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How (and Why) to Wrangle a Volunteer Crew for Your Micro-Budget Movie

Indiewire By Arin Crumley | Indiewire June 18, 2014 at 1:48PM

Here's how (and why) to attract an unpaid crew.
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Arin Crumley Actress Tarynn Wiehahn & Director Arin Crumley at work on his second feature film due to be released in 2014.
Arin Crumley is an independent film director whose award-winning debut film "Four Eyed Monsters" was the first feature-length movie released on YouTube. Crumley is currently working on his second feature film which recently received a $5000 grant award from Creative District.

Creative District, which Indiewire called "LinkedIn, but tailored to creatives" is building a professional network for film and media makers to collaborate. In a guest post below, Crumley writes about how to attract a crew even if you can't afford to pay them.

Projects that break new ground often don't have the highly-experienced teams or proven concepts that warrant traditional financing.  In these cases, securing a volunteer cast and crew can make the crucial difference of whether a project gets made or not. I've created two feature films in which not a single member of the cast or crew was paid. While the second is in its final stages of post, the first received multiple film festival accolades, Spirit Award nominations, and has been viewed by millions around the world. For those who worry that an unpaid crew means an amateur crew, let me assure you that quality is absolutely possible on a volunteer set – but first you have to understand that there is a different kind of payoff involved.

Society would have us believe that money is the main motivator to work performance, but when a person’s individual growth and learning is taken into account, it creates an opportunity for them beyond what many traditional jobs offer. New research shows that the main drivers of human motivation are actually "high recognition, autonomy, and the opportunity to learn and grow." This is exactly the type of environment that an independent film set creates for its team. The lesson here is, do not underestimate the value of your "ultra low budget" production and what it can offer your team both personally and professionally. So now that you understand the real worth of your project, let's go through the steps in finding your volunteer crew and making your dream project a reality.

Headhunting

In addition to spreading the word to friends, colleagues and fans of your past work, it's also smart to seek out collaborators you respect.  Local indie film screenings and film festivals are great places to see talent showcased and find creatives you might want to work with.  You can also search for talent whose work you respect in online creative communities, for instance CreativeDistrict.com is a site the media has likened to LinkedIn for media creators. Not only was my second film recently awarded a grant from them, we've been using the site to list positions and find talent for the completion and marketing of our film.

Locking Teams

Now that you've found the right people, it's time to get them on board. One might assume this means communicating the vision of your project in a way that blows them away, but that's only part of the equation. You also want to find out who they really are, what matters to them and how your project is an opportunity that can feed their current goals. As you make these discoveries and share how your film can further their objectives, you'll find crew members solidifying their involvement despite the fact there is no immediate financial compensation.

READ MORE: Here's Why Female-Driven Films Are Important

Maintenance

Movies require dedication to the entire process and unless you nurture the relationships you've cultivated, you'll find team members dropping like flies. Yes, now it is time to deliver on the promises you made in the previous phase – and that is true for both parties. Communication is key here -- as in all relationships. If you provide regular conversations evaluating each executed effort that your volunteer crew is a part of on the film, the experience can become highly educational for all involved.

Soft Pay

Just because you don't have hard cash to pay your crew doesn't mean you shouldn't reward them should distribution miraculously reap heavy profits. Soft pay treats your team like cash investors that will get money from day one (as opposed to after expenses have been paid). Although the chances your small indie film will turn a profit are slim, it is possible, and the offer will be appreciated by your crew members. Offering soft pay at the beginning is also a good way to secure a contract which otherwise might feel nebulous due to the lack of compensation. You can consider a site like coinkite.com to automatically send royalties to your team based on percentages you define.

In Conclusion

It all ultimately comes down to your relationships with people.  Listen to what matters to your crew and find ways to provide encouragement throughout the process of making your movie. You'll soon find that you hold the keys to the vehicle your team has invested in, so be responsible with this power and honor this position of leadership they have agreed to put you in by making them all proud and completing a great film. Speaking of collaboration and communication,
thanks to filmmakers Fritz Donnelly and Christie Strong for their help in the creation of this article, to Karl Jacob for providing work space and to CreativeDistrict.com.

To watch Crumley's first feature film and behind the scenes online series click here. To follow the completion and release of his upcoming film and for additional tutorials visit arincrumley.com or follow him on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit: Production, Creative District, Crew