Taking on multiple filmmaking roles is a great way to find out which areas you want to pursue. But there comes a time when you MUST give some of the key jobs to others if you want to make the best film possible.
We’ve made films were we’ve had a crew of 10 and we’ve made films where we had a crew of 2. On the barebones projects, this meant we were taking the role of: writer, director, camera operator, 1st AC, AD, sound recordist, and we were also the costume & props department.
Taking on all of these roles is great because you get to gain experience in different areas and it can help you work out which areas of filmmaking you want to pursue.
The downside to multi-role projects is that you can’t give 100% of your time and energy to one role. If you’re the camera operator and director, you’ll spend half your time setting up the shot while the actors stand around, then spend the other half directing the performance while the crew stands around.
All of these roles are actually super fun and sometimes at the beginning you NEED to take on these roles just to get your film finished.
But spreading yourself too thin can make the film suffer. For our short film Keep the Change, I was camera operator and 1st AC, Rich was the sound recordist and we both directed when we got the chance.
Directing is one of the areas of filmmaking we are the most passionate about, but because we were doing many other roles, the project suffered.
To help combat this, we started collaborating with more filmmakers.
We built up this small crew of filmmakers over the past few of years by attending local filmmaking networking groups, working on other people’s short films to get to know them, and looking at filmmaking Facebook pages to see if there was anyone in our local area making films.
At first, there was 2 of us, then 3, 4, 5, and on our latest short, The Asylum Groove, we had a core crew of 10. This is still a very small crew but it allowed everyone take on roles we were all passionate about, and it gave everyone a specific department and responsibility on set, which meant NO waiting around and wasting time.
I operated the camera, The other Rob was 1st AC and focus puller, Adam was the 2nd AC and clapper loader, and both Rob and Adam provided their invaluable grip skills.
For us, this still feels like a luxury, but we could see the benefit of having a larger camera department straight away.
At no point did I have to step away to do a different job. I concentrated on the image; the lighting, framing, and camera movement. Having the other Rob pull focus meant it was nailed every time, and having Adam set up the marks and frame edges meant we did very little technical retakes.
With me being on camera, Richard could concentrate on just directing. He could spend more time with our actor Chris, dialing in the different emotions he needed to feel at different points of the shoot.
If you’ve wrote a script and plan on directing the film, maybe think about getting someone else to shoot it.
You know the story more than anyone else, you know when each character needs to hit different emotional beats, so why not give your full attention to the performance?
Getting someone else to shoot your film is a big role to give away. If you know someone who can shoot, you can work closely with them in pre-production and plan how you would like the film to look. Onset you will both be working from the same plan and share a stronger collaborative vision.
For The Asylum Groove, we still had to double up roles. Emily, the producer, was also the 1st assistant director, and she even had a cameo at the end of the film. During takes, Rich held the reflector when we needed more light, Jack shot BTS but also recorded sound for the last two shots.
The people who help you make your film don’t all need to be experienced filmmakers. An extra pair of hands on set is a massive bonus, and there are roles such as boom operating, grip assistance, and being the reflector-holder which contribute so much to a film and don’t take a lot of practice to become sufficient.
When collaborating with other filmmakers, find out which areas they are most interested in. Take advantage of their knowledge and passion. From our experience, they are usually more skilled in a certain area than we are.
Don’t let having a small crew stop you from making your film, do whatever you can to make it, you might have a wicked time making it anyway. If you struggle through the process and things don’t come out as planned, at least you still went out there, made something, made mistakes and learned new skills. You can take all of the lessons you learn and apply them on your next film.
In the comments below let us know about your experiences of making short films and how other people have made them better. Also, if you haven't already hit the orange lens cap to subscribe, check out our short film here and remember to achieve it one shot at a time.
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