Go It Alone. On minimal crew advantages.
Until a couple of years ago I mostly worked on sets with crew of around 4 to 8 people or more. From corporate shoots and lower budget commercials to documentaries. That was the minumum you needed to get professional results ? sufficient lighting for desired exposure and some camera movement like dolly, crane or steadycam. It was all heavy stuff ? lamps, dolly tracks, even the cameras. Their set-up took much time. A lot has changed in the recent couple of years. The emergence of HD-capable DSLRs (and 35mm adapters before that), lightweight sliders, mini-dollies, portable cranes, small and efficient LED lights has changed the model of video production. Now it’s possible to produce great-looking professional videos and films with very minimal crew. Or even go it alone.
And there’s a lot of advantages to producing a video on your own from beginning to end:
[efsicon type=”fi-arrow-right”] Faster and easier decision-making. You stay in touch with your client from beginning to end. Whenever something changes in the project (and it always does) you know it right away. And you decide right there how to best proceed. Fast and efficient.
[efsicon type=”fi-arrow-right”] Simpler production organization. The fewer people involved the easier it is to manage them all. Meals, lodging, transportation, communication, special needs, etc. It is fun to be in a large crew, sure, but hardly ever the producer thinks the same.
[efsicon type=”fi-arrow-right”] Getting closer to the people. Totally important in documentary. But also very important in lots of other types of projects. I would say in all of them, except perhaps for overtly staged scenes. The less equipment and the fewer people around the better chance you stand of catching fresh, natural sentences that convey emotions. Things that help execute this scenario: low-key lighting, lavalier mic instead of boom hanging over the head, eye-contact with your subjects, intimate, familiar space, and plenty of time.
[efsicon type=”fi-arrow-right”] More time. Your time. That’s the most important one for me.
Setting up the shoot and doing everything on your own or with minimal crew takes more time. But this extra time very often works for you. Most often the person you interview comes early to the shoot, apprehensive and not at ease. The time spent with him or her chatting while getting the set ready is what you need for them to relax, to get to know you, and to develop basic trust.
And then, there’s the actual shooting time. We all know there’s never enough of it. The DP always wants more of it, the producer the other way round. Acting as both you can decide for yourself how much you want or need to shoot until you can move to another location. There’s no conflict, no external tension. You need not worry how much it costs you to pay for the crew of six to stay on the shoot in Tokio for two more days.
[efsicon type=”fi-arrow-right”] Editing while shooting. Being all in one ? cameraman, director and editor ? you need to take mental breaks during the shoot and reflect on how it is going so far. And where it’s heading. That’s typically the director’s job. But in the ‘one-man-band’ scenario you know best what you captured on camera and you know best if it’s enough to make a working sequence out of it in the edit. Do you need to shoot some more B-roll to make it work ? Or is it a better idea to give it up completely and move on to something else, something with more potential? Totally up to you.
[efsicon type=”fi-arrow-right”] Self-motivation. Nothing makes you work your guts out more during shooting then the fact that it is you who will be responsible for turning this footage you shoot into a working movie that people will love watching. You’re responsible both to your client and to yourself as a filmmaker. DPs sometimes blame editors if the final video fails to ‘click’. Similarly, editors can put the blame on the ‘uneditable’ footage. Being both, there’s no one to blame but yourself. This works wonders as it comes to self-motivation at the shoot.
[efsicon type=”fi-arrow-right”] Faster postproduction ? you know your footage inside out. It’s so much faster to find your way around it, especially with projects with lots of video and audio footage and synchronization needs. My experience is that in the course of the shoot very often there’s little time for proper logging of the rushes (unless of course you have a dedicated member of the crew dealing with it). Editing your own footage (even if poorly logged or not logged at all at the shoot) speeds up and facilitates the whole process a lot.
[efsicon type=”fi-arrow-right”] More to learn. Finally, going it alone, you learn a lot about the different aspects of filmmaking (organization, direction, camera work, sound aquisition, sound design, color correction, but also project management and client relations). Of course not all of these might interest you at first sight but they are all (all!) so important in the movie-making process that understanding them makes you a better filmmaker creating better stuff every time you take on a new project.
Working in minimal crew is at times very demanding as you need to cover many technical fields and at the same time have a ‘bigger picture’ of the project in mind as you go along. Working in large crews, with everyone assigned a specific role, is different in this respect. Meeting highly-skilled specialists can be wonderful education and there’s great feeling of being part of a team, working on creative solutions. It certainly is fun. On many projects great results can only be achieved with the cooperation of best talent working together. No doubt. What I’m saying is that this traditional model of video and film production should not be taken as universal solution to all filmmaking projects. Many of them could in fact benefit from smaller or minimal crews and more personal approach.