So what does it take to tackle a micro-crew project?
You’ve got to have the right people. You’ll need a highly concentrated skill set, so that each person can perform multiple tasks on set with proficiency. At a minimum a 2-person micro-crew will need to have skills—split between them—like these:
- lighting & grip
- assistant directing/talent wrangling
- production assisting/gear schlepping
- audio recording
- client services
- digital asset management
It’s a lot to ask of even five or six people, much less one or two! So if your micro crew isn’t genuinely capable, nimble, and flexible, the entire scenario can fall apart. You can’t afford a weak link on set. So I strongly recommend NOT telling someone like a potential client you can work this small (in order to land a job) if it’s not feasible. Because if you can’t deliver, you’re done for. Be honest. If you know you can’t realistically wear that many hats you are better off passing on the job or, if possible, finding a way to scale back the scope of work or concept to something more manageable—provided your client finds that scaled down approach acceptable to them.
When budget limitations paint you into a corner, you’ll need to find creative solutions or turn down the project altogether. Turning down a potential project is always an option to consider if the gap between a client’s resources and her expectations turns into a chasm you can’t viably bridge.
Don’t discard this “rethinking things” step. It may be the most important element of your whole production.
You obviously can’t do all of the tasks at once. The trick, if there is one, is to switch back and forth between the tasks as best as possible. Instead of trying to focus on everything at once, focus on each process completely for a short time and switch completely to the next task in the process. It’s often easier said than done, however.
Human beings are not great at multitasking—in spite of our thinking otherwise. When you’re working as a one-man band or micro-crew, you need to be honest with yourself about needing to scale back in order to focus on what is attainable. Compromises will almost certainly need to be made in terms of how much footage you can gather. Often compromises will end up effecting the quality of the production. Why? You may not have time to light beautifully and still do all of the other tasks you need to perform in the amount of time allotted. But knowing this in advance, you can plan for this in pre-production and develop a simplified approach that will still allow you to do good work.
What might that mean? Fewer setups. Less ambitious shot lists. Fewer specialized tools like jibs or dollies that can require extended setup time. These are compromises that you may not be willing to accept. If the story will be better by using these tools, you’ll want to use them. So going with a micro-crew approach may not always be possible.
Of course, the one-man-band is the most extreme form of micro-crew. I’ve worked this way as well, but in my opinion it’s not ideal. As we’ve discussed, we’re just not good at multitasking—and if you think you are that’s a further sign you’re even worse at it than most of us!
So why even go this route at all? Budget, of course. On a recent project, I knew going in that the total budget ceiling was set. But as I began to talk with the client, I could see how important it would be to shoot in multiple locations in order to accurately portray the sheer scope of their operations. Initially I chose five locations to film in—all in different cities, unfortunately. Due to budget constraints that got pared down to four locations.
In this particular case, I felt that covering the multiple locations—even if it meant going the micro-crew path—trumped using up the limited budget hiring a larger crew at the cost of only shooting in perhaps two locations. Even though a larger team on location would have unequivocally made my life as a director much easier, it would have meant sacrificing locations and losing essential pieces of the story. For me as a storyteller, that was a compromise I couldn’t accept.
Wearing Multiple Hats
I would always prefer to have a budget that allows for a reasonable-sized crew of at least 4 to 6 dedicated positions. But when that is not possible, wearing multiple hats can enable a show to go on–assuming it’s a project I’ve chosen to do for a particular personal or creative reason in spite of financial constraints. Non-profit films can sometimes fall into this area.
One thing I’ve noticed about wearing multiple hats on occasion… Even if I’m “just” producing or “just” directing for a particular project, having an understanding of the needs and challenges of all the positions on set ultimately makes me a better director in general. That’s certainly been an ancillary benefit in my own experience.
I would guess that many of us have been on sets run by producers who really didn’t know much about production at all, frankly. Think back to situations in your own experience like that. It’s probably a safe bet to guess those were nightmare scenarios.
So how do we prevent the micro-crew approach from becoming a hellish death-march like I’ve just alluded to? In part three we’ll discuss the pros and cons of working this way, what you can do to avoid pitfalls, and even explore why micro-crewing may not be a good idea generally.