Production people in relatively large mid-western markets are quietly amused by all the talk about the “A-Level” crews found on the coasts, as if it were a ‘members only’ club. True, the big markets of LA and NYC have world-class craft members. Not to sound defensive, but the discussion usually becomes exclusionary, as if A-Level is the sole domain of the coasts. Well, like many industries, that ship has sailed.
Admittedly, when you are operating in the huge coastal markets there are dozens of A-Level members in each crew position of each craft. It is a question of depth. In these metro areas, you have a stellar starting line in each discipline, and your bench is dozens and dozens deep. But there are authentic A-Level crews in many smaller, middle-America markets. It’s just the bench is not as deep. In the LA market, there may be a couple hundred A-Level gaffers but admittedly, in my hometown, there are only a handful. Despite the convenience of numbers, we have worked with excellent crews in Omaha, Indianapolis, Chicago, Little Rock, Denver, Kansas City and St. Louis.
In the interest of honesty, of course there are experiences that regional crews don’t enjoy on a regular basis, for example sophisticated or large green screen shooting with complex 3D integration. But that is a very small percentage of the production product in any given year.
What does this mean for you as a producer if you are required to work in flyover country. Take heart, its actually a great opportunity. Indeed, there is a solid argument to be made that many A-Level, mid-continent folks are more experienced, versatile, and cost-effective than many of their coastal brothers and sisters. Think about it. If you are working in a smaller market, generally you have to function in a much more budget-constrained world. This translates to less time, smaller crews and less equipment. Often crew members have to swing between a couple positions or improvise with less gear which translates often into some excellent skill-sets; craft members who can think on their feet and plus the product. Working here in the middle, your actual time on set is usually longer and more productive as crews have not had to navigate some insanely long and stressful commute. And while the very nature of the production business necessitates very hard work wherever you are located, there is something to that hard-working, Middle-American work ethic.
We all have had the experience of hiring the wrong people when we go to another city, so there is always the necessity of thorough due diligence required in identifying the A-Level folk in any sized market. Most states have film/industry lists but these are almost never curated based on skill levels. Some union affiliation usually helps but again, it’s not a guarantee. If you are not using a crewing service, the most surefire formula is old-fashion networking and phone calls. Go ahead, call a competitor producer in these smaller markets and get some first hand recommendations. They will most likely be helpful as they realize helping members of their own production community is ultimately helping themselves.