When are extra hands on set NOT helpful?

Posted on: January 22, 2023

When are extra hands on set NOT helpful?

With regards to a movie set I’ve been known to say that “sometimes extra help just equals more people to park, eat, and poop.”

“I’ll have some extra hands there to help out.” It’s a sentiment that, while well-meaning, can really cause a lot of problems. If you’ve ever had a boom mic fall on someone’s head or a breaker go out that shouldn’t have or a few too many people at the crafty table then you know exactly what I’m talking about. The simple fact is that no matter how good the intentions are behind this sentence, sometimes many hands don’t make light work. How could this be?

With regards to a movie set I’ve been known to say that “sometimes extra help just equals more people to park, eat, and poop.” And these are just the beginning of the logistical problems that extra hands can create. Aside from these obvious issues, there are a few main problems that I’ve identified.

Untrained crew members can create redundancy and confusion and possibly an unsafe working environment. Oftentimes, the time to explain something to someone new isn’t worth the time it would take to just do it yourself. I get it. You wanted to be on set and you want a chance to prove yourself. You might be a real go-getter, a real eager beaver and you might have oversold your abilities a bit. As the DP or director I might give you the benefit of the doubt, I don’t want to assume you don’t know what you’re doing so instead I’ll be in a position to give you jobs that would be reasonable to expect you to be able to do. And sometimes you’ll fail because you won’t want to admit that you don’t know how to complete a certain task. Or you’ll have a good enough idea how to do it, but not how to keep it safe. So it’s a difficult situation for everyone involved. If nothing else, if you’re a producer, try to get an honest assessment of the skill level of the new PA (Production Assistant) and if you’re the new PA, be honest.

As a director, I want to keep people involved, I want to keep the troops motivated, and most importantly I want to keep everyone working toward a single and unified goal. This can be a tough thing to maintain when a member or two of the crew doesn’t have anything to do or doesn’t know how to do anything that is needed. This person may end up trying to help but also getting in the way. It’s no one’s fault, but it can lead to some awkwardness and slight drama. And who needs that? Lastly…

Unnecessary crew can be a real drain on resources. Just think about how much “stuff” a producer has to provide for every crew member. They need to add names to lists, make sure they get a call sheet, maybe deal with independent contractor mandatory administration stuff and that’s just the start of it. PA’s may take out the trash, but they make it as well. They can eat a lot of food in a day and those Clif bars, Starbucks runs and meals add up. If you’re out at a remote location other issues become more prominent as well. What about bathroom facilities, or medical considerations? If you’re in a corporate setting, what about parking – that could run $50 a day right off the top – or the chance that a well meaning PA might say the wrong thing to the wrong person. Believe me, it happens.

This all may seem like I’m being a bit melodramatic, but they are all real considerations that I’ve been exposed to on set and these situations can easily cost more than is outweighed by the “extra hand.” The point here is to be aware of the tradeoffs of how many people you have at call time and what duties each one of them can execute properly. I’ll leave you with this. Sometimes we aggrandize movie making or video production as to make it seem like something more important than it is. It’s not life and death. But part of the fun is feeling like you have a mission, an important one that needs proper completion no matter what. And so sometimes we equate it to battle or conflict. I like this, it can make the whole thing seem “worth it” and be the catalyst for some really great camaraderie on set. So what am I on about?

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