A film set is a bustling ecosystem, and every person has a part to play in getting a project to the finish line. You may hear the terms “above the line” and “below the line” to describe folks who are responsible for guiding a project’s creative direction and technical crew roles, respectively.
Keep reading to learn more about every job you’ll see on a movie set, what they do, and where they fall on the film crew hierarchy.
“Spider-Man Far From Home” producer Kevin Feige Courtesy Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock
While some producers do have creative input, their primary job is finding and providing funding. Today, the most famous Hollywood producers are associated with big franchises. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has Kevin Feige, “Star Wars” has Kathleen Kennedy, and “Harry Potter” has David Heyman.
- Executive producers are at the top of the pyramid from a business standpoint. EPs are primarily responsible for acquiring (or providing) funding for the film, and sometimes for assembling creative talent. That can mean anything from landing major box office stars to liaising with investors.
- Producers report to the EP and take a more active hand in the production itself. Producers typically work with the line producer to establish budgets, communicate creative notes to the director, manage business operations, and ensure the production is running on schedule.
- Line producers oversee every aspect of the film’s budget. They may also do logistical troubleshooting on set if an issue that arises concerns the movie’s bottom line. LPs report to the executive producer.
Spike Lee directing “Da 5 Bloods” Courtesy David Lee/Netflix
The director’s creative vision guides the film. Along with the producers, they are at the top of the crew hierarchy. They are creatively in charge and lead production from start to finish. A significant part of a director’s job is doling out instructions to every department to ensure that each aspect of the finished product fits their blueprint.
A clear style and vision means you know what to expect from films by Tim Burton, Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, Steve McQueen, Nancy Meyers, M. Night Shyamalan, Chloé Zhao, and Spike Lee, to name a few.
These roles work under the director:
- The first assistant director (AD) maintains both the daily shooting schedule and overall production timeline. The first AD communicates instructions to the department heads to make sure every day on set runs smoothly.
- The second AD oversees logistical duties, such as creating and distributing call sheets and making sure that talent is on set when needed. The second AD, or sometimes the second second AD, is sometimes responsible for directing background performers.
- The script supervisor maintains the story’s continuity throughout production; that includes everything from where a prop is placed to how an actor delivers a line. This position is separate from the film’s screenwriter, who pens the script but often isn’t on set.
- Second unit directors capture B-roll, action, or pickup shots with their own crew. They exist independent from the film’s primary hierarchy, however.
“The Suicide Squad” cast Courtesy Warner Bros.
While not technically included in the film crew hierarchy, the cast is obviously a crucial part of a movie set. Actors portray the characters that bring the film to life—and that comes with its own separate pecking order. The principal cast comprises anyone with a major speaking role. The significance of each principal actor to the film’s plot is usually determined by their place on the call sheet; the closer to the top, the more integral they are to the story.
- Background actors, also known as extras, go through wardrobe and work with the first or second assistant director to fill out a scene. They rarely have spoken lines.
- Stand-ins are not actors in the traditional sense, but they temporarily replace principal cast members on set so that the rest of the crew can properly light and focus a scene before shooting.
This department is responsible for physically capturing images with the camera. Some famous cinematographers include Roger Deakins, Janusz Kamiński, Rachel Morrison, and Bill Pope. The relationship between cinematographer and director needs to be copacetic. Many directors serve as their own cinematographers, like Quentin Tarantino, Reed Morano, and Steven Soderbergh. Some cinematographers, like Barry Sonnenfeld and Ernest R. Dickerson, go on to direct their own features.
Department head: The director of photography, also known as the cinematographer, is responsible for lighting and shot composition. They develop the visual style of the film based on the director’s instructions.
These positions report to the cinematographer:
- The camera operator physically controls the camera and executes the angles for the DP.
- The first assistant camera (or focus puller) operates the camera’s focus ring, keeping the subject of a particular shot sharp.
- The second assistant camera (or clapper) loads film and runs the slate or clapper board that identifies the start of each take. They help keep footage clearly labeled and organized and help to synchronize audio and video in postproduction.
- Digital imaging technicians (DIT) assist the cinematographer with color correction on set and troubleshoot aspects of filming on digital rather than film, including camera settings, color management, dailies management, and workflow.
Behind the scenes of “Squid Game” Courtesy Noh Juhan/Netflix
Light and electricity are integral to capturing a moving image. While the camera department picks up light, this department provides it.
Department head: The gaffer is the film’s chief lighting technician. They come up with a plan to properly—and creatively—light a scene and execute it along with their staff. Reporting to the gaffer:
- The best boy electric is the gaffer’s right hand, overseeing all cables and generators.
- The electrical lighting technician is in charge of running cable to power the lights. Technicians also program any special effects or moving lights.
- The generator operator handles the generators required to power in-studio and on-location generators.
Department head: The key grip, while in the lighting department, works with the gaffer to put together everything needed for the lights to work, including all nonelectrical support gear, such as camera rigs to stabilize movement, lighting rigs, and over-the-head rigging. These positions report to the key grip:
While the camera, lighting, and electric departments often work in tandem on set, several key members of the sound department—such as sound designers and foley artists—are also part of the postproduction process.
Department head: The production sound mixer records audio and sound on set. That requires mixing in real time, as well as asking for a retake if the audio quality isn’t quite right. In addition to dialogue and background noise, the sound mixer also records “room tone,” or a few moments of silence in each new location, for editing purposes. These roles work with the production sound mixer:
- The boom operator holds and handles the boom microphone, the long recording device used to capture dialogue during a scene.
- Cable people assist with running power from the generator to the mics and any other sound-related utility needs on set.
The look of a set helps actors and audiences feel immersed in the world, contributes to the tone of the project, and provides the details necessary to tell the story. Some well-known art directors are a huge part of a director’s recognizable aesthetic, like Baz Luhrmann’s collaborator Catherine Martin (“Moulin Rouge!” “The Great Gatsby”) and Steven Spielberg’s frequent partner Rick Carter (“Jurassic Park,” “Munich”).
Department head: The production designer leads the art department and designs the sets both in-studio and on location—as well as determining how those sets will be dressed with furniture and props. They’re responsible for executing the aesthetic of the film.
- The art director manages the art department on set, essentially making the production designer’s vision come to life. Occasionally, the production designer and art director are one and the same.
- The location manager is in charge of making sure a shooting location is ready for production to begin. That means settling parking, finding power sources, minimizing outside noises, and closing off areas to the public if and when necessary.
- The location scout finds locales that suit the scene’s requirements.
- The construction coordinator works with a small crew to build whatever is necessary for sets in the studio and on location. They collaborate with the set designer and props department.
- Greenspeople take care of anything natural on set, like plants.
- The gang boss acts as the set’s foreman.
- Set decorators are essentially interior decorators for film. They find the right rugs, furniture, curtains, artwork, and anything else that will physically populate the scene.
- Set dressers place the scene’s decorations and furniture onto the set itself. It is the set dressers’ responsibility to make sure the setting feels natural and lived-in.
- The prop master is responsible for the creation, maintenance, and inventory of all props. A prop is any object in a scene that is used or touched by an actor.
Richard Foreman Jr/AMC
Actors must be made up to fit the world of the film. That’s where hair and makeup come in. With seven Oscar wins, acclaimed American makeup artist Rick Baker holds the Academy record in the category. He specializes in horror and fantasy films that require a lot of creative makeup looks, like “An American Werewolf in London” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Department head: The key makeup artist designs and executes the plan for every actor’s makeup, including any necessary prosthetics and visual effects (VFX) work.
- Makeup artists apply the necessary makeup, both before and during shooting.
- Special effects makeup artists deal with prosthetics and anything that’s required to transform the actors beyond the traditional confines of hair and makeup.
Department head: The key hair stylist designs and executes the plan for every actor’s hair.
- Hairstylists create and maintain the character’s hairstyle both before and during shooting.
Along with hair and makeup, the wardrobe department is in charge of dressing the actors according to the story, tone, and aesthetic of the film. Well-known costume designers include Edith Head (“Sabrina,” “All About Eve”), Ruth E. Carter (“Black Panther,” “Selma”) and Colleen Atwood (“Edward Scissorhands,” “Big Fish”).
Department head: The costume designer maps out, coordinates, and approves the wardrobe so all the characters achieve a particular look. The costume designer may design the clothes themselves or work with tailors and shoppers to purchase and fit outfits from brands or thrift stores. These positions work for the costume designer:
- The wardrobe supervisor manages all clothing on set; that includes care and maintenance, as well as proper labeling, hanging, and storage.
- The set costumer is on hand to help with any wardrobe-related issues that arise on set.
- The costume coordinator keeps administrative records of all costumes.
Tom Holland on the set of “Uncharted” Courtesy Sony Pictures
While it may seem like this is the department for daredevils, stunt performers and coordinators are primarily concerned with safety. They put themselves at reasonable risk to make action look good and keep everyone safe, not just the movie stars. Established stuntpeople include Sala Baker, who got his start on Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and often steps in as an actor, and Bob Anderson, who specializes in swordplay and had a hand in everything from “Barry Lyndon” to “The Princess Bride,” “Star Wars,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Department head: The stunt coordinator designs, choreographs, and casts all physical stunts across the production.
- Fight choreographers often overlap with stunt coordinators, but occasionally, a separate stunt performer will specifically be in charge of designing any scene in the film involving combat.
- Fight coordinators, on the other hand, most often choreograph and rehearse fights, but they have no hand in any other stunt work.
- Stunt performers sub in for the actors and execute the stunts.
The visual effects on any large-scale production are mostly created in postproduction. But with the amount of digital touch-ups and motion capture used in film today, the director often needs a VFX crew present on set.
- The VFX supervisor’s role starts in preproduction, when they determine the techniques and equipment necessary to smoothly capture effects once filming begins. On set, they ensure the director and camera department are capturing those effects properly, in a way that won’t hinder the postproduction process or require reshoots.
- The VFX coordinator is more of an administrative position. They schedule and work with visual effects artists to make sure everything is done on time.
This department has nothing to do with the final film and everything to do with sustaining the filmmakers and cast on set. Film shoots often involve long or odd hours, and people have to be fed.
- Craft services provides food and water to cast and crew throughout the day.
- Catering specifically provides meals, often with a small menu of choices, for longer shoots as part of designated meal breaks. Both craft services and catering are independent contractors separate from the hierarchy.
There is a whole department on a film crew that’s charged with moving people and equipment from point A to point B. It’s an essential role, especially when shooting on location.
- The transportation captain or transportation coordinator is responsible for getting people and equipment to set. They organize a plan and budget for conveying where everyone and everything needs to be.
- The driver takes talent, crew, and equipment to and from the studio or location.
There are many people running around sets that are not part of a particular department but have essential jobs as well.
- The set accountant acts as another pair of eyes on the budget to make sure that everything is financially sound and on track.
- Production assistants are entry-level workers who support any and all last-minute needs on shooting day, from stapling and handing out scripts to cleaning up on set.
- The set PA reports to the assistant director.
- The art PA reports to the production designer and should have an artistic eye.
- The office PA reports to the unit production manager and makes sure the production office is never unpiloted.
- Location PAs, who report to the location manager, ensure that sets remain closed off to traffic, neighboring buildings, and nearby areas.
- The unit publicist is on hand for publicity that will be used to promote the film. They may organize set visits and interviews with press.
- The still photographer technically works under the director, but this is a fairly isolated position on set. Their job is to take pictures of filming for publicity purposes. While some behind-the-scenes images are released by still photographers, they also have to mimic the shots set up by the director of photography.
- On-set tutor: Child labor laws require that actors under 18 spend a certain number of hours in “school” on set, catching up on homework and studying for exams.