Arthur Vincie at Pro Video Coalition breaks down the intricacies of scheduling and accommodating prep time for film crews. The money paragraph(s) – and the reason why this article is awesome:
So the real question is how difficult you want to make things for yourself. Sometimes you have no choice – you’ll hire fewer people, keep their prep days to a minimum, and either do things yourself or let them go.
Don’t get too gung-ho about this, however – you don’t want to be figuring out the bagel order instead of directing your actors, or typing up an equipment run list instead of a shot list. In that sense, prep (and other non-shoot) time does add production value, even if the connection isn’t obvious. Usually, a compromise can be found between the “deluxe” prep needs and the bare bones minimum, and you’ll also be telling the crew that their time is valuable, which can go a long way towards ensuring loyalty, as well as a better shoot.
I applaud Vincie’s thoughts that prep time adds production value. Within the camera department, I can think of several ways a solid camera prep translates into a better on-screen film – the most important being that a prep gives AC’s time to troubleshoot and learn about issues with a camera package which allows them to build the camera faster, spend less time fixing problems, and have more time to shoot.
I’ve been on several jobs without a prep where someone from production picked up the gear. This is not ideal. It means I’m walking on set the morning-of hoping they have everything that’s needed.
Because of that, even if I don’t get paid for prep days, I like to have them scheduled to make my job easier during production. How long should be scheduled is typically dictated by the size of the camera package, but really just use common sense as suggested by Vincie:
There’s no magic formula for figuring out how much prep each person on your crew needs, since each script is different, but you can use common sense. If the script is a gory monster story set in one house, your location department’s prep needs are not going to be that huge (since you’re not hopping from place to place); but your hair/makeup and visual effects staff will need a lot more time to prepare molds, do makeup tests, and possibly buy supplies.
There are some general guidelines, though. You can plug these into your budget as you build it and then see where you land. Even if you’re in the (crappy) position of not being able to afford to pay the crew for all the non-shoot days you need, you’ll be better prepared. Sometimes you can make a deal, wherein you pay the crew members for a set number of prep days and give them flexibility as to when they work. Most people, I’ve found, want to do good job even if they’re not getting paid for every minute of it. But they appreciate being able to take days off during preproduction to go make some real money.
The article is pragmatic, practical, and covers prep expectations for various departments. Great read.