To paraphrase Orson Welles, a writer needs a pen, an artist needs a brush, and a filmmaker needs an army. This is not an overstatement: your average big budget Hollywood feature most likely boasts a crew of at least five hundred people. In the current age of effects-driven tentpole spectacles, it’s not uncommon for crew numbers to climb into the thousands – Iron Man 3, for example, credited a staggering total of 3,310 people. That’s an army.
Small teams are not armies. If you’re going to be shooting your next project on a smaller scale, you may have to make some tough choices as to which crew positions you can get away with not hiring (or which crew members you can have wearing multiple hats). The nature of the material you’re shooting can help with this to an extent: no stunts? No need for a stunt coordinator. Shooting on location? No need for carpenters. No horses? No animal wrangler – you get the idea.
There are, however, a handful of key roles that every team should make an effort to fill. In this post, we’ll break down these crucial roles and explain why it would be in your best interest to have them with you when you go to camera.
On a full-scale crew, you will find multiple ADs: a 1st AD, 2nd AD, a second 2nd AD, and a 3rd (Trainee) AD. Each one forms a link in the chain of command from the director down to the individual departments.
Taken as a whole, the purpose of the AD team is to hash out the shooting schedule, create and distribute call sheets, relay orders from the director, and keep everyone informed and on time. They’re masters of communication and addressing problems before they boil over. Having at least one AD on your team will guarantee a smoother shoot.
Director of Photography
This one is kind of a given, but the importance of a quality DP cannot be understated. It’s their job to capture your cinematic vision on camera. A qualified DP will be able to tell you exactly what kind of equipment you’ll need to achieve your desired look, and design the appropriate lighting plans. They’ll also figure out the best way to frame your scenes, position actors, and move the camera – most of all, they’ll make it look good. It’s not unheard of for DPs to serve double duty as their own Camera Operator, which can be a boon for smaller crews. This is one position you do not want to skimp out on.
1st Assistant Camera
Even if your DP is operating their own camera, they can’t do it all themselves. This is where the 1st A.C. comes in. They make sure that the camera is working properly, that the lenses are clean, and that all necessary equipment is ready to go. The most important aspect of the Camera Assistant’s job is pulling focus – meaning they work with your Camera Operator / DP to ensure that the subject of a shot remains in focus throughout a take. This is accomplished by setting marks that reflect where actors or objects will be in relation to the camera, determining the distance, and then adjusting the focus on the lens to maintain a sharp image. This is an very technical and highly skilled job, and is indispensable to achieving a true cinematic look.
The gaffer is responsible for executing your DPs lighting plan. This means choosing the appropriate lights, flags, filters, and corresponding lighting apparatus, then positioning them to achieve the look that you and your DP are shooting for. On smaller crews, the gaffer will also be responsible for making sure that the lighting setups are properly (and safely) powered. A fun note on etymology: gaffing originally referred to manually moving overhead lights on studio lighting grids using a long, hooked pole called a gaff.
No grip, no guts. Grips are the film crew’s muscle. They load in gear and assemble, maintain, and move the heavy equipment that makes filmmaking possible: dollies, tripods, C-stands, sandbags, cranes – you name it. It’s physically demanding work, but a good grip is more than just a strong back. They keep your shoot sturdy and safe, and rig equipment setups that will help you achieve the shots you need.
As we’ve discussed in a previous article, bad sound can sink your project. Having someone on location with the equipment and experience to properly capture sound is absolutely crucial. Ideally, this person should know how to operate microphones, ride gain, run a mixer, and be attuned to their environment – they’ll be able to hear things that you can’t, and will work to make sure that unwanted noise doesn’t end up on the track.
Hair & Makeup
Shoots can be long and exhausting. If you’re working with actors, you need to make sure that their appearance is camera-ready and consistent, otherwise visual continuity can go out the window. Your Hair & Makeup technician will have specialized cosmetics and knowledge of techniques designed specifically for achieving a certain look on-camera. At the very least, having one around to make touchups before a take makes a huge difference in the final product.
A PAs job is to do the work that nobody else has the time (or desire) to do. They’re always on their feet, lending a hand when needed, or running errands. They’re a vital, if unsung fixture of any film crew. In the context of a small team, a PA can handle a variety of roles to make the shooting process more manageable: they can help with the load out, be a one-person locations department and clean up your shooting location after wrap, or take care of craft service. Best of all, you don’t need to pay them very much (sorry PAs).
If you manage to get these roles filled on your next project, it is guaranteed to pay off at the end of the day. You’ll find the shooting process smoother and less stressful, and if all goes to plan, you’ll come out of it with a professional looking product. Remember, your Celtx Studio’s Catalog, Budgeting, & Scheduling tools make managing your crew and production fast, efficient, and easily accessible.
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