In my last post, we talked about the above-the-line crew on set: the Producers, Directors, Screenwriters, Cinematographers—basically everyone you’ve heard of. In this post, we’ll take on the below-the-line crew, who get a lot less recognition, but who are the backbone of any production. These are the people who do the grunt work and the heavy lifting. There are far more positions than the ones described here, but this post will give you a general idea of the people who make everything go (and if they’re Transportation, that’s their literal job).
Camera Operator- This is one of the really obvious ones. Camera works under the Director and DP to execute the creative plan for the project. Sometimes, especially on smaller projects, the DP is the Camera Operator. And sometimes on even smaller projects, the Director is all of these things.
Assistant Camera- This actually consists of two positions: 1st AC and 2nd AC. 1st AC works directly next to the Camera Operator, doing what’s called “focus pulling,” which is adjusting the focus throughout the shot. This can be a challenging job, especially on really long takes where the camera and the focus of the shot are moving around. The 2nd AC is in charge of the clapper, to mark the beginning of each take. (The clapper is used for editing and organizational purposes, so that the editors can match the audio to the video, and so that anyone looking through footage can tell which take they’re looking at.)
Assistant Director- Again, there are two positions here. 1st AD assists the Director (as might be implied by the title) and is basically the contact for all other crew members. They know the schedule and who’s in charge of each department, and they keep order on the set (they’re the ones who yell, “Quiet on set!”). The 1st AD may also direct secondary footage. The 2nd AD helps the 1st AD.
Gaffer- This is where things start to become less obvious. The Gaffer is the head of lighting and develops a plan for how the lights should look—what might be known in other settings as a Lighting Designer. The Gaffer answers to the DP and Director to make sure the lighting matches the overall look they’re going for.
Best Boy- This silly-sounding title applies whether you’re a man or a woman, but film is built on tradition, so there you have it. Best Boys are essentially assistant Gaffers. They execute the Gaffer’s instructions, leading the crew of lighting technicians, who are usually called “Juicers.” The Best Boy also deals with the lighting gear, renting it as needed and determining the best pieces of gear to use to execute the Gaffer’s design.
Grip- Grips aren’t electricians, but they set up all of the equipment that electricians and camera operators use, led by the Key Grip. Grips are quite often (but not always!) big, burly men, because it’s a very physically demanding job that involves lifting and carrying heavy equipment all day. They are legendary for their creative solutions to equipment set-ups and their liberal use of gaff tape (which is production’s version of duct tape). They set up stands for lights and rigs for cameras and use equipment that shades, bounces, or otherwise creates lighting effects that the Gaffer wants. I learned the other day that they sometimes even keep a fake tree on hand in case they need to create shadows that look like trees. Amazing.
Audio- Another pretty self-explanatory one. This includes the boom mic operator (perhaps one of the most iconic crew positions) and other mics that might be around, and a person who monitors the audio levels as the action occurs.
Editor- The person in charge of putting the project together after everything’s been filmed. There is way, way more involved in post-production than just putting the pieces together, but that deserves a whole post of its own.
Script Supervisor- Also known as “Scripty,” the Script Supervisor works on behalf of the Editors to ensure continuity. Scripty works with basically everyone on set to keep everything consistent from shot to shot. They keep detailed notes of every shot, what has and hasn’t been shot yet, any takes that the Director particularly likes, where props, lights, and actors are at the end of each take, and how shots transition from one to the next. This makes the Editor’s job much easier, since Scripty makes sure that one shot starts exactly the way the last one left off.
Craft Services- This is obviously the most important department. “Crafty” brings food to set. They bring breakfast to early-morning shoots and lunch to every shoot, as well as the occasional “second lunch” for very long shoots. They also provide snacks. So, like I said: the most important department.
Production Assistant- Everyone starts as a Production Assistant. PAs do everything that nobody else wants to do. They get coffee, they drive people around, they hold things, they wrap cables, and they stand around a lot. Holding things (probably somebody else’s coffee). PAs get paid very little and work very long hours—they’re often the first on set and the last to leave—but during those long hours on set they’re learning how things work, making contacts, learning the lingo, and generally gaining the experience they need to move into any department they are interested in.
On top of these jobs, there is also hair & makeup and wardrobe, set dressers and props masters, background actors/extras, transportation, location scouts, special effects editors, and lots of office jobs. These things are all pretty self-explanatory, but obviously all quite important. The below-the-line crew keeps everything moving along, taking the ideas of the above-the-line people and turning them into a finished product that people all over the world can enjoy. They don’t get much recognition, but they do get the satisfaction of knowing that nothing would happen without them!
Image Credit: Tamara Podolchak