The production of a film is an orchestra of many skillful and talented people working together towards a common goal. The backbone of any film production is its crew. Depending on the project the crew could be very large (often compared to a village) or very small (you might be a one-man army). Watching Amazons latest TV series “The Rings of Power” you can see the result of hundreds of people getting together to create a mammoth production which is on par with creating a movie per episode. To be a successful filmmaker you need to understand each of these roles and what everyone on and off the set is doing.
When the topics of movie set terminology and film crew jobs converge, the first two phrases you’re likely to run into are “above the line” and “below the line”. Both terms originate from a common practice in production budgeting, in which a literal line is used to visually divide film crew positions that are paid according to a pre-negotiated, fixed rate (“above the line” crew) and film crew positions that are paid according to a variable hourly or daily rate (“below the line” crew).
Above The Line Crew
If you were to construct a film production hierarchy chart for a production’s entire duration, the above the line film crew positions would generally be found at the very top. Above the line crew members are those who carry the most creative or financial responsibility for a given project, and they’re usually working all the way from pre-production to post. They are the ones who make major decisions and are often directly or indirectly responsible for securing financing. Typically, the above the line personnel (referred to as such because of their placement in the budget) are separated and in leadership positions. Executive Producers. Producers. Director. Writer. On-screen talent. Most often, these are the people we hear about the most and gain most the fame when the film is released.
1. The Director
The Director provides the guiding creative vision for a production. They are not necessarily the ultimate authority on a given project, but they are responsible for shepherding it creatively through the entire creative process, meaning they exert great influence over all other film crew positions.
2. The Producer
The Producer is one of the most fundamental of all film set roles. It’s one of many film crew job titles that can carry any part of a wide range of responsibilities, but, primarily, producers are responsible for securing funding, setting a project into motion, and providing high level organizational guidelines. you would find them at the very top of any film production hierarchy chart, above even the director and below only the project’s financiers. It is common for producers to hire crew members they’ve already worked with. Over time, they may even curate their own film crew list.
3. The Principal Cast
The salaries of any principal cast members represent the most typical above the line costs in any feature film or television show’s budget. Technically, of course, actresses and actors are not considered film crew positions, but they do represent some of the most crucial movie set jobs in existence. While you wouldn’t necessarily find them on a film production hierarchy chart, on-screen talent always ranks high in the film crew hierarchy food chain.
BELOW THE LINE CREW
Below the line film crew positions make up the vast majority of any film crew hierarchy. As such, below the line film crew job descriptions are many and varied. A film production hierarchy chart would break this massive collection of movie set jobs down into separate departments that correspond to related film crew job descriptions. Contained within each of these individual departments, a separate film crew hierarchy exists in miniature, starting with a department head and working down to increasingly specialized film crew job descriptions. To understand the collective film crew hierarchy of all on set jobs, let’s take a look at below the line film crew positions department by department.
1.Film production crew.
The line producer is one of the leaders (or ‘keys’) of a group referred to as “production”. This team within the team handles most operations. This group is made up of line producers, production managers, production coordinators, Unit production managers, and then production assistants. There might also be associate producers and co-producers in there, and their roles in the hierarchy depend on many other factors.
2.The AD Department (Assistant Director).
The AD Department is something like the center of a wheel, keeping all the other departments joined together in order to make the whole production move forward. The department’s major responsibilities are scheduling, coordination, and- more than anything- communication.
1st AD’s mandate is simply to assist the director in achieving their vision. They are responsible for crafting the shooting schedule, running the set, making sure that all other film crew positions are functioning on time, and dealing with the thousands of daily problems that arise on even the smoothest of productions.
The 2nd Assistant Director is the 1st AD’s right hand. In their most basic form, 2nd ADs are responsible for handling daily call sheets and shepherding talent to and from set. However, their job descriptions are rarely that simplistic in practice.
The set PA name implies supporting the needs of the shooting set itself, as opposed to those of a particular department. Set PAs- along with other PA film crew positions- occupy the lowest rung of any film production hierarchy chart, but they’re also frequently referred to as the lifeblood of film production as a whole.
3.Locations and Transportation.
Locations are a vital part for a successful production as the suitable location adds immense visual value to your film. The job of the location managers and assistants are to secure the approved locations for shooting. This includes location scouting, obtaining permissions from the said location owners to shoot, drafting contracts, permissions from legal authorities and police.
Meticulously coordinated transportation saves valuable time during film productions where time is money! The Transport Captain along with his Coordinators will make sure there are necessary vehicles and drivers to shuttle props, sets, and all actors and crew to the locations of the shoot. This also includes vehicles chosen for action vehicles to be included in the shoot.
Camera department is the focal point of image and video capture. The Cinematographer, or director of photography, is in charge of this team. There will also be a 1st assistant camera, 2nd Assistant Camera, a focus puller, a camera operator, a loader, or a DIT, and on it goes again depending on size and format. They work closely with the Grip, Sound and Electrical departments to achieve the films overall look. You literally won’t have a movie without the camera department.
The Sound Department is responsible for getting the best on-set sound possible. They use a wide range of analog techniques and technical innovations to ensure that dialogue can be heard crystal clear in even the most clamorous of conditions.
6.The Grip Department
Utilizing flags, silks, reflectors, and a 5-ton-truck’s worth of other equipment, the Grip Department manipulates existing light to help the director of photography achieve a desired look. They also physically support other departments as necessary with rigging and temporary structural elements.
The Key Grip heads the department he collaborates with the Gaffer. Best Boy Grip is second in command who tackles managerial operations.
7.The Electric Department
The Electric Department creates light, collaborating with the grip department to execute the director of photography’s lighting plan. The Gaffer is a production’s chief lighting technician and head of the electric department. They plan and coordinate the placement and powering of lights to achieve the level of illumination desired by the director of photography. The Best Boy Electric is the gaffer’s chief lieutenant, the second-in-command. They are often responsible for delegating day-to-day managerial tasks- like hiring personnel and maintaining equipment- and are generally less directly involved in major creative decisions within the lighting plan.
8.The Art Department.
Film crew positions within the Art Department oversee the physical creation of all visual elements in a film or television series. Unless it’s CGI, if you can see an object on-screen, it was probably handled by one or more members of the art department.
The Production Designer is the head of the art department. They work with the director and director of photography to craft an overall look for a film, achieving it with the help of a wide variety of movie set jobs found deeper within their department. The Art Director is the production designer’s second-in-command. They’re a field general, who organizes and manages the rest of the art department film crew to get the job done.
The Prop Master is in charge of sourcing and organizing all non-weapon props used in a project. On smaller productions, the Prop Master is usually one individual within the art department, assisted by others as necessary. On larger productions, however, the Prop Master is often in charge of their own Props Department.
10.Costumes / Wardrobe / Hair / Makeup.
There is less mystery in these departments as they do exactly what their designation entails. The costume designer and the hair department head make sure the talent are looking exactly how they are supposed to look on screen. Base layers of hair and make-up make your talent feel comfortable and give them the sense that they are being taken care of.
11.The Stunts Department.
The Stunts Department handles all acts of high-flying daredevilry in a feature film, TV show, or commercial. These women and men are the real action heroes, risking life and limb to plan and execute some of the most exciting sequences in movie history.
12.The Craft Service & Catering Departments.
The Craft Service and Catering Departments make sure that the film crew is fed, hydrated, and ready to work. The Craft Service Department provides food and drink throughout the shooting day, while the Catering Department is exclusively responsible for providing designated meals.
We hope that this brief introduction to the many roles of a film production crew will make you appreciate all the hard work that is put in every time we watch anything on the small or big screen.