Crew Abuse – Are You Guilty?

The Golden Rule

Everyone knows the golden rule: “Do unto others what you would have others do unto you.”

Crew abuse is an ugly little secret in the otherwise glammy hype of what it’s like on set at a video production. The distracted producer who wants to cram two days of shooting into one day may not even be aware they are guilty of crew abuse.

Crew Abuse Blog by Patty Mooney of San Diego video production company Crystal Pyramid Productions

“Sexiest Man Alive,” Hugh Jackman appearing at 2008 San Diego Comic Con

As a crew person I wear many hats. I’m a Producer, Editor, Sound Technician, Boom Pole Operator, Technical Director, Camera Operator, Teleprompter Operator and Grip/Gaffer.  So I have experienced the fruits of compassionate producers and the vitriol of producers who expect far too much from the hapless crew member. Here are my guidelines on how to do it right:

Five Caveats

1. A fed crew is a happy crew.

On most full-day shoots, the client/ producer should provide lunch.  Or at least provide time for the crew to go out and scrounge up some food. Many producers make sure to supply snacks and beverages to crew members in the morning and afternoon. Savvy producers know that they will get far more out of a well-fed crew. A potential client recently called us to provide a crew at a local convention. When she mentioned that the crew “would have to work through lunch” we told her to go ahead and call someone else.

2. It’s easy to commit crew abuse at huge conventions.

Do not plot out an overly zealous shoot. So if you insist on covering every single booth at a convention like the San Diego Comic-Con with hundreds of booths, then you should re-think your plan. Prioritize what you cannot live without. If you still want to cover a hundred vendors, then give it two or three days. But don’t expect a crew to set up a hundred different locations in a day. It’s just not feasible.

Crew Abuse can be rampant at San Diego Comic Con

“On the Floor” at San Diego Comic Con – a constant parade of humanity

3. Line your ducks up in a row.

In continuing with the San Diego Comic-Con example, make sure that the interviews you want are either all in one room and spaced well enough apart so that people are not starting to line up in the hallway.  Or, if you want to catch the interviewee at their booth, then plot out each and every one in a logical manner. Do not force the crew to go to Ballroom B on the northwest side of the building, then proceed to the basement on the southeast side of the building, then climb up several staircases back up to the next location half a mile away… Try and remember that your crew is carrying heavy equipment (many times management will not allow mag-liners or rolling carts).  And there is no excuse to exhaust a crew due to your poor planning.

4. Factor in travel time and traffic.

If you plan on shooting at several different locations, be aware of how traffic flows during both “rush hours.”  Do not underestimate how much time you and your production “caravan” could be stuck in traffic. Also, allow for set-up time at each location.

5. Communicate constantly.

At the beginning of the shoot, before the camera operator “pulls the trigger” on the camera, let everybody in the crew know what to expect on the shoot.  And tell them what is on the itinerary. This way, everybody can anticipate what needs to be done and work efficiently as a team. Consequently, there will be no undesired surprises.

The old adage of alluring more flies with honey works well in the scope of video production. If you work with a stellar crew and you treat them like the special people they are, then you will achieve some great results in your production.

Conversely, if you treat the crew disdainfully, you will burn through talented people who will then talk to their industry colleagues about how you treated them. With social networking, the word spreads faster and further than it ever has before. So be nice!

Patty Mooney is a VP, Video Producer, Sound Technician, Teleprompter Operator and Video Editor at San Diego’s award-winning video production company, Crystal Pyramid Productions.