Loads of films are shot with different units, with a director overseeing the look of the entire project whilst unit directors manage the scenes they have been given. This is nothing unusual, so what’s different with the 72 project?
The primary difference is the crew size. We use a smaller group of versatile generalists as opposed to lots of specialists in many of the technical roles. Over the last five years I’ve had to defend this position so many times against ‘professionals’ who argue that owning a camera and a computer does not mean you are a cameraperson or an editor. I agree on this point. But just because you make a living out of camerawork or editing doesn’t mean you are exclusively the best at either of them. There are many filmmakers who are derided as hobbyists or amateurs who spend hours and hours on their craft, driven by the love of what they do, and achieve incredible results.
It’s ironic, because I know many people in the film industry that don’t have a degree in film studies or film production yet they still talk about specialism.
“You have an English degree don’t you?” I would ask.
“Yes but it has been very useful in my role. I don’t think everyone needs to have a degree in media studies in order to make films. It isn’t rocket science.”
“But it is specialist?”
“Yes. But it is not something you can study. It’s more about experience really.”
“How should someone get experience?”
“Well, it’s a long, hard slog. You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time, and really be tenacious and push for what you want. It’s hard work.”
Most of the above is bollocks. Getting into film is about opportunity, a set of circumstances that make it possible for you to do something. Opportunity is not spread equally amongst all of us. Currently in filmmaking, white middle to upper class males with parents that can subsidize their employment are top of the opportunity list, because they can lift heavy equipment for little money. In the UK it is better if they live in or near London. Some organisations are keen to break this dominance by offering schemes to women or people from more diverse ethnic backgrounds. I applaud these schemes, but find it sad that we have to have them in the first place.
The 72 project tries to offer opportunity to others that may be overlooked otherwise. Admittedly, most people have expressed a commitment to filmmaking before our project and aren’t trying it for the first time, but devoting a short space of time to our project is more pragmatic for many than trying to afford six weeks of runner work on lo-or-no wage. We try to inspire and empower people by creating the opportunity, and we are repaid as they grab the opportunity and really run with it. They give us their best shot.
In many cases, their best shot is more valuable than the experience of a professional who shrugs and says ‘it can’t be done’, purely because they are keen to defend their own position and take as much time as possible. Let’s get economic about this; some practitioners would like to pretend that we are still in an age of scarcity when it comes to filmmaking skills. We are told that ‘not everyone can do it’. Perhaps not everyone can do it, but the ubiquity of the technology means more people can do it. So then experience becomes the scarcity value, just so the wages can be justified. Experience is a nice quantifiable benchmark that can drive up pay as the experience increases. But I believe this is only one of the facets that matter. I believe our value in future is dependent on a variety of attributes, all of which differ from person to person. These competencies include trouble-shooting, sense of humour, decision-making, versatility, time keeping. There are many more. Being competent or excellent in many different attributes becomes as much of a facet in employment as simply being talented at what you do. Quantifying these characteristics is difficult; therefore it is difficult to calculate your worth in the marketplace.
These various characteristics are certainly an asset in a 72 production. It doesn’t work if you are only in it for yourself. We are keen to uncover the collaborators, not the competitors. We are looking for people who can spot the opportunity and take it. The opportunity is to demonstrate how your contribution matters and counts. Recognising the importance of this opportunity is the key to a good crew. When people feel they have the opportunity to contribute they grow. Our job is to develop and deliver as many opportunities as possible.
 Hypocritical alarm bells are ringing; I am a white, middle class male with a grammar school education from the outskirts of London. Please don’t write the 72 project off as champagne socialism; even if you consider me to be a champagne socialist.