Updated: Jan 7, 2019
"Where is the nearest power source?" Ask the Gaffer. "What shot goes next?" Ask the Assistant Director. "Can someone bring the talent some coffee?" Ask the production assistant.
What makes a great production is of course the collaboration between a group of people specialized in different fields of the video production industry. According to a post on Steffen Follows, on average, it takes 588 crew members to make a Hollywood film. Iron Man 3 had 3,310 people involved in its creation.
Now, those are some huge numbers because of the size, budget, and needs of the production. There are directors, then the assistant directors, and their assistants, and the assistants of the assistants. The list goes on and on-- and that's only one department! There is an art department, a visual effects department, a writing department, a stunt department, wardrobe department! Each with their own hierarchy of people. Does your production need all of these people too? Well, yes and no.
It would be ideal to have each member in charge of something they are good at for your production, but it most important to understand why such a long list of people exists. I will list a group of people you most definitely want on your crew, and why they are important. Then, you decide how you'll build a dream team for your next production.
A Dream Team for the Small Productions
A person who can plan, coordinate, finance, and supervise the production is probably the most important of the team. This person will help with organizing of the schedules, budgets, writing, talking with clients, and has final creative control of the project. Their job is that the production is finished on time and within the budget.
As producer, I have meetings with clients to listen to their ideas, write treatments, make mood boards. Then I spend time looking at the budgets to see who I can hire, where I can film this, and when it can be done. The last part of my duties are to fill in call sheets, storyboards or shot lists, and even scripts. A lot of my time is taken by making phone calls to make sure everything goes as planned.
A producer can be a director, but, if within budget, they will hire someone who has more experience, talent, and focus for the project.
The one stuck in between tech and acting. The director is a leader for two sides of a production. They control both the visual and dramatic aspects of a project. This is someone creative, who saw the scripts, and saw the plans and now knows how to get the team to deliver accordingly. They are eyes, mouth, ears, and sometimes nose. They work closely with other members of the team to make sure everyone has an identical vision for the project.
As director, I describe the scene with the crew so that they know how to light it, shoot it, and act it. Actors get told who they are, their goals, and what action they are to take. I decide how many shots of the same scene are to be taken before I yell out THAT'S A WRAP, at midnight on a Monday.
3. Assistant Director
This person is the spine of the production crew. They are to ensure that everyone is on schedule, and that the working environment stays focused. Usually, the one screaming the most and telling people what to do and where to go. They manage cast, crew, equipment and set. Probably one of the most exciting and stressful jobs of the industry.
I call this person the "Mom" of the crew. I usually have them in charge of the actors. Always after them to fill out forms, to tell them when they are up next, and to yell out cues. This person helps me out so much when I am busy directing and members of the crew have questions. I would rather have one person asking me questions than ten.
The person responsible for making the artistic vision come to life. They know everything about cameras and lighting to make the end product look like the initial vision. They lead the camera operator, grips, and other crew members. Of course, the level of their involvement all depends on how much indepence the director gives.
I often find myself as director and cinematographer, since most of my shoots are low budget. If I were to be more specific, grips get told where/how to set up and dress up a scene. Camera operators get told what shot is next, at what frame rate, and what purpose. I am in charge of what camera and lights are to be utilized.
5. Camera Operator
This person is highly skilled in operating a camera. They follow the directions of a cinematographer and/or director, while using their experience and skills to complete the shot. Often, they know how to operate camera rigs and mounts such as steadicams and jibs.
I usually like to hire someone to shoot for me, as being director, cinematographer, and cam operator can be extremely stressful and distracting. When I am operating a camera, I take a close look at the next shot, set my focus points, shutter speed, correct exposure and frame rate, then I frame it accordingly and shoot. It takes several shots to get the perfect one, but when under pressure for time and budget, it pays to know all the details of operating a camera.
The team in charge of setting up and setting down the set. They work closely with the cinematographer to position and dress the lights, and stands. They are knowledgeable on cinematography too, so they understand why the lights are set up the way they are. They also know what equipment to use when the cinematographer asks them to, "add an opaque difuser on the actor's key light and gel his backlight blue".
My grips are usually friends for my low budget shoots. It would be amazing to have people who understand production language, but sometimes they can't be fitted into the budget. As long as they can remember the names of the lights, be extremely careful and mindful of the equipment and listen to your directions precisely, you will be fine. Oh, don't forget the gaff tape though. All grips MUST carry around gaff tape... in fact your entire crew should carry that around. Tape. Everything. Down.