Picture this: You’re on your way to the first rehearsal of a television show you’re starring in. You’re confident because you get to the set on time and you’ve got all your lines memorized. But as you look around, reality sinks in—you barely know what the dozens of people running around you do! Fortunately, Backstage is here to help you.
As a beginning actor, all the relationships you make are vital. Not only is it a good idea to know what individual crew members do before you get to rehearsal, but to remember how much (60–80 hours a week) and how hard they work. Know your place, as acting coach and Backstage Expert Matt Newton advises, and always say thank you.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the team of people that make up a TV set. Whether it’s the script supervisor or the prop master, knowing everyone’s roles will make their job—and your job—easier. Speaking of easy, we’ve compiled a glossary of these roles broken up by department for you. Feel free to bookmark and reference whenever you need to!
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.
The writer is responsible for, well, creating the story for the show! The script will either be the writer’s original story or an adaptation of another story. Writers are always on a strict deadline due to continually writing and revising the script from the beginning to the launch of the pilot episode. It’s a pretty high-pressure job, because 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 directors fulfill the PD’s vision—they manage the art department’s budget and working schedule and oversee the construction of the set.
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.
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.
Director of Photography (aka 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.
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.
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.
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.
The chief of all the grips—you’ll usually find a key grip on a bigger set. 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.
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.
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. The grip, gaffer, and best boy are sometimes the same person on smaller sets.
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.
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.
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 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.
Hair Department Head
The hair department head oversees the hair department. He briefs the hairstylists on the details of the hair for the character they’re working on, and creates continuity notes for them.
This is the person who is going to style your hair, so make sure you’re on her good side! She not only preps your hair so it’s ready for the shoot, but also washes it out after you’re done, if it was a big ’do.
The additional stylist assists the key hairstylists and makes sure those flyaways and frizz are fully tamed before filming starts.
Makeup Department Head
Like the hair department head, the makeup department head supervises the artists in the department to ensure all makeup is done correctly and effectively. He’ll take the lead on more complicated makeup designs.
Key Makeup Artist
The makeup artist is here to make sure you look your best (or worst, depending on what your role is). She plans and executes the makeup designs for the cast, including facial and body hair applications. If prosthetics are involved, a special effects makeup artist is hired for that.
Additional artists take care of the little things, like keeping workstations clean and organized, running errands, and assisting key makeup artists during makeup applications.
The set decorator’s job is to add some pizazz to the set. He’s in charge of booking props for the production, from larger items, like furniture, to smaller details, like the newspaper sitting on the living room table. You may see him assisting in dressing the set—hanging curtains, laying carpets, etc.
Under the set decorator’s supervision, the leadman is in charge of preparing and placing all decorations before a scene is shot and photographed. She manages the team of set dressers and ensures they execute the production designer’s vision.
The foreman does all things construction—he assists and supervises the team of carpenters with building the set and scenery. On larger productions, he mostly delegates tasks, but on smaller ones with fewer carpenters, you’ll see him hammering and drilling away!
On-set dressers must maintain prop placement and set décor continuity. They work closely with the script supervisor, since their roles intersect, and keep a detailed log and take photographs of every item used.
A set dresser’s title translates literally—she dresses the set! All the cool, tiny details you see on set, like the contents of a desk drawer or fridge or the pictures hanging in the bathroom, is her responsibility.
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.
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.
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!)
You may have to change locations during filming, and the transportation captain is in charge of making sure everyone gets to where they need to be. He creates a transportation schedule for the actors and crew, and has a team of drivers ready to go when needed.
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.
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.
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.
Looking for a place to put all this knowledge to good use? Check out Backstage’s TV audition listings!