Film Set Roles Identified.
Do you ever watch the credits at the end of a movie and wonder why so many people are involved? Besides the occasional comedic outtakes or behind-the-scenes videos, the endless list of names and roles that makes up the credits are typically pretty boring.
I appreciate movies that offer the bonus material during the credits – something I picked up on from my early days making surf and action sports videos. It takes a small army to create creative work, with many specialists working simultaneously throughout the project’s lifetime.
All of these people deserve recognition, but still, the credits seem to go on forever, taking minutes to display all the names associated with the project. Offering an incentive to watch the credits demonstrates respect for the people behind it, but what do all these people do and why are they important? Let’s break it down…
Studio-backed feature films are creatures of habit, which means that they’ll always employ a large number of people to complete a film. Did you know there are a few companies in Hollywood that only produce end credits? And another that only produces the much shorter, but more viewed, intro credits?
Luckily, corporate video production usually comes with much smaller crews, but occasionally, certain projects require several individuals or crew members with specialized talents to make everything come together. In fact, it’s common to see crew members on these smaller video production shoots wearing multiple hats.
Let’s take a look at some of the specialized roles in filmmaking and video production to see how they all come together to produce great video content…
Above the Line
Above the line refers to the positions of high importance – those on top of the hierarchy who have a lot of authority on a film set. Historically, this was done to separate the budget for these roles before a film was made from a separate budget that was created for the actual production.
Executive Producer (EP)
Typically, the executive producer is someone who finances a film, but isn’t 100% involved on the day-to-day creative process during production. For short films commissioned by businesses, this may be the CEO who signs off on the project
The producer is hired by the executive producer to ensure the movie is made correctly and that everything goes smoothly. A producer usually creates an initial budget and runs the logistics during production – in a sense, they’re the equivalent of a project manager in a modern company.
Depending on the size of the production, there can be several producers on a movie, all of whom have their own areas area of expertise (such as finance, location or crew).
The director is the one responsible for telling the story and bringing it to life on screen. A director’s responsibilities include working with the actors, answering interview questions, setting location and blocking, as well as writing shot lists and deciding on the film’s overall look and composition. The director is responsible for the look, feel and mood of the film and works with all levels of creative talent and production members.
The screenwriter is responsible for writing the script or narration, or sometimes drafting interview questions for the director. This role largely depends on the type of production, whether that be a film, commercial, documentary or digital video, all of which may require the screenwriter to work closely with the producing team and director on elements such as mood, setting, and character descriptions.
The lines you always repeat from your favorite movies? You have the screenwriter(s) to thank for that.
Actors and actresses are huge assets to films. In many branded entertainment pieces, such as the Quiksilver commercials we produced, the talent were endorsed athletes who held long-term contracts with Quiksilver. For our Penny Skateboards videos, we were able to reach out to friends to cast the entire piece.
The lines you always repeat from your favorite movies? You have the screenwriter to thank for that.
Below the Line
The below the line crew are often viewed as being more expendable to the production and can be replaced more easily,if need be. They’re typically hired only after a film or video has been given the green light. And although they’re responsible for a majority of the day-to-day heavy lifting on a project, they typically only work in one or two phases of a film.
The line producer works with the producing team and handles the budget, specifically by tracking and logging expenses.
On smaller productions, a line producer can be overkill if the film’s producer can handle all production logistics and needs.
Associate producers help above the line producers with various tasks throughout the production process. Associate producer are often those who are working their up the chain of command. They may also be responsible for securing an asset for the film being made, such as financing, an actor or location. This is akin to a formal “thanks for the help!” from the executive producer or producing team.
Production managers are responsible for the physical aspects of production, but are not involved in any of the creative work. They’re imperative to executing certain logistics, such as making sure gear and equipment arrive on time.
Contrary to their title, assistant directors don’t actually direct the film, but instead, run the day-to-day management. Their responsibilities include managing the shooting schedule and keeping the crew on track each day, as well as queuing up the background actors. Typically, only larger sets have room for one or more assistant directors.
Director of Photography (aka, DP or Cinematographer)
The DP works with the director on bringing the look, feel and mood of the film to life for your audience. DPs are responsible for all lighting decisions and the quality of the light (such as its shape, intensity, position and color). They provide input on camera angles, lens choice and movement.
DPs will also offer insight into which camera to use during production, depending on several factors. Most DPs will prefer different camera systems depending on the style of work being done, such as a commercial on set or a documentary on location.
On smaller productions, the DP will also operate the camera. However, on larger productions, this task is often given to an operator who can help move the production along smoothly and increase everyone’s speed.
Low budget productions will have a camera assistant, or “1st AC,” before having a dedicated camera operator. ACs are responsible for helping the DP get the right lens for the shot, in addition to making sure any batteries, media cards and other accessories needed are ready for the next group of shots or scene. They’re typically tasked with building the camera at the beginning of the day and making sure everything gets put back in its place at the end.
Depending on the number of cameras being used, you may also see 2nd and 3rd ACs helping the 1st AC.
The gaffer works with the director of photography to help shape the light. Essentially, gaffers are in charge of lighting and will place flags, nets or diffusion filters on lights to control their color, softness and intensity. Gaffers traditionally manage the grips and electricians on set and usually work their way up to being DPs.
The grips are responsible for building and rigging lighting, dolly tracks and other lighting accessories. The key grip is in charge of other grips and reports to the gaffer. On smaller sets, it’s common to have the same person handling the gaffing and gripping during the production.
The electrical team handles getting power on set (usually required for the production’s lights) and manages the power draw on the building or generator. Electricians will run distribution boxes strategically on set so that they’re both safe and out of the way from other personnel.
The digital intermediate technician (DIT) is what many people call the most important role on set. The DIT is responsible for transferring the filming data on the camera’s cards to hard drives (note – plural). They usually have a system for this process and back up each card a minimum of two times. They may also use programs like Shotput Pro that performs check sums of the data to make sure all files are there and are not corrupt.
Although corrupt data is rare, when it does happen, there’s nothing that can be done about it. Therefore, DITs must work quickly and perform quality control checks throughout the filming process to ensure nothing’s lost.
The Art Director is works with the Production Designer, Set Designer, Prop Master and others in the Art Department. The Art Director is responsible for realizing the creative vision set by the Director to give the film a unique looks. Often times the Art Director is in charge of bringing a brand’s look and feel to a commercial or entertainment piece.
The boom operator is easily identifiable on set – he’s the one holding the microphone on the pole wearing headphones. The boom op’s job is to get the microphone as close to the action as possible, without the equipment or its shadows showing up on camera.
Production Sound Mixer
Finally, the sound mixers take all the audio inputs generated by the filming process and records them to flash media cards. They’ll then place mics on each actor or character and recordthem on separate channels, giving them the ability to adjust the audio levels of each mic individually.
Good sound mixers will make sure all audio tracks are recording properly, providing much more flexibility in post production. They’ll typically bring their own equipment and microphones, making the sound quality as good as possible.
A TAR Productions Film Set
Typically, our sets range from 2-12 people. As an example, the sales video we produced for Monster Energy Drink had a crew of 25 and required 6 days for principle photography. The Housecall video, on the other hand, was shot in one day with a crew of 4, plus help from the Housecall team.
As you might expect, different projects will require specific roles be handled by an expert, while other projects are more flexible and can be handled by a smaller team that incorporates both film professionals and the client’s in-house team.
The more experts you have on your crew, the higher your production value will be overall. This means you’ll end up with a better product that people want to watch more of and share online. It may be be more expensive to produce, as experts tend to charge more for their expertise, but the impact the final video can have on your business’s bottom line can more than make up for the added expenses.
Was this helpful in understanding who’s who on a film or video set? Did you ever imagine that so much went into creating the videos you enjoy every day?