If you have a backer with unlimited financial resources like, say, a pharmaceutical company, then this doesn’t apply to you (i.e. Studios).  But for the rest of the filmmaking world, think about this.  People cost time and money.  Even people working for free.

Every single person on your crew will cost a certain amount of money.  That amount varies, of course, because maybe you’re housing people at neighbors and friends.  But if you aren’t, you’re going to have to house them someplace.  Cheap motels aren’t free.  Some people have the ability to fly or drive to you, feed themselves, and bring their own bottled water to the set.  But will everybody?  Probably not.

The easiest way to save time and money is to cut out unnecessary crew members.  If you operate your own camera, you don’t need a camera person.  If you know about lighting, you won’t need a DP.  You don’t need a Gaffer, because anybody can hold the reflector or turn on the light.  Go for an intern.  If you have a DP or camera person it usually means you’ll add another dozen or so people automatically.  Most DPs and camera people can’t manage to hold the camera and also pull focus, change lenses, memory cards, download cards, etc., and they will usually request an additional person for each of those simple activities.  And all of those people will have NOTHING to do but stand there and wait for their specific duty.

By having the actors manage their own costumes and props, you omit the need for a props person, props assistant, costumer, seamstress, and whomever else those people “need” to assist them in order to do their jobs.  Of course, if you use a costume person, consider another area on the crew you can omit a person.  Can that costume person also manage being on Script during the takes (since they’d otherwise be doing nothing)?

By keeping on schedule and doing adequate planning ahead of time, you’ll also omit the need for a Second AD, and any other office-type person who would otherwise have nothing to do but sit around all day waiting to see if you’re behind schedule.

In addition to saving money, by omitting unneeded crew people, you’ll also save time.  The more people you have, the more time it takes for everyone to show up.  More people means less time in the loo (so “take 15 minutes” usually turns into “it’s been 45 minutes, we’re already behind, and not everyone has had a chance to use the toilet.”)

When an aspiring film student comes up to me and says, “I want to work on your crew, I’ll do anything, I’ll even pay my own way,” it’s very tempting to have them join the team.  But I’ve learned to draw the line.  While it’s helpful if one or two people come aboard under those circumstances, six or seven end up bogging down the set.

In addition to saving time and money, a smaller set is more enjoyable.  If you’ve never been on a film set before, you’ll come to love the days when hardly anyone is there.  Fat or thin, tall or short, the fact is, people take up space.

Add in equipment cases, bags, tripods, even at the barest minimum, it becomes crowded really quickly.  And, a crowded hallway isn’t as easy to walk down as an empty one.  Getting on and off the set, or in and out of the location is far easier when there are only a handful of people.

I know it’s exciting to have all your friends around to watch, and people willing to work for free, but please consider my advice and draw the line someplace.  If a person isn’t actually doing something useful, get rid of them.  Or select certain days on the schedule when they could be useful, and tell them to stay home on days that aren’t.

3 thoughts on “CUT OUT THE FAT

  1. I just brought this up in a video recently. You may not be able to pull off a production for free, but you can certainly do your best to limit the amount and kinds of expenses you’d normally incur.

    If you’re going to bring on an intern or an amateur, their skill or the ability for them to do their job well (read: like you would like) is largely dependent on your ability to direct them, instruct them and put systems in place for their success (like the various checklists you employ).

  2. Amen, Steve! My 1st AD and one of the lead cast members doubled as Script Supervisors while my production assistant also doubled as wardrobe, craft services and set photographer…due to budget limitations.

    I still really wanted a cameraman and sound guy but the one I wanted wasn’t available for the budget so I ended up having to workaround it myself using tips that he gave me for going solo. Having a cast member who is an actor and photographer also helped a great deal with regards to the DP work.


  3. I totally agree that many sets or productions have way too many people standing around. I have also been on many sets that I have done multiple positions including grip camera assist and even sound guy all on the same set. I have noticed though that depending on the complexity of the shoot the quality of each job can be negatively affected if you try to cut out or consolidate too many positions. This is especially true if someone is put in charge of doing something that isn’t their strongest skill. I believe it is best to find the best people in each area, know their limits (and make sure they know their own limits), and find people who will work hard. Last but not least, if you follow all of these things, make sure to show appreciation for each of these crew members. They are probably doing the work of 10 to 15 union workers and getting paid much less. Don’t lose them simply because they don’t feel appreciated for what they do. With that being said, Steve, you are a great guy to work with and I look forward to the day that we are able to work on another project together.

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