The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
In this final segment on micro-crewing I want to discuss the pros and cons of working “small” and suggest a few ways to avoid pitfalls with the approach. You may want to catch part one and part two if you missed those posts.
Let’s start with the positives:
- Smaller crews can help meet tight budgets and make projects possible—which can sometimes help encourage client loyalty.
- Potential for more camaraderie with closely-knit, interdependent team.
- The need to work smaller can sometimes spark creative problem solving that can make the end product better.
- Opportunity for emotional and intellectual connection/engagement with the production as a whole can be higher than when working on larger crews.
- Each person gets more variation and creative control as well as greater personal impact on multiple areas of the production.
Life is not always wine and roses for one-man-bands & micro-crews. Here’s a list of the not-so-good aspects of micro-crewing:
- Delivering more with less can make you a hero to your clients, but you run the risk of never getting a higher budget because of what you were able to deliver at such a low price point in the first place. You can doom yourself to micro-crewing project after project for that client if you’re not careful.
- You’ll work harder with less down time as a one-man or two-man crew than you will on a larger crew. Larger crews have more manpower to accomplish all the tasks and have dedicated people in each role.
- It’s easier to make mistakes on set because, as pointed out in part two, humans have been shown to be very poor at multi-tasking.
- Unless you are a madly talented genius, you will never be able to deliver the quality and speed that a larger, skilled crew working as a team can deliver.
Unfortunately, the deck can seem stacked against you if you’re working by yourself or on a micro-crew. Sometimes things can get downright ugly.
- If any member of the micro-crew is weak in a particular discipline it will show. There’s nowhere to hide and no one to cover for your lack of expertise.
- You may very well be joining in the race to the bottom—providing services for far less than you should and thereby hurting filmmakers everywhere. It can be tempting to use this as a strategy to get business, but I strongly advise against it. Don’t compete on price. Do better work instead. Do you really want to be first in the race to go bankrupt? Filmmaking is difficult. You deserve a decent wage.
- You may be forced to make creative compromises often just to get the minimum footage needed with the limited manpower available. The severity of those compromises may result in lowering the overall quality of the finished product.
Tale from the Trenches
I was talking with a DP friend of mine recently who told me a sobering story. He was asked by some clients if he could “also do audio” while shooting. He knew he could certainly don headphones and listen enough to verify that sound was being recorded. But he ultimately told the clients this wasn’t a good idea. His main attention needed to be on picture, not sound. He also worried, though he didn’t say this to the clients, that by splitting his focus both elements would suffer.
Worse, he suspected he would be setting himself up for failure. If the audio he was monitoring wasn’t perfect (because he was focused on the visuals), those clients might not hire him again as a shooter. As unfair as that sounds, I’ve seen similar scenarios happen before.
Mistakes are costly… in more ways than we may realize at first.
So let’s delve into a few things that may make it easier to avoid the potential pitfalls of micro-crewing.
Tips for Small-crew Video Production
As stated in part one, it’s almost always preferable to have a production team with a dedicated person in each key position. But when budgets are tight, that may not be possible for every project. It will be up to you whether or not working small is a viable option for that particular job. You’ll need to stay nimble and be willing to compromise to avoid the pitfalls we’ve outlined here.
Remember that in some cases it may make the most sense to turn down a project altogether if the budget isn’t adequate. You want to do your best work for someone, and too many compromises make that impossible. However, if there’s a creative reason you still want to tackle the job, micro-crewing might be an option to consider. If so, here are a few suggestions for making micro-crewing life easier.
- Keep it simple. Jibs, dollies, and other specialized tools can cost time, require extra work, and create a lot of stress for you. Use at your own risk if you don’t have adequate crew support.
- Put as much time as possible into pre-production so you have a solid plan for each setup. I recommend this for every production, not just micro-crew ones.
- Work with gear and people you’re familiar with. Working “small” is tense enough without surprise personality conflicts, gear malfunctions, user error, etc.
- If you’re a one-man-band, make it your mission to develop skill parity—in other words, make a point to be equally good/competent at everything you need to do on set. For some filmmakers that may mean remedial training.
- As a micro-crew, make sure each person complements the other in terms of strengths and weakness. If you’re a great DP but know nothing about audio, build a relationship with someone who’s great at production audio along with other skills you don’t have.
- Be well-rested before you start production. Adequate sleep is important physically and mentally for the quick decisions and multitasking chores ahead of you as a one-man-band or micro-crew. I see a lot of young filmmakers propping themselves up these days with energy drinks, and that’s not a sustainable recipe for excellence. For more information on the importance of sleep, I recommend visiting Tony Schwartz’s excellent Energy Project. You can use their Energy Audit as a metric for gauging your own fatigue levels and finding ways to enhance your work performance. For a less scientific approach, you could also watch a short film I directed for the FAA on sleep deprivation.
I hope you’ve found some benefit from this brief look into micro-crewing. If you have any questions or comments—or better yet, your own suggestions for making micro-crewing easier—please share your ideas as a comment. Or if you think micro-crewing is a ridiculous, horrible idea, tell us why you feel that way. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.