The Value of Great Production Crew

The Value of Film Crew

It can take years to polish a script to perfection, attract the right director and the best possible actors to tell a compelling story that will resonate with a paying audience.  Those most responsible for setting the stage, lighting the scene and recording that performance are the unseen hands that can make, or break, a picture:  The Crew.

Making a movie is expensive.

If you want to do it right and deliver quality entertainment to paying audiences, the production qualities need to be as high as possible.  That requires technical skill, experience and coordination over an army of people that earn their living by avoiding attention in favour of those in the spot light. 

Production sets are the physical environments where scenes are recorded for entertainment content.  Whether the least costly pod-cast or the highest budget Hollywood movie, recording performers in front of a camera and/or microphone requires the right environment, and particular skill.  For professional productions, these environments are carefully crafted.  Sets can be located on a soundstage within a studio, on location in real-world settings or they can be digitally constructed through computer-generated imagery (CGI).  The crew that design, build, light and shoot in them are absolutely critical to the smooth and efficient process that is demanded by nervous talent, tight schedules and restrictive budgets.

Often lost in the confusion of development and the marketing of entertainment, the support of an experienced production crew is fundamental to any film or television show.

On the set of Conan the Destroyer (1984)
An army of production crew members supporting actors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Grace Zones on the set of Conan the Destroyer (1984) (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures).

Producer Colin Vaines has worked with some of the industry’s most celebrated film directors, including Martin Scorsese, Bruce Robinson and Anthony Minghella.  “The most successful directors that I know, understand that there will be no awards or even a next job unless the crew want that project to succeed.” Says Vaines.  “Managing and motivating the crew matters, a lot.”

“Below-the-line” production crew in the modern production process

Above-the-line talent is an industry term that identifies the marketable creative talent in the summary, or top-sheet of a budget for entertainment content.  Think of opening credits in a movie.  A director is paid to elicit a particular artistic vision from the performance of actors for audiences to experience.  The director would be above-the-line.

The stage dressers, make-up artists, gaffers and camera-operators tasked with actually generating the circumstances for that performance, capturing it and recording it are the crew.  Crew is below-the-line in a budget top-sheet.  They constitute necessary production expenses rather than desirable performance artists.

In modern film and television production, the crew is the backbone of operations.  There are no critically-acclaimed performances without well-coordinated production crew that are motivated to set the best stage possible and capture that singular, award-winning moment.  They do so knowing that they are not the “talent”.  But they do so, often building careers that list more films, television shows and other commercial content than any single actor, producer or director could possible hope for.

“The most successful directors that I know, understand that there will be no awards or even a next job unless the crew want that project to succeed.”
– Colin Vaines

An experienced production crew contributes high levels of expertise, efficiency, and professionalism to a director and actors that rely on the right environment to perform within.  Seasoned crew members have honed their skills through years of work, allowing them to execute their tasks with precision and effectively troubleshoot issues that may arise during the production process.  Their familiarity with set protocols ensures that operations run smoothly; minimizing costly delays and keeping the project on schedule and within budget.

Additionally, an experienced crew fosters a harmonious and collaborative working environment, understanding the dynamics of set life and effectively communicating with other departments. Their vast knowledge and past experiences can serve as a guiding light, helping to elevate the quality of the production to meet industry standards, and often exceeding the initial vision of the producers and directors.  In essence, an experienced crew is a cornerstone for achieving high-quality, successful film and television productions.

What could go wrong?

When above-the-line budget costs increase to attract higher-paid creative talent, the overall budget increases accordingly.  To address this issue, many producers will put downward pressure on below-the-line costs.  Moving production to a less expensive location can help.

While most experienced members of production crews live and work in the major production markets, emerging production markets are investing in training of production crew to attract film-makers and television show-runners in need of cheaper facilities.  Cheaper can be better.  Most crew members seeking to build a career will work on lower budget productions to gain experience and build relationships.  Less expensive production locations often include less experienced production crew.

But experience counts for a lot on a film set.

“Cost over-runs almost always happen.  Managing them is the producer’s job.”  Colin Vaines advised.  “When they are not managed well, the stress is almost always felt most by the production crew.”

An inexperienced production crew can have various impacts on a film or television production, and while not all of these impacts are necessarily negative, they can pose significant challenges to the management of the production process.  This is particularly true when other factors transfer stress to the set.

Here are some of the potential impacts:

Increased Production Time:

Inexperienced crew members may need more time to familiarize themselves with equipment, processes, and the expectations of their roles. This can slow down the daily shooting schedule and extend the overall production timeline.

Lower Production Quality:

A lack of experience can result in technical errors, such as poor lighting, shaky camera work, or inconsistent sound recording, which can significantly lower the production quality of the final product.

Compromised Safety:

Film and television sets can be dangerous places, and inexperienced crew members might not be fully aware of the safety protocols. This can increase the risk of accidents and injuries on set.  We are all painfully aware of the tragedies that can occur when budget constraints and poor set management coincide with crew inexperience.

Film set of Rust.
Set of the film, Rust on Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe, New Mexico on Oct 23, 2022. Actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on set during filming on Oct 21, 2022 killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, 42 and injuring director Joel Souza. (aerial photo credit: Jae C. Hong/A.P.)

Post-production Challenges:

Issues that are not addressed during production (such as poor sound recording or lighting) can create more work in post-production, requiring additional time and money to fix.

Difficulty in Crisis Management:

Filmmaking is often about solving unexpected problems. Experienced crews are often better at quickly and effectively dealing with issues that arise during production. Inexperienced crews might struggle to adapt, which can cause further delays, costs and safety issues.

In summary, while an inexperienced production crew can offer fresh perspectives and potential cost savings, they can also pose significant risks to production in terms of time, budget, safety and overall quality. Experienced crew members bring a depth of knowledge and efficiency that can be critical for the smooth and successful completion of a film or television production.

Examples of productions that suffered from inexperienced crew

While it’s important to maintain a respectful tone when discussing the work of professionals in any industry, including film and television, there are cases where a lack of experience among key members of the production crew has been cited as a contributing factor to various issues on set or in the final product.

Here are a few examples of productions that faced challenges, with a note on the various factors involved:

“The Island of Dr. Moreau” (1996):

This film, directed by John Frankenheimer (after original director Richard Stanley was fired), is often cited as a prime example of a troubled production.  Reports from the set detail numerous issues, including communication problems among the crew, many of whom were relatively inexperienced. However, it’s important to note that this production faced many other issues as well, including conflicts between actors and key creative personnel, difficult shooting conditions, and constant script changes.  The film’s budget is reported at US$40 million (~US$65 million with marketing) and received US$49.6 million in box office revenue.  The film is generally considered to have been a flop.

“Fantastic Four” (2015):

Directed by Josh Trank, this reboot of the superhero franchise faced extensive reshoots and suffered from poor reviews. While the exact reasons for the film’s problems are still the subject of speculation and dispute, some reports suggest that the relatively inexperienced crew hired to save costs, as well as conflicts between the director and studio, played a role.  The filming location was shifted from the established production centre of Vancouver to Louisiana.  The film’s budget is reported at US$155 million (over US$200 million with marketing) and received US$167.9 million in box office revenue.  The film is generally considered to have been a flop.

“The Snowman” (2017):

Directed by Tomas Alfredson, this thriller was met with negative reviews, with many critics citing its confusing and incomplete narrative. Alfredson has publicly stated that the production was rushed, with an estimated 10-15% of the screenplay left un-filmed, which may be attributed to various factors, including possible issues with scheduling and coordination among the production team.  The film was shot in Norway with a crew that may have suffered from shortened pre-production and principal photography schedules.  The film’s budget is reported at US$35 million (~US$50 million with marketing) and received US$43.1 million in box office revenue.  The film is generally considered to be a flop.

There is a compelling call to action for the industry as a whole to recognise and invest in crew management as a fundamental skill set. This involves providing training and professional development opportunities for aspiring and current crew members alike and fostering a culture that values and respects the immense contributions that crew members make to every production.

In an industry that is constantly evolving, with new technologies and storytelling methods emerging regularly, the human element remains constant. The people behind the scenes, the crew, are the heart and soul of any production. As the industry moves forward, it is critical that investment in these talented professionals, and in the skills required to manage and lead them effectively, is seen not as an optional extra but as a fundamental, integral aspect of creating high-quality entertainment content.

1 Comment

  1. I would think that availability of experienced crew is as important to a production as soundstages and financial incentives. If there is no crew available, you can’t shoot a picture (without spending tons bringing them in from somewhere else).

    Who cares if a new studio is built or politicians introduce a new incentive scheme to attract film-makers if there is no local crew with any experience to enable principal photography with real production value? This is the single most important advantage that LA County and the UK have over places like Cyprus or Saudi Arabia.

    If Cyprus and Saudi Arabia learn that lesson, and open genuine training programmes with experienced instructors along-side serious film projects, then LA County and the UK have a lot to worry about.

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