EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s the fifth chapter in Laura Conway’s series on the making of her very, very, very popular – over 3 million views – interweb series hit The Vamps Next Door.
Assemble the Right Crew or Risk Major Mental Collapse (Oy!)
by Laura Conway
After casting is done, I assemble the crew. How big a crew varies depending on the budget. If you want to enjoy making your web series, hire the right crew or risk a major panic attack. I’ve tried it both ways. The way without the mental breakdown is best.
When I shoot The Vamps Next Door, I now make sure to have a small and affordable, but big enough that I don’t lose my shit, crew. BUT one time when I was broke as fuck, we shot the most important scene of Season 4, when vampire daughter Kate bites Denise, with just me and Phil, each with a handheld camera, no sound person, no makeup person, no lights, no crew.
Phil dug a boom pole out of his garage and enlisted my 13 year old son to hold it AND we had to get this in one take because there was blood and no 2nd set of wardrobe. Some might call this guerrilla filmmaking… I call it being totally fucked. Yet, that’s our most watched episode (go figure) see it for yourself at 4 minutes, 5 seconds in: https://youtu.be/3YbeSDJsQn8
Following is a list of all the crew positions I’ve staffed at various times.
Even the lowest budget production needs an audio person because nothing ruins an episode faster than bad audio. Don’t use the camera’s audio. Hire the professional. I find great audio people on mandy.com
Make up person:
It’s not impressive to ask actresses to do their own makeup. And makeup should have a consistent look. Hire a professional and ask the actresses who they like to use.
Unless you have experience directing, hire a director. See the prior installment on finding a director.
If you own cameras, that’s the best way to go. For Vamps, Phil and I own and run the cameras ourselves.
If that’s not your thing, you can hire a camera operator who has experience and the director can instruct them.
Third option if you don’t own cameras is rent camera equipment (insurance required). If you’re planning to make more than 1 episode, try investing in a DSLR. I have a Canon 80D that I love. Phil has a 5D. You can see the great quality video they produce in this episode:
If you want to hire a DP, who has his own camera, ask the director who she recommends, but don’t commit to hiring anyone without checking out their reel and comparing with others.
They work as volunteers and trade time for experience and credit. They are typically responsible, reliable and just awesome to have helping out. They don’t need experience as long as you give them jobs that don’t require it. Their job is to take orders and do whatever is needed.
They can move equipment, help set up and clean up, pick up lunch, slate the scenes, even pet your dog so he doesn’t ruin the sound, whatever. Two of them is the perfect number for a Vamps shoot. One works, too.
For Vamps, I ask my OCD, detail oriented friend to come over for free and just watch the script. She makes sure the actors say the lines exactly as written. A professional script supervisor also makes sure actions match from take to take, makes sure wardrobe is consistent and keeps notes of the director’s comments. That requires experience and costs money.
MY DIY LIST:
Great to have if they’re good. For Vamps, I usually do all the First AD work myself, including script breakdown, shooting schedule, call sheet, and making sure production day runs on time.
So fun to go props shopping. And sometimes I make props. For Season 5, I made my own vomit AND pee. The vomit looks amazing, but the pee device was a total failure. We had to cut to a close up of the shorts already wet. You can see how it ended up 11 minutes, 39 seconds into The Vamps Next Door: Tasha’s Revenge (the video above).
If you’re on a budget, actresses are usually OK with wearing their own clothes, and that means looking through their closet. If there’s nothing I like, I go shopping with them and buy something. I now like to have a color scheme, too. And when there’s blood involved, we need two sets of whatever they wear.
Hard Way Lesson #5: During Season 3 of Vamps, at exactly 3 minutes and 24 seconds in, watch me ruin actor Lynn Manning’s jacket with blood and cost myself an extra $50…
(You can’t see me in the video but I’m crouched down behind the actor operating my homemade blood spurting device.)
PD’s can definitely take your show to the next level of production value, but your venue is the web. People are watching on their phones. Between you and the director, with a little planning, you can make sure there’s nothing weird in the background and move plants or furniture around to make the shots look better.
I had an amazing PD on AGELESS versus no PD on Vamps. You can see the difference for yourself, especially comparing the absolutely horrible background in this Vamps shot in Denise’s kitchen (47 seconds in)
to this nicely designed AGELESS background in Shirley’s kitchen (19 seconds in):
PD’s are expensive. Try to DIY and save the money.
I know there are many other positions in productions, but I’ve never used them for The Vamps Next Door.
Read Chapter 1 HERE
Read Chapter 2 HERE
Read Chapter 3 HERE
Read Chapter 4 HERE
Laura Conway is the writer and producer of The Vamps Next Door web series, directed by Phil Ramuno. Subscribe to the Vamps’ YouTube channel to get notifications about new episodes.