Lesson 3: The Crew

The crew: the people who work on a film set? This is the rundown of all the main departments and positions on a film set. It does not matter if it is a Hollywood production, or small independent film, the crew is the same. On larger productions you’ll just have more people working in each department.

There is a hierarchy in the Hollywood system.

They call it above the line and below the line. The people above the line are none union, and are the talent, director, and DOP etc, they get paid way more! Below the line are gaffers, operators, and assistants.

On independent films this probably does not exist, and I have worked on indie films where I have done almost every one of the jobs during a single production. If you can do this, and I suggest you should, you will gain the best practical experience possible. If you want to direct, it is invaluable knowledge to have first hand experience of what everyone does on the film set.

The crew: from top to bottom:

Director: is the guiding light. The director is the one who has the vision, who ties it all together. On low budget productions the director might do a verity of jobs, on a big show, the director focuses on the talent, and getting the best performances possible.

Director of photography, or DOP:  realizes the directors vision through the lens of the camera, enhances actors performances, creates a particular film LOOK, mood, drama of light, in accordance to what the director wants.

Talent: the actors, the face that sells a film.

Unit Production Manager: over-sees the production from beginning to end, and makes sure it stays on budget. The unit production manager stays on set. Gets people in and out of hotels, takes care of the money.

Assistant director, or AD: the AD is the on-set organizer. AD gives out call sheets, organizes cast and crew, and gives crew commands to start filming.


Sound recordist:  on a big shoot there will also be a boom operator. The importance of this job should not be underestimated, audio is half of a film, and sometimes more than the image: on black you can still run sound. The sound recordist must work closely with the camera operator or DOP to get as close to the mouths of the actors without being in frame. Some say its the best job on a set because they are the first to leave, and the last to arrive on call sheets. They don’t have a lot of gear to set up: a couple of mics, and a recorder to carry.

Assistant camera: there can be up to 6 assistants. 1st assistant is the focus puller, 2nd assistant is the clapper/loader.  They set up the cameras, take care of the gear, and the film, or SD cards, labeling them etc.

Gaffer/best boy: they do the lighting, and have to do it quickly sometimes; must be in-tune with the DOP to know what the LOOK of the project is, so it can be created again and again. On big shows there will be lots of grips working under the head Gaffer.

Hair and makeup: responsible for making the actors look good, and consistently the same.

Continuity: This person controls the script in accordance to what was shot. They take pictures of set-ups, costumes, and sets, in order to remember what, and how, things where shot so that there will be continuity throughout the project. Why? Because films are seldom shot in chronological order, if the have to go back and re-shoot they will know how they shot it before.

Art director: responsible for making the set look good, they have boxes of props to dress the set, they have spray-paint to make raw turkeys look cooked, etc.

Craft services: this is probably the directors most important allies. Catering is paramount, and a well fed crew is a happy crew. Always feed people no matter what. Make sure you have tasty craft services.


Stuntmen: makes the talent look better and tougher than they already do.

Animal wrangler: is the beast master if you need animals on the set.

Special effects: if you need somthing blown up for real.

Location scout: pre-production mostly. They find the best locations to shoot.

Extras: background people

Continue to Lesson 4: Camera Shots and Angles 

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