ROLES ON A FILM PRODUCTION SET

Movies are a piece of art that can literally take hundreds of people to create.  If you’ve ever watched your favorite flick or tv show past the credits, then you’ve seen all sorts of titles and names. Not just the common ones like directors and actors but titles like gaffers and greensman. Most films have the same basic crew positions but will vary in size depending on genre and movie scale. Credits can be in the front and the back.

The opening credits help the audience know which studios created the movie and who are the major stars. The people listed in the front of a movie’s credits are called “top billing” and often their names are contractually negotiated to be before other names. There may be other titles as well like the director or someone who was vital to the production. The closing credits have everyone listed who was involved.

In this post we will take a look at some of the meanings behind those titles and how they get placed in the order that they do.


ROLES ON A FILM SET

  • Director – Visualizes the screenplay and controls the film’s artistic feel. Also plays key role in all creative aspects of film.
  • Art Director – The look of the sets and even the locations are the responsibility of the art director. The art director handles the design and construction of sets.  
  • Assistant Director – The AD breaks down scripts and makes decisions about shooting order. This job is often more administrative in its function.
  • Best Boy – An administrative person in charge of the paperwork (timesheets, etc) for the head grip’s or gaffer’s crew. An assistant to the head grip or gaffer.
  • Boom Operator – The sound person who handles the boom microphone and its gear. They have to place themselves in the best position to get sound without showing up in the shot.
  • Camera Operator (or 2nd camera). Under the director and director of photography they operate the camera on set.
  • Carpenter / Construction Coordinator – Under the art director – the crew responsible for building sets.
  • Casting Director – Works with producer and director to pick the best talent / actor for the script. Not just the big names but even the supporting actors.
  • Cinematographer / Director of Photography – Brings the director’s vision to light. Responsible for the look and feel of a film. Is over the gaffers, camera operators and other technicians. Creates, mood compositions, and angles. Works hand and hand with the director.
  • Continuity / Script Supervisor- Have you ever noticed when someone’s drink is empty in one shot and then full in another. There is a persons job on set to keep track of all these details to keep this from happening. Consider that scenes are often shot over various days it’s up to the script super to keep track of all the details.
  • Dolly Grip – They operate the dolly, a wheeled platform on which the camera is placed for creating moving shots.
  • Gaffer – The chief electrician is responsible for lighting the set. They are under the DP.
  • Grip – The swiss army knife of positions, responsible for moving and setting up equipment and sets.
  • Key Grip – In charge of the other grips, or the crew of workers.
  • Line Producer / Production Manager – An executive that is over the day-to-day operations of a film’s production.
  • Location manager – The person who finds locations for the shoot. They often live near the location of filming and work with film commissions to know the best places for filming that match the needs of the script.
  • Mixer – A sound Tech that mixes sound on location.
  • Nurseryman – Handles the plants for a scene.
  • Producer – This role title can mean various things. From the person who puts everything together and secures the film rights to a title that’s given as a favor to someone related to the film or its actors.
  • Property Master – Handles the props on a set. Keeps track of them and takes care of them.
  • Second Unit and Second Unit Director – The second unit is the film crew that shoots sequences where the principal actors are not required. This is often background and location shots
  • Set Decorator / Set Dresser – Works with art director to furnish sets with items that create the right atmosphere and ambiance. Works to make the locations look real and lived in.
  • Sound Crew – The techs on the set responsible for audio recording.
  • Special Effects – Depending on the type of film you may have various special effects roles. These are often from an outside company that is hired to do the effects.
  • Stand-In – It can take a while to get the light and cameras set up. While setting up they need someone to be a reference point for the camera and lights. This person will stand in the place where the main actors will be later. The skin tone and hair are often similar to the actors they are standing in for.
  • Stunt Coordinator / Stunt Person – Examines and breaks down all stunts in a script. The stunt person is a trained professional that will do a task that wouldn’t be safe for normal actors to do. They are often trained in combat and falling and will wear protective gear.
  • Supervising Editor / Editor – The persons in charge of film editing.
  • Talent – Just another term for actors and performers
  • Wrangler/Animal Wrangler –  Handles all animals on set – horses, dogs, cats, whatever animal may be on set.

There are tons of other positions depending on the genre and film type. Another common position in films is the PA or production assistant.


THE PRODUCTION ASSISTANT

They are the lowest rung of a film. Hey, we all got to start somewhere. They will help will all aspects of films and often work their way up to different units and positions. The job is normally not glamourous. Getting coffee, wrangling talent, making copies, taking out trash. The PA is vital to film sets. Being a PA for most is a right of Passage. Those who are hard workers are often asked to work on other films.


CREDITS AND THEIR ORDER

Not all titles are automatic with the persons role. For some their titles are negotiated by agents or set up through guild rules and guidelines. Some titles may have little meaning and are given to people as favors.

In a Hollywood movie, titles and credits are a big deal for those involved. Negotiations happen behind the scenes for order and placements. The general rule of thumb is the earlier you are listed the more important your role was to the production. This may change when the supporting cast is listed and they may just be listed in alphabetical or order of appearance in the film.

The credit order often goes something like this.

  1. Distributor
  2. Production company / producer
  3. Director / Filmmaker
  4. Film Title
  5. Lead Cast
  6. Supporting Cast
  7. Casting Director
  8. Music Composer
  9. Costume Designer
  10. Associate Producers
  11. Editors
  12. Production Designer
  13. Director of Photography
  14. Executive Producer
  15. Producer
  16. Writers
  17. Director

The genre can also change the order of credits. A CG or animation will have certain people that are considered more valuable at top that maybe would be lower in the credits in another type of film. A costume designer may get higher billing in a historic drama. Sometime with a large ensemble cast the Casting directors gets a top billing.


As you can see there are lots of people involved in working on film sets. Films can have a crew of up to 3000 people like in Iron Man 3 but often average much lower. Now not all of those roles are on set. Many may be off of the set building sets, creating props, doing CG, etc. With technology getting smaller and cheaper some indie films can have very little crew.


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One Reply to “ROLES ON A FILM PRODUCTION SET”

  1. Molly says:

    Nice article and clear explanation of the terms! Thanks for writing, education for me!

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