6 Step Checklist For Hiring an Out-of-town Shooter

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

As a video producer or production company, booking a local freelancer for your client-facing shoot is not a task to take lightly. Book the wrong person and you’ll be in quite a jam. Going through the freelance hiring process is half like giving a job interview, and half selling the crew member on the excitement of the project. So it’s certainly both an art and a science. After booking for hundreds of outside freelance crew members, I’ve assembled six key items to look for to avoid disaster and make your out-of-town production a success.

#1: Build your List

The first thing you want to do is build a list of at least 10 to 15 freelance options in the area. While this seems like a lot, for most production roles you will only be able to get in touch with 5 to 6 of the targets on your list.

Here is a spreadsheet booking template you can download to keep track of your candidates.

Start by sorting through the type of crew you are looking for, and review the demo reels, equipment quality, and client list of 20 or so that fit your overall criteria. Crew members listed on ProductionHUB typically have featured profiles listed first, which is helpful as featured profiles are typically those who tend to take their craft more seriously. For roles where the budget is a particular concern, try to avoid booking an entire video production company. Instead seek freelance candidates, where you can avoid unnecessary markup. Plug your candidates into a spreadsheet or document and fill out all the parts you can find about them.

#2: Get Your Details Together Before Contacting

From the point of initial contact, you should be providing freelancers with everything they need to know regarding a project. Going back and forth answering questions will prolong the timeframe it takes to just book the crew, so eliminate 2 or 3 days of back and forth by getting all your details together upfront. Put together a production brief that includes the following:

  • Client Name
  • Project Name
  • Production Date
  • Address
  • Number of Shoot Days
  • Half Day/Full Day?
  • Target Budget/Day Rate
  • Example Videos
  • Completed Script
  • Description: (Write a few paragraphs about the project, it’s background, the goals and more detail that can get them excited about it)

Not only will this speed up the hiring process but it also allows you to clearly define expectations surrounding the shoot well in advance. Also, it will weed out those who either aren’t a good fit or just won’t be excited about the opportunity.

#3: Have a Phone Call to Gauge Cultural Fit

Just because the reel is nice and they said they are available over email, doesn’t mean you should quickly book them. For both large film sets and solo corporate shoots, making sure your crew is a cultural fit is almost as important as them being technically qualified.

Making a phone call will allow you to first vet if they are a fast communicator. How quickly do they answer? Do they text back and say they are busy and when they will follow back up? Someone who quickly answers their phone in the vetting process is more likely to be responsive when it comes to crunch time. For out-of-town shoots especially, you need good communicators, particularly for those where you or your team won’t be present alongside the client or talent.

Once on the phone, ask questions like:

  • What type of projects do you typically work on?
    • What do you think of the project? Any thoughts on how we could better approach it than what I laid out? (this will see if they actually read the brief) 
  • Have you had a project in the past that’s similar to what we’re discussing?
  • Why are you a good fit for this project?
  • When looking at [project name] on your profile, what did you do in this project? What other members were on set?

Hear how they talk about the project, what they think they could bring to the project, and feel out their overall energy. If you feel they are standoffish or disinterested, de-prioritize them in the list. If you feel they are excited, communicate well and bring a unique energy to the call, then keep them up top.

#4: Identify How Far They Live From The Shoot

Another important thing to figure out is exactly how far the freelancer is from the shoot location. Many times, particularly in larger cities like Chicago, NYC, or LA, people end up being an hour or two away from the shoot even if they are listed locally. While the long commute is acceptable in some cases, it will make things more difficult in the event that a client would like to do a location scout or there is a last minute emergency. Ask specifically where they live, or where their office is. The most polite method of doing this is to casually ask them what side of town they are from. Plug the neighborhood they say into Google and see how far away the shoot is. Anything outside of 30 minutes, you should be careful.

#5: Get Specific on Their Portfolio

Just because someone has good work in their portfolio doesn’t mean they actually contributed anything significant to the video. While on the phone or in your initial outreach, have the freelancer talk through specific details of a project in order to get a true sense of what they actually did. If you’re hiring a DP, ask if they might have only done second camera or had a gaffer, and two grips. Confirm exactly what they contributed based on their role, and also ask who else was involved from a crew standpoint so you can understand.

Ask the following questions:

  • Who else was on set on [project name]?
  • What contributed to [project name] being the best video on your portfolio? Why don’t you think [project name] was quite as stellar?
  • Can you name the angle where you camera operated? What time codes does this appear?
  • What lighting gear was on set and what would you bring along to this shoot?
  • Who was responsible for the lighting?
  • Did you have a gaffer? Grip? If so, how many?

If you find that the scenarios they worked in were not consistent with the project you’re booking for, either eliminate them from the list or ask them for examples that are a fit. For example, don’t book a DP for a solo corporate interview shoot who only has examples when they had 2 grips, a PA, and a lighting truck.

#6: Get References (Even If You Don’t Contact Them)

Ask your final few potential candidates for a list of references. Will you actually contact them? Maybe not. However, professionals who have references ready are much more likely to be legitimate than people who can’t offer any at all. It’s a sign they’re more established than someone who has to go look for them. It’s wonderful if you have the time to make the calls but if not, the fact they have references at all is a good sign.

So after doing all of the above, lock your final candidate in. But, make sure to send a nice notice to the other freelancers that you went a different direction. Be nice in this final email to them just in case you need a backup if your first choice backs out. Best of luck!

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About the Author

Mike Clum
Mike Clum
Mike Clum is the CEO of Clum Creative a video production company located in Cleveland, OH serving marketers and entrepreneurs around the world.

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