A successful production requires assembling a talented and experienced crew, whether it’s a single assistant or a team of 20 people.
Your crew is the team of individuals you’ll select to make it all happen. After all, you can’t be everywhere all at once nor are you expected to be. That’s where your crew comes in, the size and calibre of which can run the gamut. While that will vary based on the job, the steps to determine, source, and manage your crew are the same.
In what follows we’ve broken it down stage by stage: from the estimate to research to production to the project close — all in order to help you plan for, source, and book the right crew each and every time.
Consideration for your crew starts right from the get-go. At the estimate stage, you’ll start to sketch the shoot’s needs and allocate the budget accordingly. Here you’ll determine your hiring crew needs in conjunction with everything else.
The first question is always the same: what will it take to make this creative happen (and be awesome)?
And then … you might ask, are there two live-sets requiring two sets of assistants? Are you running between locations and need a driver so you can download memory cards in the backseat (true story)? Are you unsure of your model’s sizing and need a seamstress on set?
At the estimate stage you must consider every need that may arise and what support/role you’ll need. It is often a balancing act between the ideal scenario and what the budget can afford. You will have to determine priorities and make choices accordingly. For example, a gourmet food shoot will mean prioritizing for a capable food stylist; but if you will be in a studio perhaps forego a second lighting assistant? Sometimes you can even consider combining tasks if appropriate. For example, a lifestyle shoot for a banking client may not require elaborate hair and make-up, and you can save by having a stylist who can do both hair and makeup rather than one for each.
Once you know what crew you’ll need, your estimate will take form. A few things to consider: cancellation policies, hours per day, and overtime rates — all worth noting on the estimate and vital for contingency planning. Remember that your crew numbers impact other parts of your estimate — for example, your craft/catering as well as your insurance needs. Both of which vary in relation to your crew.
Many times, you can start research and sourcing while you’re creating the estimate. After all you’ll need rates to plug in, and if you’ve never worked with a Reindeer Handler how are you to know their rates? (Trick question, reindeer are notoriously vicious and you’ll need female elk with fake reindeer antlers.)
You can also use the opportunity to assess availability and place holds. Oftentimes, and understandably so, you’ll start with those whom you know and have worked with before. But we all have to start somewhere, so don’t fret if you are either starting out and without contacts or needing a role you’ve never sources before. We’ve got you covered with Wonderful Machine’s Find Crew page, a valuable resource for hiring crew.
An in-depth database, the Find Crew page is continually updated and covers 26 different specialties. It includes everything from animal agencies to set designers and lists crew from all over the U.S. and beyond. You’ll most certainly find what you need. Remember that “way leads on to way.” That is to say, if you connect with a great First Assistant they can in turn be a resource to find a great 2nd assistant. You’re building your network here, don’t be shy. In turn a crew member may resource their own teams, a Hair and Makeup Artist may have their own choice of assistant and so forth.
Remember: “way leads on to way.” If you connect with a great First Assistant, they can in turn be a resource to find a great 2nd assistant.
With the list in hand, you can send out ‘Availability Inquiry’ emails. In most cases this will suffice. You can manage the back and forth over rates and availability via email just fine ahead of booking. In some instances, however, you may want to arrange a call and assess the individual more so. This I’d suggest for a role with more at stake or collaborative in nature, where you’d want the personal interaction to assure the right fit. For example, for your first assistant, this person will after all be your right-hand. Equally, a set designer on a home decor shoot can require close collaboration. Both are instances in which a call or two can go a long way to assure success.
Cast a wide net at this point. Ideally have first and second choices on hold. Shoot dates are likely shifty, but you’ll want to be covered. It is important to communicate openly and be as upfront and as transparent as possible. It’ll go a long way. You are after all building a team and should treat all like team members from the start. Often they’ll go the extra mile for you in return.
Congratulations. You’ve been awarded the job. Now you get to make it happen. If the timeline allowed for it, you should have key crew members lined up and holding. This may not always be the case and sometimes you’ll jump on researching and sourcing crew upon award. Not to worry, in fact you’ll have more assurance about dates and details to do so and move quickly.
Once you have your signed estimate and a shoot date you can start booking and kicking off pre-production as required. A great rule of thumb is to assure clients are aware you’re doing so. Any changes beyond this point may result in cancellation fees so you want to be aligned, and a paper trail never hurt.
You may want to confirm select members of your crew first, based on pre-production needs, rather than all at once. I’d especially recommend this if the shoot date is still somewhat iffy. For instance you’ll want to lock in your Line Producer as soon as possible to get going on all the details and/or the Wardrobe Stylist who’ll need the time for pulls. But you may want hold off on the third Production Assistant until shoot day is really firm. Both the Producer and Stylist will be booking in for a date range and can accommodate a move within their dates where that third PA may not.
An example of a call sheet: the listing of all of the crew with the contact information and time to report.
As you start booking and hiring crew you will focus on finer details, like gathering full contact information to make up call sheets as well as any dietary restrictions to pass along to cratering. You’ll start connecting crew members and kick off their respective assignments. For example the first and second assistants should coordinate gear pick up and make sure the Wardrobe Stylist passes along any of their needs for gear consideration (who has the steamer?). This is after all your support team and they’ll work together to make it happen.
You’ll bring it all together just before the shoot. With the details lined up and pieces in place, confirm any remaining crew members and send out the all-knowing Call Sheet and shoot deck (remember to ask for confirmation of receipt here). Depending on the scope of the production you may require one final call with some crew members to go over the shoot deck to ensure smooth sailing on the day of. You’ll make this call based on their role and contribution.
Another one in the bag! Well done. While you may already be on to the next, you have some loose ends to tie up. When it comes to your crew it is to first ensure and facilitate payment and second to thank them.
You’ll gather invoices and process accordingly, either paying out yourself or via the client as predetermined. Importantly, note that you would have communicated any and all payments terms or notes at the negotiation stage so as to avoid any surprises here. For example, if a client pays out in 30 days, then it was your responsibility to ensure all crew were aware.
Now for the thanks. This was the team that had your back and contributed to your work, a follow up of thanks is not only appreciated but will be remembered the next time you call. With any luck you’ve started relationships you can continue to build on.
Author: Setareh Sarmadi is a creative producer located in Toronto, Canada, with more than a decades’s worth of experience directing successful commercial productions.