Jump to Hyperspace with These 5 Tips for Assembling a Superstar Production Crew

By Nik Bars and Emily Winters

“Boeing’s new spacesuit” by US Department of State is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Staffing a crew for a film or series is like assembling a crew for a deep space mission; you want to make sure you have the right people in place who you trust, have the skills to keep your ship from crumbling into pieces, and also aren’t going to tear each other’s hair out before the mission is over.

How can you find the best team to take you to where “no man [or woman] has gone before?” What kinds of questions should you be asking to be confident that your new hire will not steer your team into a black hole?

We reached out into the SetKeeper galaxy to ask seasoned production professionals for their tips on how to staff a crackerjack crew for your upcoming missions.

1 — Prioritize diversity — and don’t just pay lip service

“I love diversity… The more diverse you make your crew the more perspectives you have and the more it benefits your project.” — Claudine Marrotte, Producer

Diversity isn’t just a buzzword for the industry — it has practical implications for the success of your team. A variety of perspectives can be a saving grace when it comes to problem solving and needing to be collaborative in this creative medium. A variety of ages is especially useful — an older crew member’s “back in my day” stories will help younger members grow, while “you click here” youngsters will help the older generation adapt to digital production tools.

Also make sure that anyone you hire is not going to make anyone feel uncomfortable for any aspect of their identity; diversity and inclusion are pointless if people on your team do not feel safe enough to be their full selves.

Interview questions: What unique contribution can you bring to the team? How do you seek to understand coworkers with different backgrounds and identities? What are the qualities of a good crew member?

2 — Hire as many autonomous, solution-oriented people as possible

“The whole idea behind production is that we’re the solution, not the problem. Look for people who will not exacerbate a situation but will find a solution, think outside the box, or offer compromise.” — Joshua A. Friedman, Assistant Director and Founder of Crew Me Up

If you’ve spent the morning tracking down a lost film shipment, insurance paperwork for a stunt performer, and booking crew hotel rooms for the next location, the last thing you need is a production assistant announcing that make-up has run out of foundation for the star… and they’re waiting for you to tell them what to do next.

Look for people who will not only let you know about a problem but then also have the foresight to already have solutions in mind when they come to you. They’ll bring you options and allow you to decide and delegate, rather than finding a solution from scratch.

Interview questions: When do you decide to escalate issues to your boss? How comfortable are you with taking the lead to find solutions? How would you persuade a crew member to go along with your solution, even if they had more authority than you?

Photo by Petr Sevcovic on Unsplash

3- Consider folks with customer service backgrounds, or other relevant experience outside of the film industry

“When hiring PA’s I would definitely advocate hiring those who have customer service backgrounds… Think about it, ordering coffee and lunches is pretty much the first true test of a PA.” — Will Potenberg, Assistant Production Coordinator

Production office employees fill many roles during a shoot, including customer service: taking instructions regularly, filling orders, and responding to emergencies. Make sure the people you hire are customer and team oriented. A summer job scooping ice cream? Front desk at a hotel? Call center employee? Someone with these entries on their resume may be better suited to production work than someone with just stellar academic credentials.

Sure, maybe they won’t know the best way to wrap cables or understand three-point lighting out of the gate, but chances are these kinds of people will have a better memory when taking lists of orders and be more accustomed to working in high-pressure environments. If they are sincerely looking to make filmmaking a career for themselves the nitty-gritty production details are things they can pick up on while working as a PA.

Interview questions: What does a service-oriented production office look like to you? Tell me about the most stressful day you’ve ever had at work; what did you do to get through it? If you have ever had to deal with difficult personalities in your previous experience how did you handle them?

4- Use new technologies and services to be more efficient when seeking your next applicant.

We were shooting in Texas and during prep I had to fire my gaffer… We looked for local talent; we checked Mandy.com, StaffMeUp, Craigslist and nobody had the level of credibility that we actually needed for this production. So, we ended up bringing in somebody from New York who was fantastic but that was the point where I turned to my producing partners and said, ‘c’mon, tell me there is an app for this.” — Joshua A. Friedman, Assistant Director and Founder of Crew Me Up

While it can be tempting to simply refer to your usual sources when looking for candidates, think about trying one of the many new solutions that have appeared in recent years. Especially if time is of the essence and you need to hire someone last minute, this strategy will likely be much quicker and you may end up finding someone better than you anticipated.

For example, Joshua Friedman* created the app Crew Me Up specifically for hiring and seeking jobs in the entertainment industry because he became frustrated with the lack of resources when he needed to find crew in a pinch. “I found myself literally making 60 calls to hire 6 people, not because I didn’t know who to call but because I didn’t know who was available,” explains Joshua. Platforms like Crew Me Up, CopyThat and Snagajob can take all of this guesswork out: they’ll only show you immediately available crew members.

Bottom line: Save your precious time and try utilizing new digital tools to staff your crew. Check out our article to learn more about other solutions like SetKeeper to make your set as efficient as possible.

5- Be honest when giving or receiving recommendations.

“Be careful of who you recommend because your recommendation does reflect on you. And, be truthful about the recommendation because they’ll judge you based on what you say… but don’t try to hurt anybody either.” — Claudine Marrotte, Producer

Referrals are the circle of life, especially in this business. When asking for or offering a referral, think critically about the job that needs to be done and who would be best suited for the position. And as much as you would like to help out your friend, roommate, family member, etc., take a step back to think if it really is a good idea before you suggest them to a professional colleague.

Don’t be afraid to candid about your referral; your honesty could save your colleague headaches down the road. Let them know if your recommendation has a quirky personality, a shorter-than-average temper, or is light on experience; your colleague can decide if those things matter. Remember: it’s your recommendation and your judgement reflects back on you.

Likewise, when considering a referral from a colleague, don’t simply take their word for it. The last thing you want is to hire someone simply based on a referral and find out they’re a terrible fit with your crew. Again, your judgment is on display when you choose who to hire.

*For more production office tips we also highly recommend checking out Joshua’s book, Getting it Done: The Ultimate Production Assistant’s Guide.

Have comments or ideas for other articles? Feel free to reach out to contact@setkeeper.com and let us know what you think!

SetKeeper is an industry-leading platform designed to coordinate the physical production process simply and safely. www.setkeeper.com