to affect their work and ability to productively contribute to the process.
There are those who can charismatically complain about obvious inconveniences during production in ways that make it clear they’re joking. There are others who mask their legitimate frustration with half-hearted jokes because they’re too passive aggressive to tell you what’s on their mind, or who are just straight up aggressive. When someone is complaining about something that everyone else has to deal with as well (late lunch delivery, rain, the room being hot, etc) they think their discomfort is greater and more important than everyone else’s. They’re going to be a vibe-killer on set, and if they’re spending time complaining, it means they aren’t doing their actual job, so cut them loose early.
I am one of the most argumentative people on the planet, and it’s a PROBLEM. The only reason I’ve gotten away with being the worst is because I’m usually in charge and semi-unfireable, and I’ve also made an active effort to chill out, especially while on set. Because even with the best of intentions, starting arguments slows everything down and consistently makes everyone angry and on edge. What makes an argumentative tendency a dealbreaker is when it’s indiscriminate and the person is starting arguments because they want to be right, not because they’re making the project better. Keep on the lookout, and if you aren’t convinced it’s a fireable (or non-hireable) offense, definitely double check our How To Not Fight On Set article for tips and tricks to mitigate the worst moments.
You’ll likely have to meet with your new collaborator at least once or twice before you begin filming, for pre-production meetings, for auditions, for rehearsals, for location scouts, and more. If a person is late once, shit happens. If a person is late consistently, or more than 50% of the time, even with great excuses, something is up. I don’t accept the idea that “some people are just perpetually late” because what that really means is “I don’t care enough about you or this thing we’re doing to show up on time.” Shooting happens on frantic, stringently scheduled days to make sure you capture everything, and a chronically late person, regardless of their on-set role, is always going to put you behind.
Similar to chronic physical lateness, if one of your teammates consistently under-delivers their production contributions, it might be worth reevaluating their position. Every member of a small indie team is integral to its success, and if your DP has a habit of not making shot lists when he says he’s going to, or your producer still hasn’t sent a handful of emails two weeks after being assigned said emails, check in with them to see what the problem is. Sometimes it’s external factors, but after a while, a pattern emerges, and you need to be vigilant about dealing with that, either by assigning them to a different position or by parting ways creatively.
If your teammate reacts passive-aggressively to your attempting to confront any of the issues we’ve talked about thus far, that should also serve as a red flag. Once again- attitude is important when you’re crammed together in a small, sweaty room where everyone’s tired, broke, and trying to make something amazing. Your set (and production at large) should be a passive-aggression-free zone.
I was once on a set where a producer/actor spent a full shoot day loudly sighing, hunched in a chair, and whining to every individual member of the cast and crew about how he didn’t understand why he was there. It was a day where he wasn’t in the scene- only producing. We repeatedly told him he didn’t need to be there if he was bored, but then he lashed out for us not respecting him and not treating him like a producer and went back to publically pouting. Let’s be clear: he wasn’t upset because he wasn’t given things to do (he was) or because we had trapped him there (we hadn’t), he was upset because he wanted attention and to be seen as an authority without doing any work. This is a bigger problem than just someone complaining- this is a person who was repeatedly given opportunities to improve his situation and refused them in service of martyring himself. Spoiler alert! Fired. Best decision we ever made.
Worse than being a sulker is being a shit-talker, though. We’ve all seen this person- we might have even been this person at one point. But if you have a crew member who actively and publically talks badly about other people on the cast or crew, pull them aside immediately and explain how inappropriate their behavior is. If they do it again, fire them on the spot. It’s bad for morale, no matter how much you or others might agree with the target, and it makes everyone paranoid that when they’re not around, they’re getting talked about. Not a great aura to cultivate on your set, so don’t let it get too far, and please don’t contribute yourself. You are in charge, and your behavior sets the tone for the entire project. Don’t waste that opportunity by being a jerk.
Shout out to everyone on this Twitter thread for contributing to this article!