Secrets of Indie Filmmaking

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

Last week Ardent Partner Christopher Comrie wrote an introduction to making No-to-Low-Budget films with a skeleton crew. In this week’s Secrets of Indie Filmmaking, he returns with Part II of How Big a Crew Do You Need?

We found it possible to make an award-winning feature with the following shoot crew:

  • Me – Director, Camera, Sound Recordist, Gaffer, Grip, Driver, Location Manager, AD.
  • A Producer who also performed some of the functions of a Production Coordinator, Production Manager, and Set Decorator.
  • A terrific ‘utility crewmember’ for most of the shoot who helped me with everything.
  • A Makeup/Hair artist.

And that is it for full-time dedicated crewmembers: exactly four.

Here are the part-timers:

  • One of the actors turned out to be a very conscientious boom operator, and served in that capacity on many occasions, for scenes in which he was not performing.
  • The Writer-Producer turned out to be very good at making wardrobe decisions that served the script, story, characters and actors.
  • And one of the local Mexican actors was such a game and canny powerhouse that he acted as interpreter when required, Assistant Director, and general negotiator. We had to make him a Producer, to honor the true partner he became, and did so happily.
  • A Cook/Caterer

One thing I learned is that for a movie shot in a foreign country, with a tight schedule, numerous action sequences, and many, many locations, this crew is a little small. It’s my own fault. I’m not exactly a control freak, I just don’t like relinquishing a job to someone unless I’m sure they can do it better than me. That’s not ego, that’s pragmatism, as it is a terrible waste of time otherwise. Yes, I’m aware of how unhealthy that sounds. But remember that the other requirements for all of those jobs were: be willing to wait until movie is sold to be paid; be willing to work like a happy dog at whatever needs to be done; not be annoying to live and work with in very close quarters in a remote and isolated location for several weeks; be willing and able to leave regular paying gig or job for a month on location; and most importantly, not be psychotic.

(Interesting fact: In just about every project I’ve ever done, no matter how hard I’ve tried to make sure it doesn’t happen, and no matter how few people I end up having on the project, at least one person reveals themself to be a psycho by the end. Usually way before the end. Usually on the first or second day on location. Hmmm. Maybe it’s me. No, it’s definitely them…)

In fact, my producing partners had to argue with me until I agreed to hire a person to do hair and makeup.  I was tempted to do it myself, even though I have absolutely no facility at either. Now that we’re trained to ‘wear more than one hat’, it just irked me that we’d have a member of the crew sitting around most of the time, so I thought I’d do that too.


In a film where key moments have sunburn, blood, and bruises, Hair & Make-Up is important…


But my partners were absolutely right of course: in a film where key moments involve elements like extreme sunburn, bloody wounds, bruises and contusions, you really do need dedicated hair and makeup. So we did.

Next week I’ll continue this skeleton crew breakdown and how this approach might be adjusted for your project.

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