It’s the phone call we all hope to get from a producer: “I really need you coming up. There’s nobody else we want.”
But not everybody gets those calls. And even if you do, I bet they aren’t as frequent as you would hope. Most likely, you have to make concessions to get a job — on your day rate, on your accommodations, maybe even on the type of job you do.
And while that’s fine every once in awhile, it can get real old, real fast.
Instead, you want every phone call to be a producer begging you to come work for them — pleading that you’re the savior of the set. Well, you may not have them physically groveling at your feet, but here’s a few steps to get them to really want you nonetheless.
Step 1. Be Flexible
Be open minded about day rates and scheduling
Producers make thousands of decisions throughout the day. And many of those decisions affect other decisions they’ve already made. Things change — sometimes because they changed them and sometimes because they didn’t — but either way, they have to be flexible.
And they want you to be flexible as well. One way to get producers to fall in love with you as a crew member is to roll with the punches.
Most of the time, these last-minute changes aren’t always their fault. They have to ride the rollercoaster of pre-production just as much as anyone else. There are times where a shoot gets delayed because the lead actor got the flu, or an investor backs out at the last minute, or the cinematographer decides they’re going to operate the camera instead of you.
While that doesn’t mean you should let them steamroll you in negotiations, it does mean you have to be willing to concede a little bit on your side. For instance, if you were originally told you would have your own hotel room, but then have to share it with your 2nd AC just say, “No problem.”
Or if your day rate gets cut by $25 to pay the Camera PA you asked for, deem it fair.
Lastly, the more flexible you are with scheduling the more they will call you up for things.
I have a producer friend who I’ve worked for on a few occasions last-minute with a very low rate because I sympathized with his project. Then, when he had a few shows with high budgets, he called me and said, “I’m going to call you back in an hour and ask for your day rate. Tell me whatever you want and I’ll say yes.”
If you’re willing to leave the night before a shoot to be on set the next day, producers will love you. They will have someone they know they can trust last minute. And they will often return the favor by calling you for other jobs as well.
Step 2. Don’t Cause Any Problems On Set
Stay out of on set politics, be quiet and calm, do your job and do it well
As if pre-production isn’t crazy enough for producers, it’s followed by the swampy waters of production. And like getting stuck in the mud in the Bayou, production is often a dirty, uncomfortable, and slow process.
You should do your best to not contribute to this feeling.
Stay out of on set politics, be quiet and calm when possible, and do your job safely, efficiently, and with a high standard of expertise. If you do those three things, you take a huge step towards producers just begging for you to work for them.
Why? Because you won’t be a nuisance getting in their way and you’ll be valuable to the production as somebody who knows what they’re doing.
But if you are constantly complaining to them about every little annoyance you have — such as not having bathroom breaks, a snooty director, or how the production assistants are idiots — you’re only going to become an annoyance. Next time they have a gig, they’ll remember that and want to avoid a similar situation.
The exception for this is when things get dangerous or out of hand. If your safety is in danger, turnarounds are out of control, or meals aren’t up to snuff, you should approach them. But be reasonable and respectful.
If you treat a serious problem with tact, they will respect you more for expressing your opinions and dealing with the situation professionally — at least that’s the idea. Producers that brush away those complaints are producers that will never beg anyone to work because they’re too arrogant to have humility.
In short, follow Dick Barth’s Four Rules of Camera Assisting: 1. Show up early, 2. Punch in on time, 3. Do your job, and 4. Keep your mouth shut.
Step 3. Become a Favorite of the DP
Troubleshoot problems quickly, anticipate needs, and be their best friend
When producers hire crew, they are often doing so on the behalf of someone else in the “trickle down” method. That is, the director of photography (DP) requests a certain 1st assistant camera (AC), then the 1st AC requests a certain 2nd AC, and so on and so forth.
As a result, most of the time producers are calling to hammer out logistics because somebody has already given the “OK” for you to get the job.
So one of the best ways to get producers to beg you to work is by getting in on this chain of command and making sure the DP chooses you as their “go to guy.” This works because DP’s and other crew will make a big deal if they don’t get their guy, especially if they find out it was because of a cheap producer.
And as a result, producers will have to call you up and try very hard to get you on a shoot. They also know that the DP and AC relationship is strong and to break that up could cost them a lot of money in blown takes, slow setups, or firing and re-hiring another crew member.
So by being a mind-reader of the DP’s needs and becoming their best friend and accommodant, you make yourself needed in the eyes of the producer.
Don’t Settle for Average — Be the Best
Let’s make this clear: nobody begs for mediocrity.
If you’re the fifth name on the list of viable candidates for the job, you’re not going to get the “please!” phone call. Even if you’re the last hope for a production, they’ll likely go back to the first guy and beg them before they beg for you.
So don’t settle for being average, seek to be the best. That’s the easiest way to get producers to beg for you constantly. There’s no secret except to be very good at what you do because crew love to surround themselves with excellence.
And you’ll know you truly have producers begging for you when you have to start apologizing profusely over the phone for not being available — which is the best problem you could ever have in this industry!