(Some) Roles you can find on a film set
When we think of Hollywood, the first thing that comes to mind is the box office actors and actresses everyone knows - Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Angelina Jolie... But what about names like Taika Waititi (Director), Denis Villeneuve (Director), Joseph Kosinski (Director), Roger Deakins (DP), Caleb Deschanel (DP), John Higgins (Gaffer), Kevin Feige (Producer), or Kathleen Kennedy (Producer). All of these people are incredible at what they do and are collectively responsible for films we know and love, such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Dune, Top Gun: Maverick, 007 Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption, and the list goes on. My point is, there's much more happening behind the scenes than meets the eye, and these roles deserve to be talked about too.
Imagine this - a bunch of people coming together to create something amazing in a very short timeframe, some of them complete strangers to each other until they meet on the day. Imagine taking literal words and translating that into a moving picture that evokes emotion through light, pictures, and performance. Yeah okay - sounds easy. Not so fast. It requires different types of people and personalities in specific roles to execute. Let’s discuss a few of these roles and what's required from each position.
Disclaimer: I'm excluding lots of other key positions on set, all of which I value equally - being a DP, I'm speaking on what I know and who I work with directly.
As a director, you are the final line of defense between you, the agency, the client, and your vision; whether that be a Hollywood production or a small commercial. Your vision is why you were hired in the first place, but it’s also important to understand the needs of the production from the agency and client end as well. So what do you do on the day? Well, exactly what your title says - directing. You are the visionary. You control the film’s artistic and dramatic aspects and visualize the screenplay or script, all while managing the technical crew. You are the decision maker.
Director Of Photography
So visualizing the screenplay or script is important, but without a DP you won’t be able to establish a look or feel through camera movement, lighting, or composition. As a DP, you are establishing the visual look of the film. You help tell the story through these artistic and technical decisions. Furthermore, you are also a security blanket for the director - anything that lands in frame you are responsible for. Does the actor's hair or makeup look off? Flag it. Is there an issue with the production design? Flag it. Is there a wardrobe issue? Flag it. You are the eyes of the production.
Key Grip / Gaffer
You are the problem solver. The engineer. The master of rigging items in obscure places. The electrician. To be clear, these are two entirely different roles on larger budget productions. For time and length's sake, I’ve written these two together since they work simultaneously with each other and the DP. Without these two roles, the DP would be completely lost. These talented and seriously underappreciated people are the backbone of the production. Without them the ask of the production is impossible. They’re in charge of rigging lights, calculating electrical outputs, power distribution, camera rigging, and anything else that’s needed. These people make the production go.
The eye in the sky - so to say. You oversee all facets of production. Everything from pre-production straight through to the finished film. The producer is generally the point of contact for the agency, the client, and the crew. To say they have to wear many hats is a total understatement. In pre-production, the producer will plan and coordinate certain aspects of the film - like the script, the locations, finances, and more. During production, they could be a point of contact for the client and crew, depending on the scale and size (there are multiple producers on larger productions, all with various titles, all of whom handle different aspects of that job). In post-production, they are overseeing editing timelines, more finances, and client requests. This is one of the few jobs in production that sees the project through from start to finish, it’s a rare thing to see the project go from concept to creation.
It's not to be understated that there are many other roles that I’ve completely neglected. All these roles also directly impact the film. Hair and Makeup, Location Sound, Production Assistants, and Effects Supervisors (Special and Visual) to name a few. Every department plays a pivotal role, usually coming together for a small period of time, with one goal in mind - to create the best video or film possible. Production is a team game - never forget that.