12 Film Terms to Know Before Stepping on Set

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News flash! Actors are not the center of a film; they are just one small part in the making of a movie.

Creating a film is a huge project that usually involves hundreds of people, including the actors. So it’s important for young actors to understand the roles and responsibilities of a film crew so that when they step on set, they have a basic understanding of what’s happening. Below are 12 terms every young actor should know before their first day on set.

Director: A director controls a film’s artistic and dramatic aspects, bringing the story to life on screen while guiding the crew and actors to fulfill his or her creative vision. The director chooses the cast, production design, and creative aspects of filmmaking. Most people become directors after attending film school or spending years in the business. 

Assistant director: In charge of managing cast and crew while assisting the production manager and the director, the assistant director is second-in-command on set. There may be several ADs working on a major film.

Producer: The producer is the highest-ranking person on a film. They are ultimately responsible for the film and duties ranging from creating an initial budget to running day-to-day operations. Producers also typically make the acceptance speech when collecting awards. Most films have several producers, including a line producer, associate producer, and executive producer.

READ: How to Become a Film Director

Production assistant: Also referred to as PAs, the production assistant helps the first assistant director with set operations and in the production office with general tasks.

Screenwriter: A good script is vital to a film’s success. A screenwriter writes the script, working closely with the production team to set the tone, setting, characters, and storyline. They must understand the filmmaking process and know how to work in this visual medium.

Script supervisor: The script supervisor keeps track of what parts of the script have been filmed and makes notes of any deviations between what was actually shot and what appears in the script. Script supervisors are also in charge of continuity, ensuring that everything you see matches the time period and is consistent from frame to frame. If you’ve seen a modern watch on the hand of a medieval knight, that was an error in continuity.

Director of photography: Also known as the DP, this director heads the technical department and makes sure the script is translated into visuals based on what the director’s vision is.

Camera operator: Working closely with the DP to determine the composition of each shot as instructed by the director., the primary job of the camera operator is to make smooth pan and tilt moves to maintain the composition and keep the action within the frame lines.

Makeup artist: The goal of the makeup artist is to make everyone on screen look as good as possible. He/she works closely with the director and production team to create the looks required for the various parts of the movie. Some makeup artists specialize in special effects, like wounds or scars for horror films.

READ: How to Become a Makeup Artist

Hairstylist: Prepares the performers’ hair with styles that suit production requirements. Stylists work to determining the proper hairstyle or wigs for the period and character, as well as ensuring the style flatters the actor.

Gaffer: Also known as the chief lighting technician, gaffers are in charge of the electrical department and work closely with the DP to achieve the vision, look, and feel of the film through the lighting.

Grip: Grips ensure all the equipment—cameras, lights, etc.—are correctly mounted with cables, pulleys, and other rigging. They work closely with the camera department, especially if the camera is mounted on a dolly or crane, and the electrical department to put in lighting setups necessary for a shot. Grips are also responsible for safety on set as it relates to equipment.

Now that you understand these roles on a film set, you can ask the right questions of the right people. Remember that each position is professional and essential to the success of the production. Be sure to treat each person on the film set, from producer to caterer, with respect and courtesy.

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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Denise Simon
Denise Simon is a New York-based acting coach and career consultant who has been involved in the entertainment industry for more than 30 years as an actor, teacher, director, casting director and personal talent manager.
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