Have you set out to find a crew for your film/commercial/music video/passion project and realized you have no idea where to start? If you don’t live in one of the world’s big production hubs, like LA or London, where you can’t swing a cat without hitting potential crew, the internet offers a bounty of crewing rescues to suit your needs. Before scouring the web to find those who will carry your vision to greatness, however, there are a few important things to consider.
The media world is one of the few industries on the planet where people don’t hesitate to ask you to work for free (even if you hold a fancy film school diploma — maybe especially if you hold a film school diploma). Asking you to work for free is akin to asking designers to do spec work. Personally, I didn’t mind working for free when I was 18 and learning the ropes. In fact, I welcomed internships left and right — it’s how I got to work on cool sets without being skilled or conversant in industry parlance. However, the times are changing. Maybe.
Increasing backlash to free labor has been gaining steam in Hollywood over the last few years, but people who ask for free work and people who work for free still crowd the production landscape. With the mentor/mentee model all but destroyed, “lo-no” work may be all that’s left to fill the void. The situation is complicated at best — so how do you strike a balance? Let’s start with what everyone else is doing, and go from there. Most often, you’ll see compensation offers for film and media projects shake out in one of three ways:
• Copy/Credit/Meals (CCM) – This means they’ll give you a copy of the project for your reel, screen credit, and feed you during production.
• Lo-No/”Deferred” – They’re not going to pay — not now, not ever. The favorite go-to of broke college students and predatory producers looking to exploit young talent.
• Industry Standard – Rates derived from industry standards set by guilds and unions, or some percentage thereof. See more on this below.
• Bonus Method – Producers make up some number that they feel makes sense. Sites where you set your fee beforehand, like thumbtack.com and upwork.com, host people who are looking to create projects they set the budgets for. This week, someone told me about a guy looking to hire someone to fly a drone around an airport in California for $100. (Besides the ridiculously low pay, executing that job would take you right to jail.)
What Makes Sense for You?
A lot of this comes down to the art of asking. Whether you’re looking to pay someone or not, you’re about to ask someone to enter into a contract with you. Regardless of the value of the transaction, you’re going to need to make a case (pitch) for yourself and your project to your prospective hire. Whatever you do, don’t lie — don’t set outsized expectations (“We’re going to win an Oscar!”), and don’t hide the facts (“Sure, we’ve got permission to shoot there…”).
I see film schools and aspiring directors most often offering CCM. They have some assigned project or are passionate about a story they want to create, so they pitch potential crew and get them excited about how great their project is. The producers of these projects reserve their money for hard costs like camera rentals and location fees. Except for higher-end final projects, where the quality of the crew matters more, I think almost every film school project is done on CCM. Producers sometimes offer CCM when creating commercial contest submissions or doing other projects where there’s a potential payout — this is different than offering deferred payment, because they offer to split the pot if there is one. If they don’t win, you’ve still got your copy and your credit.
I don’t advocate asking for or answering to Lo-No/Deferred payment projects; I think the concept is insulting to everyone involved. Everyone’s got bills to pay, and it’s been my experience that pay offered on a deferred basis almost never comes, even when the projects appear like they’ll legitimately result in later pay.
Basing your budgets on industry standard rates is a great way to approach projects — even if your target rates are only a fraction of the standard rates, at least you’ve intelligently thought about compensation and are working toward a goal. To get started, look at the published rate cards from the Local 600 and the DGA. These two will set you off in the right direction and let you know what the crew you’re looking to hire might be expecting.
However you decide to compensate your crew, make sure they’re well fed, work legal hours, are respected, and are given realistic expectations and duties. As a producer, it’s also important that you keep your sets enjoyable and safe — no one wants to come to a place that’s unpleasant or dangerous.
Where to Find Crew
Let’s assume that you’ve exhausted any personal connections you may have — perhaps your closest friends are tired of party subs and Costco pizza. Fortunately, there are a ton of great ways to find crew. Start local — before you turn to any of the commercial operations available, don’t deny the power of your own network. In addition to direct contacts you may have made in school, try to think about who might be able to help you, or who may know people who may be able to help you. For example, asking producers who hire crew often may be a good start. People you’ve met while working on other people’s sets can also help you find good contacts.
You have a ton of options in the States to help you find crew. There are production-specific sites like mandy.com, productionhub.com, backstage.com, and filmandtvpro.com that act as classified consolidators for crew. There is also, of course, craigslist.org. It’s very easy to post on any of these sites, and it’s likely you’ll almost immediately start receiving submissions once you post.
If you’re looking to go old-school, you can visit colleges and universities with film programs to find up-and-coming talent. Many run job boards or internship lists that you can submit your project to. If there’s no film school, journalism or media schools may also offer support. Many schools also have message boards around campus (yes, physical ones) that you can post flyers on, which can be an effective, if not slow, way to find cast and crew.
Don’t forget about your own social media as a platform for attracting crew, too. If you’re fundraising on a site like indiegogo.com, you may find that crew who are interested in working on the project will contact you as you get more traction.
When shooting abroad, I recommend finding a local fixer — someone who knows the area, knows the industry, and has loads of their own contacts to help you execute your production. Even if you’re bringing in your own crew, having someone local on the ground is super helpful. Sites like worldfixer.com can help connect you with the right people around the world. These sites sometimes host crew directly, so in lieu of a fixer, you could hire crew right off the bat. In my experience, I’ve found crew with shockingly great resumes in unexpected places.
Of course, the more you shoot and produce, the more your network will grow, and eventually you’ll have a go-to team of people you’ll always call first for any new project in the area. Plus, the more crew you work with, the more you’ll find what types of people are best for your personal working style. So even if things don’t go perfectly at first, it’s all part of a learning process that will help ensure your productions keep getting easier over time.
Are there other crew resources or tips you rely on or want to share? Tell us in the comments!
Gavin Garrison recently returned from shooting six-months’ worth of drone footage on the high seas in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. He has produced two seasons of the Emmy-nominated reality show Whale Wars, as well as Whale Wars: A Commander Rises (Discovery). Gavin received his master’s degree in film production from the University of Southern California; he is a Samsung Imagelogger and Pond5 Ambassador. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @gavingarrison and check out his new IG @dronefortwo.