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Get a Grip: A Guide to Key Production Crew Roles

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A video or film production is a collaborative process — it often takes departments full of people to complete the required tasks and responsibilities. The average number of credited crew members on a major studio film is around 600, but it can go much higher. Iron Man, for instance, credited just over 3,000. If you’re like me, though, you’re doing projects with a skeleton crew, or often by yourself. However, whether or not you have the need (or the budget) for a Hollywood-size crew, it’s always a good idea to have a working knowledge of the various positions you can employ on a shoot.

Side View Timelapse of Camera Crew Producing Video by Paha_L

Below is a rundown of common crew positions and a brief description of each of their responsibilities. You’ll obviously be familiar with the more high-profile positions at the top of the list (actors, screenwriter, director), but the deeper you go, the more you’ll pick up.

Above-the-line vs. Below-the-line: You’ll often hear of production budgets separating above-the-line and below-the-line crew members. Above-the-line members contribute to the creative influence, while below-the-line members are responsible for the physical production. In the early days of studio production, budgets would have an actual line separating the two.

ABOVE-THE-LINE

Producer: A producer runs a production throughout all phases, from development to completion. They hire, raise money, coordinate with distributors, and contribute to the creative vision.

Director: The director develops the creative vision of a project. Directors work with actors, block scenes, set shot angles, and determine the rhythm and flow of the production. They also determine lighting and locations, and often influence the editing.

Screenwriter: The screenwriter researches, develops, and creates the narrative. Screenwriters are often hired by a producer to develop a story or rewrite an existing script. They also create their own original material to pitch, option, and sell to producers.

Woman Typing on a Typewriter Close Up by magicmore

Actor: Often referred to as the “talent.” Actors conduct research and study characters to give them life during filming. They often contribute to the character development before portraying them on screen.

Actor and TV Studio by JUMPCUTFILMS

BELOW-THE-LINE

Production Department

Executive Producer: An investor in the production. There are often many executive producers on a given project.

Line Producer: Manages the day to day physical aspects of a film, such as the budget. They communicate between the above-the-line and below-the-line crew.

Production Manager: Usually reports to the Line Producer and supervises the Production Coordinator. They drive crew members to keep the production within budget and on schedule.

Production Coordinator: Handles the logistics of production. They hire crew, sign talent, and schedule equipment rentals, etc.

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Production Secretary: Offers administrative help to the Production Manager and Production Coordinator.

Production Accountant: Manages finances and financial records during production.

Post-production Supervisor: Manage communication between Producer, Editor and Supervising Sound Editor during post production.

First Assistant Director (1st AD): Assists the Director. They often call action on the set, direct various departments to turn-around, and ensure that all shots are achieved in a given day. Because time is money, and meal and overtime penalties are money, the AD is charged with being extremely time and cost effective. The AD is the most vocal, dominant person on set. He runs the show as the director focuses on actors’ performances and collaborates on visuals with the DP and PD. All departments generally answer to the AD, as he is authorized to speak for the director himself.

Second Assistant Director (2nd AD): Assists the First AD. Uses call sheets to communicate schedule and details of the day’s shoot.

Third Assistant Director (3rd AD): Organizes actors moves, crowd scenes, manages Productions Runners.

Production Assistant/Runner (PA): Assists the ADs with general on-set operations. PAs are given basic assignments to assist various departments and must complete these assignments effectively and efficiently. This is an entry-level position which can transition up to other departments once the PA has proven themselves reliable and worthy of promotion. Screw up, and you likely won’t get a second chance on a given production.

Script Supervisor: Track filmed scenes with extensive notes about prop positions, blocking, and acting. They ensure continuity from shot to shot. Work closely with director and AD.

Stunt Coordinator: Manages stunts, working closely with the Director.

Gunman Gets Shot and Falls Inside Warehouse by jlutsky

Script Department

Story Producer: In serialized productions, the story producer manages a story throughout a season.

Script Editor: The script editor identifies script problems and helps to correct them.
 

Location Department

Location Manager: The location manager secures locations, permits, and manages costs.

Location Assistant: Assists the location manager. The location assistant arrives first on set and leaves last. He or she manages the organization and cleanliness of the location.

Location Scout: This is the person who does the initial scouting, based on the requirements of the production.
 

Camera Department

Director of Photography/Cinematographer: Also known as the DP, he or she manages the camera and grip and electric departments. The DP works with the Director to develop creative lighting and shot compositions. The DP also is in charge of selecting film stocks, camera settings, and lighting schemes.

Camera Operator: Like the name says, this person operates the camera.

First Assistant Camera (1st AC): Maintains camera focus during filming, builds and breaks down camera packages along with the 2nd AC/loader.

Second Assistant Camera (2nd AC): Operates the clapper board to sync timecode. Manages film stock and attaches magazines to camera.

Loader: This person loads film in magazines and removes it after filming. Sometimes this job will be part of the 2nd AC duties.

Digital Imaging Technician (DIT): Manages the technical use of a digital camera. Frequently works with a waveform monitor to ensure color gamut and exposure accuracy and assistance in color grading or telecine.

Data Wrangler: Transfers data from a camera to digital storage.

Steadicam Operator: This is a specialist who operates a stabilizer/steadicam.

Cameraman Shooting a Model by Cameraman_Kiev

Motion Control Technician/Operator: Operates a motion control rig.

Video Split/Assist Operator: Operates monitors used by the Director to watch film takes on-set.
 

Sound Department

Production Sound Mixer: Manages the sound department and oversees all audio recording.

Boom Operator: Holds the boom mic; determines placement and movement during filming.

Boom Operator Holding Microphone by opal2

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Grip and Electric Department

Key Grip: The manager of the grip department. He or she manages grip crew and liaises with DP to achieve desired light cutting and shaping.

Gaffer: Manages the electrical department, working closely with the DP to achieve the desired lighting effects.

Grip: The grips assist the key grip and best boy in creating ideal lighting conditions. They are essentially tasked with blocking and shaping the lights which are set by the electricians. They will also frequently assist other departments with creative rigging solutions – it’s truly amazing how many different configurations are possible with gobo arms and knuckles.

Lighting Technician: Also known on set as “sparks” they set up and adjusts lighting equipment on-set. They’re also in charge of starting up the generator and running cables to shooting locations, and breaking out lunchboxes (AC power boxes). They will also power other departments when necessary, and they must have an encyclopedic knowledge of single and three phase power, AC/DC, and conversion formulas.

Best Boy (Grip/Electric): Head assistant to the key grip and gaffer. Maintains and manages grip and electric trucks.

Dolly Grip: Places track, sets and levels camera, and operates dolly.

Gaffer Working With Light Reflector by Gen_Oksi

Art Department

Production Designer: Designs the physical appearance of a production, including costumes, props, and set dressing. Part of the “Holy Trinity” on set alongside the Director and DP, the Production Designer is brought in on the planning and scouting stages of a production so that he knows what to order and create for every location and scene. This Holy Trinity is responsible for the mise-en-scéne, or the “visual theme” of a film or video.

Illustrator: Draws set and costume designs to communicate imagery ideas in pre-production.

Set Decorator: Decorates the set or rents the set dressing.

Set Dresser: Applies and removes the set dressing.

Props Master: Gathers and manages all props
 

Hair and Make-Up Department

Make-up Artist: Manages an actor’s appearance while filming. He or she uses makeup and prosthetics to help create a specific look.

Hairdresser: A hair stylist who works with the Make-up Artist to create a look. Maintains and manages hair for all actors.

Make-Up for a Film Actor by slavik65

Wardrobe Department

Costume Designer: Manages all aspects of costumes and wardrobe, from design to creation. Works closely with production designer to achieve the director’s vision.

Costume Supervisor: Helps the Costume Designer manage the wardrobe department. Handles administrative work, hiring, scheduling, and purchasing.
 

Post Production

Film Editor (Offline): Assembles a film using footage and audio captured during production.

Assistant Editor: Gathers, labels, and organizes video, audio, and FX needed for editing.

Online Editor: Applies titles and final effects, and prepares the final product for delivery.

Colorist: Manipulates color, focus, and contrast to achieve a desired look.

Editing Reel to Reel, Vintage Technology by Chris_Ward

Visual Effects (VFX)

Visual Effects Supervisor: Manages the VFX department.

Compositor: Combines the elements of a shot, such as film, video, CGI, and matte paintings.

Roto/Paint Artist: Adds or removes the elements of a shot.

Matte Painter: Develops images of set backgrounds for use while filming or in post-production.

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Post Production – Sound/Music

Sound Designer: Manages all aspects of the final sound.

Dialogue Editor: Organizes and assembles all dialogue.

Sound Editor: Organizes and assembles all sound effects.

Re-Recording Mixer: Mixes together dialogue, music, and effects.

Music Supervisor: Develops and acquires music for a film.

Composer: Writes and develops the score for a film.

Foley Artist: Develops and records sound effects.

Woman Composing Music by lux3000

Other Production Crew

Casting Director: Suggests actors based on the vision of the Director and Producers. Organizes and manages actor requests and auditions.

Storyboard Artist: Draws the shots and scenes to create a visual blueprint of a story.

Sketch Close-Up by GO2Studios

There will obviously be fewer crew members on smaller productions, and more on larger productions, but knowing who does what is a great bit of knowledge to have when you’re finding your crew and setting credits. And speaking of credits, why not have a look at some AE credit templates to add to your project?

Explore all of the clips used in this post in the Production Crew collection below »

production crew breakdown collection