I go on about how democratized gear has become, but the reality is that a big budget feature film is much more than an expensive camera. The camera package for a feature makes up a very small portion of the overall budget. In fact, the largest chunk of change goes toward the people involved. In this section I’ll talk about what a few people do in order to provide context, but the point here will be this: How do you get the most helpful tasks performed by the fewest people? Who is essential to have on set?
This can be a very loose descriptor, but here’s the gist: a producer is responsible for organizing the mess that is creating a film. From funding, through development, and into distribution, a producer will interact with and usually hire the main personnel involved with the film-creation process.
Generally speaking, executive producers usually have significant financial or creative input. The line producer handles the budget and may even be a production manager. Associate producer is a below-the-line position which can involve very random and non-producerishl duties.
A logistics wizard who keeps the whole film afloat. This means managing an enormous array of logistic rather than creative tasks. They make sure schedule and budget are met and they work a lot with a production coordinator and line producer.
“PAs” are the minions who carry out what other key cast and crew ask them to do.
Te 1st assistant director is responsible for maintaining schedule, though the director may request the 1st AD to occasionally step into a more creative role. They schedule cast and crew, equipment and partly oversee the script. They may direct background scenes or extras. The 2nd Assistant Director is basically similar to the 1st, but with some specific duties like creating and distributing call sheets.
The script supervisor keeps track of what’s been filmed by referencing the script constantly. They keep meticulous notes on anything related to continuity. They provide the canonized scene/take numbers for the 2nd AC and Field Mixer. Their notes will go from production into post to assist with the editing process.
Ultimately responsible for translating what was conceived as an idea into a film which successfully achieves the desired response from its viewers. These generally fall into two categories: those who are bad at being human beings and those who aren’t.
Sort of the next big creative position after the director. The DP/DoP/Cinematographer is responsible for the achieving the agreed upon ‘look’ of the film. They ultimately have final say on how lighting, composition, camera movement, and post processing will affect the aesthetic of the image. Often they won’t even touch the camera; instead, that falls to a dedicated camera operator.
The 1st AC generally stays parked near the camera, or at least build it in the morning and take it apart at the end of the shoot. They are the ones who “pull focus”. The camera and its associated accessories are lovingly maintained and guarded by this individual.
This person should be technically knowledgeable about the camera being used as the DP may consult with them on questions regarding exposure, operation, image formats, or color handling. They also manage the digital assets generated on set, backing them up and preparing them for editorial.
This individual is the chief “lighting technician”. They run the lighting department and must have a good relationship with the DP as they’re usually the ones responsible for making the lighting ideas a reality. The term “Best Boy” refers to a gaffer’s assistant.
Lighting and rigging masters. They support electrical and lighting by getting things physically in place for holding/supporting/blocking anything that needs held/supported/blocked. The main, or “key” grip can even assist in moving camera. There can be specific grips for certain areas like dolly or sound.
This ‘sound recordist’ determines how to best capture the material in the take then takes the signals from all mics on set and records them individually and also balances them to a ‘mix track’ for easy preview.
The boom operator holds the telescoping boom pole designed to get right near the action on set. They’ll communicate closely with the sound mixer.
Individual responsible for the crafting a film’s visuals from settings to costuming, and HMUA. DP and Production Designer are besties.
There are many more positions than the above-listed, including accounting, clerical, casting, publicists, legal, transportation, stunt work, locations, set decorators, construction, scenic, props, costuming, hair and makeup, special effects. and other departments. It’s beyond the scope of this course to cover them, but this basic understanding should help out for anyone trying to emulate or operate on a ‘real’ set.
So that’s a very brief view of the individuals involved, but which ones do you need for your shoot? Obviously I can’t give one answer that works in every case, but consider this barebones crew of 4 individuals.
I have shot a fair amount of viewable content with three main people as my crew. I don’t necessarily recommend it, but in tight times I think it’s important to prioritize and I’d like to provide my motivation.
Having someone to operate the camera is obviously essential. You could make a movie without actors, but someone has to at least control the camera. The plus here is that this individual will also likely help with lighting since they’ll care about the aesthetic more than anyone.
One person can often effectively run sound, but I highly recommend dedicating one crew member to this task. Much of my advice for quick and creative shooting relies on the camera being on a gimbal. It’s much easier to get good sound when the mic isn’t wired to the camera but is close to the talent. A boom operator with a recording device strapped to him/her is the way to go.
A script supervisor is essential if you’re shooting anything narrative. It’s just much better to assign someone the responsibility of checking to make sure you shoot what you need to and it actually edits together. This third person can also be essential in getting logistics handled as they don’t have as much demand on their time during setup. You need someone to field incoming questions, get people where they need to be, etc.
To borrow further from Hollywood’s system, let’s talk about various ways of getting a take going. This will differ depending where in the world you are, so again, don’t take this as doctrine (though some get dogmatic about it!). Rather, learn from the process of why these steps are important in initiating a take.