The Actor’s Guide To Who’s Who on a Film + TV Set

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Photo Source: Jasmin Garcia-Verdin

After memorizing your lines and following the director’s instructions, your best asset on set is understanding that you’re just one small part of a much larger team. From the key grip to the boom operator, knowing the titles and responsibilities of each member of a film or TV crew is a key part of a successful on-camera acting career.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the people and departments that make television and movie sets run. Whether it’s the script supervisor or the prop master, understanding everyone’s role will make their life—and yours!—a lot easier.

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Key Creative Team

Director: You should definitely know who the director is, because you and your co-stars will be working very closely with her. The director pushes the vision of the production forward—she’s involved pretty much every step of the way, from hiring to script edits.

Producer: Everything the light touches is the producer’s kingdom. Producers are the key to all aspects of a smooth-running production. They make sure everything is done on time and within budget, while maintaining an environment the cast and crew can flourish in.

Writer: The writer is responsible for creating the script or screenplay. The script will either be the writer’s original story or an adaptation of another story. TV writers, in particular, are always on a strict deadline, since they are continually writing and revising the script until the launch of the pilot episode. It’s a pretty high-pressure job. Not only do they need to write for a specific audience, they also need fill a specific time slot—say, 22 minutes for a sitcom.

Production Department

Executive Producer: EPs are responsible for the quality and success of the production and ensuring that it will have appeal on the market. Though they are not always involved in the daily filming process, they are heavily involved in financial aspects of the project. This means their say on the final product can hold a lot of weight.

Associate Producer: APs play a significant creative role on set. They can provide help in securing location and talent, as well as contribute ideas to the development of the script. APs also carry out any tasks delegated by the producer.

Assistants: Production assistants are the definition of “all hands on deck.” Their days consist of various tasks, from getting coffees to escorting actors back to their trailers to managing paperwork. Responsibilities change daily, so there’s never a slow or typical day for a PA.

1st Assistant Director: The AD supervises both cast and crew, and is the person who will come get you when filming starts. He keeps track of time for the director and makes sure filming is always on schedule. The AD will also keep you safe—he’s responsible for eliminating and minimizing hazards on set.

Key 2nd Assistant Director: The 2nd AD relieves the 1st AD of certain tasks, like putting the cast through hair, makeup, and wardrobe. She’s in charge of the call sheets, so scheduling is her key responsibility, as well as assisting the 1st AD whenever needed. You’ll typically find them on a larger set, so your very first gig may or may not have one.

2nd 2nd Assistant Director: Yes, even the assistant to the assistant needs an assistant. Though it may seem redundant, 2nd 2nd ADs are essential to getting the smaller parts of the set moving—literally. They direct extras and vehicles for background action during large crowd scenes.

Script Supervisor: A majority of your scenes will be shot out of script sequence, so script supervisors have an important role: to make sure the finished product makes verbal and visual sense. They work closely with the director and keep a detailed written and photographed record of things like dialogue, costumes, props, and set design (just to name a few out of many) to ensure no continuity errors occur.

Stunt Coordinator: Though stunt coordinators don’t actually perform stunts, they do something equally vital—plan them! All those seemingly spontaneous big booms, crashes, and fights are carefully designed and rehearsed. They bring the adrenaline and danger to a production, but also implement safety measures just in case a stunt goes wrong. (Hopefully, it won’t!)

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Art Department

Production Designer: Everything looks the way it does on the set thanks to the production designer. A lot of hard work and imagination goes into every backdrop and location. Whether it’s the inside of an apartment in NYC or a fantasy realm based in the 19th century—the PD sets the atmosphere to bring the story to life.

Art Director: Art directors fulfill the PD’s vision—they manage the art department’s budget and working schedule and oversee the construction of the set.

Art PA: Similar to production assistants, art PAs are the main support for the art department. They run basic errands like making sure everyone has lunch and supply the draftsmen with art materials. If there are any last-minute changes to sets or supplies required, the art PA handles them.

Prop Master: The prop master and set decorator’s roles overlap a bit—they both select and oversee placement of props for the set. However, the set decorator is mostly in charge of the bigger props, like bookcases and plants, while prop masters take care of the smaller props that the actors actually handle. Think things like mail, pens, pots and pans, and so on.

Assistant Prop Master: Assistant prop masters are considered the right hand of the department. When the prop master is unavailable or absent, they are their representatives.

Prop Assistant: Moving furniture, filling glasses, turning on lamps—prop assistants are in charge of all the movement of props, as well as making sure things look the same during the reshooting of scenes.

Camera Department

Director of Photography (or Cinematographer): DPs are all about aesthetics—they oversee the visual representation of the production. Creating the ideal look of the show is a collaborative project, so they work closely with rest of the camera crew, grip department, and gaffer (who runs the lighting) to create the ideal look for the show.

A Camera Operator: The A camera op has to have 20/20 vision in terms of creating the cinematic experience. He gets first look in the camera’s lens to make sure that everything the DP and the director has instructed is visually set up. He handles the camera during shooting. (On smaller sets, the DP and camera op tend to be the same person.)

B Camera Operator/Steadicam: See that person zooming around with camera equipment? That’s the Steadicam operator! The Steadicam system helps follow movement while remaining stable. Smooth camera movement definitely doesn’t happen on its own; someone wearing a weighted vest (up to 90 pounds!) for a long period of time helps make it happen.

A Camera 1st Assistant: You’ll see 1st ACs extremely focused on set as they focus and refocus the camera lens while you and your co-stars are moving in and out of the frame. They do this without actually looking at the lens, but at marks placed on the set, floor, and props.

A Camera 2nd Assistant: Despite being the 2nd AC, the pressure is on these guys to ensure everything runs smoothly in the camera department. They’ll be the ones handling the clapperboard, changing and charging camera lenses and batteries, and dealing with film labs and stock. Before the shoot begins, they unload all the camera equipment that’s being used for the day.

Digital Imaging Technician: The DIT is in charge of all the digital handling of the footage. He’s the one making sure all cameras are set to the correct settings, as well as backing up the footage after shoots.

Stills Photographer: The stills photographer, arguably, holds the success of the production in their camera. She will be taking the press shots of you and your co-stars that will appear when promoting the show. It might be a good idea to become her buddy and let her in on what your best angles are.

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Lighting + Electrical

Gaffer (aka Chief Lighting Technician): Gaffers are in charge of the lighting on set, which means they literally get to make the DP’s vision for the production shine. Getting the right lighting doesn’t mean just picking the right light bulb, but actually being able to shape the light by finding the best light placement and using colored gels and filters, depending on the feel of the scene.

Best Boy Electric: The best boy is the gaffer’s second in command—she makes sure all the cables, generators, and light bulbs are working and placed correctly in their respective locations. And, yes, despite the gender-specific title, either a man or a woman can be a best boy.

Grip: Once the gaffer has decided, along with the DP, what the lighting design should look like, it’s the grip who executes it. They physically create the patterns, diffusions, or shadows necessary to set the mood, as well make sure everything is safely rigged and secured. On smaller sets, the grip, the gaffer, and the best boy might be the same person, but on bigger ones, there is a Key Grip who reports to the gaffer and tells all the other grips what to do.

Lamp Operator: The lamp ops go by many names: lighting technicians, juicers, or just electricians. But they all do the same thing, which is operate the lights and run all the cables on set. They’re considered the heavy lifters of the lighting department.

Grip Department

The grip department is responsible for any non-electrical gear on set—for example, tripods, cranes, rigging, or dollies. They work closely with the electrical department to achieve the correct lighting for shots.

Key Grip: The chief of all the grips—you’ll usually find a key grip on a bigger set. (On a smaller set, the grip, the gaffer, and the best boy might be the same person.) He reports to the gaffer and gets to tell everyone else what to do.

Best Boy Grip: Like the best boy electric, the best boy grip is the key grip’s right hand.

Dolly Grip: See the person moving the dolly with the camera and camera operator? That’s the dolly grip! She builds the track the cart moves on, and is responsible for operating the cart during scenes that require tracking.

Grip: Grips execute the lighting design decided on by the gaffer and DP. If certain patterns or shadows are needed, grips physically create them. They also build and maintain the supporting camera equipment—assembly often comes with specific instructions describing where and how cameras need to be mounted, hung, pushed, or pulled. 

Hair and Makeup

The grip department is responsible for any non-electrical gear on set—for example, tripods, cranes, rigging, or dollies. They work closely with the electrical department to achieve the correct lighting for shots.

Key Grip: The chief of all the grips—you’ll usually find a key grip on a bigger set. (On a smaller set, the grip, the gaffer, and the best boy might be the same person.) He reports to the gaffer and gets to tell everyone else what to do.

Best Boy Grip: Like the best boy electric, the best boy grip is the key grip’s right hand.

Dolly Grip: See the person moving the dolly with the camera and camera operator? That’s the dolly grip! She builds the track the cart moves on, and is responsible for operating the cart during scenes that require tracking.

Grip: Grips execute the lighting design decided on by the gaffer and DP. If certain patterns or shadows are needed, grips physically create them. They also build and maintain the supporting camera equipment—assembly often comes with specific instructions describing where and how cameras need to be mounted, hung, pushed, or pulled. 

Wardrobe Department

Costume Designer: If you want to get a say in what you’re wearing, you might want to get to know who your costume designer is. According to costume designer Ingrid Price, it’s one of the most collaborative jobs on set. Designers collaborate with the production designer and hair and makeup to make sure outfits work with the overall vision of the production. “Talk to your costume designer,” Price suggests. “Your costume designer, along with the hair and makeup people you’re working with on a project, can be your best allies.”

Assistant Costume Designer: The assistant costume designer is in charge of all the logistics of the costume department, like budget control and organization of production schedules. He helps the costume designer break down the script to assess what kind of costumes, and how many, are needed.

Costume Supervisor: The costume supervisor acts as the designer’s representative—before you get in front of the camera, she’ll be checking to see you’re wearing your designated outfit correctly.

Set Costumer: Everything you’re wearing the set costumer bought. She contacts vendors to purchase necessary materials and maintains the wardrobe itself with laundry and ironing.

Costume PAs: Costume PAs are just starting out in the business, so you’ll see them running around completing various tasks like picking up costume orders, driving the designers to and from the set, and getting coffee and lunch for the department.

Set Decoration

Costume Designer: If you want to get a say in what you’re wearing, you might want to get to know who your costume designer is. According to costume designer Ingrid Price, it’s one of the most collaborative jobs on set. Designers collaborate with the production designer and hair and makeup to make sure outfits work with the overall vision of the production. “Talk to your costume designer,” Price suggests. “Your costume designer, along with the hair and makeup people you’re working with on a project, can be your best allies.”

Assistant Costume Designer: The assistant costume designer is in charge of all the logistics of the costume department, like budget control and organization of production schedules. He helps the costume designer break down the script to assess what kind of costumes, and how many, are needed.

Costume Supervisor: The costume supervisor acts as the designer’s representative—before you get in front of the camera, she’ll be checking to see you’re wearing your designated outfit correctly.

Set Costumer: Everything you’re wearing the set costumer bought. She contacts vendors to purchase necessary materials and maintains the wardrobe itself with laundry and ironing.

Costume PAs: Costume PAs are just starting out in the business, so you’ll see them running around completing various tasks like picking up costume orders, driving the designers to and from the set, and getting coffee and lunch for the department.

Sound Department

Sound Mixer: A sound mixer records all the sounds and dialogue during filming. It’s a particularly difficult role due to inevitable background noise—someone might be whispering a little too loudly during the shoot, or traffic could be particularly loud during an outside scene. However, it’s his job to choose the best microphones for every scene and make sure they’re positioned adequately for the clearest, cleanest sound coverage.

Boom Op: The boom operator is easy to spot—she’s the one holding the long mechanical arm with the big microphone attached to the end. She needs to be able to move very steadily, since she has to get as close to the action as possible without getting the microphone in the shot.

Utility Sound Tech: Utility technicians serve as assistants to the sound mixer and boom op. Since they usually have their hands full, these guys and gals assemble and test equipment, pull cables, and operate other mics needed during shoots.

Transportation Department

Sound Mixer: A sound mixer records all the sounds and dialogue during filming. It’s a particularly difficult role due to inevitable background noise—someone might be whispering a little too loudly during the shoot, or traffic could be particularly loud during an outside scene. However, it’s his job to choose the best microphones for every scene and make sure they’re positioned adequately for the clearest, cleanest sound coverage.

Boom Op: The boom operator is easy to spot—she’s the one holding the long mechanical arm with the big microphone attached to the end. She needs to be able to move very steadily, since she has to get as close to the action as possible without getting the microphone in the shot.

Utility Sound Tech: Utility technicians serve as assistants to the sound mixer and boom op. Since they usually have their hands full, these guys and gals assemble and test equipment, pull cables, and operate other mics needed during shoots.

Catering

Craft Service: You’ll probably get to know the craft services department intimately, seeing as they provide the food and snacks that are always available to the crew. These aren’t hot entrees, but they’re great pick-me-ups to keep you going for the day. Cookies aren’t the only thing they have to offer—they also help any department with small but necessary tasks needed to keep things moving.

Looking for a place to put all this knowledge to good use? Check out Backstage’s TV audition listings!

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