Hiring Your Film Dream Team
Whether you're casting a project or staffing it, how do you know you're choosing the right people? Meetings can only tell you so much about a person. How do you ensure that one bad apple doesn't spoil the bunch?
You'll never be able to control your team 100%. We don't normally have the luxury of spending loads of time with someone before hiring them. But there are ways that we can limit the risk of a sour puss entering our creative circle.
First things first: CONTRACTS. Whether you're hiring someone you've just met or you've cast your mom in your film, EVERYONE needs to sign a contract. Especially when money is involved. It sounds excessive and yes, having your mom sign a contract will be awkward. But once a contract is signed, now both parties have a legal obligation to perform their job as detailed in black and white.
I have made this mistake more times than I would like to admit, and I've lost a considerable amount of money and time over the years as a result. So I can't stress it enough: EVERYONE needs to sign a contract, no matter what.
But that really doesn't help us in preventing hiring a flop. What can we do to avoid it in the first place?
The best chance you have is to hire someone that comes recommended by someone else you really trust. Especially if that other person has an established career themselves and has something to lose if their recommendation falls through. This seems obvious but it's worth mentioning.
Nothing is full-proof. You would hope that the people you work with will be just as invested as you are, but that isn't the case.
If you are producing a project, one thing you can do is have all fellow producers contribute financially to the project. Get some skin in the game, even if it's just $25, now they have something to lose, same as you. If you have $50k invested in a movie and your fellow producers have invested diddly squat, how could they possible treat the film with the same urgency and care that you would? That's not to say that they won't give it their all regardless (I've worked with some amazing people that have given me a whole lot more than I can give in return at this stage), especially if their name is attached to a project, but you can't always count on that.
On the flip side, your cast and crew should be paid and treated with respect, no matter what. The difference between a crew that is paid and a crew that is not is night and day. Even if it's $25 and pizza, it shows a level of respect within your means. Recognize the importance of every crew member: don't make them work late, try to provide the most comfortable working environment possible, and feed them for crying out loud. Transport them, and put them up in a hotel if need be. This is how you gain respect, not by making them work late into the night and then sending them back home only to make it back the next day for an early call time. You're basically guaranteeing that you won't work with these people again.
If your budget for the film is $1,000, and you can't afford to properly feed your cast and crew, either cut out the VFX of the epic explosion you've been dying to do or wait until you can afford both. There's nothing wrong with holding off on a project until you can comfortably fund it and do it right.
Blacklist people that have cost you time, money, broken their agreements, etc. I don't mean blacklist them in the industry. I mean keep your own excel spreadsheet of people you would never work with again and why. There are too many amazing and talented people in this industry to risk hiring someone again that has done you dirty.
So what about actors? In our dream world, if an actor performs or behaves poorly, we can kick them off set and recast them. But unfortunately life doesn't work that way. Actors are strange people. I say this as a trained actor and with great affection. Most actors are on a series of perpetual job interviews. It's an incredibly difficult profession. But actors need to show up with the same work ethic and concentration that you would expect from every other member of your team. Sometimes you'll be working with actors that are smug, desperate to tell every single person on the crew about their other work, demanding, rude, distracting, or any number of things.
I recommend actually taking the time, if you are on the casting side and can afford it, to have a chat with your top choices before making your final decision. Have someone with you (if you can) that has a good sense for people. There are some telltale signs that something may be off, but you need to know what to look for (read: What Not To Do On Set- Actors Edition). Bring them in for a call back but sit with them and talk. About the film, about anything really. If they constantly talk about themselves, it's a red flag. If they are late, it's a red flag (assume they'll always be late). If they try to show you their other work, it's a red flag. If they don't say hello and dramatically play the piano in the audition room, it's a red flag. If they mansplain your script to you, it's a red flag. And if they constantly talk about how great it is that you're a female in film, it's a red flag.
You want people who look at this as more than just another job. Ask your potential team what they think of the script and listen carefully to their answers. If they are brusque or placating, is that the type of person you want contributing to your film? Look for people that raise great questions and that look carefully at the story and how it can be better (whether you agree or not). Those are the people you want to work with. People who want the film to be great, not those that are just looking for the paycheck.