In this post, I’m going to share with you 6 hacks to filming with NO CREW! On the day of filming my short film, the camera guy didn’t show up. My friends and I were left in the dust with no one to film us. But I feel like this happens often. I hear so many stories of people that have someone stall on them and they’re forced to cancel a shoot.
To be clear, filmmaking is a team sport. I’ve had to learn the hard way that it is essential to have a team around you. In fact, one of the things that I realized separates a professional film set from an amateur is the amount of help and knowledge that is present. This was a huge shock for me the first time I was on a professional production. But what happens for those of us that have no help?
Everything that I talk about in this article has been done to help me complete my film ‘Cassie’. Since it was just my two friends and me in the room we had to get creative. In my short film, there were shots where you see three people after I mentioned it was just us. This includes the shots that are handheld. These tips also work if you are 100% by yourself. The 6 hacks to filming with no crew are the following:
You need a tripod
An external mic/audio recorder
An external monitor
Know your film
1. A Tripod
This section is short and to the point. If you’re filming by yourself you’re going to need a place to put the camera. You could use anything to put the camera on but a tripod would work. You will have full control over exactly where the camera is pointing. It will be critical for you to use a tripod for you to nail focus and compose your shots. If you’re filming by yourself you might not be able to get much camera movement. If you want movement then you might have to do it in post. It is very simple to do with just a few keyframes.
2. Body Doubles
Funny story, everyone that was in that room was also manning the camera. You’ll notice shots where there’s camera movement but there look to be three people in the shot… one person was a dummy. This is one of the craziest hacks to filming with no crew. It requires
you to think outside the box.
The way we accomplished this was by taking a light stand in simply dressing it in a sweater. We would do an “over the shoulder shot” with the sweater that was dressing the light stand. This allowed us to pass the camera around and get different reaction shots of everybody as the threat in the short film rises.
If you are by yourself but want it to seem like there are multiple people in the room you can grab a light stand dress it with the clothes that you have laying around. As long as your eye line is intact with the real height of the other person the audience shouldn’t really notice. You also don’t have to use the entire body.
We had NO crew it was just talent on set. So how in the world did we get audio?
Since one of us was manning the camera if we didn’t really have any extra hands for a boom operator. To record the audio I used a zoom H4N and plugged a mic into it. I put the mic on a light stand and every time we moved so did the mic. At all times it was just off frame enough to capture the audio.
On the 1st day, we tried to use a slate but that didn’t work. We were too focused on actually filming that there was no way we were able to keep track of the number of takes that we were doing. What ended up saving me in the edit was that I knew I had Red Giant’s Plural Eyes. I left them Mic running the entire duration of the shoot with the intention of syncing everything automatically in post.
When it was time to edit I had hour-long audio clips. Since the camera was recording scratch audio all I had to do was drag and drop all of my files into Plural Eyes and it
synced everything up for me. The audio quality came out great and we didn’t have to worry about keeping track of it on set.
I like to prepare for the worst. Just in case if things went south I made sure that I took all of the talent and made them read their lines separately. This is a modified version of ADR that I learned a while back ago. It’s super easy and this way if there were any mistakes or in the field audio I could swap it with the ADR.
4. An external monitor
This is something that I just ended up getting for myself. I didn’t have this at the time of the short film but I did remember wishing I had one. There was no way for me to check the composition and make sure that it was perfect. An external monitor is crucial if you want to nail your focus. It was hard to set up my composition and look at a small LCD screen while I was 6-8 feet away from the camera.
If there was an external monitor on set then if there were any mistakes my friends would have been able to point them out. I think I waited way too long for me to invest in an external monitor. They sell very cheap ones online that are actually really good. I personally own the FeelWorld F570 which is only $200.
If you upgrade to a Small HD or anything like that then you get much more features like LUTs, waveforms, and other helpful tools to help you now focus and exposure. If you’re just trying to see what you look like while you’re far away you don’t really need an expensive external monitor.
5. Know Your Film
The only reason why I was able to accomplish this film was that I knew the film like the back of my hand. If you’re going to be filming with no crew, YOU NEED TO KNOW IF YOU’RE GOING TO BE FILMING WITH NO CREW! Deep down inside I had a feeling we were going to be stood up, and that’s why I wrote the film to be in such a small controlled setting.
When filming with no crew you also need to know every single aspect of your film. You will have to change things on the fly and people will ask you tons of questions especially if you are directing while you are acting.
Break down your script
I made sure that I broke down the script days before shooting. I broke it down to how much props I needed sound, lighting setups, etc. RocketJump Film school has a really good video on how to break down a screenplay.
I also made a shot list so that I could better organize my thoughts. I broke down who’s going to be holding the camera, when, for how long, and what shots we needed for each day. We ended up shooting for 3 days. Each day was a different act of the film.
You have to remember that no one is coming to save you. That means you have to do everything in your power to help yourself. Pre-production is golden. Another thing that really helped out the film was that we had a day to just sit down and rehearse and read through the lines.
The funny thing about it was that the rehearsal wasn’t even my idea. I was so hell-bent on finishing the film at a certain deadline that all I wanted to do was finish the film ASAP. The idea actually came from one of my friends La’Quan. In the book, Making Movies by Sidney Lumet he mentions that the only way you can get beautiful performances is that the actors were able to rehearse it beforehand. You can’t get improv if the person doesn’t know what they’re doing. So when La’Quan told me that we should rehearse I was a little bit more open to the idea. I thought back to the book and realized that it wasn’t that bad of an idea.
So long story short… KNOW YOUR FILM! Try your best to get everyone on the same page as you. Have a storyboard ready. Create an animatic. It’s going to be really hard to wear a director hat but act at the same time. Get some help from your past self by being prepared.
The 6th most important thing when filming with no crew:
You’re going to feel like it’s not going to work, you’re going to wish you had the help, you’re going to wish a lot of things. We just have to push through and remember that everything that you’re doing is just part of your learning process.
I ended up in a place where I got really depressed because of the fact that I felt like I couldn’t finish my film. I felt like a complete failure and that I let everyone down. What helped me was finding other filmmakers to be around. It reminded me that failure and adversity his part of the process.
Struggle is ok.
If we’re not struggling then ultimately we’re doing something wrong or were not pushing ourselves enough. It’s OK to look like an idiot.
Keep your head down and keep working and just remember that in the end, you’ll have something beautiful. Even if you’re not happy with it (I only see all the mistakes in my films) It’s our film. There’s so much to learn from the process and it’s not always about the end result. These are things that I try to remind myself.
That’s it, those are your 6 hacks to filming with no crew. I hope this blog post helps you in some sort of way and if you have any questions go ahead and leave it down in the comments. If you want to see more content subscribe to my YouTube channel, follow this blog, and be sure to follow me on all the social media sites: Instagram and Twitter. Check on my blog post where I talk in-depth about the behind the scenes to making my film. Thanks for reading!
Owner, Founder, Director, Editor Producer of Kaylex Productions.
Full-Time freelance filmmaker from New Jersey.