Can You Make A No Crew Feature Film | Raindance Film School

Making films has so far been a team game.  A film director being the author of the work was a lovely critical theory but not real. Bergman had Sven Nykvist to do the filming, Bresson had Ghislain Cloquet and Hitchcock had his favourite camera trickster Robert Burks.

Every director had a crew.

Huge respect if you can determine lens vs exposure vs filmstock to get the required look but digital has a viewable, check-as-you-go workflow.  Glitching magnetic tapes meant I started out having to edit from the beginning of every video, working forward to the end of the film.  The price of Super 8 prevented the shooting ratios needed for drama, let alone 16mm or 35mm.

If I was making films it was working on someone else’s production for someone else’s investor.

And I loved it!

But you can be an auteur now, working in the same solo artist traditions of writers, painters or composers – yet making a full-length feature film.  Plus reaching global audiences with a quick upload.

The industry is opening up as the music industry has, with independence at its centre.  I was able to work with a few actors, alone, in a real location for a weekend with a minimal budget – and make a feature film.

How does this no-crew option change cinema for the key people?

Crew?

  • Skills – with just-in-time learning I can use a plug-in that removes reverb! The digital sensor in my camera captures images that can be pushed beyond celluloid belief. Excellent work is fine but good is good enough. We can fix the last few percent in the digital mix.
  • Quality – there is the economic ability to re-do digital work – test-operate-test-exit until satisfied. But remember that experience is still enhanced with training and education.
  • Workflow – no-crew means there is only one agenda in the room – yours. One system of director and performers together making a movie.  There are none of the crew’s problems and stresses because they are our problems and stresses. And our solutions. We all are part of the effort and waiting until it becomes clear that enough is close enough.
  • Relationships – there are no crew relationships in the room so all the atmospheres and elephants are yours. You are creatively focussed.
  • Independence – crew-members have the skill to make their own films. Productions can flourish in purposeful different ways, between working for other investors.

Cast?

  • Roles – so in the room are you and performers. There are no other roles. I worked the performers like I worked LEDs and mic placements – controlling and adjusting within the planned structure to make the film I wanted.
  • Direction – without a crew there is a complete connection with performers and no hiding. I can only share the situation as I perceive it, then accept their contributions or not. It was so good to always talk about the performing rather than the tech.
  •  Improvising – when in a room with people, things happen. Adding a camera need not change that anymore. No-crew digital production starts with a natural reality not possible before.
  • Collaboration – we are making a film together and we have arranged some time and space to do this. I have provided a concept and perhaps more.  I then guide, accept or avoid what emerges. No-crew does not necessarily mean devolved decision-making.
  • Compromise – everything is still measured against its impact on the finished film, but that everything is now technical and emotional. Practical and personal.  With one system in the room the famous film-maker’s compromise becomes the essence of the cinematic art.

Screenwriter?

  • Literature – there is no screenwriter when you’re a solo artist.  Mainstream film production tends to be about delivering the script, which for me makes cinema too influenced by literary structures.
  • On-Screen Lives – all those perfect character arcs?  Real people do not have these. And we never know if this bit in our life is a beginning, middle or end. No-crew filming is quick on its feet and can let stories emerge.
  • Power – if a film costs a lifetime’s earnings you had best accept the script as the powerful working document it is.  No-crew filming breaks the tyranny of the script because lower costing mean more power for different film-making methods.
  • Meaning – there is still a purpose.  Each scene has opening and closing ideas – with beats. So this is the art of screenplay isn’t it? But now the story is driven by the faces and utterance of the cast, rather than the other way round.
  • Structure – there are many structures to choose from in cinema and I think they are inevitable because film is a container – of time, space and the on-screen lives. But we do not need literature because we can now make cinema in a more natural way –  simply being there with a camera.

Editor? 

  • Shoot-to-Edit – no-crew requires good awareness whilst filming – what can I accept and use? Get a 2-shot to cover this reaction or move on?  Similar to the usual directing decisions of course, but without reminders from helpful crew. This is me, an artist, forgetting and flowing. And guessing what works like any nimble documentary-maker.
  • Rough Edit – you are now a writer with the words already chosen. You are a composer who has recorded the symphony before writing it.  Solo film-making reveals how cinema is uniquely creative.
  • Control – like all editors we choose and change performances to fill the structure. But working no-crew risks a lot of just-off-the-pace cuts slipping through. There is a lot of stepping back from the easel before letting the masterpiece show itself to the world.
  • Preview – no-crew preview screenings are especially cherished. I am not sure many artists get to remove their work from the gallery after the preview show? Films are changeable.

 Director?

  •  Privacy – ‘Under the Weather’ had themes of therapy and trauma so fitted the no-crew approach. As a therapist I combined this with person-centred therapy. Being a director, a term from theatre, is only one way to be with other people.
  • Themes – no-crew means you can make quick decisions and run with ideas so be sure to know your themes and structure to stop this becoming a distracting influence. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
  • Performers – time is always important but there is little cost to digital capture so let your people speak and move. Know your cutaway options so you can accept what happens if you want to.
  • Busy – expect to be active at all times. Moving from set to set works fine if planned for but choose easy set-ups so you can concentrate on your cast. Have document copies for everyone – script structure, indicative dialogue or beats, realistic schedule, contact details etc. And remember ambience recordings!

Being an independent film director is now delightful.  The experience of no-crew has given me a personal benchmark from which I can add improvements – better kit, catering and some cash for everyone.

Digital delivers professional standards on hobby budgets so imagine the films to be made by different people who never could have done so before. No-crew will be part of cinema’s future.

mm

About 

Mal Williamson is a changework therapist, lecturer and now independent film director with “Under the Weather”. After time spent as freelance camera and running a multimedia business he is now enjoying a PhD at University of Hull, researching eye movements in cinema.