Photography Topics
Video Topics
Beginner Mode
Show Pro Topics

🎬 The On-Set System

I hesitate to include this section, but I think it provides helpful context. Much of my preaching on this site revolves around the fact that professional media is a result of conscious intentional choices. Understanding some of the key players in larger productions helps reinforce that idea.


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.

Production Assistants

“PAs” are the minions who carry out what other key cast and crew ask them to do.

Production Manager

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.

1st Assistant Director

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.

2nd Assistant Director

Basically similar to the 1st, but specifically in charge of creating and distributing call sheets.


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 people and those who are good people.

Script Supervisor

The script supervisor keeps track of what’s been filmed relative to the script. 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.

Director of Photography

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.

1st Assistant Camera

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”.


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.

Production Sound Mixer

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.

Boom Operator

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.

Production Designer

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.

Calling a Shot

  1. 1st AD: β€œAll quiet on set”
  2. 1st AD: β€œRoll”, then waits for β€œspeeding”. You’ll often hear sound specifically called for first, but more due to tradition. This is the cue for everyone across the set with radios to yell β€œrolling” to shut everyone up.
  3. 2nd AC calls shot/take info. E.g.: β€œ2Bravo take 4” (even before camera starts recording if shooting on film and only if sound mixer has not pre-slated which they often do on bigger shoots).
  4. Optional: Camera operator signals recording is on and ready for a mark, could even request β€œmarker”.
  5. 2nd AC says β€œMark” and claps slate. Don’t clap the slate until after you’ve said β€œMark” as that’s an aural cue to help with sync.
  6. Operator reframes (and 1st AC refocuses) then says β€œCamera Set”.
  7. Director or assistant calls β€œaction”. As a director, I don’t care if I’m calling action but I do like to call cut. 
Scroll to Top