It’s an exciting time to be a video creator – every business needs video and the democratization of film gear means smaller crews can bid for and produce an amazing array of work. One of the keys to being agile and competitive in this quickly evolving industry is to get your production team just right. With your video dream team by your side, you’ll be ready to take on the world.
Putting the band together
To help put together the dream team let’s look at two common types of production teams, the orchestra and the solo act. Each has their merits, but both have difficulty meeting the two biggest requirements for many clients: affordability and high production value.
We’ve all seen those giant feature film crews blocking streets with their impossibly big lights and substantial crew standing around. This is the orchestra of the video world, where each person executes their own specific talents, uniting to make something beautiful, and often, very expensive.
The orchestra has its place in the world, but these are for big brands and deep pockets. Even a modest orchestra (a chamber orchestra, if you will) of 15 people on set can set you back tens of thousands of dollars a day in shooting expense. Savvy clients of today want more for less. More story, more style, more content, and with the right crew and creative talent, they can have it.
The solo act
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the solo act. This is the video producer who does it all – produces, shoots, directs, edits, runs audio, and does the sound design, after effects, and delivery. I’m sure many of you (and me) have done your fair share of solo gigs. They can be great for learning your craft and for passion projects, but they’re also stressful, make it difficult to juggle multiple projects, and are virtually impossible to scale up. If you want to grow your business you need to invite others to share the stage with you.
The best of both worlds: the dream team
It’s time for something in between The New York Philharmonic and Bob Dylan. Today’s production dream team builds upon the solo act model (people with multiple skills are key) and streamlines the orchestra model (sometimes it pays to hire a specialist), in order to build a truly modern production crew. There’s no one dream team for all occasions; it's up to you to figure out what combination works best for you, your clients, and for the kind of work you are producing.
For me it’s all about the fab four:
- Swing tech
The producer is the client liaison, runs the schedule and deals with logistics like locations and hiring crew. They are also typically in charge of the budget, so if the director wants to get that amazing hero shot with a rented steadicam rig – the producer is the one to tell you if you can afford it.
The producer is a master of set logistics, has the phone number of the person who is going to get you into the location, and makes sure everyone is fed and taking proper meal breaks. They will often act as script supervisor on set as well, taking notes on the action, good takes, and issues to look out for in post.
As part of the fab four, the director is also the DP. This person works directly with the talent to nail the performance (the producer can jump in here as well if the shots are technically challenging enough to require their full attention). The DP will also make sure the camera is framed and the set is lit the way she wants it and that all the technical stuff (F-stop, shutter speed, focus, etc) is a-ok. In my model the director/DP owns or rents all the gear to make the shoot happen and is in charge of operating the camera.
This is a DIT (digital imaging technician)/audio tech combo. In other words, your tech guru. Get the right person here and you can achieve a lot. I have seen tremendous results when this person is just the right mix of techie and aspiring filmmaker. It is invaluable to have one person who can swing between multiple departments on set, swapping lenses, setting up a light, backing up camera cards, attaching a LAV mic. This takes a huge work load off of the director/DP and helps make the set run infinitely more efficiently.
If the perfect tech swing does not enter your life at the right moment, no worries! This is an area where it may pay to hire a specialist. Maybe you find a dedicated DIT and supplement their skills with a talented AC (assistant camera). Often ACs have a deep knowledge of camera and lighting and many are also talented camera operators, so now you can do that two-camera shoot you wanted to do.
The PA is essential. The production assistant is under the producer and therefore helps keep the set running smoothly. They are typically the first ones on set and the last ones to leave.
Hauling gear, making food and coffee runs, driving the vehicle is all part of the job, but the PA is also there to learn how a set works. Typically after we are loaded into a location, my PA can easily morph into the understudy of the tech swing from helping out with lighting, setting up stands and adjusting lights for the DP, to monitoring audio to ensure proper levels, or holding the boom.
The beauty of the dream team model is that it is fluid – there are no hard and fast rules. You can expand (or contract) the team to suit any project. For some gigs you may want a dedicated sound person or a multi-camera setup. As your shoot grows in complexity so do your crew needs.
By having a strong network of professionals and freelancers to call in for gigs, you can put together your favorite band for the occasion. The successful modern production crew is one that can harness multiple talents from each individual crew member on set. When you’ve put together just the right team, you’ll be able to see it on set and in the end result – it will all just work.
What does your production dream team look like? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.
Mustafa is a preditor and shooter at Flicker Filmworks, the production company he runs with his wife Laura. Based in New York's Hudson Valley, he has been editing documentaries, television shows, music concerts and just about anything else for over 15 years. When not stuck in a dark edit suite he can be found strumming sweet raga music on his sitar.