The entertainment industry is characterized by its long-hours and unpredictability with crew members’ availability subject to constant change. This makes it difficult for production to staff properly and efficiently. Crew Me Up is the database of filmmakers that adds structure to and centralizes the crew member hiring process, also making it easy for film professionals to expand their networks and explore job opportunities. The free service allows professionals to set up a profile that contains a link to a website, resume, and/or IMDB page to verify credibility. Employers are able to search availability in real-time through the database.
AlleyWatch caught up with CEO and Cofounder Joshua Friedman to learn more about the marketplace, how the pain points he experienced working in the entertainment industry since 2007 led to the launch of Crew Me Up, the experience navigating the pandemic when much of the entertainment industry was shut down, and much, much more…
Tell us about the product or service that Crew Me Up offers.
Crew Me Up is a mobile app reinventing the way filmmakers connect from the inside out. We offer a database of working filmmakers to hire in-app; we offer employers the opportunity to post or make an offer in a few clicks; we manage the hires in a calendar system for easy tracking and provide industry-tailored searches for short-term shift work.
What inspired the start of Crew Me Up?
Crew Me Up was born out of a personal need. It actually replaces me. I started as a production assistant (PA) on Law & Order: Criminal Intent back in 2007. As a PA, I wrote a book bridging the gap between film school and professional production called Getting It Done: The Ultimate Production Assistant Guide. I then worked 600 days on over 50 productions over three years in order to join the Directors Guild of America as an assistant director (AD). Throughout this journey, I was always looking for work or looking to hire crew in my department. I had a network of over 700 filmmakers in New York, but no way of knowing who’s available. I would literally make 60 phone calls to hire six people. And I’d have to do it while standing on set and focusing on the shooting day. When I noticed this problem back in 2014, I wasn’t in a position to do anything about it. Assistant directing led me to producing the movie Warning Shot starring Tammy Blanchard, David Spade, and James Earl Jones. During a prep tech scout, our gaffer, who provides light and power to the set, got into a disagreement with our director of photography, who is responsible for the creative look of the movie. It escalated to the point where we flew the gaffer back to New York and needed a last-minute replacement… in Texas. This was the point where I turned to my producing partners and asked… is there a resource out there that could find us qualified crew members anywhere and let us know if they were available? At the time, the only three options were Staffmeup, Mandy, or Craigslist, none of which satisfied all of our hiring requirements. I looked at my producing partners and restated the problem… “You’re telling me there’s no resource to find and hire available crew quickly and easily?” Crew Me Up became the solution.
Crew Me Up differs from the competition by flipping the power dynamic of the hiring model. Instead of an employer posting a job and blindly hoping for a response, Crew Me Up offers them a database of crew to hire. Each user profile contains a link to a website, resume, and/or IMDB page to verify credibility. We also offer an availability calendar so time is not wasted connecting with crew who are already working.
We do have competitors in the film and TV technology market. The main difference between our products is the approach. Most of our competitors have been outside the industry and view the problem from a higher level, but at Crew Me Up are in it and building our product from the inside out.
What market does Crew Me Up target and how big is it?
Crew Me Up targets anyone working in film, television, commercials, documentaries, and any other “behind the camera” gig in the United States. According to a 2018 MPAA study, our total U.S. market is around 660,000 filmmakers, with 115,000 of those filmmakers in our backyard of New York City.
If we are asking about the size of the financial opportunity, I would say it depends on which business model we focus on long term. As a SaaS platform, Crew Me Up is entering a market that spends upwards of $90B per year, roughly 40% of that on labor.
What is the business model?
Our current business model leverages partnerships and resources so we can bring the app to users on both the hiring and the crew side free of charge.
How has COVID-19 impacted the business?
COVID-19 has affected our business in many ways.
Inside the company, it forced us to downsize and rethink our approach to development. We are a community-based app, and our internal team is very important to us. It’s been hard to make good on promises when there are a lot of question marks in your marketplace. Fortunately, we’ve been seeing a pathway through to the other side.
COVID-19 has also affected our ability to raise capital. We’ve been working at this for a little over a year now, and my cofounder, Voravong Nachampassak, and I have chatted and pitched many VCs. One thing we learned is that our journey and pathway to success does not necessarily align with the VC model. We do appeal more to Angels, Family Offices, or Private Equity with a vested interest in the entertainment sector. Before COVID-19, we would go to networking events, happy hours, panels, pitch competitions, and many more places where it’s very easy to turn an elbow bump into a handshake. COVID has turned that into Zoom networking with five-person breakout rooms.
The chat becomes your sidebar conversation for follow-ups and loses the personal touch of a real conversation. Fortunately, we’ve found that investors we spoke to a year ago are impressed with the evolution of our business models and our perseverance enough to have new conversations about the potential for Crew Me Up in a post-pandemic world.
While there have been challenges, Crew Me Up has also had an opportunity during the pandemic to reshape the brand and connect with our users in different ways. COVID has created a new health & safety department with many new positions that didn’t exist before. Film crews now need access to PPE and testing, which we can help connect them to. Back in March, all of the work stopped. At that point, we decided to support our community by keeping them informed and up-to-date on the latest legislation and back-to-work practices, as well as news about productions that were up and running or down and out. We were able to connect with users we never would have had an opportunity to meet. The pandemic has been a very mixed bag.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
Complete our $1M Seed raise, 10X the number of crew members on our platform, secure and support 150 vendors on Crew Me Up, release our 2.0 version, launch a podcast interviewing working crew member, and release industry courses with partners like Film Launch.
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
Be patient and grow your company naturally. Early on I was mentored by some individuals who pitched me a nine-step startup plan for growth and scale. Within a year they had our company at 12 people with full salaries and benefits. I think the idea was to get ahead of whatever market need you are in… bigger, faster, stronger… burn and grow. But we didn’t want to be Myspace… we were looking to build Facebook. Knowing then what I know now, I would’ve taken a much different route though I am thankful for the lessons I’ve learned.
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
Tommy O’Donnell, head of IATSE Teamster Local 817. I’ve been working in film and television since I was a 22-year-old kid and the one constant in my life has been the brotherhood of teamsters. They’ve kept us safe after 16-20 hour days, banded together in times of hardship, and really supported our community by accepting underrepresented filmmakers into their ranks in departments other than transportation. We would love to support that kind of leader and organization.
I’ve been working in film and television since I was a 22-year-old kid and the one constant in my life has been the brotherhood of teamsters. They’ve kept us safe after 16-20 hour days, banded together in times of hardship, and really supported our community by accepting underrepresented filmmakers into their ranks in departments other than transportation. We would love to support that kind of leader and organization.
Why did you launch in New York?
New York is where I’ve put down roots. I moved here right after college, worked on Broadway, and fell into film and TV. This city and community have given me so much over the years. These personal ties, paired with the high concentration of people working in the film/TV industry, make it the obvious location choice for our company’s base.
What’s your favorite outdoor dining restaurant in NYC
44 and X on the Northeast corner of 44th Street & 10th Avenue. I’ve been going there for 10 years and have never had a bad meal.