Hiring a film crew can be a daunting task. You have a lot of critical positions to fill. Where should you post film jobs? How can you be sure to find quality candidates? How can you vette them?
You’ve heard horror stories of disaster hires who ruined sets and ruined projects. Not to worry. With our systematic approach, you can find the right crew at the right cost and get rolling.
HOW TO HIRE FILM CREW
The basics to hiring your crew
If you do things in the right order, your job becomes easier. So who should you hire first? Well, if you don’t have them already.
The Director and Writer
In some cases, even with short films, producers get a writer and director involved before the money is raised.
If you don’t have a director attached, hire a director first. Once the money is raised, every creative decision needs to be vetted and approved.
You’ll be stuck without one.
Incidentally, a Director will almost always be a big help when it comes to figure out how to find a film crew.
When you're creating your list of Directors, or any member of the crew, keep everyone's information stored so that you can refer to it whenever you need.
Just place them into your contacts page and assign a crew role like this:
The beauty of this is that you can create a custom list of candidates, then reorder them based on your level of interest, and then keep an entire roster for every film crew position so in case...
You need more crew...
You need to replace someone...
You have two simultaneous projects...
Whatever it is, you will have a living roster of potential crew members and their contact information available to your team at will.
Many directors ask to see a script before signing onto a project.
Say you’ve already got a script.
If you don’t have a script yet, you have an opportunity to give the director more of a voice when it comes to how the story unfolds on the page.
It’s also possible that your director knows a writer that she trusts. As we’ll soon learn, your team’s referrals are your greatest hiring asset.
There are a lot of movie set jobs, and to fill all of those out we’ll need...
The production staff
As your team grows, you may need a larger production staff to keep your production on track. So much of your pre-production planning comes down to this group of people (or person).
Most smaller projects take on a hybrid Line Producer/Unit Production Manager at this stage.
On very small projects, the producer also handles LP/UPM responsibilities.
Keep in mind that the fewer people the job of the entire production staff falls to, the more likely key mistakes are to be made.
Line Producers oversee the budget and anything that has to do with money, while Unit Production Managers oversee production logistics.
Your LP/UPM can be instrumental in helping you find qualified department heads and crew. They may have some great ideas for where to find crew.
They certainly have a deep knowledge of every movie production job. So from here on out, this person will be a big part of how you find a film crew.
If your production is larger, this is also a good time to bring on other administrative positions, such as production coordinator (to handle paperwork and contracts) or locations manager (to oversee location scouting and selection).
If you’re going to end up depending on only a few people to make up the production staff, you’d be wise to learn more about production management software yourself, so you can oversee their work a bit.
Not to micromanage the production, but because there is a lot to handle, and things can get lost along the way.
Once you have a director on board, you should seek out department heads.
These are the people that will guide the rest of your film crew and really help with some of the specifics of how to find a film crew.
It’s also important to hire your department heads early enough to give them time to prepare for the shoot.
Cinematographers need time to work with the director on storyboards.
Production designers and art directors need time to design sets, build, purchase or rent props, and coordinate with the director on the overall “look” of the film.
Costume designers need time to plan,coordinate, rent, and create costumes for every character and extra in your film.
That’s a lot of time to plan in advance.
So get to hiring these positions early.
This is also an opportunity to bring your First Assistant Director on board.
The Rest of Your Crew
Once your production staff and department heads are in place, you can fill in the rest of the film crew positions that you will need for your project.
Even on a small productions, you need people for specific jobs, so try not to burden one crew member with too much work - or things may slip by.
WHERE TO HIRE FILM CREW
Where to look for production crew
You know who you need, but you’re not sure when to go to find them.
If you live in Los Angeles, throw a rock, and you’re likely to hit a job-hunting filmmaker or crew member who needs money or experience.
Many of them are online job boards, such as ProductionBeast, and these have a ton of film crew jobs posted along with a general hub of crew members seeking positions on set or in the office.
Professional doesn't have to mean expensive either, so just because you don't have a huge budget it doesn't limit your ability to get good people.
Direct-Hires from Your Team’s Network
Remember one of the reasons you filled your leadership positions first?
Because they probably know other people in the industry - especially in their respective departments. There are benefits to using department heads to answer your question of how to find a film crew.
They’re going to pick people they worked with before.
Familiarity can lead to efficiency.
A department that has worked similar movie set jobs together before can ramp up to speed faster than a group of strangers.
The crew comes pre-vetted.
You don’t need to spend as much time vetting candidates for movie production jobs if your department heads vouch for them.
Direct hires save time.
Rather than posting to a job board and waiting for replies, you can make a few phone calls and fill out your movie set jobs in a day.
Or maybe your cinematographer will fill out his camera crew without you having to do a thing.
That’s always nice.
Hiring with Social Media
Sometimes you don’t fill all the movie production jobs that you need to from your own team’s network.
This can be especially true in areas outside of major production zones, where crew member jobs are sparse, and good workers are often busy.
It could also be true because your rate is lower than they expect.
Or people are unavailable.
There are many other ways to figure out how to find a film crew.
If you need to expand your search, consider turning to social media.
Sites like LinkedIn and Facebook can help you fill out those crew member.
Particularly if you belong to any ‘groups’ specifically about posting for crew member job availabilities.
So post your crew call, and ask your friends to share it, or to tag their friends who might meet your qualifications.
People don’t often look for film jobs on Facebook, so tags and shares are important for your job posting to get noticed.
So are those film crew jobs groups.
The candidates that you get through social media might be nice people (they’re friends of your friends, after all), but that doesn’t mean they’re skilled or qualified.
You may not want to hand the crew job over to someone from Facebook.
You should assess these candidates for their skills and expertise before offering them a position.
Hiring with Film Job Boards like ProductionBeast
Exhausted the social media pool?
Or want a bigger range of candidates?
Still wondering how to find a film crew?
There are still more ways.
Consider hiring your film crew through industry-specific job boards.
There are dozens of popular film job boards. Find out which are the most popular in your city, and focus your attention on those.
Also find out from film crew people you know which boards they tend to trust the most. Most film crew job sites such as ProductionBeast will give you a huge amount for hungry film crew looking for work.
Anyone can create a profile and apply for production jobs.
Vet these candidates carefully.
Some job boards do charge a fee to job-seekers.
Which is a double-edged sword.
Candidates on these job boards might be more qualified since they’re usually advanced enough in their careers that they can justify the expense.
At the same time, don’t assume that candidates on a fee-based job site are any better than those on the free sites. The best thing you can do is look for referrals and make contact to properly vet them.
HOW TO FIND FILM CREW
How to post your crew job
Whether you’re posting a job ad to Facebook, ProductionBeast, or others, you can be strategic about what you say (and how you say it) to ensure that you get the best candidates for each position on your film crew.
Spell Out the Logistical Details
I’ve worked on productions where this exchange took place:
Producer: “You’re perfect for the job! We start production next month!”
Job Candidate: “Wow, thanks! But I’m already booked next month!”
Don’t waste their time, and don’t waste your time.
Include the anticipated production dates in your job post.
If you don’t know exactly when you’ll shoot, you can be vague about it...
“Expected to run for three days in the first two weeks of December”.
Even just the anticipated amount of days (or weeks) can help weed out unavailable candidates, especially if yours is a longer-than-usual production (such as a short that will shoot for two full weeks or a feature that’s shooting six months on location.)
If you’re casting a wide net (on Facebook, for example, where people may be non-local) make sure to specify the city where filming will take place.
Sell the Production
Make the job sound exciting.
Brag about your project’s credentials.
What do I mean by this?
Well, which job would excite you more:
“Short film seeking 1st AD”
“Short sci-fi film starring an actor from Star Trek seeks a 1st AD for a one-day shoot in Los Angeles”
The best candidates have lots of projects to choose from.
Give them a reason to get excited about yours.
If you don’t have a celebrity involved, or if your screenplay isn’t an award-winner, you can highlight your film’s best qualities:
“Seeking 1st AD for a tight sci-fi short with great fight scenes”.
In short, give them a reason to want to submit for the job (aside from simply being an available position).
Post the Rate, or Not to Post the Rate?
That is the question...
There are conflicting opinions about whether or not you should post the rate that you’re offering on a job post.
If you’re budgeted to offer a relatively high rate (so, for example, you can spend $5000/day for a cinematographer) you could post an ad for a DP without mentioning the rate.
You might get an excellent DP who quotes you less than you’ve budgeted.
On the other hand…
If you’re a scrappy indie (as most are and you can’t afford much (let’s say you’re offering $200/day for a DP), I do recommend posting that rate.
Why? Won’t that scare some people off?
I mean, who are we scaring off here really? The inventor of the digital camera? Bob Richardson decided to “slum it” for a weekend?
You’re probably scaring off a difficult cinematographer who would just bog everything down with irrelevant complications and hot air.
If you don’t post the rate, you’ll get a lot of really exciting submissions, but then you’ll waste lots of time making offers that get refused.
Because, most of the best submissions will come from people who can find work at a higher rate than what you can offer.
Time is a resource. You can’t waste money. You can’t waste time.
If you do post the rate with the job posting, you’ll weed out the DPs at the top of the range who won’t fit your production, and you’ll be able to focus on identifying the best candidates out of those who do.
Just because you post a lower rate doesn’t mean you won’t get great candidates.
A good project description might get you a higher-priced candidates who meets your rate out of sheer interest in the project.
Have candidates attach a demo reel
For creative roles, a demo reel or portfolio is the first thing you see.
It doesn’t matter what school they went to, you (and your director) need to like their work and need to have something to discuss during their interview.
Does a grip need a demo reel?
What about a gaffer?
This is going to be up to you, but I would choose a gaffer who is, say, a certified electrician before I would pick a gaffer with a really nectar reel.
Have candidates attach a resume
Resumes are a bit different in film and entertainment, both in style and content.
The big takeaway should be credits and references over layout.
Most of the film resumes used to secure professional jobs are really simple, very straightforward, and get down to brass tax relatively quickly.
This is mainly because professional crew members are constantly updating their resumes after every job. In another field of work, an employee will have to showcase a job they worked for several months or even years, and they may find it helpful to build a resume that has a pleasing and thoughtful layout.
If you're looking for a grip, and you get a resume with a ton of legitimate credits that looks like it was written in Notepad or something, chances are that the grip in question is a hard working crew member worth your time.
Crew like this spend all day carrying around light stands and dolly tracks.
They don't want to drive home after a long day and open up Adobe Illustrator so they can work on their grip resume - so don't punish a simple resume.
Have candidates link you to their IMDb page
It’s not always easy to find someone’s IMDb page unless they have an unusual name (like me!) Save yourself the trouble and ask job candidates to include an IMDb link in their application.
IMDb doesn’t tell you everything. People with lots of great experience in commercials or music videos, for example, might not have many of their credits listed on IMDb. But if you find a job candidate with lots of IMDb credits, there’s a good bet you’ve found someone with “real” experience.
Don’t hire anyone based on IMDb alone…
Experience and quality aren’t always correlated.
Your mission is to find people who are the best fit for your film.
People can put all sorts of “projects” on their IMDb page. Just because it’s on there doesn’t mean it’s as impressive as it looks.
What on their IMDb page have you heard of? Anything? Nothing?
What on their IMDb page can you find elsewhere on the internet?
How does it look?
At the very least, their projects will get a few more views.
It’s always a good idea to get references for major positions such as department heads, directors, and key production staff.
Sometimes, a quick look at a LinkedIn profile can help you to see if your job candidate has been recommended for the role by others in the past.
Try to read between the lines: is the recommendation general and “polite”? Or does it get into specifics and cite why this candidate is exemplary?
Make the time to call a reference or two.
If you can’t make the time, see if someone else on the production can.
Someone without a good reference may seem like a great candidate in every other way.
But if they show up to set and start causing problems, you’re going to wish you had checked references.
How to negotiate intelligently
It might seem like I’m contradicting myself here.
Didn’t I just write that you should (usually) post the rate that you’re offering in the job ad for your crew positions?
Yes, to save time, post jobs with the rate.
But once you’ve vetted your candidates, invite them to make you an offer.
Your project's union status matter as well.
Here's an example:
“For $XYZ per day, what can you offer me?”
Maybe they’ll give you eight hours of their time (that’s the minimum you can expect, by the way).
Maybe they’ll give you ten hours.
Maybe twelve before they start charging overtime.
This all assumes your project is non-union, of course.
Maybe they’ll offer to bring some of their gear, or waive a kit fee.
Maybe they’ll throw in a rehearsal or prep day without charging extra.
Before you make your final hiring decisions, give your candidates the option of ‘sweetening the deal’. Indie filmmaking community is as much barter as it is straight capitalism, but...
Don’t swindle or con people - it always comes back.
Oftentimes crew is looking for an opportunity to spread their wings and try out their new gear, and if they like you and the project they may be happy to work something out with you.
Kit Fees, Rentals, and Other Expenses
Make sure you discuss ancillary expenses with your film crew candidates!
Find out before you seal the deal whether they will charge a kit fee, or if they’ll charge you equipment rental.
Will they need you to provide an insurance certificate for their stuff?
Gas money? An expendables allowance?
Find out what their requirements and expectations are, so you’re not blindsided by them later.
How to close the deal right
If you close the deal with your new hire over the phone or in person, make sure to send an email outlining all of your deal terms, and ask the new hire to reply that the terms are accepted.
This doesn’t replace a contract (which you’ll ALSO have to provide), but it gives you a paper trail to fall back on in case there’s confusion as to the agreement later on.
Make sure that you get this done before new hires do any work for you.
Make sure their actual paperwork signed before the work is done, too.
If they offer to start work before the ink is dry, if you can afford the time, ask them to stop.
Just in case the worst happens, make sure that you have an exit clause, an option to terminate the contract for any reason at any time.
Sometimes, sadly, people don’t turn out the way we expect.
HOW TO HIRE FILM CREW
How to choose the best candidate
The best candidate for your film might not be the best candidate on paper.
I worked on a film a few years back that had hired a very accomplished cinematographer. The film was a scrappy indie whose entire budget was lower than what this guy used to earn on his bigger shoots.
You’d think this was a great boon for the film, right?
The cinematographer got some truly beautiful footage, but he wasn’t used to a scrappy indie budget, or a scrappy indie shooting schedule.
It took hours to set up shots that an “indie-friendly” cinematographer might have prepped in minutes.
It seemed as though there wasn’t a day that wrapped on time, and there were plenty of missed opportunities because the production simply couldn’t move fast enough.
If you have the good fortune to consider a job candidate who is used to working with a larger budget, take a little extra time to assess whether the candidate can operate on your production’s level.
People with higher end “Hollywood experience” often can’t hack it.
People just get used to working at a certain pace with certain things available to them. You want a crew that will work well within your needs.
Another way of putting this?
Try and put everyone in a position to succeed.
The inverse situation is also tricky:
You get a an unqualified candidate “on paper”, but they’re desperately eager to rise to a new challenge. It could be an editor who wants to be a DP or a costumer who wants to be your art director.
Once again, what is best for your production might not be obvious based on credentials alone.
In many cases, especially on scrappy indies and shorts, passion and enthusiasm for the craft and the material can have tremendous value.
I encourage you to assess this candidate not just in terms of talent or passion, but in terms of what sort of oversight you can afford for the position.
Is there someone on the team who can keep an eye on the ‘new kid’ to make sure things get done right?
In other words, it might be easier to hire a production assistant as a 1st AC, since the cinematographer is there to supervise.
But tread carefully here - you don’t want to take up too much of your department heads’ attention with a monitoring/teaching assignment.
FILM CREW SET JOBS
Hiring volunteers for your indie shoot
If you hop onto the industry film crew job boards, you don’t have to look long to find a production that offers “copy and credit” as compensation to prospective crew members.
And if the job board has a “comments” section, you’re sure to find lots of angry responses when an unpaid “job” is posted.
This is an industry debate that I don’t expect to resolve.
I’ve been on all sides of it - I’ve worked for free, and I’ve been paid.
I’ve hired “volunteers”, and I’ve paid people well. And all of those experiences have benefited me in one form or another.
If you’re not sure how to navigate this question without angering somebody, here are a few pointers:
If you’re creating a product that is designed to make money, pay your crew.
If you are making money off of this project, pay your crew.
If you can’t pay your crew, always offer something. You can barter (“if you score my film, I’ll shoot your music video” is a common trade). Or offer back end participation.
A share of the profits of an unprofitable project (as most short films are) is not compensation. Don’t insult your crew with such an empty offer.
Be respectful and straightforward with people about what you can afford.
There is a long and continued tradition of people being dishonest and taking advantage of one another in Hollywood.
Don’t contribute to it.
Managing Your Film Crew
You’ve learned how to find a film crew, and hopefully taken your time to hire a film crew that fits your film and meets your requirements. Now you have a budding rolodex of crew that you’ve worked with.
Break a Lens!
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