If you’ve been to a feature film in the last fifty years and sat through until the end credits, you know it takes a not-so-small army to make a movie. For instance, the crew of “Iron Man 3” (2013), numbering 3,310, is over four times the population of the world’s smallest country, Vatican City. What exactly are all of these film crew members doing? Well, we’ll get to as many of them as possible in this article, breaking down all the primary filmmaking roles.
Key creative team
Let’s start with what is often called the “key creative team.”
Although all three of these roles are important to the filmmaking process and the on-set team, the first one on the job and the last to leave is the producer. Whether the producer is employed by the production company or is independent, they oversee the creation of the film’s script, find the money to make the film and manage the film’s entire production up to its distribution.
The producer often hires key production people, including the director. The director is responsible for the creative vision of the film. Directors are often depicted as guiding actors, critiquing every piece of dialog and movement they make — which is an important part of their job — but it’s not everything. Directors are often involved in the script production and the hiring of the cast — and sometimes — key members of the crew. The director visualizes the script and converts words on a page into the emotion-packed film we watch for 90+ minutes. Directors are involved throughout the project, from pre-production to production to post-production.
The story starts with the screenwriter. It may come from their imagination, or it may be adapted from an existing body of work; often a literary book or a true life story. Sometimes screenwriters are hired by production companies to write a script for them and sometimes independent screenwriters sell their scripts to companies.
Script department (Script editors, coordinators and producers)
The role of the script editor is fairly self-evident: they edit the script and make any changes if necessary. The script coordinator checks each draft of the script for proper formatting, spelling, punctuation and continuity. In reality television, the story producer creates the story from the collected footage and often writes the dialog for the host.
Location department (Location managers, scouts and assistants)
The location manager is the head of the locations department and is responsible for all locations outside of the studio set. They are responsible for obtaining all fire, police and other governmental permits as well as being the liaison between the production and the locations, ensuring that all runs smoothly. A location scout does exactly what their name implies and is usually very knowledgeable about the local scenery and buildings. They often build a database, so they’re ready to help the producer and screenwriter once the script is finalized. A location assistant aids both the location scout and manager.
The production department is often the largest department, and the big wig here is the executive producer (EP). The role of the EP varies greatly but they are often responsible for finding financing for the film. You probably won’t see the EPs on set every day but they could be there occasionally. EPs may be involved in many of the creative decisions or efforts or may not; it’s a fairly fluid position.
An associate producer (AP) executes various filmmaking roles of a producer under the supervision of the producer. In television, they often write, edit and organize the script, among other tasks.
A very hands-on position is reserved for the line producer. They are the head, day-to-day manager on the set. Line producers usually work on one film at a time and manage the timeline, budget and problems that arise during production. They are usually key in keeping a film on time and on budget.
Production manager/unit production manager
Next comes the production manager or unit production manager (UPM). The UPM works closely with the line producer, but whereas the line producer is usually on set, the UPM is in an office. The UPM is also involved in managing the day-to-day production and problem-solving. But, unlike the line producer, the UPM comes on the job in pre-production and helps hire non-key department crew as well as work on schedules and budgets. The UPM usually has office production assistants to help out.
A production coordinator works under the UPM and has many filmmaking roles in assisting the UPM. They are also tasked with supervising the many —
Production assistants (PAs) are considered the bottom rung of the production ladder; an entry level job. PAs are often assigned to a department and their tasks can be as simple as getting someone a coffee to as important as delivering the days shot film to the printers.
Frist, second, second-second and third assistant directors (AD) have specific and important filmmaking roles on set. The first assistant director answers to the director and is responsible for running the set. Theirs is the voice you will hear the most on the walkie-talkies. They keep the production on time by communicating with crew and department heads and are responsible for the safety of all on set.
The second AD is responsible for creating daily call sheets from the production schedule in coordination with the production coordinator. They manage the “backstage” by making sure actors make it through wardrobe, hair and makeup in a timely fashion. The second AD will often step in for the first AD if they need to leave the set for any reason. Finally, the second-second assistant director and the third assistant director answer to the second AD. They may be in charge of extras and/or PAs or they will just assist the higher AD(s).
The script supervisor is sometimes called the continuity supervisor. They are in charge of constancy in wardrobe, props, set dressing, hair, makeup and the actions of the actors during each scene and across the entire film. Script supervisors usually sit next to the director on set and help the director and eventually the editor in their jobs with the continuity notes they take.
The production secretary is often found in television and provides administrative assistance to the production coordinator, production manager and/or producer.
The production accountant is responsible for managing finances and maintaining financial records during film or TV production, working closely with the production office.
Director of photography
The head of the camera department is the director of photography or cinematographer; they play a huge role in the filmmaking process. The DoP or DP, simply put, is in charge of all things relating to the camera and the light, both artificial and natural. They work closely with the chief lighting technician, better known as the gaffer. The DP works closely with the director to choreograph and frame each shot, choose lenses and filters and coordinate various camera support equipment, such as dollies and cranes, depending on the director’s needs.
Other important roles in the camera department
Camera operator: A camera operator does exactly what the title implies and is subordinate to the DP.
First assistant camera person: the first assistant camera person or 1st AC is usually the focus puller and in charge of the maintenance of the camera equipment.
Second assistant camera person: the second assistant camera person, or 2nd AC, also known as the clapper loader, slates the scenes, loads film and keeps the camera report. The 2nd AC often marks with tape where actors will start a scene, and if they move, where they will end up at.
Steadicam operator: Steadicam operator uses a specialized stabilizer for smooth movement of the camera.
Digital imaging technician: If the film is shot digitally, as opposed to using film stock, the digital imaging technician, or DIT, is responsible for all things digital in the camera department. That includes workflow, settings, signal integrity, backing up and transporting footage.
Motion control technician: A motion control technician can be in charge of many things, including complicated camera movements, special effects, chroma key set-ups and working with miniature models.
Video assist operators: video assist operators, VAOs or video split operators, set up the ‘video farm’ where the director, the DP and others can watch what the camera is shooting from a different location, usually close to the set. VAOs also record the footage if anyone needs to rewatch a shot for any reason.
Production sound mixer
The production sound mixer, or sound recordist, is the head of the sound department. They are responsible for leveling, monitoring and recording the audio. In addition, they are responsible for which microphones are best for different situations and for directing the boom operator.
The boom operator holds the boom, which holds the mic. The mic has to be close to the actor who is speaking but out of the shot. The sound department could also have dedicated sound production assistants.
The gaffer or chief lighting technician is the head of the electrical department and is responsible for setting up the lighting and maintaining safety regarding the lighting equipment. The gaffer answers to the director of photography on a film set and the lighting director on a TV set. Their next in command amongst the electricians are the best boy electrics.
Everyone else in the electrical department are know as electricians.
The key grip is the head of the grip department. The key grip works closely with the gaffer to execute the DPs light vision. They bring a 3-ton, 5-ton or 10-ton grip truck full of flags, silks, reflectors and other gear to the location to help control light. The key grip is often in charge of general safety on the set.
Best boy grip
The second-in-command in the grip department is the best boy grip. They run a group of grips who move anything on the set that needs moving. Grips also help other departments with rigging and temporary structural elements.
A very specialized grip is the dolly grip. They set up the camera dolly track and operate the dolly under the supervision of the DP.
The head of the art department is the production designer. The production designer comes on early in the film to work with the producer, director and DP to create the overall look of the film. They often wear many hats and spend much of their time delegating to others in the department. The production designer works with an illustrator/concept designer to get their ideas on paper.
Second in command in the art department is the art director. Depending on the size of the film, budget and creative needs, the art director might be in charge of several assistant art directors. The art director also wears many hats, plays many roles and works with the many other department heads within the art department during the filmmaking process.
The head of the set decoration department is the set decorator. They are responsible for decorating the set with furniture and all other objects in the scene, and they answer directly to the production designer.
The set decorators work with set dressers who set up and remove furniture, drapery, carpets and everything else you’d see on set.
A set buyer locates the set dressing and either rents or buys it.
A property master or prop master is in charge of buying, building, maintaining, placing and overseeing all the non-weapon props on a film.
On bigger films, a props builder may be in the department.
Other roles in the art department
There can be others in the art department such as graphic designers, weapons masters/armorers, construction coordinators/construction managers and greensmen.
The head of the wardrobe department is the costume designer. They work with the director to bring every piece of clothing and/or costume to set that will be seen in the film.
The wardrobe supervisor/costume supervisor works directly under the costume designer to manage the day-to-day vision of the costume designer.
The costume standby or set costumer is on set at all times to manage the quality and continuity of all the wardrobe.
Other roles in the wardrobe department
A film crew could also have cutters/fitters/tailors/seamstresses if extra hands are needed to construct and/or alter costumes.
Hair and makeup department
The key makeup artist is the head of the makeup department, who answers to the director and production designer. Their duties may include special effects and prosthetics. When needed, there may be a special makeup effects artist or SFX makeup on set who answers to the key makeup artist.
Larger productions might have a makeup supervisor to do as their title states. They rarely apply makeup themselves but work in an assisting role throughout the filmmaking process.
Makeup artists are the ones that apply the makeup on the to actors.
The key hair is the department head in charge of the hair department. They answer to the director and production designer, manage the hair stylists and may even style the hair of the lead actors.
The hair stylists maintain and style hair and wigs on set and answer to the key hair.
The stunt coordinator is in charge of hiring, managing and keeping stunt performers safe. Some actors do some or all of their stunts, but most actors leave it to the professionals. The stunts coordinator works closely with the director and 1st AD.
The set medic is technically not part of the stunts department, but we’ll put them here. If a hospital is not required, the set medic should take care of it. Not all productions will have set medics, but bigger productions with more dangerous scenes should.
Special effects department
The special effects supervisor oversees the mechanical effects, also known as physical or practical effects. These optical or mechanical illusions may include mechanical props or scenery, scale models, animatronics, pyrotechnics and atmospheric effects. They are aided by special effects assistants.
The VFX supervisor is in charge of working with film crews to ensure that the live-action footage being shot in a studio or on location is shot in a way that can be later augmented with visual effects in post-production. They work with the director.
Other roles in the VFX department
A VFX coordinator and other VFX crew members may be needed depending on the number of visual effects that will be added later in post-production.
Craft services and catering department
Both craft services and catering deal with food and drink for the cast and crew. Craft services deal mostly with the snacks and drinks available at any time, whereas catering deals with the designated meals.
Just a brief overview of filmmaking roles
Obviously, this is just a quick general overview of the main filmmaking production roles; we haven’t even dived deep into post-production roles. Entire feature-length articles can be written about many of these positions. You now have a general idea of most of the roles that fill those credits at the end of films.