Docuseries Mini 106: How to seek out the right people for your docuseries team?

Play Episode

If you can’t see the player above, click here to listen.

If you are an entrepreneur like me running a small company, hiring is inevitable. It’s a lot of work, but if you are lucky, the right people perhaps are already present in your life who are eager to jump on a project with you. In that case the only work remaining is to figure out scheduling details. 

If that’s not the case, you’ll have to seek them out by effective evaluation. Lots of trial and error. 

Managing people add complexity, especially if they are family or friends. The one key advice is to make sure you have a contract, especially if they are close to you. Find an attorney if you have no experience in preparing for a contract. If you care about the person (which I’m sure you do in most cases), then sit down and go through the contract together and then you can put it behind you. 

Who helped in making the Feisworld Docuseries? (In case you don’t know the answer to this…)

For a while (and still today), people ask me this question all the time. Knowing that I didn’t come from a filmmaking background, I clearly didn’t do this on my own. Nobody can shoot a docuseries by himself. Well, not the type of docuseries we are going after anyway. 

Of the three people I traveled with, two of them came from the Blue Man Group. Dan (my producer) still performs from time to time, and Ed (my director) has left Blue Man Group and built his own video production studio in Vegas. The third person is Rosie (PA) and a “Mrs. Blue Man” to Ed. 

People who play well together with each other (accepting and open) 

Unlike other short term projects, or projects where you can easily isolate   a deliverable for someone to pick up and complete, documentary/filmmaking works differently. The core team work together all the time, very much like a band. 

Feisworld docuseries team isn’t alone in this. Before we started preproduction, I consulted with a few industry friends, who echoed the same and prepared me for what was about to happen. You are going to eat, drink and live with these people for a considerable amount of time (during production). 

In terms of effort, Feisworld docuseries isn’t a complex project given the time and budget we had. Still, you are looking at a minimum of 6-8 months from beginning to finish. Our production took a few weeks on the road, where I spent everyday together with the core team. It was an unforgettable experience for me as an adult. In fact, I had never traveled with anyone for weeks who wasn’t a close family or friend. 

It was very helpful that several of my team members already knew each other well and are friends for years before they met me. They got along, and didn’t mind challenging each other on ideas, revisiting some of the decisions made without hard feelings. 

With that said, I remember clearly stating my expectation: “Guys, we are going to be tired, likely exhausted creatively, emotionally and physically. If any issue comes up, let’s make sure to talk about it openly and try to be accepting and open. OK? Please?”

Most things went well as planned, which is rare to say in video production. 

People need to be talented, sure, but reliable and happy are more important quality measures

Talent alone is not enough. Often the most talented are the also the most difficult to manage. I was very lucky to have worked with some incredible people on the team with ZERO attitude. The creatives on Feisworld worked and lived like they are genuinely happy with their lives. They were very interested in the docuseries. Instead of treating the work as a project, we thought it was an opportunity for us to grow and learn new things as a team. 

I often tell people, if you have to choose between talent vs. reliable, you’d be much better off choosing picking people who are a little less talented than you’d like, but a lot more reliable than you think you need them to be. 

People you trust & share you vision

Choosing the right people can be life-changing. Not only will it enable the delivery of your dream project, more importantly, you’re gonna enjoy the process that much more. The best outcome? You’ll be inspired and motivated to do it again and again. 

When you are surrounded by people you can trust, you can breathe more deeply, learn more quickly. You know you’ll be OK when you feel exceptionally vulnerable at times. 

Trust me when I say there’s nothing to date I felt more vulnerable than trying to shoot a docuseries and be in front of the camera expressing myself - I even cried during one of the recording which you’ll see in the finished episode with Sarah Cooper. 

The shared vision part is critical and most difficult to seek out. It’s an area where you can’t quite take people’s words for it. Sure, most people know to be on their best behaviors during a job interview, but what they do on the job is what counts. That’s hard to predict isn’t it?

So, how would you know, or assess if someone’s for real

Consider one on one conversations, and don’t be lazy. I suggest using Zoom or Skype with the video turned on if you don’t live close enough to sit at a coffee shop. Open up the conversation and don’t just ask technical questions such as how well they operate a camera, their philosophy on filmmaking. Instead, ask them about their lives, what they value, what gets them excited. 

When you don’t go for the canned questions, and you won’t can canned answers. 

If you are going to spend the money and time on making a video or a film, you might as well spend time to seek out the right people.  

For me, the right move was the consider the people I already worked with, or at least have someone on the team you are familiar with. In the case of Feisworld, all the major players - director, producer, editor are people I knew well, trust and eager to work with again. 

People who are resilient (don’t sweat the small things) 

In previous episodes of the Docuseries Minis, I remember repeatedly calling out the high probabilities of things going wrong. People might get sick, guests might cancel the recording, the location might not work out, the weather can turn on us, the airbnb isn’t what we expected, the rental car is not available, the list goes on. There’s no way to predict what’s going to happen on any given day. 

You want people who can laugh it off, move on and help you find solutions. 

Don’t sweat the small things, or the big things really. The panic, stress, blame won’t help anyone or any situation. The process of making a docuseries is the antichrist of office politics. You have to come together as a team, as people and make decisions quickly. Fail, get up and do it again. 


About the Feisworld Mini Series
How to Produce a your First Small Budget Docuseries

This mini podcast series was launched in November 2018 as part of Feisworld Podcast, releasing new episodes every 2-3 weeks with learnings captured and distilled from Feisworld Docuseries. You don’t need a fancy degree or a big budget. Our minis are built in with templates and examples you can use right away. Everything in plain English, and no industry jargons.

Docuseries, PodcastFei Wu