Video Production Crew… so what exactly does everybody do?
In our last article, we talked about project scaling and the importance and benefits of picking the right sized production team for your video production commission. In a nutshell, smaller production teams tend to involve multi-skilled crew members who can cover a variety of roles, are more mobile, and tend to be a more cost-effective option for smaller budgets. Whereas larger crews tend to have more dedicated specialists who are able to spend more time on their specific tasks. A bigger crew normally means more budget, which allows increased technical resources and therefore more creative options… but at the cost of being significantly less mobile than a smaller team.
To really know what’s the right fit for your project, it’s good to have an understanding of who does what, so you know whether having a Director of Photography (and their associated costs!) is completely necessary for your internal comms video project, or conversely, whether you may not actually want to skimp on the lighting crew for your moonlit TV and cinema campaign.
We’re of course not going to cover every role involved in production (have you seen how long film credits are!?), but we’ll start at the top and work our way down, cherry-picking a few roles that you might see popping up on your video production invoice.
A producer will have overall responsibility for the production, similar, essentially, to a project manager. In most cases, they’ll be looking at logistic planning, sourcing production crew and equipment, allocating and managing budgets, and organising schedules/contributors etc. They’ll also work closely with the director to ensure that their creative ideas can be facilitated.
These lucky people have overall responsibility for the creative direction of the project. They’ll be involved from the get-go – designing concepts, generating ideas, storyboards and essentially being in charge of bringing the client’s messages to life on screen. On a shoot, they’re not necessarily involved in any of the planning or organising but will be directly responsible for getting the agreed creative on camera.
Director of Photography
Normally reserved for the larger shoots, a director of photography (or dop) will work closely with the director to establish and take responsibility for the look and feel of the moving image. They’ll primarily be in charge of all aspects of capturing the visuals, taking full responsibility for lighting, lens choices, frame resolution, creative framing, etc.
First Assistant Director
You might be surprised to know that this isn’t actually a creative role, but instead the 1st Ad is there to facilitate the smooth running and creative wishes of the director. Essentially, they are there to ensure that as little stress as possible is put onto the directors lap, whilst also ensuring the production runs smoothly, stays on schedule, extras are managed and the crew are working efficiently. It’s quite a stressful job!
The reason we are adding this to the list is that there are plenty of different specialist camera operators around, for example, you might see a Steadicam operator (a harnessed camera designed for extremely smooth movement), or a lighting camera operator (similar to a dop, it’s a camera operator who can creatively and confidently light a scene) or even a live event/studio camera operator. On much smaller shoots, the camera operator may also take on the responsibility for sound recording, so they’ll be mic’ing up interviewees beforehand, and monitoring sound levels during filming.
First Assistant Camera / Focus Puller
On larger shoots, you’ll see focus pullers operating either to the side of the camera or a little bit further away, working on a super-high-resolution remote monitor. Their job is to ensure that the images on screen remain sharp and in focus. Larger cameras require significant operation from a camera operator, so it makes more sense for someone else to pick up the focus responsibilities. The focus puller also picks up the assistant camera duties, which normally involves assembling the camera rig, switching lenses and generally being in charge of all technical elements of the camera kit (so it needs a lot of technical expertise!).
Boom Swinger / Sound Recordist
Depending on the size of your shoot you may have one or two people within your sound crew. It’s unusual to see more unless you’re working on a much larger feature film or a live event. The sound recordist is responsible for collecting and mixing the levels correctly on a shoot, and essentially they are there to ensure the quality and levels of audio are excellent. Alongside them is the boom swinger, who will be responsible for positioning the microphones so that the mixer can get the best possible sound (yes, they’re the people with the big fluffy things on the end of long sticks).
Chief Lighting Technician (AKA Gaffer)
Gaffers work very closely with the dop to ensure the look of the film is what the director is after. The gaffer will be extremely knowledgeable about lights and lighting rigs and will know exactly which lights (and their positioning) will give the right ‘look’ for specific scenes on a shoot, (essentially, they’re the people who make your ‘moonlit’ shot possible!).
Lighting Technician (AKA Spark)
Sparkies are essentially the gaffer’s hands and are tasked with setting up the lights that the gaffer needs for the next scene. They also have a very good technical knowledge of electrical power (amperage, volts, watts, etc) and their expertise allows the crew to be confident that none of the lights or fuses will get blown from too much power being drawn. You almost always have at least one spark accompanying the gaffer.
This is normally the most junior role on a shoot, but always very essential. A runner is there to assist the production crew, whatever way possible and is normally supervised by the 1stAD. The runner will fetch equipment, organise food delivery, go get coffee, carry kit, and basically any other general duties. This role is usually the first step for most production crew members and tends to be filled by recent graduates and less experienced professionals.
And finally to clear up the mystery of ‘What exactly is a best boy?’. A best boy is the chief assistant to the gaffer or key grip (maybe we’ll cover key grip in another post in the future) and normally the most experienced spark on the shoot. Thankfully it’s not a gender-specific role, just an antiquated job title that is still used today – in fact, on our most recent TV ad shoot, our Best Boy was actually a Best Girl (we made sure her role was correctly referred to as Best Girl).
So hopefully in this article we’ve clarified a few of the roles you might encounter on a crew or credit list, so the next time you’re watching TV and someone says out loud, ‘What on earth does a dolly grip do?’ you can look like the clever clogs, (they move the platforms that the camera and cranes sit on).
We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with our next series of articles, but in the meantime, if you would like to get in touch with us to discuss an idea or project you have, please email the team at [email protected]
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