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Wednesday, 23 February 2011 18:25

Crewing and Gearing Up for Preproduction

Written by  Johan Kharabi
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Crewing_Img1147Robert Massey is a cinematographer and the president of Pulse Media, Inc., a full-service video production company. He recalls a producer once telling him, “I have a high-maintenance client, and I don’t need a high-maintenance vendor.” The message was clear: bogged down by pressures to cut costs and satisfy the often contradictory demands of clients, today’s producers have enough to worry about in preproduction. This is why the one-stop shop provided by many crew companies is more needed than ever. “Producers want things to be easy,” explains Massey. “We provide that.”

Based just outside of Boston, Mass., Pulse Media provides HD NTSC and PAL video crews to a variety of clients, from the NBA and Scholastic to network news at ABC, NBC and CNN. The company has worked on everything from documentaries to corporate videos with television making up a majority of the projects. For the most part, the company provides single-camera and two-to-three-person crews for interviews and B roll in addition to doing larger projects and multi-camera shoots.

Crewing up during preproduction can range in intensity, and Massey says it’s impossible to predict exactly how the preproduction process will unfold. While small jobs have required hours of preproduction, bigger ones might require only a few minutes of conversation. But regardless of the type of production, the same basic preproduction skills are necessary on behalf of the crew provider. “One of the things I pride myself on is being able to tell what a client needs on a particular shoot and what will change,” Massey explains.

On the other side of the crew equation, Maxwell Frey is the production coordinator at the Onion News Network (ONN), the web video side of the well-known satirical newspaper The Onion. Frey agrees that knowing what he needs is crucial to finding the right crew. The Onion team takes a freelancer approach when getting a crew together during preproduction. Frey says this can involve using the same people used the past, getting good recommendations from friends and existing crew or even going through Craigslist. “The DP, gaffer, sound and wardrobe [staff] are usually first to be hired,” Frey explains, pointing out that the most important decisions will be made at this point. “While in preproduction, we need to figure out who else we need for each shooting day, which might include anything from someone on makeup/hair to a teleprompter operator.”

Crewing_Img0935Frey reports that for a production coordinator “last-minute details can really slow things down on set if someone is not in the loop, and the day can fall behind.” For the crewing company, Massey says the key to minimizing unpredictability to ask as many questions as possible. “Knowing who the client’s audience is and what priorities there are requires being as perceptive as possible as to what the producer wants,” says Massey. “This will enable the crew provider to know from the start what style the producer is looking for.”

Both Massey and Frey agree that when putting together a crew, nothing beats experience. For Massey, a major player in the Boston shooting scene for over 20 years, dealing with producers has become more intuitive over time, so not as many questions need to be asked. With a completely new client, Pulse Media can simply provide samples of previous work. And for a production coordinator like Frey, the best people to hire are those you enjoy working with and have done a great job in the past.

No matter what, it’s critical to be flexible when crewing up. It’s also important to have a variety of good gear. This requires designing equipment packages to be as flexible as possible so that little has to be changed along the way. “Great gear makes all of this easier,” says Massey. “I will carry a very wide lens and long lens and everything in between.” While this might sound simple, ensuring flexibility is vital, as arranging a crew and equipment in preproduction can crucially affect the entire production process.

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