As an EP, you can attest that making a movie can get complicated fast. This is especially true for producing independent films. You’re responsible for raising the funds and staying within the budget, while trying to find and hire the best crew within that budget. The latter can be especially challenging when considering your above the line crew. Finding talented and dedicated individuals at this level, and within your monetary scope, is no easy feat.
So, how do you find the best above the line crew? And how do you balance the “best” with the budget?
Let’s find out.
Most film crew positions are considered below the line, with very few designations included above. These above the line positions may vary slightly, depending on the project. However, some remain constant across productions.
Above the line positions sit at the top of the film crew hierarchy.
The director is responsible for translating the screenplay into a visual narrative. Directors have the vision, creative expertise, and leadership skills to create a film. They exercise significant creative power and directly influence the creative path the movie takes.
Producers are often at the top of the crew hierarchy. Their main function is to bring financial and human resources together. Their role includes securing funding, hiring other crew members, and providing organizational and operational oversight to ensure the movie's completion within the allotted time and budget. In short, without a producer or a team of producers, there would be no movie.
This is a fairly flexible term that can cover a range of responsibilities. Its scope varies from project to project. Some popular functions within executive production are super specific, like financing the movie or scripting, while others are more general, like strategic advice or assistance with production. We’re talking about film here, but in a commercial production company, an EP could even be the owner of the company.
For the general public, the on-screen cast is the face of the movie and the most visible part of the crew. Their creative talent is considered instrumental to the film and they rank high in the film crew hierarchy. Their fees often account for the most significant proportion of the movie’s budget.
The casting director assumes the crucial role of bringing the right cast to the project. Their responsibilities start and end before filming begins. However, their creative insight is invaluable for the success of the film.
The screenplay written by the writer serves as a blueprint for the production. The writer builds the characters, the story, and the structure of the film. They work closely with producers and directors to bring the idea to life. Though, it is widely understood that the writer has the most say on television projects compared to feature films where producers and directors often reign supreme. In fact, on many film sets, the writer may or may not be present.
Production accountants work closely with the producers to manage the day-to-day expenses of film production, maintain the financial records, and ensure that the film has sufficient funds for operations. They might also communicate with investors or provide the reports to the EP who communicates with investors. In some cases, they might not be considered either above or below the line due to the nature of their work.
While a line producer is often at the top of the below the line hierarchy, they bridge the gap between above and below the line production. They are one of the positions responsible for transforming creative ideas into production realities. On set, they are everyone’s go-to person.
Given their indispensability, creative importance, and long-term impact on your film, finding the right above the line crew is an essential component of a successful production.
So if you’re unsure of how to hire above the line crew or where to find reliable humans, consider the following means!
As obvious as it may sound, this cannot be stressed enough. Make sure you’re up-to-date with new releases, actors, and directors in the film industry. Track the success of various movies to understand what worked for them. If any particular above the line crew member, such as a new or popular actor or director, stood out in another film, consider reaching out and hiring them for your own production.
You can bookmark some of these top movie magazines to stay updated with industry news and trends. You can even consider subscribing to these film industry trade publications as they often speak about the latest movies and talent.
For a producer, a robust network in the film industry is an invaluable asset. You can start building your network by attending popular film events and festivals to meet a wide variety of above the line crew, including directors, actors, screenwriters, and more. Be prepared to pitch your project and persist in your networking efforts to attract the right people.
No matter what project you’re currently working on, keep in mind that how you treat people goes a long way in building your reputation as a producer. Creating a good experience for the people you work with is essential to help you attract and retain top talent and crew. Create a space that makes rehiring them easy.
This is a no-brainer. Hiring off of referrals is a great way to vet your crew. And if you keep building on your reputation as being easy to work with, people might start referring you, which makes the entire process of finding above the line crew easy-peasy. If you don’t have any referrals yet, start asking around. You’d be surprised how willing people are to help. If you need a director, ask your network about what they look for ahead of time. And if you have already hired a director, say, based on the recommendation of your writers, you can ask the director to recommend your principal cast.
Job boards and production websites like Staff Me Up, Backstage, or even Production Beast are helpful to find crew. But when it comes to above the line crew, those individuals may or may not be hanging out in those obvious places.
As mentioned earlier, creating a pleasant work environment is your golden ticket. The more people want to work with you, the longer the list is when it comes time to rehire.
Considering where we are with technology, producers are starting to leverage new tools that bring efficiency to their everyday processes, and paying & onboarding crew is a key one. Tracking crew down to see if they’re available wastes way too much time. Production companies take advantage of Wrapbook’s All Crew Database, which saves each crew member’s profile so teams can quickly rehire when a new job comes up.
Because the platform associates a crew member’s tax forms with their profile, producers can onboard them once, instead of repeating the same tasks each time they work with this person. Additionally, since onboarding and payroll are integrated into one platform, you can pay your above the line crew even faster.
Easier said than done. Your production account will be responsible for managing accounts of your film’s day-to-day tasks and expenses, and so you need a trustworthy and reliable candidate to fill this role. If you can, hire this person off of a referral. And find someone who has production accounting experience. Seems obvious but it needs to be said. The production accountant works closely with the producer, so a good way to find a reliable accountant is to ask a fellow producer you respect to refer someone.
We can’t answer how much above the line crew costs because it’s obviously dependent on the person. But while creating a film budget can be challenging, it’s fairly easy to account for the above the line crew, as they typically charge a fixed fee upfront and their compensation does not vary with the production timeline, (unless more days are added, of course).
Above the line crew is one of the largest components of your budget. Let’s chat a little bit about how to effectively manage and allocate these funds.
Are you worried that the upfront fixed rate for above the line crew will stretch your budget too thin? Is it not feasible to hire the best talent because of their high rates? You can offer a profit-sharing compensation structure. Ask if they’re willing to charge a lower fixed fee in exchange for a percentage share in the film’s profits. This also incentivizes your above the line crew to push themselves and excel, as their compensation is directly aligned with the success of the film.
Hiring above the line crew on short notice can be incredibly expensive. Make sure you hire well in advance to avoid costly scheduling conflicts and inflated fees.
Your above the line crew play an integral role in the quality of your production. So, it’s important to find the right people for your project. Sometimes, if the budget is tight, paying fair compensation to the crew of your choice means having to make cuts in other areas. For example, you might have to cut down on other talent or raw material expenses and prioritize the above the line budget. But this will be different for every person, and for every job.
Shooting at multiple locations can add to complexity and expense. Above the line crew members are typically indispensable and have to be accommodated everywhere you shift your production. You can limit your travel costs by ensuring you book everything in advance, take only essential personnel, and hire new below the line crew at other locations.
As an EP, it’s essential to be mindful in real-time about where the money is going. You should have on-demand access to the necessary payroll data to keep yourself in check, with the option to share info with investors when and where you need to.
You and your accountant can experience the accessibility and flexibility of the software, so you can better eyeball fringes to stay on budget.
Finding reliable and affordable above the line crew isn’t easy. It’s a balancing act of compromises that begin the moment you get the script.
And while you won’t find all of your answers in a blog post, pay attention to a few of the more obvious, but often, overlooked tips. Building your reputation as someone enjoyable to work with will go a long way toward getting top referrals and attracting people to you. This is the foundation for a sustainable career.
Now that we’ve chatted about above the line positions, what about below the line? Next up, we’re looking at 8 Tips to Minimize Costs for Below the Line Crew.
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.