Secrets of Indie Filmmaking

Secrets of Indie Filmmaking: How Big a Crew Do You Need? Part I

How big a crew do you need? As many as it takes, and no more. If that makes sense to you, you can skip the rest of this article.
If you think a movie is not real unless it has at least 60 crew, read on.

As always, I’m talking to the little guys here. For me independent film is not a multi-million dollar behemoth made by mini-majors just outside of the major Hollywood studios. It’s DIY. The buck starts and stops with one person, or at most several. It’s about passion, ingenuity, and elbow grease. It emphatically ain’t about the money.

For me, independent film is not a multi-million dollar behemoth made by mini-majors just outside Hollywood. It’s DIY.

I have my own weird perspective on filmmaking, having worked on big budget Hollywood movies as a crewmember for many years, while also making my own self-funded plays and movies. On the big movies I am as often amazed by how hard everyone works as I am by how much standing around goes on. On the one hand I’ll see some crew consistently slaving away from before dawn until the wee small hours. Others, I really wonder just what the hell they are being paid to do. Some days when there is a lot of equipment to be moved on and off the trucks, twice as many grips and electrics will be called in, and get paid for a long day with a lot of overtime just to move the equipment a couple of times.

But hey, honestly, most shows are so forgettable that it’s really more of a job creation program. It’s good for the economy, people getting paid. I’m definitely in favour of it, of industry. Myself, I will no longer work on a movie unless I’m paid a pretty penny, or, OR…I think it’s a really good project.  I would like my friends and fellow movie making acquaintances to take note of this. My life is now officially too short to allow me to volunteer on your project unless I am really excited by it. I don’t care how much we enjoy each other’s company. It’s just too much hard work.

Having a big crew and all the equipment and ‘stuff’ means only this: you are probably making a movie. It does not mean you are making a good movie, or even a competent one. In fact, all those people and all that stuff can be a fatal distraction from the possibility that you are making a piece of crap.

This may seem harsh, but I have been on far too many low-budget indie sets where there is not an effective use of labour. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked onto a low-budget set and met 2 or 3 Assistant Directors who apparently think the job consists solely of standing around looking cool and annoyed with a walkie hanging jauntily from their hip – no idea what the next shot is, who you are, nor indeed any clue as to what an AD does (HINT: they help keep the set running). A production assistant texting in a corner. Several grips and electrics just hanging around. They are being the picture of what they think an indie crew looks like, not actually doing the real work. It fills me with rage.

We found it was possible to make an award-winning feature with the following shoot crew: 4 full-timers. 2 part-timers.

Next time I’ll break this down into specifics for you, so you can see how something similar might work for you.

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