I’ve heard the phrase “the least we can do” thrown around a lot lately, specifically by producers trying to make nice with their unpaid crews. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with some amazingly awesome producers on no-budget indies; this article is not for them. This article is for the producers who think they’re awesome, think they’re doing more than ‘the least,’ but who are actually bad producers making inferior films, pissing off crews, and building a reputation for themselves as filmmakers to be avoided. So, I thought I’d take a moment to discuss what ‘the least’ really is when it comes to producing shoestring indies and building a crew that might actually want to work with you a second time.
Literally. The least you can do is, well, nothing. You could go ahead and not grab (or write) some shitty script and then expect a bunch of cast and crew to work on it for free. Think of all the trouble you’d avoid and all the time you would save people, if you would just do nothing. Maybe they could all work on something good for a change.
The Least Pre-production:
Script. Seriously though, if you’re going to produce an indie film, the least you could do is make sure you’ve got a fantastic script, and make sure you’re producing a story about something you really care about. And yes, I said story. For some reason, half of these indie films forget that crucial element.
So, you’ve decided to ignore the previous paragraph and produce your shitty script anyway. Yay, you! You’ve got it pretty nice because you can probably still find a crew for your project. So, here’s the least you can do in pre-production, if you want to claim that you’re not a complete douche.
Don’t Suck. Since you’re producing, the least you could do is not suck at your job. I’m not going to tell you how to do your job, because you should already know how to do that if you’re producing a fucking film. But the least you could do is perform your job as well as you expect your unpaid crew to be doing their jobs.
Hint: If you tell your crew that there are no bathrooms where you’re shooting and they’ll have to piss in the woods, you are not doing a good job at producing.
The contract. The least you can do is actually give your crew a real contract. Most crew contracts I come across aren’t even legally binding, they’re just lists of things that the producer wants out of the deal. In order for a contract to be legally binding, it must contain an offer, consideration, and acceptance. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you shouldn’t be writing crew contracts.
If you don’t want your film online, and you don’t say that in your contract, you really only have yourself to blame when it happens. And for the love of God, don’t think that a verbal contract is good enough, because it really, really isn’t.
Discriminate equally. Don’t make the dick move of paying some of your cast/crew and not others. Your crew is going to be in close contact with one another for several days, it will come up eventually.
How would you like to be the unpaid person on a set where everyone else is on the payroll? Is that an environment where you would do your best work?
Deferred pay. Also, if you’re honestly unable to pay your crew, the least you can do is offer them deferred pay. You and I know that your indie film has a 99.99% chance of being a total money pit, but the gesture of putting in writing “If I make money, you make money” really goes a long way to tell to your crew that you are interested in everyone’s success, not just your own. And hey, maybe that’ll even motivate your crew to work that much harder. Nah, probably not.
Let me be clear though, deferred pay is not the same thing as pay, I view it as a polite gesture, with similar odds of getting paid as those of winning the lottery.
The Least on the Set:
Food. Your job as a producer on the set should be mostly dealing with problems as they arise (and yes, as a producer, you should be on the set). But the most important thing that you might’ve forgotten to take care of is the food. Since you’re not paying your crew, the least you can do is feed them well. This means meals as well as craft services. I cannot emphasize enough how important food is on the set, and how difficult/rare this is to achieve while staying within budget. Keep in mind that your crew will judge you, the producer, by the food that is served to them.
There is nothing quite as insulting as working on a crew, giving a 16+ hour day, and in return getting a peanut butter and jelly bagel for lunch. Fuck you, man, fuck you.
The Least in Post:
Finish the film. This happens so frequently: a wonderful film gets shot, never gets edited, and just sits on a shelf forever. The least you can do is make sure the film gets finished, so that your crewmembers’ work doesn’t just go to waste.
Yeah, editing’s hard and a lot of work, but this isn’t the step that’s okay to skip.
IMDB Credit. I remember my first IMDB credit: it meant I was finally a real filmmaker! Do the courtesy of assuring all of your crew get IMDB credit—it’s the least you can do. How do you get on IMDB? Through Withoutabox.com. Submit your finished film to a film festival (my favorites are SIFF, STIFF, and NBC Universal because they’re free to Washington state filmmakers), and then go through the trouble of manually entering in every single cast and crew person into the Withoutabox.com online form. Trust me, people will notice and appreciate it when they see that you went to the trouble to include them.
Honestly, IMDB credit is probably the biggest perk your cast & crew is going to get on your film, so it is very important that you do this. Or, on the other hand, you could just be a douche, and only enter your own name as producer, and leave everyone else to add themselves on their own…
YouTube = So What? Contrary to popular belief, putting the finished film online is, in fact, NOT “the least you can do.” The least you can do, is hand a DVD copy of the finished film to each and every cast and crewmember during the film’s cast and crew screening that you hold at an actual theater. If you’re really low budget, at least make your video available for download on a site like vimeo.
Giving your cast & crew a copy of the finished film is an absolute minimum requirement on no-budget indies, so you should really make sure to do this.
Appreciate Them. Never forget for an instant how much your cast and crew are donating to you. Some of them may be giving you the equivalent of over $500 a day. And that’s just the labor, it’s thousands of dollars more in equipment rentals that the crew is likely donating as well. It just blows my mind that filmmakers are so generous in this town. Be sure to personally thank your cast and crew. Look them in the eyes and say thank you. If they are awesome, sing their praises and tell other people how awesome they are. Do everything you can to help them get paying work.
If you’ve built a good reputation for yourself, people will listen to you and hire those people based on your recommendation. And, more importantly, people will want to work with you again.
The Most You Can Do.
“Wow,” you’re saying, “I sure have to do a lot to do ‘the least.’ What could possibly be the most I could do?” That’s easy: pay your fucking crew. In addition to doing the least for them, of course.
Robyn Scaringi is a Seattle filmmaker specializing in editing support services. She holds a BA in English and Sociology from the UW and an AAS Degree in Film & Video Communications from Seattle Central Community College. And yes, she’s had producers do all the douchey things she’s mentioned in this article.