A lot goes into making a movie – when you sit down in the theater to watch the latest blockbuster, you are seeing the result of years of hard work by dozens or even hundreds of people. From the writing room to the film crew to the editing bay, major films pass through many different hands to produce the best possible experience. There are potentially hundreds of credits listed at the end of a feature film, thanks to rise of CGI and sheer hours of manpower needed to produce quality visual effects. For instance, take the credits of Avengers: Infinity War, which has more people in the VFX department than some movies have in their entire film crew!
When looking through these credits, you may have noticed some funky-looking positions. Grip? Gaffer? What in the world is a Best Boy? Let’s look at all the major positions on a standard film set, as well as some more obscure roles that are more important than you think.
Director – Leader of the Film Crew
This is the biggest one and requires the least amount of explanation. The director is the main creative influence over the film and oversees the largest areas of the production. They “direct” the actors, but their creative input goes much deeper than that. They have final say over the feel of the movie, choosing the tone, locations, props, and many other creative decisions.
Cinematographer / Director of Photography
Many people confuse this role with the director. The cinematographer works closely with the director to achieve the final look of the film. They determine the placement of lights, which camera and lenses to use, and may even provide input on blocking and staging. Some cinematographers operate the camera themselves, while others choose to let a dedicated cameraperson take over. (Some directors even operate the camera). Typically, the director will decide how they want a film to look, and the cinematographer will execute their vision. They’re an essential film crew position!
Assistant Director / 1st AD
The assistant director handles the logistics of the film set and manages the film crew. You will typically find them not too far from the director, reminding them how much time they have left to shoot a scene. Their responsibilities are to keep the production on schedule by communicating with the major players on the film crew, preparing daily call sheets, and making sure everything is running smoothly.
Focus Puller / 1st AC
The focus puller’s job is obvious: to pull focus! While the camera operator is the one positioning and framing the camera, the focus puller is nearby, operating the focus knob. This is one of the most important jobs on the film crew, because if a shot is out of focus, it is unusable. The 1st AC (assistant camera) is also responsible for running the camera department and maintaining the camera equipment. They may measure the distance between the subject and the camera to mark focus points, or leave this responsibility to the 2nd AC.
A second assistant camera’s main responsibility is to operate the clapperboard, or slate at the beginning of each take. The slate contains information on the shot and take, and the “clap” noise is used to sync the footage and audio (if recorded separately). If the movie is being shot on film, traditionally the 2nd AC will load the film into the camera.
The gaffer is the head electrician on the film crew. They work closely with the cinematographer to make the lighting setups needed for the film a reality. The cinematographer will design the lighting of the scene, and the gaffer will implement it. The gaffer runs the entire electric department, supervising a team of grips.
Grips transport and operate heavy lighting equipment such as lights, stands, flags, dollies, cranes, and more. This is the most physical and hard-working role on the film crew. The leader of the grips is called the Key Grip.
There are two types of best boy: best boy electric and best boy grip. The best boy electric is an assistant to the gaffer, while the best boy grip as an assistant to the key grip. They handle the logistics of hiring, scheduling, and equipment rental, as well as unloading the production truck and coordinating with the rest of the crew.
A script supervisor maintains “continuity” in the film – they note the wardrobes, props, and actions of the actors during a scene, so it stays coherent through multiple takes. Movies are shot out of chronological order and often over a period of months, so it is essential that a script supervisor is on the film crew to keep each take clean and without error.
A production assistant, or PA, is a catch-all role on the film crew. This entry-level position may drive talent and crew to and from set, deal with extras, put up signage or block of walkways when shooting in public, grab coffee and lunch for the rest of the crew, hold equipment, and generally do whatever they are asked to do! Many of those who work in higher-level roles on set start out as production assistants.
There Are (Many) More Roles on the Film Crew
These are a few of the roles you will find on a traditional film crew, although depending on the size, there may be a few missing (or on larger films, many more roles not covered in this article!) You can learn more about the filmmaking process from beginning to end through the F.I.R.S.T. Institute Film & Video program. Click here to learn more!