Crewing up for a film shoot can mean hiring for quite a few different positions. Luckily, there is a ton of talent in the film and television industry waiting to do their best work. There are many candidates with specific strengths and weaknesses that may be a better fit for another project.
Finding the best crew for your project isn’t the easiest part of filmmaking, but is the most essential part of pre-production. So here, we’ll take a good look at the best way to find and hire the perfect fit so that your next project will be the best it can be.
1. KNOW THE POSITION
Understand the job
We can’t overstate the importance of pre-production hiring. The right crew becomes a tight-knit team that works together to produce a piece of art. Sometimes that team becomes a family that works on many projects together.
From department heads to production assistants, each position is a part of a chain that has an impact on the film. From top to bottom, your crew is responsible for how your shoot runs and how successful the filmmaking process will be.
Getting the right crew isn’t rocket science if you know what you are looking for in the position and the personality. Staffing your team is an opportunity to learn about artists and craftsmen in great detail.
Another consideration at this point is your union status and tier. Know before you look for candidates. This saves the trouble of weeding out candidates your budget can’t afford.
The first step in the hiring process is knowing what you’re looking for in the responsibilities of the position. If you don’t know what the Visual EFX person does, you won’t know if someone can do the job effectively. Give yourself a crash course in the position for which you’re hiring.
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” – Steve Jobs
It is also very important to know how the personality that fills the position affects every other aspect of the film. Your make-up artist should be comfortable speaking to actors. Your director of photography should be strong but silent if your director is gregarious but unseasoned.
Ultimately use your best judgment and be familiar with the job at hand, the crew you require and the temperaments that will be working together for the duration of the project.
So sign up on a production job board, like Production Beast, and put up an advert for crew positions.
Ask friends for advice and referrals for department heads. Call up those below-the-line talent agencies and get those reels sent over! Getting candidates this way means they are already vetted in some capacity.
2. REVIEW THE RESUMES
Take a closer look
There are hungry artists and craftsmen in this own so, whether you’ve received them by referral, agency or through a job board, the resumes and reels will come.
Keep in mind the position you’re hiring for. Line Producer or Production Manager would be the first stop, as they will ultimately be hiring much of the other positions you need. In other words, start from the top and work your way down the list of positions to be filled.
You will more than likely have many more resumes than you can consider even on the most meager budgets so start looking them over pretty carefully. You can start weeding out those who obviously don’t fit.
The first thing you want to see is experience by medium: features, television, commercials, documentaries or reality. These distinctions matter more than many give credit for. If a resume is filled with commercial or video credits, the prospective crew member may not have the stamina needed for a months-long location shoot. Only reality tv or documentary credits could mean their knowledge of union regulations are an issue.
“Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it.” — David Ogilvy
Next, you also want to look for their experience by position. Their credits should inform you of their career path to date. From production assistant to 2nd assistant camera to 1st assistant camera to director of photography is a natural progression.
Credits that are oddly checkered such as craft services PA to Hair and make-up assistant to location manager, but they are applying for the production manager’s position, should give cause to pause. This shows that they haven’t yet developed a footing on set. This is not always true but take special note.
Age and education aren’t as important as work history. The film industry is one where almost every claimed credit can be verified. For film and television, there is IMDB, for commercials Adweek and for music videos, there is the Association of Independent Commercial Producers.
Next, what do the references they’ve chosen say about them? If the references are obviously related to them, or from jobs from many years before, they are almost useless for your needs.
If you do encounter useless references, be sure to call any of their former employers. They may not tell you much, but what they don’t say may tell you plenty. No one shies away from a good reference.
Definitely look at the reels and portfolios.
These can be very specific for each position and should show versatility and range of the work completed. This shows that your prospective crew member can work with different personalities, equipment, and genres.
Finally, take the resumes that stand out to you. This could be based on their level of expertise or the fact they went to your alma mater.
The only limit you should give yourself at this stage is the number of candidates you want to call in.
Start with your top twelve. If you haven’t already, send them the script.
3. PREPARE THE INTERVIEW
Do your homework
Prepare the questions that will get the most concise and honest, and therefore most beneficial, answers. This is an important part of finding the best crew for your shoot.
You know that the production designer will be very important on your fantasy film so do your homework and find out the “whats,” “whys,” and “hows” of the position!
You should already know what every position is capable of with your budget and how it can be applied to the creativity of your film. This is also another reason to have a thorough breakdown and mood board prepared.
Further, the questions for your production manager will be different from the questions you have for your production designer. Your questions should reflect a bias towards the position.
Make sure at this point that mood board, storyboard, schedule, and budget are in order. Your prospective crew member and, often times their Reps, will want to know as many specifics about your project as possible. This is true for casting as well.
Be prepared to answer every logistical question. The candidates aren’t fishing for secret information, they are often in competition for other jobs.
Some shoots will pay more or less, shoot sooner. Candidates will take into consideration many other factors such as length of shoot, conditions like location or the time of year.
Now start calling in your Top 12.
Ask specific questions related to one or two projects from their reel/portfolio to get a real sense of how they worked and what they contributed on the shoot.
If you get too specific in fishing for ideas, some crew members will become suspicious. Ask direct questions about the process but not so specific as to look like you are looking to take someone’s ideas.
4. CONDUCT THE INTERVIEW
Be genuinely interested
Everyone has heard the old adage: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. So by all means, take stock of your first impression of the film professional in front of you.
Are they on time? Is their dress appropriate? Did they bring anything or anyone with them?
These simple questions from your first impression are very telling. If the candidate shows up an hour late in workout gear with a smoothie in hand, maybe they don’t take the interview seriously.
Consider this the first hurdle in the interview process. While this hurdle may be unimportant to you or the job at hand, it does say something about their character.
Other things to watch for when introduced: Is there eye contact? A handshake? A smile? Again, these are more about character than the job description.
Now, that you’ve given them the once over, offer some water or coffee.
Then start on the questions you’ve prepared in advance.
"I sometimes find that in interviews you learn more about yourself than the person learned about you." — William Shatner
The most important quality you can have in an interview is attentiveness! You must listen to every answer.
There is little worse than sitting in an interview when either of you are doing other things. Both parties get cheated. It shows that you are not committed to understanding who they are. It also shows you may not want a mutually beneficial relationship. Don’t waste your time or theirs.
You definitely want to discuss their reels or portfolios. Most artists and craftsmen will enjoy talking about the work more than they will enjoy talking about themselves. There is a truly palpable joy in seeing someone who is proud of what they’ve accomplished in a very difficult industry. They could be doing the same with regards to your project soon.
There are a few things you can overlook. Don’t judge a book by its perspiration. Many people express their nervousness when being interviewed and shouldn’t be judged on a bouncing knee, dry mouth or even sweat.
Don’t forget to ask them about personal interests in a moment of levity. Knowing how people relax can be as important as how they work.
5. GET A SECOND OPINION
Get a second set of eyes on it
So now you’ve reviewed the candidates for your crew position. You’ve interviewed the top ten and you have a great feeling about a few of them. Narrow the number to as many as you can consider for bringing back.
Or, make it simple and pick your top 3.
Now have them back for a second meeting with someone on your team who is impartial and production savvy.
Another producer or director will definitely be a great asset in your hiring process.
Start by sharing their resume, reel, and portfolio with the person you’ll get for the second set of eyes. Make sure they know what you are looking for. You can even give them a copy of the questions (and answers) that you’ve asked.
“I learn something in the interviews from time to time.” — Samantha Bee
Ask them to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of each and then have them rank the candidates in the order they like. Or, have them list the pros and cons of each.
Now, you do the same.
Have the candidates wait for a few minutes before the interview. It gives them a moment to get a sense of the environment and let’s some of your team get a sense of them.
Ask the receptionist what they think of the candidates. The receptionist is usually the eyes and ears of many companies and will have already gotten an impression of the candidates.
Offer situational opportunities for problem-solving. For instance, if hiring a production manager show them a budget top sheet and ask them to present a way to save on the budget, time or crew. The answers will be varied and insightful.
6. HIRE THE BEST
Make a choice for the best candidate
Make A Decision. Don’t worry it’s an informed decision because you did your homework and you even had help. At this point, it should feel as though the decision has been made for you, though the choice can still be difficult.
It will all be worth it when you call the candidate you want to hire. Tell them you would like to offer them the position. Then wait to hear the joy that comes with offering someone a job doing what they love!
Remember, you still need them to get information to them. So, let them know you will send over an email for the next steps and specifics.
You should bring them to meet the rest of the team and get a list of their crew members as soon as possible. You will have the ultimate say on who is on your set.
It is good to take the recommendations of your department heads, but at the same time, you should also do your due diligence. Every member of your team should be vetted.
If the department heads have done this for you, you can rest easy about your new crew member.
Remember to be compassionate. Email those who don’t get the job and thank them for their time and energy. Though this will be a form letter, some sincerity is appreciated.
11 ways to become a better producer
There are many qualified candidates for every position on set or on the production team. This guide will ensure that you hire the best. There are many more ways to become the producer you were meant to be. Start by checking out Studiobinder’s next article on how to become a better producer.