For better or worse, I’ve become known as a one-man-crew – a Jack of all trades. But, we know how that saying goes, although, I’d argue that I am actually master of some. Of course, there are pros and cons of being a one-man-video-crew:
- I am confident in my own skills: I don’t have to teach anyone how to operate a camera or hold a boom before I can start shooting.
- If I’m on time, the whole team is there. I’m always on time and I always turn up so I never worry about having missing crew members.
- Communication at the speed of thought: if I want something to look a certain way, I just go and change the cameras. If I want things to sound just so, I go do it. Nothing gets lost in translation between departments, because there aren’t any.
- Adaptability: if production has to change direction or location there is no moaning (well. very little); as soon as I get my head around the new concept, or get to that new location, we can start shooting.
- Low impact: when production rolls up to your location there are no trucks and masses of crew wandering around, shutting locations down and causing a big disruption. There’s me, and what I’ve been able to pack and carry. I can edit my rig down to the point where I look like a tourist with a still camera, so I can get footage from places a crew can’t go without a lot of paperwork.
- Cost: I’m one guy who flies coach. I own most of the gear I need to get the job done. If you get me, and some of my gear, to a location we’re ready to shoot.
- There’s a seamless transition from pre, to production, to post. One person is responsible for all 3 phases so there isn’t a lot of hand-over time needed.
- My back aches – even travelling light there’s way more schelping involved in video production than anyone told me. Being a one-man-crew means that you’re your own roadie, grip, etc and it can be pretty physical before you ever get to hit record.
Word to the wise: bring a spare shirt to the shoot. If the client asks you out to dinner after the shoot, at least you’ll look half-decent while you’re networking.
- It doesn’t scale – there is a limit to what I can do on my own. The temptation is to push beyond that, but that’s when things start to look amateurish.
Word to the wise: Know your limits. Know when to contract out elements of the job. There are limits to what one person can do and you need to recognize those limits and know when to call in outside help and stop being a one man crew.
- There are limitations: if I’m manning 3 cameras and audio on an interview, the three cameras will be pretty static. I won’t be able to ride the levels on the mixer like a dedicated sound guy. I won’t be able to man a camera slider like a second camera operator could. Once we’re rolling I will have my hands full just keeping focus and making sure everything keeps running.
- Things can go wrong and no one will notice. If you have a camera operator per-camera, and a dedicated sound guy, there’s no excuse for everything not being in focus and the sound being perfect. When I’m manning 3 DSLRs, and wired, and wireless sound, it can take a while for me to notice that focus has slipped somewhere. Hopefully I have enough coverage that this isn’t an issue.
Word to the wise: Never get complacent. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve run multiple cameras and sound yourself, that one time you get laid back and you think you have everything under control, is the time you will get bitten in the proverbial. You can never check your focus, exposure and levels enough. If you’re not, at least, a little bit nervous, something is wrong.
- If I’m late, the whole production crew is late. If I’m sick, the whole production crew is sick. If I screw up, the whole production crew has screwed up. That’s a lot of pressure for one person. It also means that I turn up for work, dosed up on Dayquil, on days when I really should stay home, and my stinking cold gets passed around.
Word to the wise: make time to look after yourself and keep fit. When you’re the whole crew, there’s always something else too do which is a reason not to go run or to the gym. Make time. If you don’t feel good you won’t produce good work.
- There’s a lot to know. If you are all the production departments you’ve got to know your stuff. You don’t have to know sound capture like a 20 year industry veteran, but, you better know it better than the average enthusiast. And there’s a difference between book-smart (YouTube-smart) and street-smart. Don’t just read about a thing, or watch a tutorial video, get out there and try what you need to know. You only really learn by doing so get out there and shoot and edit every day. Shoot tests if you have nothing better to do. Just when you think you know enough, the technology or techniques will change and you have to keep up.
With all that said, I wouldn’t want to specialize and just do one thing. I like knowing enough to get the job done without anyone else. I like defying expectations. I like being asked, where the crew is, and tapping my rolling case and telling the subject, “This is it.” I like being responsible for my own success or failure. Whether you like it or not, the one-man-crew is the wave of the future, so you should learn to adapt and embrace the pros, and find ways to minimize the cons.