Most of us have hired between several and many crew members in our careers. As a whole, almost all of them step up to the tasks we ask of them. They show up on time, they act like professionals and generally aid us in making the things we set out to make. So why do I see so many filmmakers making unrealistic demands of their crews and expecting them to care as much as the filmmaker who conceived of the project does?
It is simply not reasonable to expect a crew member or even a producer you bring onboard for the short term to care about your project as much as you do. They don’t and they shouldn’t. It’s not their project.
In fact, the easiest way to get a project to fail IS to have a crew member working harder than you.
They don’t and shouldn’t care that you’ve been working on this project for the past two years. Next week they’ll be on another gig and if every time they get hired, they have to act like they own the project, they’d go crazy. This is often their livelihood or a means to get some experience, so they are not thinking about the trajectory of this project in any way that looks like yours.
On the contrary, they are thinking about getting this job delivered and where their next gig is coming from. That is their job and how they feed themselves. As a producer/director, my day starts on set with me trying to figure out the best way I can show up for THEM and aid THEM in doing the best job possible instead of the other way around. In the end, I approach it as “I work for them, they don’t work for me”.
Now before you say, “But, Alex, there is no way to establish authority in that context”, beware, it’s a trap. Those directors and producers that have the ere of “You’re lucky to be here”, find themselves with a crew that talks about them behind their backs and has to pull teeth to get them to perform their jobs to maximum effort. Because that respect has been lost.
They secretly know that if any number of them walked off the job, it would shut the whole thing down. Rarely do they ever pull that trigger, but it’s there.
I say this because I recently saw a young-ish director dress-down a grip in front of the whole crew in some poor-man’s Christian Bale tirade that was clearly a performance to show what an “artist” he was. It was disgusting. I watched, in that moment, that director lose all credibility and leadership. His tantrum was a piece of theater… a show to play AT being a director like one he had read about in a book or saw on TV. It was that moment that every person realized he was playing the part of a director rather than simply being one.
Once he lost leadership, he struggled to get it back, if he ever did.
I have found that rewarding hustle and hard work with something as little as a pat on the shoulder and short, “great job, we really appreciate you working so hard” gets more done in 5 seconds than any bullshit theatrics ever can.
In the end, crew members are people, without whom our work as creators would never get done. So, at meal call, eat last and as much as possible sit at the same table as that clutch of PA’s or camera assistants and get to know them. If your project is small and people are working for free, find that PA that showed up on day 2 after putting in 12 hours in on your project on day 1, for free and tell them that you truly appreciate what they do… and for god’s sake, don’t yell at them.
***Alex LeMay is a Showrunner and Director from Los Angeles, California. He creates and produces web series’ for Sony Studios, YouTube Red, Maker, Go90, Air + Style and more. In addition, he is the founder of alexlemay.com 1, a coaching and consulting business that helps working filmmakers build high-earning content businesses.