Yee Jee Tso

Tips

On Acting

  • A Little History: How I "got into acting"

    I've been asked many times: how do you get into acting? How did you break in? To be perfectly honest, I fluked out. An agent saw our high school musical and signed on a friend of mine. I'm not sure if my friend ended up going to any auditions at all, but I'd already done a recurring role in a crappy non-union TV series, so I went down to the agent's office and asked if he would represent me. He told me if something came up in my category he'd give me a call, but that I wasn't "really on his roster". As it turns out, I got an audition. I was so nervous I couldn't speak - I stuttered and stammered my way through like a virgin in a strip bar. Luckily, that was pretty much what they wanted for the character. (Nervous, not virgin.)

    I got the gig. We shot on location near Hope, BC, at an old, unfinished railroad tunnel next to a river. They decorated the whole place like a late 19th century coolie camp and everyone was dressed in period attire. At the time I was sitting on an apple box next to a bunch of electrics gear and my gaze followed the cables past the lights to this huge, black camera crane, in the middle of the 1890s! I thought, "This is surreal. I wanna do this for a living." Since then I've been lucky enough to make a living at it (for the most part).

    But fluke or not, I've picked up a few things along the way, and these are the things I tell people when they ask those questions. So for everybody out there who doesn't have an actor friend to ask, this page has some general tips and links to resources that I've found essential over the years. For more specific questions, check out the Frequently Asked Questions page; you can submit your own query.

  • Self Test: Do you really want to be an actor?

    My high school drama teacher told me, "If you can think of anything else besides acting that you can do for a living and be happy, do that." Now I'm not going to whine and tell you how tough it is to be an actor so I can feel like some creative martyr. Acting's a great job. The best, in fact. But I am glad my teacher told me what he did, because what acting isn't, is stable.

    The major trials I find with being an actor, especially in the beginning, is the feeling, and the financial consequences, of rejection. If there was anything else I could have done for a living and been happy, I would've jumped ship long ago for something that paid more (at least more regularly). The money's good when you work, but you can go for months without getting anything. If you have regular bills to pay, this is a major problem. Your life turns into an exercise in debt management. If there were anything else I could have done, I would have given up after 20 unsuccessful auditions thinking, "I'm not good enough for this sh*t."

    There are lots of other reasons to not choose acting as your career, and only one good reason to do it: you can't think of anything else you can do for a living and be happy. Well there's one other reason: your career was handed to you on a silver platter when you got picked out in a mall for a lead role in a huge feature film and you won an Oscar for it. We do hear of stories like that but the chances are akin to winning the lottery. Just like global economic demography, 1% of the actors make 95% of the money.

    So the first thing I say when people ask me how to "get into acting" is: Find out how into it you really are. It's hard work. It takes a lot of dedication, perseverance, patience and luck.

    Go take an acting class and see if you're craving more every time you leave. Imagine if you'd never ever get paid to act, would you still want to do it?

  • Class Act: Acting Class De-mystified

    Acting is not one of those fields that require a degree. Your PhD in Acting (I know someone who has one) isn't going to make a stick of difference in a film/TV casting session EXCEPT for the level of confidence it can give you (more about that later). I know one or two very successful actors who've never taken an acting class in their lives. HOWEVER, this is rare and NOT recommended. In my opinion, finding a good coach and taking some part-time classes is essential; and a degree isn't necessary because you never graduate!

    Think of it this way: professional hockey players; do they graduate "hockey school" and then never practice again? No. That's because they need to keep their skills sharp and their body fit for every single game they play until they retire. Acting is surprisingly similar to professional sports, and an acting class is like practice or training.

    How do you weed out the good classes from the scams?

    I offer the most information on this topic because I feel acting classes are the "front lines" of actor support and development. It's also where actors get ripped off the most.

    Every reputable class should let you audit (sit in the room and watch) for free or a nominal fee. Workshops, or "Weekend Intensives", are more expensive to audit, but my advice is to leave the workshops alone until you've taken regular classes for at least a year. A one-month class consisting of two classes a week (a standard, for whatever reason) should cost around $400/month. Workshops shouldn't be too much more, either. If a class costs a LOT more, ask them why - and it better be a good reason. If a class doesn't let you audit, WALK AWAY.

  • The Audit: Researching Acting Classes

    A good class will have the actors up doing their stuff for at least 70% of class time. If the students are crawling around "pretending to be the colour blue" for the entirety of the class, run away. Acting class is about acting.

    If there's barely anyone in the class, that may be an early warning sign. Come back and audit this one again a few months later. If a teacher is good, word will catch on and the classes will get busy.

    Conversely, if there are too many students, individuals may not get the attention they need and deserve - frankly, you're not getting the bang for your buck. 16 is the absolute maximum class size in my opinion. Workshops can afford a little room on this. A successful workshop may have twice as many students, but they're usually set up so they can handle the volume. The important thing is that every actor gets sufficient time working and getting notes (direction).

    When you audit a class, you're effectively interviewing the teacher. Some things to look for:

    Do they give direction that actually makes the actor's performance better? If nobody in the class makes any improvement, chances are you won't either.

    Are they clear and purposeful in their direction? A vague note like: "put some more heart into it," is a sign that they don't know what the hell they're talking about.

    At the same time though, a good teacher will encourage the student to explore. They'll have a clear idea of what the student needs, but ideally make the students find it for themselves. Sounds like a catch 22, but it's not. A good teacher gives the students the tools to do their best. If they have to resort to giving line readings, then perhaps they should be acting, not teaching.

    Line readings are the lowest form of teaching. However, a director or a coach on set may occasionally give line readings to the actor. This is because the set is neither the time nor place to baby the actor into doing the right thing. The classroom is - you paid for it.

    Due to the nature of the work, acting students often find themselves in a state of emotional and/or physical vulnerability. Does the class have an environment of safety, trust and respect? Does the teacher seem like someone you could trust and respect? Ask the other students how they feel about the teacher, and be honest with yourself about what your own gut feelings are. If you're really uncomfortable just being around a teacher, it'll probably be hard to learn from them.

    WATCH OUT FOR SIGNS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT OR OTHER FORMS OF ABUSE. There are "teachers" out there who would abuse their power and their student's trust. Some would have you believe that you must do whatever they say in order to be successful. Don't listen to them. There are lots of good teachers who don't want anything from you other than to do their job. You pay them, they work for you, and they are there to teach you and nothing else. Needless to say if they physically threaten you in any way, get the hell away from them and call the police if need be.

    The most important thing about finding a teacher is that they're right for you. Finding the right teacher is a singular feeling. They can be a great source of inspiration and support, and their guidance can be invaluable. No matter how good a teacher is or who recommends them, you still must use your own best judgement. Only you know if you can learn from someone. And even after you've found a good class, you will eventually want to switch. Every teacher offers something a little different, and an actor's needs may change depending on the progress of their development. Don't be afraid to try something else. You can always go back, and there are lots of good experiences out there to be had.

  • Your Agent: An Actor's Business Partner

    This experience is unique for everybody. Every actor has a different story of how they found their agent. It might be by referral or through the phone book. Some actors stay with their agent for their whole career, and some switch every three months. Everyone has a different opinion about who's the best agent in town and those opinions change with time.

    In my opinion, the most important thing is whether or not your agent believes in you. If they don't think you're "the bomb", they won't be able to convince anyone else you are either. That's their job, to promote you, to push your name around, get people interested in you and take care of the business side of things so you don't have to. A good agent (as well as a good manager and publicist, when the time comes that you need them) is invaluable. A bad agent can be career suicide.

    This is not to mean your agent decides whether or not you are successful. They can only do so much, and they have other clients to take care of as well. They get you in the room, and you do the acting. The gods decide if you get rich and famous.

    Some say it's best to go with the biggest agency in town. They do have more pull and can get you auditions that others may not. HOWEVER, a big agency is big because they have a lot of clients, and if they're really busy, they're more likely to put you on the backburner if you're not consistently getting work. Sometimes it's best to go with a smaller agency where they have the time to give you the attention you need.

    There's no hard and fast rule about whether an agent's going to be good for you. If they're really gung-ho about you, have a decent work ethic (they're not drunk every time you see them), and they're getting you some auditions, give them a chance. They may be doing everything they can for you, but you're just not what people are looking for right now. Or the industry may be going through a slow period.

    When you're first starting out, it can be argued that any agent is a good agent. This is true in a lot of ways. Finding your first agent is one of the most difficult parts of the business. You need a good package (photos, resume) to convince them to see you, and then you have to audition for them. Union of BC Performers (UBCP) and ACTRA Toronto have web pages with agency lists and/or tips on how to find a good agent. I really recommend you bookmark this page and check out those sites. They go into detail about a lot of things I don't for the sake of redundancy, like putting together a good package. For your audition you'll have to prepare a monologue. You can get monologue books and play books at the stores listed on my links page. Know your monologue inside out, and pick one that you're passionate about. You get five minutes or less to sell your talent.

  • Auditions: How to Survive the Audition Process

    Auditioning is the most nightmarish process imaginable for casting a project, but it's the only one we have. Unless you're already a hot commodity in the industry, you're going to have to audition to keep working. No one can claim to be the expert on auditions. Every actor gets rejected. Every actor goes through times when no one wants to hire them. It's part of the business. The closest thing I know of to a definitive guide to auditioning is the book Audition by Michael Shurtleff. The stores in the resource links to the left should carry it, or you can order it online from Amazon or something.

    There are three main things to keep in mind when auditioning:

    1. They want you to do well. The casting process is as exhausting and difficult for them as it is for you. They're just waiting for the right person to walk in the room so they can all go home. Seeing them as the enemy doesn't serve you. Don't let the intimidating and often unfriendly situation keep you from doing your best work.
    2. Have fun. When it comes down to it, getting the job is 1% what you do, 9% what you look like, and 90% dumb luck. Do your best to control that 1% by being prepared, but don't beat yourself up over not getting the job. Sometimes the reason you don't get hired can be totally ludicrous. You have a better chance of success if you just take the opportunity to perform and have a good time.
    3. Have confidence in who you are and what you have to offer. Confidence sells, just like in any other industry. This in no way means "be arrogant". Arrogant people aren't condident, they're just - well schmucks. Be yourself, and you'll have more to bring to the character. Be prepared and you'll have your best work to offer.

    The rest you'll learn through experience. Audition classes and workshops are available as well. Use the same guidelines I give in the Class Act section of this FAQ. And good luck! Acting is one of the most rewarding professions I can think of. Work hard and stick with it, the world needs good actors and the stories they tell...

  • The Secret to Successful Auditions

    This is a new topic that will eventually make up part of the content of my first Audition seminar. You read it correctly, I will now share with you the Secret to Successful Auditions. Now if I told you I had a secret method to book every job I auditioned for, would you believe me? I HOPE NOT, because I'd be lying. Such a thing doesn't exist, and if it did, and I had it, I wouldn't be sitting here writing, I'd be on a film set somewhere too busy to do anything else in my life. By "Successful" I don't necessarily mean "Getting the Job". I'm talking about "Success" in a much broader sense: self confidence, contentment, creativity, AND your best shot at booking the gig.

    In my opinion, the most damaging thing to an actor's audition is fixation on the results. When the result of the audtion becomes more important than the process, you're surely not performing at peak levels. Why? Ask a gold-medal winning Olympic athlete what they were thinking about DURING the event, and I'll bet NONE of them would tell you they were thinking of the medal. They were arguably not even thinking. They were in the FLOW, DOING, MOVING, CREATING. If you're thinking about the potential result of what you're doing, then you're not focused on the task at hand. Without focus, you can't possibly give it your best shot.

    This principle isn't new. I talk about it in the Audition tip above, which I wrote 6 years ago. The new Secret to Successful Auditions, which I've since discovered for myself, is HOW to stay focused on the PROCESS and not the result. If the result of the audition (getting the job) is really important to you, and has really high stakes for you, that's what you'll be focused on. It's nearly impossible not to think about getting the job if, for example, you need this acting gig to pay the rent, or you identify yourself as an Actor and if you don't get the job your Ego will be blown to smithereens. Herein lies the Secret: Create an identity for yourself other than an Actor. This serves several purposes:

    1. No one wants to see someone "Acting" in an audition (or ever). They want to see the character. They want the perfect manifestation of the character in the script to walk in the door and say the scripted lines. So instead of identifying with Yourself as an Actor, identify with the Character!
    2. A strong sense of identity outside of your acting career gives you the confidence, contentment and persepective to know that even if you blow this audition, IT DOESN'T MATTER. No one is going to die, the world will not stop spinning if you don't get this job. Now a lot of people will disagree with me and say that you need to put 110% into every audition, lust for it, scream, scrape, crawl and cling onto every opportunity, take the bull by the horns and fight for your Love of Acting! Well, that works for some people. But I bet they're frought with so much insecurity that all the success in the world would not quell their anxiety and hunger. I know. I was that person at one point in my life. Trust me: you don't need to be an emotional wreck to be a successful actor. With a strong sense of identity, you're better equipped to put your creative energy into the role, rather than into your own ego.
    3. If you do something on the side and it happens to supplement your income, all the better. People can smell desperation, and if you walk into an audition room hungry for the job because you need the money, it will reduce your chances, guaranteed. Even better is if that thing you do on the side gives you a bit of pleasure and props up your ego as well. Now you've fortified yourself against the ravages of rejection, and you can walk into an audition with a clean soul, as it were, ready to take on the character in its full depth and intricacy.

    In the coming months I'll be expanding on this tip and adding more. Check back often, this site is growing...

On Production

  • Intro to Film & TV Production

    The first thing I have to say about producing your own film or TV project is: DO IT! It's so much fun it should be illegal. The second thing is: prepare to work your ass off! Even our little 15 minute short film was a gruelling process. I'm sure it gets easier with each one you do, but if you never do the first one and risk making mistakes - you'll never do a second one. So go for it.

    The Winner was my first project directing and producing, but I had a lot of help from the years of knowledge I gained working in the industry and from the dedicated people I was working with. This made things a little less painful. But for those of you who don't have that to fall back on, I'm going to go through as much of the process as I have space for, trying to include the stuff we did right AND the stuff we did wrong. For specific questions, check out the FAQ page; you can submit your own questions.

  • Script Development

    The project actually spawned from a group of actors (collectively, JYMDICK Productions) that I met with every week to practice scenes, do mock auditions, etc. Something I recommend for all the actors out there. You never know where it'll lead, besides being a good acting exercise.

    We came up with the idea for the story through a lot of brainstorming and group effort. We based the characters on the personalities of the actors, but taken to the extremes of four diametrically opposed personality archetypes we found in a psychology book. Then we shot an improvisation of the storyline on a camcorder. I took the tape home and hammered out a script using the dialogue from the improv.

    The next week we met and discussed the script, making changes according to group opinion. Every actor had a chance to review his or her lines and make revisions, as long as everyone agreed to them. Amazingly, this process went very smoothly. Ask ANYONE: writing with a partner is hard; writing with four partners is unheard of. After a couple of weeks we had a script we all were happy to shoot. This was dumb luck. If we didn't have a solid group to begin with, where everyone was willing to put their actor egos aside and compromise, we would have gotten nowhere fast. I don't recommend writing like this, although the improv is a great tool regardless.

    The script has its flaws, but it was a quirky, fun story and it wasn't far off the formula for good screenwriting. By formula I mean beginning, middle, and end sandwiching two inciting incidences or plot points, which occur at the correct relative times. This sounds like a bunch of BS, even as I'm writing it. To get an idea of proper screenwriting from someone who knows what they're talking about, check out Syd Field's Screenwriting Workshop. Use it judiciously, however - don't let the structure limit your creativity.

  • Pre-Production

    I'm pretty sure this is the part a lot of novice filmmakers underestimate. There's a lot of planning that goes into a film or TV project if you want to do it properly. You need to hire your cast & crew (or get them to volunteer), rent equipment, secure locations, and schedule every little detail so that everyone knows what's happening and when.

    Luckily our casting was taken care of save the one character (Tahmoh Penikett), whom we cast easily out of the Lyric School of Acting, where most of us had taken classes. Originally I was to play that part and direct as well. The best decision I ever made was to NOT try and do both. Everyone wants to be on screen, but the first few times it's hard enough to do one job well. Usually in order to cast a show you have to go through a painful audition process and your chances of finding the people you want with no budget are damn near nil. I'm not even going to get into it; I don't have the experience to offer you anything useful here because we didn't have to do it.

    Crewing up was a matter of contacting EVERYONE we knew that might be willing to help. We made a list of the crucial positions and made a lot of phone calls to get them filled. Check out the "Crewing Up" topic or download the pdf Film Crew Positionns for details on what each crew member does and what you're sacrificing if you don't have them. There's a printable form in the pdf that you can use as a contact list for your production. Once you and your crew have decided on a window of opportunity for shoot dates, you'll need to lock down equipment and locations as soon as possible to get them when you want them.

    Equipment rental can be the most expensive part of filming. In the resource links I list the vendors we used to make our movie. This list is pretty thorough for Vancouver; I'll add links for other areas when I get to know them. Some vendors will lend equipment for no-budget projects, but you have to know the right people or be really lucky. Also, some vendors require production insurance before they'll give you any gear. We used the Independent Film Centre (IFC) in Vancouver. Again, I'll list more when I know more.

    We lucked out on locations because our story takes place in a 3-bedroom apartment, and my girlfriend at the time lived in one. Securing locations can be extremely difficult and expensive. You may need to pay rental fees, permit fees, hire support staff and deal with the proper authorities depending on the type of location you're using. Permits are usually required from your city hall to shoot anywhere near traffic or on public property such as a sidewalk or park. The best thing to do is to pare down the number of locations in your script and try to use only privately owned properties where you know the owner well.

    Design your shooting schedule around your locations. Getting everyone and all the gear to the right place at the right time is the most formidable part of the shoot. "Company moves" as they are called, are time-consuming and thus expensive. Put them at the very beginning or end of a shoot day, wherever possible. For scheduling, there is an enormous amount of paperwork that is created to keep everyone on the same page. Click here for examples of a Call Sheet and a One Liner in pdf format. These are the two most important pieces of paperwork, in my opinion. You can't use these examples as forms because the tables will be different sizes depending on the shoot; but you can use them as templates to create your own.

    The director has a bunch of pre-production work to do as well. Almost all of the creative decisions such as the look of the set, the choice of location, how a scene is to be shot, and etc. must be approved by the director. Storyboarding is a common tool used in pre-production. I didn't use it so I won't talk about it, except that I wish I had done it. The more planning and organization is done before you shoot the more smoothly the shoot will go. Not that problems won't occur, but you'll be better equipped to deal with them when they do.

    Now's a good time to schedule and acquire your post-production facilities as well (more about that later). On to shoot day...

  • Production

    Well, there's not a heck of a lot of advice I can give on this. Every production will have a unique set of problems that will have to be solved in a unique way. Experience and adaptability are the main things that carry you through in times of trouble. The thing I strongly recommend is: have fun and keep a little perspective. When it comes down to it, you are just making a movie. It's for entertainment. No one's going to die if you do something wrong, in fact doing things wrong is part of the learning process. Creating an environment that's as stress-free as possible is difficult, but ideal in my opinion. Getting everything done properly doesn't necessarily require an iron fist, especially if you've chosen dedicated people to work with. If everyone's having fun and the team spirit is maintained, there isn't anything that can't be overcome with hard work and creativity.

    For example, due to a technical difficulty, all of our sound for our first day's shooting turned out to be completely unusable. This is a tragedy on any production, let alone one with only four days for principle photography. So we made up an emergency "splinter unit" (anyone who would help us out on a Friday night) and shot all the stuff in our second location in five hours with artificial daylight. Then we spent the day we'd scheduled for that stuff shooting the lost footage. The performances turned out better than those on the first day, and the one scene we couldn't redo we ended up doing ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement) but without the "Automatic". The actors had to lip-synch without technological aid, an extremely difficult task. In the end it came out better than we'd expected and everyone learned something as well. This is just one example of how catastrophe can be contained with teamwork, perseverance and creativity.

  • Post-Production

    This is another area that's overlooked. Good "post" can save an ailing project. The editor is the director's best friend, in my opinion. Bad editing is jarring to the senses and confuses the storyline. Good editing is nearly invisible, but leads the audience through the story like a pace car, bringing clarity and efficiency to your final product. Sound editing and musical score are also extremely important aspects of post. If you've ever watched something with a crappy soundtrack or poor sound, you'll know that the audio element of a film is almost more important as the visual.

    These things cost money. Renting an editing suite, sound stage and hiring post staff are all fairly expensive unless you know the right people. The cost gets exponentially higher when you start fiddling with effects, CGI (computer effects and animation) or ADR. About a fifth of our budget was spent on post, and we got everything on the cheap and shot on digital! I have a friend who's an editor and had access to an editing suite, plus I did the sound in my home studio. I estimate that without those advantages, post-production would have doubled our initial costs. When shooting on film the lab costs make up a fair chunk of the post budget as well. The IFC can find some good deals on film stock and lab services. We didn't have to shop for those, so I can't offer any more help on it.

    Hopefully you had these things lined up in pre-production like I suggested so there are no surprises. We had to schedule our editing time on-the-fly because we weren't paying full price, but once again the more organized you are from the get-go the more smoothly everything runs. I'll be looking out for more resources for finding post facilities, crewmembers, equipment and everything else you need to make a film or TV project work. The resource links should give you a good headstart. Check back often for new links and more tips...

  • Crewing Up: Film Crew Positions

    This document is also available in pdf format with a printable form you can use as a contact list for your production. Ideally, there are a LOT more people involved than the list provides for, but in my opinion, these are the people you cannot do without. HOWEVER, don't stress out if you don't have all these positions filled - WE DIDN'T! Following is a description of each crew position on the list and just how important they all are...

    Producer

    A producer does just that - produces things. When you're putting the project together the producer produces the money, the crew, the equipment, etc. Anyone who has an essential part in making the project happen can be, and will probably want to be, called a producer.

    There are all sorts of names for producers: Executive Producer, Line Producer, etc. When you're doing a small independent production, it's senseless to bother with all the fancy titles, in my opinion. If you can have someone fill the job of Production Manager, that person will basically represent the producer(s) on set and make sure everything is running smoothly and according to budget. Most first-time producers will be working on their own, and some are also the writer and director. It's tough, but it can be done.

    Director

    The director is the eye of the audience. A movie is a story told in moving pictures, and the director decides which pictures will best communicate the story to the audience. Directors work closely with all the other department heads (described below) and provide a unified vision of how the finished project is going to look. The director also works with the actors, fine tuning their performances so that they fit with the unified vision (left to their own devices, actors can be a pain in the arse.)

    Directors have a lot of creative power over your production. A bad director can ruin a great script, and a great director can save a bad one. He or she is also responsible for the "feel" of the set. The screaming, frenetic directors we see characterized in movies would lead to a very uncomfortable set, disgruntled crew and probably a bad product. The director is the most essential member of the creative team. Choose him or her carefully.

    Assistant Directors (ADs)

    Usually there are four: the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and AD-in-training (TAD). I could go into lengthy descriptions of what each one does, but essentially they all help the director communicate with the cast and crew to accomplish everything that needs to be done on schedule. You can get away with just a 1st, but he or she should have on-set experience. Without at least one AD, your director will go insane.

    Big budget productions hire a bunch of Production Assistants (PAs) as well. They do all sorts of things from directing traffic to watching the parking lot, and work closely with the Locations Manager (LM). If you have enough money for PAs, you don't need to be reading this - just hire a producer that already knows what they're doing!

    Script Supervisor (SS) or Continuity

    This person records vital information about the filming process, liasons between the director and the camera department about the quality and quantity of shots, keeps track of the actor's dialogue (providing cues when needed), and watches over the continuity of the story.

    For example, let's say a scene is being shot where a man walks in, takes his coat off and says, "Howdy doody!" The director loves the 4th take and orders a print. However, the director didn't notice that the actor's coat was not buttoned up (as it was on other takes and the previous shot), and that the actor said, "Howdy poody!" by accident. The SS must then: notify the director of the continuity and dialogue errors, remind the actor of his line, and notify the camera department to not record the 4th take as a print. As you can see, the SS has lots to do and must be a very organized individual.

    Director of Photography (DOP)

    Also called cinematographers, DOPs are experts on the media you're shooting on (film, digital video, etc.) and the camera you're shooting with. They know how to light a scene to match the mood, set up the camera to match the director's vision and basically make the thing look good. There's not much more I can say about it, except that a good DOP is absolute gold. You know how some movies have breathtaking shots that make you feel like you're really there, and some have crappy lighting and just look like sh*t? That's the difference between a good DOP and a bad one (also quality of post, but that's a whole other ball-game).

    Camera Operator

    Well what can I say? Camera Ops operate the camera. They should know the camera well and how to handle the media, along with all the camera equipment such as dollies, steady-cam rigs, and camera cranes. They work under direct supervision of the DOP and director, and can save a lot of time, money and effort if they're good. It is very important to have an experienced Camera Op, but on really small productions sometimes the DOP operates the camera as well.

    The Camera Op can also have one to several assistants, depending on the budget, the media and the camera equipment used. Film cameras often require a separate Focus Puller (aka 1st Camera Assistant), for example, and dollies require someone to push them around (Dolly Grip). On bigger productions a 2nd Camera Assistant (Clapper/Loader) may also be used. Work with the Camera Op to figure out the requirements for your particular shoot. I recommend at least one camera assistant, though.

    Sound Mixer and Boom Operator

    Film cameras don't record sound directly onto the film, so a sound crew is essential. But even if you're shooting on video, I suggest using separate sound recording on your production. This provides for greater flexibility and higher quality sound. Some will argue that it's not worth the hassle for a small indie production. And perhaps they are right. With the new professional digital video cameras, onboard sound recording may come out okay if you have a good Mixer. It really depends on the production.

    Your Sound Mixer operates the mixing board where all the sound sources are recorded, and your Boom Op gets the microphones close to the actors without getting in the shot. A good sound crew will save you tons of headache and will make your final product that much better. You can do everything else right, but if the sound sucks, so will your movie. These people are essential to the success of your project.

    Gaffer, Grips and Electrics

    The Gaffer sets up the lights. It sounds simple but it's actually a very complex job. The amount of hardware it takes to light a scene properly is astounding. If you don't have a lot of lights, then one person will suffice. If you want to light your project like the professionals do, plan on having an assistant for your Gaffer, or "Best Boy", a Key Electrics and assistants to supply the enormous amount of power needed for the lights, and a Key Grip and assistants to move everything around and set up the gear. Not to mention Transport to move the stuff from location to location. Even on a small production, you'll do well to assign people to these key positions to make sure the gear you do have is handled properly and things get done on time. As most of the time it takes to make a movie is spent on lighting, a good team in this area can make or break your shooting schedule.

    Locations Manager (LM)

    Guess what - they manage the locations. They scout out good places to shoot and work with the director and producers to decide which ones to use. They deal with authorities, property owners, and etc. to get all the necessary permits and secure the location. From paying the big bucks to landlords, to dealing with the public, right down to keeping the locations clean - LMs have a huge and varied job, and usually require a lot of assistance on big productions. For us little guys, an LM may be redundant because you're only using one location and it's your parent's basement. Or you may be "guerrilla" shooting anywhere you can set up your camera before someone kicks you out. Whatever the case, make sure your creative team thoroughly and realistically assesses the needs of the production in regards to locations.

    Art Director

    Also known as the Production Designer, the Art Director decides what everything that is seen in the movie is going to look like: the decorations on the walls of the main character's house, the design of special props being used, artistic themes and colours in the costumes and environment where the scenes are taking place, the look of animations and special effects, etc. He or she also works with the Set Designer and builders to create artificial sets that specifically suit the artistic and technical needs of the production.

    On a smaller project you may or may not be building sets at all, or your Art Director may also be your Set Decorator and/or Props Master. This area really depends on how much money you're spending and how elaborate the environment is in which your story takes place. Again, thoroughly assess your needs and balance them out with your budget. I recommend assigning at least one person to do this work, even on a tiny set.

    Wardrobe, Hair and Make-Up

    These are pretty self-explanatory; I'm not going to go into detailed job descriptions like I have with the others. I will say that every one of these jobs is extremely important. You might have one person doing all of them, but someone has to.

    Caterer and Craft Service

    These may be the most important, and definitely the most loved, people on your set; especially when you have a crew working for free. The productivity of the crew will quickly go down the toilet if you don't feed them. This area is easily overlooked or underestimated. Again: a happy, effective crew is one that's been fed. The Caterer cooks the meals, Craft Service provides the snacks, drinks and most importantly coffee. The Craft Service provider usually has a second job as the First Aid attendant. It's essential to have someone on your set well versed in First Aid. The safety of your crew is even more important than their hunger. You may have one person doing these jobs, but definitely have someone doing it. And provide for nutritious, tasty and energizing food in your budget. Trust me, you'll thank me later. Questions? Ask me.

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