Crewmembers will work for you regardless of how you treat them, but this doesn’t mean they should be treated like hired help. They are professionals like you and their positions behind the camera are no less integral to the production than yours in front of it.
On a mini-series I once shot in Australia, I witnessed a moment that illustrated to me the perfect symbiosis of the working relationship between a highly experienced cast member and veteran crew member. It was subtle, it was professional, and it ultimately made a significant change for all involved, but conducted any other way than I am about to describe could have had a very different result.
As I sat chatting between takes with an older actress on set, she noticed the position and height of the camera and realized that it would be angled to look up at her face. This is the least flattering angle for anyone, but having decades of experience in the industry and knowing her face on camera intimately, she quickly noted that the “dramatic” low angle shot would be far from flattering to her, especially in the stark lighting set up of a police interview room.
She quietly caught the attention of the Director of Photography and subtly tapped the pen that she was holding under her chin and nodded towards the camera. Being the consummate professional, the DP looked down, saw the issue and quietly called in his camera assistant to help raise the camera on the pedestal and improve the shot for her, resulting in a better outcome for all involved. Nobody noticed what had happened, she smiled and mouthed a quiet “thank you,” and he went back to his conversation. Without a beat,
he actress and I continued our own conversation exactly where we left off. This was not just pure vanity; the actress actually improved the shot and did so without pulling rank or throwing a tantrum.
I have seen so many examples of a cast working in perfect synthesis with a crew that I now cringe whenever I see the opposite, sadly including certain crew members bossing around younger, less experienced actors. The crew does not work for you and you do not work for the crew. For what we do to really function, everyone must work together. That also means sometimes looking out for what others need before they themselves realize they even need it.
I shot a scene in a procedural drama where the lighting was quite moody. As I tilted forward to intimidate a criminal in one scene, I noticed that my face went slightly into darkness. Turning to the gaffer, I asked if it was better for him if I remain in the light, go all the way into the darkness, or just stay halfway, showing him the three options. He checked with the DP and they excitedly told me that halfway looked awesome. I adjusted the parameters of my performance and later the gaffer thanked me for even checking in with him. “Nobody ever asks,” he lamented. The result was better for me, better for him, and better for the whole production because we worked together to produce the result that the moody scene demanded.
I always cover my radio mic and turn my head if I’m about to cough or sneeze and let the sound recordist and boom swinger know if I think I might shout and slap my chest in the coming take. A quiet mention of their name usually brings their attention immediately and they are always grateful in advance to not have their eardrums bleed after a take where an actor’s gut inspires them to randomly shout a line without prior warning. I tell the wardrobe and makeup department I’m about to have lunch, so they might want to hold off on final checks, and I run dialogue change suggestions by the script supervisor. In doing so, I’m not begging permission like a sycophant; I’m working in tandem, like a professional.
It’s really very simple. Even if you are the star of the show, you are nothing without cameras, lights, and sound department, to mention but a few essential departments. You are but one cog in a much larger machine and top Hollywood stars are either a blessing to work with or a pain depending on how they treat the crew.
Until the day that the egotists in Hollywood can crew a film with clones of themselves, there will be countless others with which they need to work. The crew will do their job regardless of how you treat them but make them shine and they can make the production shine. Aside from being the perfect symbiotic relationship, it’s just what professionals do.
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