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Anatomy of a Film Crew

How many different kinds of producers are there on a movie or TV show?

It depends on the show/movie. It's really a matter of doling out titles.

Is it correct to say that any one of them "produces" the show, or are there different verbs or verb phrases appropriate to what each one does, to differentiate it from what the others do?

Basically there is one main producer of the show and that’s the one with the “Executive Producer” title. The other producers have an investment and some input as to what the final product should be. Then there are those who have the title, because they get a bigger paycheck for their work on the film or TV show.

So what does the production company do?

There are two different production companies. One is the smaller firm that the Executive Producer runs. They usually have names like Bad Robot (for the TV Show “Lost”) or Lauren-Schuler Donner Productions. Some of these smaller companies have contracts with the major studios. Some don’t. Those who don’t might be formed for just the one film they’re working for, or have a permanent location where they produce a series of films.

Another type of production company, the one in which we are more familiar, are the major studios like Warner Brothers and Paramount who claim ownership to TV shows and many Hollywood films. They provide financing, as well as own the rights for advertising and broadcasting/distributing the program (including reruns) or film. It’s sort of a parent organization. Despite the fact that the Executive Producer is the President of his company, if he has a contract with a major studio, he has to answer to them. The studio may also provide a place for filming.

While most Hollywood films have a distributor in place before productions, independent films do not. Instead they make the film first, then screen it at film festivals in hopes that a distributor will buy the film. Many times the independents won’t get worldwide distribution, so they have to keep marketing the film to other countries.

What is a Best Boy? And a Key Grip?

To best understand this, you need to know that a film crew is actually made up of different departments and is not considered one large unit. Each department has a leader, like one would at a regular business. They also have a right hand man either called a First Assistant or a Best Boy, depending upon the unit.

So a standard film/TV show would consist of the following crews: Camera, Electricians, Grips, Transportation, Production Office, Makeup Artists, Wardrobe, Storyboard Artist, Script Supervisor, Locations Manager, Set Designers, Props and Craft Service.

Camera Crew

The Camera Crew is made up of the Director of Photography (or cinematographer or DP), the First Camera Assistant, the Second Camera Assistant and possibly a Production Assistant.

The DP is the head of the Camera Crew. He will do most of the actual filming. The First and Second Camera Assistants can also run the camera, but they are mainly in charge of taking it apart and putting it together, loading film, etc. They will do filming if the need for multiple-cameras comes into play.

The Production Assistant is mainly a gopher for the department. They can also learn quite a bit about cinematography and the camera.

Lighting Crew

The Lighting or Electricians Crew consists of a Gaffer, who is the head of this team. He consults with the Director and the DP on how to best light the scene. He then tells his crew which lights he needs and where to place them. Like the Camera Crew, he has a First Assistant. In this case he’s called the Best Boy. He will also have one or two other lighting assistants who will report to the Best Boy as well as himself.

Grips

The Grip Department does a lot of physical labor, erecting all kinds of devices to deflect, refract or distribute the lights that are being set up by the Electricians. While the Electricians are responsible for setting up the lights, their main job is to handle that equipment and position them properly, utilizing the correct amount of electricity so as not to burn the place down or blow a fuse. The Grips, meanwhile, will work to play off the light so as to either soften or sharpen the effect and help create the right mood for the shot. The Key Grip is the head of this crew. And he too will have a Best Boy. And, like the Electricians and Camera crews there will be other Grips working on staff as well.

There may also be a Dolly Grip. The Dolly Grip is relied upon to work with the Camera Crew when they have the camera mounted on a dolly (or cart) for a moving shot. The Dolly Grip’s job is to move the cart as smoothly as possible without jarring the camera. Believe me it’s an important job. Sometimes the dolly is on a track, especially if the ground is uneven. The Grips are the ones who put the track in place and make sure the dolly is running smoothly on it.

Who else is on the crew

Many other people are involved in making the production go smoothly.

Transportation Crew

The Transportation Department is in charge of all the vehicles involved in a production. Both the cars and trucks we see on screen (i.e. “Picture Cars”), and the trucks we don’t see for carrying the equipment fall in their domain. They drive them, ensure there’s enough gas in them and maintain them. They’re also responsible for transporting trailers for the actors, makeup and wardrobe artists.

Production Office

Another department head is the Unit Production Manager (UPM) or Line Producer. They are in charge of making sure the filming is within the budget allocated. They work mainly in the production office (aka the smaller production company). They do visit the set periodically through the production day, but they are not essential to the actual filming, except for making sure they're not going over budget. The UPM has several important people working for them, a few on set and a few in the office.

UPM will employ one or two Production Coordinators to work with him in the office. Their job is to hire the crew and coordinate with all the companies affiliated with the production and make sure equipment is delivered and locations are ready when planned, all while keeping everything within budget.

Assistant Directors

The UPM has a few on-set personnel on their team as well, including the First Assistant Director (AD). The First AD is on set at all times and works right beside the director. They make sure that the filming is moving smoothly and that there are no delays.

The First AD will also have a crew working for thyem. Usually there’s a Second AD who is in charge of making sure the following day’s schedule is up to date throughout the day as things tend to change as the day goes on. Unlike other industries where you can schedule things in advance, the day to day happenings aren’t finalized until the last minute before shutting down for the night. So no one knows when they need to be on set the next day until the schedule is handed out at the end of the current one. This schedule (also known as a Call Sheet) lists all the times each person has to arrive. Not everyone is required to show up at the same time, so it’s an important thing to keep track of.

Production Assistants

Also working for this crew are the Production Assistants (PA). There are a few kinds: the ones who work with the Camera Crew (which I mentioned above), ones who work in the office and others who work on set. All except the camera PAs report to the AD or the Production Coordinators. Set PAs are the bottom of the barrel. They’re in charge of running errands, cleaning up trash and shouting, “Quiet on the set!” and “Rolling!” when filming is about to start. Office PAs handle errands and general office work.

Craft Service and Catering

And what if all these people get hungry? Well then you head over to the Craft Service table. Here the head of Craft Service is in charge of providing a constant flow of coffee, drinks and snacks throughout the entire day. In some cases they may be obliged to get meals as well.

Usually a production will have a caterer provide lunch on the set at exactly 6 hours into filming (union rules). After lunch, if shooting runs past the 12 hour mark (12 hours since filming began that day), then union rules state that the cast and crew should get a "second meal". Depending upon the budget that can be provided by the caterer (healthy budger) or the Craft Service person has to go and get it (low budget, independent film). No matter what time of day it is, they’ve got to find food. Thank heaven for 24 hour diners.

Storyboard Artist

Not to be left out, the Director has a few people working for him as well. One person used early on in the production is the Storyboard Artist, who is responsible for sketching each camera angle to be used during filming. This helps the Director keep track of what shots he and the Producer agreed with.

Script Supervisor (continuity)

Making sure every scene looks flawless is the job of the Script Supervisor, who keeps track of the lines spoken by the actors, the props used in a scene and the timings of each scene. It’s a very detail-oriented a job and it requires a lot of time pouring over each page of the script, noting various items and essentials for each scene. Depending on the budget, they may be also relied upon to maintain continuity between scenes (bigger budget films might hire a someone strictly for Continuity). If a pen is in the actor’s left ear in one angle, it better be there in the other.

Locations Manager

Finding places to film is the job of the Locations Manager. He or she is in charge of finding areas to film like homes, businesses, street corners, parks, beaches, and sometimes the sound stage as well. When they first find an ideal locale, they'll take photographs to show the Director. If the Director and Producer are pleased with the places, the Locations Manager will visit the owners and offer them a fee to use their property. If it is a public place, they will need to get a permit from the town to film at that location.

Set Design

Once a location or a soundstage is chosen, Set Designers and Set Dressers work with the Art and Props departments to create the mood for the scene, from the tablecloths to the paintings on the wall to the curtains. The set dresser will go around and work with the minor details. Perhaps a fork is on the floor, or a glass is on its side. These are the points they’d look at, and would work closely with the Script Supervisor on those details.

Certain specific items are the responsibility of the Props department, who obtain and maintain all loose items needed for particular scenes. These include guns, handbags, hats, pens, etc. They are also in charge of items created specifically for a character and/or show.

Hair and Makeup

There’s also the Hair and Make-Up departments, as well as the Wardrobe department. Depending on the budget one person can do both hair and make-up, or there can be one person for each job. Even low budget productions will usually have at least two people performing both tasks to get the actors through make-up/hair quicker. Special effects make-up takes longer, sometimes several hours. The main Make-up artists will be well versed in applying any effects make-up, unless it’s something very elaborate that requires the experience of a Special Effects Make-Up Artist.

Wardrobe

Wardrobe will have a Key Wardrobe person and assistants. Sometimes the clothing is made, and sometimes it’s bought. Occasionally, an actor will accompany someone to the clothing stores to select outfits for the production. Either that or the actor’s measurements are taken and they visit the wardrobe department to try on clothes that were bought for them and have them fitted.

This is the production crew in a nutshell. Usually there are at least 50 people on set during filming, and that’s not counting the actors.

There are more people involved in the finished product than what is listed here, including the departments involved in post production, which will be addressed in a future article.

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