Have you ever sat through the end credits of a movie? I assume it’s because you were waiting for the post-credit scene. If you didn’t run to the bathroom between the end of the movie and the time Sam Jackson steps out of the shadows to tell you about the Avengers Initiative, you probably noticed that it takes hundreds of people to bring movie magic to the silver screen.
For someone who wants to produce a video for their small business, that credit list can be intimidating. But have no fear! A professionally produced, high quality video can be made with far fewer people, even just one.
It all depends on the type of video you’re looking for, whether it’s as simple as an interview with a CEO, a complex narrative short film to tell your company’s story, or something in between. Most video production companies and freelancers are able to adjust their crew demands according to the size of your budget.
Here we explain who is who on a video crew and help you figure out what type of crew you’ll need for your video project.
The simplest, smallest (and thus, most affordable) production you can have is a crew of one. This person, often called a “one-man band” regardless of gender, does everything: they set up the lights and camera, they record the audio, they handle all of the logistics involved in setting up a shoot.
Although many hands make light work, one person really can handle most of the shoot, if it’s reasonably contained. For example, a single person (or series of people) being interviewed. A lone filmmaker should be able to light the scene, mic the interview subject and compose a nice shot.
While this is the most cost-effective option, there is a major drawback: it takes time. One person can’t set up the lights and mic and camera all at once (or take them down all at once at the end of the day). If, for whatever reason, you’re on a tight schedule for your shoot day, consider one of the next options.
Two person crew
The most common division of labor when you have two crew people is picture and sound. One person operates the camera and sets up the lights, while the other mics up the subjects of the video.
Why separate the two? If sound (i.e. what the person on screen says), as opposed to pretty visuals of your product, is central to your video concept, a good sound recordist is vital. You want someone dedicated solely to getting every word of dialogue. This is especially true if you need to film in a noisy environment, or a location with irregular noisy interruptions. A good recordist is focused entirely on the sound quality, and will let you know which background noises are acceptable, and which require filming another take.
Other times, you might want a two-person team if you’re filming a live event that won’t be repeated. If you want to be sure you have footage of everything, you’ll need at least two cameras (with two camera operators) rolling at the same time.
One easy example is filming a conversation between two people. One camera will provide a wide enough angle to see both speakers, while the other camera zooms in closer on whoever is talking. This will, of course, be edited together later (see below).
The above crew arrangements are bare bones. They’ll be filming the real world more or less as it is, and that includes you (assuming you’re on screen).
If the video content you’re creating is intended to be viewed by a broad audience, especially the general public, you’re going to need an even larger film crew.
In addition to a camera and sound person, you’ll need a hair stylist and makeup artist. Because of double standards in our society that are far beyond the scope of this article, you’ll especially need these if your on-screen talent are women. Makeup looks different on camera than it does in real life, and you’ll need an expert who knows what’s going to work.
Depending on your budget, you might be able to find a single artist who can do both makeup and hair. And while people are even great at both, it’ll cost you in time. Separating hair from makeup means two people can be getting dolled up at once.
Similarly, in the interest of time, your production team may want to hire a dedicated lighting technician. (They may call themselves a gaffer, although technically, that would imply they’re the head of an entire lighting department, which doesn’t exist in this case.) The camera operator will likely help with the lighting as needed, but just like with hair and makeup, separating the tasks means both can be done at the same time.
Also, lighting is its own unique discipline. Good lighting (in conjunction with flattering camera angles) can make a world of difference; hiring a great lighting tech will up the value of your video immensely.
Depending on the internal politics of the production company you’ve contracted to make your video, one of the above (probably the camera operator) will call themselves a “producer” or “director.” Don’t let these terms frighten you. Once a team reaches a certain size, it needs a hierarchy to keep everyone organized and on track. Just think of it as the management structure of your own company.
One of the most famous challenges in filmmaking is the Dinner Table Problem. It’s surprisingly difficult to show people sitting around a table and talking, thanks to something called the 180 Degree Rule. (You don’t really need to know what that means; that’s why you’re hiring a production company to do the shoot for you.)
Suffice it to say, if you’re filming a panel discussion, or any sort of scene with three or more people speaking extemporaneously, you’re going to need a commensurate number of cameras (and camera operators). With only two speakers, you can probably get away with just two cameras, as stated above. But once you hit three speakers, the close-up camera has a difficult time following the conversation. At that point, you’ll probably want at least the same number of cameras as speakers, and maybe one more for a wide shot.
All of this increases the payroll budget, as well as the time required to setup and breakdown the shoot. Keep all of that in mind when you consider adding another person to your round-table discussion video.
Further behind the scenes
Even after the shooting is finished, the video isn’t done. Several more people have work to do before the project is complete. Some of them may overlap roles with the above, which I’ll note as we go along.
The first, and most obvious, person is the editor, who will cut all of the footage together into a coherent video. In a one-man band situation, this’ll be the same person who shoots your video. In some of the larger productions, it may be a separate person, who you’ll never actually even meet on set.
But there’s more to post-production than simply putting shots in order. If you want a score to go with your video, the editor may create one from a music library, but to get something original, you’ll need a composer. If sound effects are required, too, mixing those with dialogue and music becomes even more complex, and a sound mixer will be required. (Some two-person teams split the work in post just like they do on set—the cameraman edits the picture, while the sound guy mixes the sound.)
For some extremely complicated reasons, the video recorded in-camera doesn’t usually look great and must be “color corrected” in post. This doesn’t mean the shooter made a mistake; think of color correction as photoshop for video.
Often times, the editor can perform this function, but just like audio mixing, it’s generally better if you have a dedicated specialist do this work.
Similarly, many editors have some experience with motion graphics, but a true graphic designer with animation experience is a better choice for a video that requires detailed animation and graphics to get its point across.
All of the above apply to documentary-style shooting, whether you’re conducting interviews or filming the process your company goes through to create its product. If you want to shoot a commercial with a narrative, that’s a whole ‘nother level.
To film even a small-scale narrative video, you’ll need around a dozen people. You’re obviously familiar with the camera operator, sound recordist, makeup artist and hair stylist. Additionally, you’ll need two or three lighting techs; a production designer (whose job it is to make the set look good); a costume designer (who picks out and maintains the wardrobe); a director and producer, who are dedicated to those jobs specifically, and not trying to operate a camera at the same time.
Depending on the needs or style of the video, you might need even more people in each of those departments. Multiple cameras make the shoot go faster, but also make the lighting more complicated. If you have more cameras, you’ll need to hire a data wrangler, to input all of the footage and keep it organized. Building a set will require several people in the art department working under the production designer. And the bigger your cast, the more hair, makeup and costume people will be required. Once a crew reaches 20 or so, you’ll probably need an assistant director, who is responsible for keeping the set running smoothly and on time.
You don’t have to decide all on your own
This may all sound very complicated, and it is, but luckily, it’s manageable by someone with experience.
Communication is key. When discussing your project with production companies, tell them in great detail how you envision the final video to look like. This will help them determine what exactly you need, whether it’s a one-man band or a full crew.
Lastly, be honest about your budget. A good production company will figure out creative solutions that work within your budget, but a great production company will tell you the truth: some things are just beyond your means, at the moment.
And now that you know who is who on a video shoot and what types of crew there are, you’re ready to start planning your next video project.