The Dirty Dozen: Who Makes Up A Film Crew?

It occurred to me that I’ve been announcing crew members for a couple weeks, and that while most people reading this blog are probably filmmakers who know what these jobs are, there may be some who have no idea and have been shaking their fist at me. Or worse. Ignoring this blog completely! Well. This is something we should remedy.

While there are literally HUNDREDS of people who contribute to the making of a single film (you remember those eight minutes of credits?), there are a few essentials that you just can’t live without. This list of 12 jobs is the bare minimum, basically the extent of what a shoot the size of ours can afford.

(Note: I have not actually seen “The Dirty Dozen.” The title just fit the post. I do, however, give you permission to mock, deride, and otherwise insult me for my filmic ignorance.)

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

The Producer

The boss. Most people have no idea what a producer does. In fact, the term is so undefined even within the film industry that there is a story about a judge throwing out a law suit filed by a “producer” of a film, claiming that the public would be misled if she was not given appropriate credit. The judge said that because the industry itself can’t even agree on what being a producer means, then the public could not be misled by the “producer” not being credited as such.

But to put it simply, THE Producer (even if there are more listed) is the boss. It’s not the Director. It’s the Producer. He is the one who hires the director. To use an old-timey maritime analogy, the Producer is the guy who commissions the ship. He chooses where he wants to go and why and then hires the Captain (the Director) and the crew that he thinks will get him there. Often the Producer is the one who either comes up with the idea for the movie or buys the screenplay pre-written.

(By the by, I’m not listing the Screenwriter in this group, because, in my opinion, anyone who doesn’t understand the necessity of a good script and story has no business being in film. And no, I’m not going to point any fingers at specific examples of this.)

It’s interesting to note, also, that so many people, when they hate a movie, blame it on the Director or the Writer. But it’s not entirely their fault. They were hired, and their work was approved, by the Producer. So, if you hated “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (which I personally quite enjoyed), don’t blame Gore Verbinski or Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio. Blame Jerry Bruckheimer. And if you hated “Hulk” (which I haven’t seen), don’t blame Ang Lee or James Schamus. Blame Avi Arad.

Arguably one of the most powerful men in Hollywood and a veritable genius

The Director

This one’s a little easier to define. To use the same old-timey maritime analogy, the Director is the Captain of the ship. He decides exactly how to get to the destination, but he still has to answer to the guy who hired him.

The Director is in charge of the overall creative execution of the film. Often times he will be in charge of script rewrites. He works with the Director of Photography to create the visual style of the film and choose the shots. He works with the actors to try to get the best performances possible. And best of all, he gets to scream “Cut!” when things don’t go his way.

Every director's idol

Assistant Director

The Director’s right hand man. The equivalent of the First Officer or First Mate on board a ship. This is the guy who actually runs the crew, relays the orders, and makes sure everything is going the way it’s supposed to. Eric Sandefur just did a great blog on the subject, so click here to read more about this job that I would NEVER want.

Director of Photographer

Also known as the Cinematographer, he works with the Director to create and execute the visual aspects of the film. Often times he will also run the camera himself instead of using a designated Camera Operator. Sam Sullivant is in the middle of a series on this, so click here to see Part 1 of that.

Assistant Camera

This is an interesting job. On the surface, running the camera may seem like a simple job, but when you take into account all the equipment necessary, including the camera, the lenses, the matte box, the tripods, the follow focuses, the cables, etc, etc, etc, whoever is running the camera needs at least one more person helping him out. This person will “check the gate” to make sure there was no debris in the camera during the take that would screw up the shot, he’ll swap out lenses if the DP or the Operator think they need to change the focal length, and best of all, the “2nd Assistant Camera” (usually) gets to manage the slate. Always fun.

Very excited for this...

Script Supervisor

This job actually has nothing to do with actually writing the script. The Script Supervisor is in charge of continuity and making sure that everything that needs to be shot actually does get shot. On older films, you might see the position credited as “Script Girl,” though that was apparently rather un-PC, so they changed it (why they haven’t change Best Boy, I don’t really know). She keeps track of each shot, making note of any comments anyone makes about it such as “airplane noise” or “performance too big.” This way, when it comes time to edit, the Editor (who I won’t be talking about in this post even though he certainly is vital) has a sort of cheat sheet as to which shots should work and which shouldn’t.

She is also in charge of Continuity. What is continuity? Making sure everything in one shot is logically the same as what’s in the next shot. For instance, if a character puts on his sunglasses in one shot, then he darn well better have his sunglasses on in the next shot. There’s a maddening moment towards the end of Sense & Sensibility where Emma Thompson is handed a cup of tea twice in back to back shots. Love that movie, but that scene…grr…

Gaffer

While in some ways you could call the Gaffer the Electrician for the movie, it’s far more than that. The Gaffer is in charge of the lighting. He works very closely with the Director of Photography and the Director on the visual look of the film. He’s charge of the size of the light, the positioning of the light, the color of the light. If you like the lighting in a scene, you are appreciating the work of both the Cinematographer and the Gaffer.

But even though the Gaffer is more than just the Electrician, he is also in charge of power on the set. With so much equipment needed to make a movie, from cameras to lights to monitors to sound boards to coffee pots, knowing exactly how much power is available and how best to distribute that power is key. Do we need a generator? How big? How many lights can we run off this circuit? Does the hair dresser have the power she needs for hair dryers and curling irons? It’s a big job. That’s why the Gaffer has a right hand man: The Best Boy! That’s right people. The Best Boy is the Gaffer’s key assistant and back-up. Now you know.

Grips

This is actually a fairly self-explanatory position. They’re in charge of the equipment that “grips” stuff, like lights, flags, scrims, dolly track, etc. Grips I know actually joke about being Lego men. Their hands are just there to hold things.

But they do far more than just hold stuff. It actually takes a lot of creativity to be a good Grip. Improvisational skills are mandatory. Say, for instance, the Gaffer needs to hang a light at a specific angle from a position where the light simply will not hang. It’s the Grip’s job to figure out how to do it and do it fast. A good grip crew, led by a good Key Grip, can make the difference between making your day and staying on budget, and getting shut down in the second week for only getting one shot a day completed.

Production Coordinator

This job is sometimes rolled into the Assistant Director’s job on smaller films, but it’s worth talking about. The Production Coordinator is charge of the…production. Is the location secured? Where is Craft Services positioned? If we’re running electricity off the grid, where is the access point? If the “circus” (the film term for all the trailers) needs to be moved, does the Transportation Coordinator know exactly where he’s moving it all to? While the Assistant Director has a narrower focus, the set and shooting itself, the Production Coordinator has a birds-eye view, making sure everything else is running smoothly.

Sound Recordist

Another fairly self-explanatory position, the Sound Recordist records the sound. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as just hitting “record” on a tape recorder. The Sound Recordist needs to place the microphones where they will be most effective and yet not seen by the camera (even if that means attaching them to the actor). He needs to make sure the levels are correct and that the audio is as clean as possible, meaning are there any audio anomalies screwing up the take like airplane noise or hammering from a carpenter who didn’t hear “Quiet on set!” He also directs the Boom Operator as to where he needs to be and where he needs to place the mic.

The Boom Operator, the guy with the long pole with a mic at the end, is not usually the same guy running the sound board. Both jobs take too much focus. However, because “NOW UPON A TIME” is essentially going to be shot “MOS” (mit out sound, a fancy way of saying “silent”), the Sound Recordist and Boom Operator will be one in the same as he will only be needed to capture general sound for reference when we do sound design in post.

Hair and Make-Up

They do Hair and Make-Up. Need more? Fine. Doing Hair and Make-Up on a film set is far more than just putting lip stick on an actress or curling her hair before shooting. The Make-Up artist has to work with the Gaffer and DP to make sure the lights and the make-up are blending well on camera. If the foundation is even slightly off in color, or even just based differently (oil instead of something else, for instance), the lights may react to the make-up in a very unflattering way.

And no, these artists don’t get to go home as soon as the actor leaves the chair to go shoot. They have to maintain CONTINUITY. The actor has been sweating and is now shinier than he was in previous takes, so more powder needs to be applied. The actress’s hair was straightened before this shot, but this is take 12 and it’s started to frizz again. Need to restraighten. The hero is bruised in the fight scene, but there are 20 different shots in this fight scene that takes place over a three minute time period. Is the bruise identical throughout? No? Time to touch up. Big job. On a smaller film, it’d be nice to consolidate both these positions into one, having one person handle both Hair and Make-Up, but it’s very rare to find one person proficient enough in both arts.

Costumes

While a HUGE department even on the smallest of films, I’ll be discussing this position as if it was a single person, like it most likely will be on “NOW UPON A TIME.” More than designing the costumes, the Costume Supervisor needs to actually manage the costumes on set, as in making sure the costumes are actually on set when they need to be. She is in charge of costume continuity. If the actor’s collar is up in one shot, then it should be up in the next. But on a larger scale also. If the actor dives into the ocean in one scene, then any scene that happens later that day in the story should take that into account (just ask the guys at “psych“). Often times the costume department is also in charge of actually building the costumes, sewing them from patterns given to them by the designer (if they are separate people as they usually are) or in collecting the costumes from stores, going out and finding just the right necklace or shoes or leather jacket.

Well, I’m done. Hopefully that will help you understand more of what all those credits at the end of a movie actually mean and what you need, at the very least, to make a movie of your own. I only talked about actual Production positions, positions you would actually have on set. Pre-Production and Post-Production, not to mention Distribution, have many, many, many more.

This week’s lesson:
You’re going to make a movie all by yourself?
…excuse me while I can’t stop laughing…

-BB

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P.S. I accidentally hit the “Post” button too early today, so if you Subscribers got an incomplete post sent to your e-mail, I apologize.

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3 Responses to The Dirty Dozen: Who Makes Up A Film Crew?

  1. kp says:

    Why is Ahmadinejad in that pic of The Dirty Dozen??? Really, look, there he is, on the end! And you hit the Post button “too” early. 🙂

    • Man. Why are you and your sister so hostile? So I made a mistake. You know there are too ways to spell two. And I corrected it to, see? Oh, and I think Ahmawhosits was too young to be in this movie. Auditioned, but got cut. Then went insane after the movie became a hit…maybe…

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