CREW SIZE AND ONSCREEN CREDITS – Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film

Most films require a wide range of expertise and thus call
for fairly extensive crews. The size of a film crew varies
according to the budget, just as its composition depends
on the requirements of the specific film. For example, an
action thriller may require a large number of stuntmen,
whereas an intimate drama would need few if any.
Historical blockbusters depend on sizable camera crews
and extensive wardrobe departments. For instance, the
historical saga Ben-Hur (1925) called for forty-eight
cameras to shoot its sea battle scene, and the wardrobe
department of Quo Vadis? (1951) had to prepare and
manage 32,000 costumes.
The crews of low budget and short films are likely to
be far smaller than those of major Hollywood productions, with people often doubling up to perform more
than one task. Such labor-saving practices are usually not
possible on big-budget productions, which tend to
employ unionized film crews. To protect the interests
of their members, unions insist that the crew members
work within the strict limits of their job descriptions and
that an appropriately qualified union member is hired to
perform each duty. This restriction may extend all the
way to the director. For instance, when the British director Ridley Scott (b. 1937) went to Hollywood to make Blade Runner (1982), he was not allowed to act as his
own camera operator and had to work through the
director of photography Jordan Cronenweth (1935–
1996) and his unionized team instead.
Some short films and experimental films, as well as
certain types of documentary such as direct cinema, are
made with incredibly tiny crews. There are even films
that have been made entirely by one person, which has
normally happened when the film is composed of animation or found footage. One of the most impressive
single-handed achievements is surely Jose´ Antonio
Sistiaga’s feature length abstract animation, Ere erera
baleibu icik subua aruaren (1970), for which he painted
each frame directly onto the film stock. Because he did
not use a camera, he did not need a cameraman, lighting
crew, actors, or anyone else to create this film. Similarly,
Bruce Conner’s (b. 1933) compilation films, such as A
Movie (1957), relied on the re-editing of ‘‘found footage,’’ thereby eliminating the need for a conventional
filmmaking crew. Even films entailing purpose-shot cinematography have sometimes been made single-handedly.
For Notebook (1963), Marie Menken (1909–1970) took
her camera out into the street to film interesting images,
such as reflections in a puddle, and cut them together to
create a short non-narrative film.
Although the occupational categories described
above have remained relatively stable since the advent
of synchronized sound in the late 1920s, a cursory comparison of twenty-first century films, based on onscreen
credits, compared to those of the late 1920s or even the
early 1970s would suggest that crews are not only becoming larger but also more diversified. One recent example
will suffice to illustrate this trend: The Matrix Revolutions
(2003) credits over 700 participants. This observation,
however, may not accurately reflect reality. Screen credits
may provide a guide to the main participants in creating
a film, but they are not necessarily a reliable guide to the
exact makeup of film crews. In particular, they are a poor
index of the way in which crews have changed over time.
A lengthening credit list does not necessarily mean that
films now employ larger crews than before, but rather
that a higher proportion of workers are named, whereas
in earlier years many remained anonymous. Unions have
been a powerful force in this regard, working hard to
ensure that their members receive onscreen credit. In an
era in which most film workers freelance, rather than
work under studio contract, it is especially important
for their career that they receive credit, since this may
affect their remuneration as well as their future employment prospects.