How To Build Your A-Team

Jul 23, 2022

In today's issue, I'm going to give you a process for building an A-Team of collaborators.

Film is the most collaborative form of art. Without a great team, there can be no great film. By learning how to assemble a high-performing team, you set your film and yourself up for success. You also build foundations of loyal and trustworthy relationships, which are essential in all businesses, not just show biz.

Unfortunately, most filmmakers rush this process which leads to poor choices.

We take years to develop projects but hours to hire a team member.

There are a few reasons we make bad decisions when it comes to building a team:

  • Don't know where to look.

  • Don't adequately vet the person.

  • Don't hold people accountable.

  • Don't give ourselves enough time.

If you struggle with this, don't worry, I will give you a bullet-proof system for overcoming these issues.

Here's how to do it, step by step:

Step 1: Start with your core team

Without a core team, you will give up on your dream before you start.

A core team is at least 2 other people who are as financially and emotionally committed to make the film as you.

It can be any combination of roles, usually it's one of: Actor, Director, Producer, Writer, DoP, Production Designer.

Here are some examples from my films:

  • Plague: 2 x Directors, Producer

  • West of Sunshine: Director, Producer, Actor, DoP

  • Paper Champions: 3 x Producers

  • Green Light (Doco): Director, Producer, Main Subjects

The best way to find your core team is as follows:

  1. Watch short films by local filmmakers at film festivals or on Vimeo. Find ones that you really like.

  2. Reach out to the person via email or DM. Tell them how much you enjoyed their work and ask to meet for a coffee.

  3. Catch up for a coffee, let the conversation go in different directions. Talk about your interests, influences, your take on the industry. See if you click and get along. Ask yourself: can I imagine talking to this person everyday for 12 months?

  4. At the end, ask them if they might be interested working together on a project.

  5. Send them the script / info via email and organise a follow up call or catch up.

The worst way to find your core team is to allow an existing team-member to bring in a new team-member based on their relationship, not merit.

Step 2: Discover your HODs

Most filmmakers focus on the 'key' HOD roles, when they are each equally important.

You might think make-up is less important than camera. But bad make-up is a massive turn off and will ruin the experience for your audience.

The key here is to find your HODs in the same way you find your core team. Leave no stone unturned.

Step 3: Hire downstream

At this point, you can loosen your grip on the selection process for a moment and give some hiring authority to your HODs.

This is important for 2 reasons:

  • It empowers HODs by giving them ownership over hiring their team; and

  • They will likely select crew they already have a proven relationship with.

While you loosen your grip, the final decision still rests with you.

Have your HODs send you a list of 2-3 preferences in order of priority and do the following:

  1. Request their CV.

  2. Ensure they have adequate experience in the same role for the same format. For example, your Boom Op should have experience in feature films if you're making a feature.

  3. Reach out to their references (minimum 2).

  4. Meet with them in person (or via Zoom).

  5. Send them an offer.

Step 4: Fire quickly

If you end up with someone that isn't the right fit, fire

The best way to determine if someone is the right fit early is to give them a task with a deadline, and see if they execute. If they don't, this is a red flag.

If it's clear someone isn't the right fit during pre-production or production, give them 2 warnings then let them go.

Firing quickly is the best thing that you can do for the film and your team. A bad egg will ruin the cake.

Until recently, our hiring process was pretty lax. This leads to us often having to iron out personnel issues and fire people during the first two weeks of a shoot.

But we implemented the process I've outlined above on our most recent film and it's the only film where we had 0 personnel issues or personality blow ups.

Step 5: Play long-term games

Finally, you want to play long-term games with long-term people.

In the words of Naval Ravikant: All returns in life come from compound interest in long-term games.

Filmmaking is a career played over decades, not years.

The more you can play this long-term game with loyal, trustworthy and talented team-members, the more you're going to get out of it.

So when you find a talented team-member, work with them again. And again, and again.

You will have your break ups and make ups.

I've had business partnerships blow up, crew members threaten me and the film, bad hires that brought down the culture on set.

And it's largely because I was winging it.

I wrote this so you don't have to do the same.

Well, that’s it for today.

I hope you enjoyed it.

For more on this topic, head to my Youtube Video.

See you again next week.

Whenever you're ready, there are 2 ways I can help you:

1. Develop your filmmaking skills [FREE] here (690+ subscribers).

2. Work 1:1 with me to start raising finance or land distribution (Limited Availability).


The Friday Filmmaker

Delivering one high-impact filmmaking tip every Friday afternoon. 

Join 5k+ subscribers getting one actionable tip on advancing their filmmaking career. 

You're safe with me. I'll never spam you or sell your contact info.