So you’re sitting through the end credits of a movie, and name after name after name scrolls by. Obviously, it takes a lot of people to make a movie. What could all these people possibly be doing? Now that you know the different kinds of productions, the next step is to know who’s who on set.
The first distinction to make is between the people “above the line” and those “below the line.” This refers to how the budgets are laid out for production staff (there is an actual line on the page separating the categories), with far more people below than above the line. Above the line staff includes Producers, Directors, Cinematographers/Directors of Photography, Screenwriters, and Talent. Below the line staff is, well, everyone else. Let’s talk about the above-the-line people first.
Executive Producer- As the “executive” part of the title suggests, this is the head honcho. This person (or people) is in charge of financing the project and overall management of production. They aren’t usually on set, but ultimately everyone answers to them. Executive producers are often involved with more than one production at once.
Producer- There are several types of producers, but generally speaking, the Producer is in charge of the more day-to-day activities of a production. They are usually on set to oversee goings-on, and they usually hire crew. Sometimes they may be part of the scriptwriting process. You may also see Line Producers, Associate Producers, Field Producers, or Coordinating Producers.
Production Manager- The Production Manager coordinates crew members, budgets, schedules and call sheets, location permits, appearance releases (which people who appear on camera all sign to allow the production to show them in the finished product), and other practical things relevant to how a shoot will proceed. The Production Manager is crucial to making sure everything runs according to schedule and on budget, and that everyone is where they are supposed to be.
Director- Okay, so this one’s not that hard. The Director is in charge of the creative vision of the production. They are in charge of the overall look and interpretation of a project, and other creative departments, like the wardrobe and art departments, answer to the Director to make sure that everything looks the way it should.
Director of Photography/Cinematographer- There’s technically a difference between these two titles, but frankly, I’m not entirely sure what it is (I think Cinematographers are more artistically oriented than DPs), and it’s not terribly important right now. What is important is that the DP/Cinematographer is in charge of what the camera does and sees. They create an overall lighting scheme, decide what kinds of cameras and lenses to use, and map out how the camera will move, to best capture the Director’s vision. The DP and the Director work together closely to execute the general look and feel of the project.
Screenwriters- This is exactly as it sounds: the people who write the scripts. Sometimes there’s just one, sometimes there’s a whole team. Television tends to have large teams of writers with a head writer, and each episode may have a different person in charge of the story. Check out the opening credits of each episode of any TV show you watch, and you’ll see a different writer every time. Film, however, tends to have just one or two writers per project.
Talent- And finally, the last on the above-the-line list is probably the most obvious. Talent includes on-screen actors and voice over artists. Basically the people who are the face (or voice) of the project.
As the sarges-in-charges (sorry) of production, the above-the-line staff is paid a lot more than the below-the-line staff. Without them, there would be no projects to make, and no money to make them with. However, below-the-line crew is essential to actually getting things done—try as they might, even the richest producers wouldn’t get very far without Juicers, Grips, or PAs! Weird titles aside, below-the-line crew deserves some attention, and in my next post, we’ll do just that.
Image Credit: Injeongwon