Typically when younger filmmakers go out to film their projects, they don’t think about some of the smaller roles on the set they help a shoot go well. They have a camera person, themselves (directing), and the actors. While those are important people to have, not having other people around to help out in other positions can cause a lot of headache. It might be easier and quicker to just go out and film without these roles filled, but you’re selling yourself, and your production short. Let’s talk about what they are and how they can be crucial.
I’ve always felt that this is one of the most important people during principal photography. This person is in charge of maintaining all of the paperwork on the set: including shot logs, shot sheets, shooting script, and the schedule. Production Assistants keep all of the director’s notes and assist in keeping everyone on task. They are essential in making sure the director has everything he/she needs so that they can focus on telling a story; acting the director’s go between. Understandably many cast or crew members might have questions for him; which aren’t specifically related to how the next scene is going to be shot (they may be technical questions, or things dealing with schedules and such). A good assistant can intercept those questions and answer them, allowing the director the freedom he needs.
Production Assistants can also be a huge help to the post-production team, as good paperwork and note-taking on the set ensures that good takes aren’t lost in the shuffle. Their notes can help when it’s time to sort through the footage and capture it into their systems for editing. It’s vital to the organization part of post-production, and without it, can seriously delay the entire process.
This person is in charge of making sure each shot matches up visually to the previous take (within the same scene) before the cameras begin to roll. Say an actor does a scene in which they’re holding a bag in their left hand; on the second take (or change in angles on the same scene) the continuity specialist is there to make sure the bag hasn’t magically transferred to the other hand.
This is important even if the continuity is still with multiple takes of the same scene. If the bag jumps around from hand to hand on different takes the editor is going to have a very hard time slicing the scene together. He might find the perfect take only to discover that when he wants to cut to a close up the continuity is off. Attention to the tiny details is an essential part of this job, but can pay off in the long run, and save you from having to do any costly re-shoots.
Sound Tech/Boom Operator
This seems like an obvious one, that I shouldn’t have to mention, but it’s always surprising to me the amount of young (or new) filmmakers who don’t think about sound on the set as much as they need to. Nothing marks a video as being amateur quicker than horrible sound quality, so it’s important to make sure there’s someone on the set, entirely dedicated to capturing great sound during scenes. Often times they also act as the boom operator; the person with the big pole, holding the recording device.
This person needs a very steady hand as any moving he does with his arms or hands will be picked up as a sound bump into the mic. So no tapping! Patience is a virtue, as some takes can last several minutes. Don’t get me wrong, it can get very boring standing there with a pole (not to mention tiring), but in order to achieve the best sound, they’re going to have to endure. So it’s probably best not to pick just a random person to hold the pole everytime. Take the time and find someone willing to put in the effort to get you the best sound possible on your film.
By no means are these all of the important crew members on a set, and for a larger-scale productions you’ll need even more (DP, more camera men, grips, best boys, etc). But if you’re an aspiring filmmaker (or student filmmaker), doing your passion from your garage with friends, it’s important to have these spots on your crew. Is it possible to live without them? Sure, but if you stick to these guidelines you’ll find your shoots and post production will run far smoother, and you’ll end up with a superior product.