We all watch our favourite movies on-screen but have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes on a film set? Our love for cinema would not be possible without the hard work of the film crew so let’s look into the job roles available in the unseen side of the industry.
The film crew is hired by the production company making the film. There are 11 main departments that are crucial on a film set. These include:
- Lighting & Grip
- Makeup & Wardrobe
- Script & VTR
- Stunts & FX
- Food Services
Let’s talk about the responsibilities of the above departments!
1) The Art Department
The art department is usually one of the biggest departments. A few of these job roles can include:
Art Director, Set Designer, Set Decorator, Props Master, Graphic Artist, Illustrator, and Special Effects.
An art director collaborates with the production designer and is responsible for the design and construction of a movie set. They oversee the ‘look’ and ‘feel’ of the film as it develops.
A prop master maintains and organises accounts for all props required for production. The prop could be any piece of decor that can be moved on to the set easily. This could include items such as: books, food, instruments, pets, or any other items that need to be captured in the scene.
Prop makers are the designers and sculptors that construct unique and specialised set props that are not readily available. This individual will build the props using various materials including: styrofoam, plastics, electronics, metals, woods, and sometimes even glass. Prop makers could have a background in machinery, construction, and sculpting techniques.
The set designer/decorator makes the decisions on the type of furnishing and decorations that are going to be used on set. They work very closely with the art director and production designer. The types of items that could be used are : paintings, fabrics, and non-movable decorative set pieces.
Graphic artists are responsible for the design and creation of graphic design elements including: billboards, posters, logos, signs, and more – all unique created specifically for the film. There will often be several versions of a design, with the final artwork chosen by the production designer. On some occasions, the graphic artist might also be employed under the direction of the props master to create fliers, receipts, and bills.
A storyboard artist creates a series of illustrations and sketches that are based on the director’s vision of the overall film during pre-production. The sketches will demonstrate the camera angles, characters, and set designs revolving around the film. The illustrations are then forwarded to other head departments with tasks to bringing the storyboard to life.
2) The Sound Department
Production Sound Mixer
Sound mixers take the audio generated during test filming’s and record them into flash media cards. They will assign each actor the necessary microphones needed. The mixer will then record the actors on separate channels which will give them the ability to adjust audio levels of each mic individually. It is this mixer’s job to ensure all audio is recorded to the highest quality as this will provide more flexibility in post-production. The sound mixer supervises the boom operator and the sound utility person.
Boom Operator / Utility Person
The boom operator is the assistant to the sound mixer. This person is usually responsible for the correct positioning of the microphone boom pole during filming. The operator is required to hold the boom pole for several minutes at a time, which can be physically demanding. This person must also be able to follow the actor’s movements while manoeuvring through the various cameras and lighting. This is one of the most challenging roles for achieving the best possible audio.
3) The Camera Department
There are five main camera operators that work on a film set. They are: Camera Operator, Camera Assistant (1st AC)
Camera Assistant (2nd AC), Camera Operator (Jib Arm/Crane) and all have important roles on a film set.
There are two types of camera operators on a film set. The main camera operator controls and operates the camera during filming whilst controlling the shot’s framing and camera movements, as instructed by the director of photography. The second camera operator is known as an aerial photographer. The aerial photographer is qualified to film aboard aerial devices. This usually refers to small airplanes and helicopter filming, but most recently, the use of drone cameras are being widely used as well. The camera operators works closely with two (AC) camera assistants.
Camera Assistant (1st AC)
The first (AC) is the chief assistant to the camera operator. This person will be in charge of measuring and pulling focus during filming. They also thread the film through the camera when a new magazine is loaded and is responsible to set-up and build the camera as well as maintaining and cleaning the camera and lenses.
Camera Assistant (2nd AC)
The second (AC) is known as the loader. This person is responsible for loading and unloading the new rolls of film into the different magazines as well as maintaining and filling out camera reports to the film lab. It’s also their job to run the slate or clapper to maintain sync and correct labelling for each and every shot made on set.
Camera Operator (Jib Arm/Crane)
The role of a camera operator for a crane was created in response to the popular use of digital video formats. This is a mechanical camera crane also known as the jib arm. This is used for large shots that require elevation and smooth motion
As well as camera operators there are also data wranglers, digital imaging technicians, director of photography, production skills, steadicam operators, and videographers.
Data wrangling has become a popular job position due to a rise in digital video formats. The data wrangler is responsible for organising, labelling, downloading, duplicating and reformatting the digital storage disks for use on set and in the editing room.
Digital Imaging Technician
A digital imaging technician uses image manipulation to achieve the highest possible image quality during production. They will also manage the transferring and storage of image data.
Director of Photography
The director of photography is in charge of the overall visual look of a film as seen through the camera. They recommend which cameras and lenses to use during production and collaborate with the director to design the framing and camera movements. They are also in charge of the camera crew, lighting design and collaborating with the gaffer.
This person will document the making of a film by taking still photographs throughout production. They also photograph the images used for marketing purposes such as movie posters and DVD boxes.
The steadicam is a camera mounting device that uses a mechanical arm attached to a body harness to provide smooth hand-held shots. A steadicam operator is responsible for setting up and operating the steadicam during production. Most steadicam operators are physically fit due to the amount of strength and endurance needed to operate the steadicam.
A videographer will put together the video that documents the behind-the-scenes making of a film. This video is not normally used in the final version of the film and is only for documentation purposes.
4) The Production Department
There are many people that work in the production department. They will be: Assistant Director (1st AD), Assistant Director (2nd AD), Director, Line Producer, Producer, Production Coordinator, Production Designer, Production Manager, and Production Secretary.
Assistant Director (1st AD)
The 1st assistant director works closely with the production manager and the director to make the shooting schedule as efficient as possible. The assistant director breaks down the script into a shooting schedule and also helps manage the scheduling of talent, crew and equipment needed for each day. They will also assist in directing the background extras in a scene.
Assistant Director (2nd AD)
The 2nd assistant director works directly with the 1st assistant director to accomplish their duties. The call sheets for each shooting day are also created by the 2nd assistant director. They will help manage the scheduling of talent, crew and equipment that is needed for each day. The 2nd AD also helps the 1st AD in directing the background extras.
The director is the leading creative artist on a movie set and will personally work with the actors on their performances. They have final creative control on almost every aspect of the film. The director is usually hired by the producer and plays a large role in casting, script revisions, shot composing and editing.
The producer helps organise the entire production and develop the script into a workable project. They assist with the hiring of actors and crew members whilst keeping track of the finances throughout production. The producer oversees the script progress and often assists in creating final distribution plans for the movie.
Many individuals start their careers in the film industry as a production assistant. A production assistant undertakes general duty or other tasks that the production heads may need. Basic duties may include: Dispersing walkie-talkies, setting up stents and tables, running basic errands as needed and attaining any other last-minute item that the production might need. It is essential that the production assistant has their own transportation to perform these errands.
The production manager works closely with the production coordinator. This person helps supervise the organisation and distribution of the production budget, crew, equipment scheduling, salaries, day rates, and any other office related paperwork. This person reports budget needs to the line producer to keep the production under budget on a day-to-day basis.
The production designer works with the director and is responsible for the design and overall visual (look) and (feel) of a movie. This includes the use of costumes, landscapes, props and other visual scenery that could reflect the movie script.
A production coordinator is responsible for coordinating the (behind-the-scenes) logistics such as: renting equipment, hiring crew members, and coordinating talent. In addition, they may handle the paperwork needed to organise the production. For this reason, the production coordinator is an important crew member and ensures the production stays on budget and time.
The production secretary is the assistant to the production manager. They assist with the paperwork for the crew and equipment scheduling, timecards and invoicing, crew deal memo’s and other related office materials. The production secretary usually helps complete most of the paperwork needed to finish the production.
5) The Lighting and Grip Department
The best boy is the lead electrician on set and is in charge of all other electricians. They operate, adjust and balance the electrical load on the generator where required. They are responsible for distributing the electrical cabling properly providing the required power to each light.
The electricians set up and operate all the lighting instruments and cabling as instructed by the best boy or gaffer. This is a physically demanding job due to the large number of heavy lights and cabling often required. Electricians must be knowledgeable of HMI lighting as well as changing and installing bulbs correctly.
The gaffer is also known as the chief lighting technician who is responsible for developing a lighting plan according to the Director of Photography. The job requires to inform the best boy and key grip on where and which lights are to be placed. The gaffer is in charge of creating the best possible lighting scenario according to the camera framing.
Grips are when the shape of the light is provided by the electricians. This includes creating pattern and shadow effects, colouring light, diffusing light or blocking light. The grips provide what is built around the lights to create the quality of light that the gaffer desires. They also provide a variety of special rigging, securing and safety measures on set.
The key grip is the lead grip on a film set and in charge of all other grips. The key grip and best boy collaborate with the gaffer and director of photography to create the best tactic for accomplishing a shot. This person oversees the camera rigging mechanisms as well as managing the light blocking and diffusing techniques.
6) The Script & VTR Department
The script supervisor works closely with the director by taking detailed notes about what has been shot, needs to be shot, and also notes any deviations from take to take, making sure that the dialogue corresponds with the script. They also take logging notes that are essential in the post-production process such as locating shots and finding the best takes. The script supervisor might also assume the role of continuity, ensuring the consistency between scenes and shots.
The teleprompter is a device that mounts to the front of the camera and contains a scrolling text for the actor to read while looking into the lens. The teleprompter operator helps set-up the teleprompter on the camera as well as the computer that provides the scrolling text program. This will usually be given the script ahead of time in order to enter it into the computer before arriving on set. This technique is also used by newscasters and presenters during live television.
Video Assist Operator
The video assist person operates the VTR (Video Tape Recorder) during production. Most film cameras include a video tape that allows the VTR to record and instantly playback what has been filmed. It’s impossible to review (35mm) film without it being processed in the laboratory first, so this can be an especially useful tool on set. The term ‘video assist’ is used to describe the record and playback process. Reviewing the footage instantly allows the director to confirm performances, camera focus, framing, choreography and other elements for accuracy.
7) The Stunts and FX Department
The pyro technician is sometimes known as the armourer. They are responsible for the handling, maintenance and care of all firearms, weapons and pyrotechnics that are used during filming. This includes all live-action explosives and battle scene pyro effects. Pyro technicians are trained and certified to handle these dangerous props and explosives.
Special Effects Coordinator
The special effects coordinator designs and supervises the various effects needed for filming through the use of mechanical and/or optical illusion techniques. The coordinator provides the visual elements needed such as recreating weather elements or assisting with props that break, shatter, collapse, burn, smoke or explode. They also provide the special mechanical rigging that allows an actor to ‘fly’.
Special Effects Technician
The special effects technician works under the special effects coordinator and assists in creating the visual elements needed such as weather elements. They also help build the special mechanical rigging that harnesses the actor.
The stunt coordinator manages and coordinates the dangerous action sequences in a movie that require a stuntman or stunt performer. The coordinator must follow the appropriate safety regulations during filming to ensure the safety of every stunt performer is at its highest. Stunts might be jumping, flipping, diving, free-falling, crashing cars, catching fire, underwater stunts and other dangerous action sequences where stunt doubles are needed.
8) The Makeup and Wardrobe Department
The makeup artist applies and creates a variety of looks on the actors and actresses skin with makeup from current trends to classic or period pieces. The artist creates a look according to the director’s vision often inspired by the character’s story.
Special Effects Makeup
The prosthetics or special effects makeup artist uses a range of techniques for applying and gluing different materials such as latex and gelatine which are used on the face or skin of an actor. The most commonly used prosthetic makeup techniques can include: blood, burns, guts, gore, creatures, ageing special effects and more.
This person is responsible for styling and maintaining the talent’s hair throughout filming. The hair stylist is equipped with all of the appropriate supplies needed for the hair styling process. The stylist works closely with the make-up artist to attain the best possible look for the actors and actresses.
The costume designer decides which wardrobes and costumes actors will wear based on the script and character portrayals. This person will create or choose clothing patterns, designs, colours, sizes and accessories for each wardrobe needed during production. The costume designer can sometimes have several assistants to help them to organise, disperse and maintain the costumes used by the cast.
The wardrobe stylist works closely with the costume designer and assists with preparing everything related to the actors’ clothing, costumes and wardrobe. Common tasks of a wardrobe assistant are maintaining and styling the wardrobes worn by the actors. They also assist in helping to organise, distribute and account for all the costumes used on set.
9) The Locations Department
This person is in charge of attaining all the legal permits and other clearances needed to gain permission for filming in a location. The location manager also takes care of processing location permit fees. On some smaller shoots the location manager assists in coordinating the parking of vehicles.
The location scout is one of the first crew members to be contacted on a production. The scout assists in finding the filming locations according to the producer and directors’ choice. The person will often have a large database of location photographs to show before travelling to the location for filming.
10) The Food Department
The food stylist will prepare and arrange food in an appealing way to be used in photographs, commercials or movies. This person usually has an extensive background in cooking, recipe development, and the ability to achieve creative solutions for making the food look its most attractive.
Assistant Food Stylist
The assistant food stylist assists the lead food stylist in the preparations and arrangements of food. They will have an extensive background in cooking, recipe development, and the ability to assist in achieving creative solutions for making the food look its most attractive.
This is separate from catering. Craft services is the various snacks and beverages provided to the film crew throughout the day. The person in charge of craft services sets up and maintains a station near production that provides these snacks and beverages. The craft service person is given a budget prior to attaining all refreshments.
11) The Transportation Department
The transportation coordinator is also known as the gang boss. This person organises and provides vehicles and transportation for the crew, equipment and actors to and from the filming locations. The transportation coordinator deploys the appropriate vehicles and drivers at the scheduled times to keep the production flowing and on budget. They also work closely with the locations manager in attaining the proper parking permits and parking locations for all vehicles.
The transportation driver works under the supervision of the transportation captain. They drive and operate all provided production vehicles to and from filming locations. This includes the transport of all crew, equipment and actors safely to and from the film set whilst staying on schedule. Types of production vehicles may include: cube trucks, passenger vans, stake beds, flatbeds, limos, cars or any other required production vehicle.
Now you know how much work goes into making a movie, the next time you go to the cinema, are you going to think differently? Do you think you could work on a film set? Did you learn something new? I certainly did!
By Sasha Sidhu