With a skeleton crew, everyone on set wears many hats and all crew members (including the director) must take on PA duties sporadically throughout the production. With that said, it is still crucial to have a dedicated PA on set to keep things moving well. Even though everyone on set should be willing to pick up the slack when needed and act as a PA if they need to, there are times when you just don’t have enough hours in the day and you really don’t want to ask your Makeup Artist or DP to start moving gear, especially when you know the next shot is just around the corner and you’re running out of daylight. For me personally, the most important thing to look for in a PA is a good attitude. PA’s are typically still at a stage in their careers where they are learning, so on an indie set the best you can do is find someone that wants to learn, has a passion for film and brings a positive attitude to set.
Your location sound recordist is amongst the most important people on set. As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest mistakes indie productions make is skimping out in the sound department. It has been said time and time again that sound is 50% of your film, but I would argue that it is more. Perfect sound coupled with poor visuals will always come across as more polished and professional looking than perfect visuals with bad sound. It really comes down to the psychology of how we as people percieve the content that we are watching… But the point it that good sound is critical to the overall success of your film. And once again, you are not just looking for a sound recordist with the right gear or the right rate that will meet your budget, but you are looking for someone that fits in with your production. If you’re shooting mostly guerilla style on the street for instance, you will want someone that has done this before. Someone that knows how to be discreet, hide the lavs and run the mixer out of his or her backpack. Or if you’re shooting half a dozen actors together in a single scene, you want someone that can handle a scene of that complexity and has the knowledge and skill set to make it work. Ultimately,this person should care about the sound more than you do, and should do everything in their power to make it sound perfect.
Even if you are only using practical lights, some C-stands and a couple flags, a skilled Gaffer/Grip will work wonders on your production. Filling this position with someone who is quick, knowledgable and skilled, can save you a huge amount time on set. This is another one of those positions where some indie producers don’t always pay enough attention to, hoping that the DP can pick up the slack… But the question is – can your DP simultaneously act as a Grip/Gaffer themselves while working the camera? Sure they can. But that is going to mean less time doing what they should be doing and more time physically setting up lights and gear themselves. And in many cases this can mean either longer days or missed shots. From a creative standpoint a talented Gaffer/Grip will help your DP get the most out of their shots by helping them to focus their ideas more clearly and effectively.
The above positions are by no means the only five that need to be filled on a small crew. In some cases you may need more or less crew members, or you may need to sub out one for another. Two positions that are equally crucial to fill but didn’t make my list are: Production Designer and Script Supervisor. A great Production Designer can work miracles and make your project look like a million bucks, even when your budget is very low. Since many indie films shoot guerilla style and use lots of exteriors, I didn’t include this position in the list above, but depending on your production it may be one of the most important positions to address.
Having a talented Script Supervisor on set can also be a life saver, especially if your film takes place over the course of many days and you have a lot of continuity to keep track of – wardrobe, makeup, props, etc. Again, I didn’t include this on the list as many indie productions are so scaled down that they aren’t as demanding in this regard, but if you do feel that you need a Script Supervisor, do not overlook this department. In the long run they can save you tons of time by avoiding having to stop before every scene and double check your dailies to make sure everything is consistent.
There is no exact formula to creating the perfect skeleton crew, but the key is to have all of your bases covered. No matter what, you will always need assistance in the camera, audio and makeup departments, and you are certainly best off getting dedicated crew members to tackle all of these tasks. Don’t forget to have a great PA (or two) on board, as they are the life blood of your project and will keep things running much more efficiently. And of course, customize your crew to suit the needs of your project. If you need a Production Designer, Script Supervisor or any additional crew for that matter (VFX Supervisor, Stunt Person, etc.), make sure you have whoever you need on set. And most importantly, whichever crew positions you fill, make sure everyone on board is equally as passionate about your project as you are.