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Movie crew 101: who does what on a film?

Story & Heart
January 27, 2016 by Story & Heart PRO

Below, we’ve fused together our thoughts with the original “Who’s Who on a Movie Crew” lesson, via Vimeo’s endlessly helpful community manager Mark

Whether you operate as a one-person DIY production crew or roll with a team of collaborators, it’s very helpful to know what people actually do on a movie crew. You’ll know how to divvy up your tasks, and as your career develops and your crews get bigger, you’ll know exactly who and what you’ll need for upcoming projects.

The number of people on a film crew can vary widely, ranging anywhere from one to hundreds of people (sup, Hollywood). Aside from budget, the type of project you’re working on also might dictate the size of the crew. For an intimate documentary, for instance, you’d want the production team to be smaller than for a big commercial shoot.

Of the 100 top-grossing films between 1994 and 2013, there were an average of 588 crew credits per film (!), but there have been several financially successful indies with crews of 15 or less, such as Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi and Kevin Smith’s Clerks.

The list of definitions below will come in handy regardless of what type of shoot you’re on. Just keep in mind that the smaller your crew, the more likely it is that each person will wear many hats.

A Producer is the key coordinator for the production. But there are as many types of producers as there are flavors of ice cream. There are pralines and cream financial producers, marketing producers, creating producers, and oooooon and on.

An Executive Producer is the money person. They’ve laid out the cash or lined up the bucks to finance the project. There can be more than one executive producer on any project  — the more money, the better, right?

The Director is the big cheese on set. They’re in charge of overseeing the creative aspects of the film, which can include everything from the location to lighting to directing the actors and selecting the soundtrack. On a skeleton crew, the director might do everything from unclogging a toilet to delivering bagels.

The Line Producer manages the budget of film production and/or the day-to-day needs. They’re super handy to have around, so make sure you show ‘em your <3 if you have one on set.

The Production Manager (PM) oversees daily production decisions, like your budget, scheduling, and staffing. The PM generally reports to the line producer and supervises the production coordinator.

The Production Coordinator is in charge of the logistics of the cast and crew as well as the equipment and gear.

The 1st Assistant Director (AD) is just what it sounds like: an assistant to the director. This person prepares the shooting schedule, organizes the crew, and ensures that the film comes in on schedule.

The 2nd Assistant Director helps the 1st AD supervise the set and also manages and hands out important documents like scripts and call sheets. Depending on the size of the crew, there may even be a 3rd AD.

The Script Supervisor keeps track of what has been shot and what changes have been made to the script. They make notes of every shot and keep track of props, lighting, blocking, and even costumes to ensure continuity.

The Cinematographer or Director of Photography (DP) works closely with the director to determine the look of the film. On a low-budget set, the DP will also serve as the camera operator. It’s the DP who, with the director’s guidance, makes decisions about lighting and framing.

The Location Manager is the public face of the production. This job is all about securing locations for the production as well as the appropriate permits.

The Camera Operator is another job title that’s helpfully straightforward: this particular individual operates the camera under the guidance of the director of photography and/or the director.

The 1st Assistant Camera is often the focus puller, ensuring every shot is clear and in focus. On smaller productions, the camera operator (or the DP) will also handle this job.

The 2nd Assistant Camera writes all of the shot information on the slate (shot number, take number, etc.) and holds it in front of the camera before each shot. They are also the star of every filmmaking stock photo!

The Production Sound Mixer makes sure the sound is properly recorded and mixed on set. The production sound mixer also selects microphones, operates sound recording devices, and sometimes mixes audio signals.

A Boom Operator holds the boom microphone and is responsible for mic placement and movement during filming. They’re the ones who make sure the mic doesn’t show up in the shot. On smaller sets, the production sound mixer might do this job.

The Key Grip works with the DP and supervises camera cranes, dollies, lights, platforms, and all on-set equipment. In case you’re wondering what a “Best Boy” is, they are the chief assistant to the Key Grip or the Gaffer.

The Gaffer or Chief Lighting Technician designs and executes the lighting plan on set. Like the Key Grip, the Gaffer works closely with the DP to make sure everything is lit just how the director envisions it.

The Special Effects Supervisor oversees creative and technical issues related to visual effects on a project.

The Music Supervisor helps select what music will accompany the project, and will work to find a composer and/or deal with any music licensing.

The Production Designer works closely with the DP and director to help create the visual appearance of the film, including all settings, costumes, makeup, etc.

The Art Director helps determine the overall look of the production design and pretty much everything you see on screen. On a smaller crew, this is also the Set Designer.

The Props Master is in charge of finding and keeping track of all the props that appear on screen to add authenticity.

The Make-up Artist selects and applies appropriate makeup so that the actors look right for their roles.

The Hairdresser makes sure the actors’ hair is looking sharp (and is fitting in with the time period). On a low-budget production, the make-up artist and hairdresser is usually one in the same.

The Costume Designer creates wondrous costumes in keeping with the characters and setting.

Production Assistant (PA) is perhaps the most important role on the crew since they can help out in any number of ways — from sharing the call sheet with the crew to picking up props when needed to making the ever-important caffeine run.

It’s a long list! But chances are you won’t be hiring a 2nd Assistant Director or a Special Effects Supervisor for your low-budget indie, wedding video, or small documentary. And that’s OK, as filmmakers we all start somewhere and grow from there. As budgets increase, so does the ability to bring on individuals who specialize in one area of production.

Who you bring onto the team is a hugely personal decision and it really depends on your priorities. If you’re making a slick music video that requires several exploding cars, then you may decide you need a Special Effects Supervisor before you bring on a Script Supervisor. But if you’re filming an indie feature, even one filmed on an iPhone like Sean Baker’s Tangerine, you’ll probably don’t want do without a Script Supervisor. So take the specific needs of your project into consideration.

What are your priorities for your next production? What role would you love to fill on your next project? Tell us in the comments below.

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p>And once you’ve assembled your crew, check Vimeo Video School lessons to get advice about how to get the most out of them. Don’t have the funds to hire anyone on your team just yet? Fret not, and instead visit the Academy of Storytellers, where we’ve just launched a brand new course specifically for team of one filmmakers looking to make amazing films on their own.

8 Comments

Barry Oleksak

Thanks, nice overview. I do all my work solo - both my personal stuff and the stuff I produce for my day job for WorldatWork (vimeo.com/user26588923). I just think it would be awesome to collaborate with others on a project.

Julius Horsthuis Plus

The Special Effects Supervisor oversees the Visual Effects? I believe that is the Visual Effects Supervisor.

Devil Dog Movies

We are small but growing and are always looking to do collaborate on a movie project!

August Benson

Great article. As a cinematography major student, I took a course in Film and Video Production this semester and The Film Production Team was one topic we dwelt on. Film is a unique project and as a result a good number of talents and professionals come together to deliver it as a great finished product. As you mentioned, the type of film you're making determines the number and kind of professionals to execute the pre-production, production and production stages.
To compliment and showcase the activities of the crew members which this article highlighted above is the cast/talents - actors and actresses who live in the world of film and tell the story with their voices and movements. These ones are specially trained to portray characters in a film by living their roles believably and realistically. The phenomenon of physiognomy which is the use of the face to express to the understanding of the audience emotions such as happiness, fear, anger, confusion, expectation, worry, hope and so on is a tool which they master and use.
Mabel Benson
Caleb University, Lagos.

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