It Takes a Village - 9 Crucial Film/Video Project Roles + Descriptions

Camp4 Collective director Anson Fogel in Alaska.

Camp4 Collective director Anson Fogel in Alaska.

As I’m exposed to bigger productions, I’ve been introduced to more and more types of roles on film sets that each play an integral role in the success of any given day’s shoot. While I love the ease and mobility of hanging by a rope with a single camera, a couple of lenses and the sun as my only lighting, a production crew can achieve a great deal when the various tasks get divvied up and assigned to specialists.

It takes a serious balance of glue, chemistry and leadership to keep all the parts moving synchronously, and to see it come off is like watching a well-rehearsed ballet. Even in the oft stripped-down world of adventure storytelling there is a dance that gets played out between director and cinematographer that, when nailed, results in some pretty astounding work.

Anyone looking to dip their toes into this world would do well to know some of the more common jobs occupied on even the smallest of sets and in the most lightweight of production companies.

Producer. A producer typically wears a few hats, including fundraiser, accountant and lead recruiter (responsible for finding/hiring the Director and other key crew). Be nice to the producer. They may not be calling the creative shots, but they hold the purse strings.

Director. The creative buck stops here. The most important thing to understand is that the director essentially has the final creative word for the project. It’s pretty common for the Director to have a hand in all the major aspects of the film, including scripting, composition of shots and editing.

Cinematographer/Director of Photography. These titles are often used interchangeably, so I am grouping them together. In my 2013 Reel, I use footage from projects in which I’ve been the cinematographer. With the direction that adventure storytelling has taken, it’s a role that takes on more and more importance, as this individual is responsible for the look or visual feel of the movie. The cinematographer makes important decisions like what camera or lens to use. On bigger productions, they are in charge of the whole camera crew.

Camera Operator. As the name implies, the camera operator controls the camera as directed by the previous two individuals. On bigger sets, the cinematographer/DP does not actually handle the camera, but in my world, they’re often one and the same.

Gaffer. This person is in control of the lighting. Where the majority of what I shoot is outdoors and nearly 100% dependent on natural light, I don’t have to mess around with gaffers much. But their job is super important, as in film/video — much like in photography — lighting is everything.

Skip Armstrong and Anson Fogel handling the big gun.

Skip Armstrong and Anson Fogel handling the big gun.

Grip. Where the gaffer decides placement and particulars of the lighting and light sources, the grip takes the light that the gaffer sets up and builds outs the effects around it, like creating shadows and patterns. (The Key Grip is just the Head Grip. The Key Grip, Gaffer and Cinematographer/D.P. will do a lot of collaborating together.)

Best Boy. Again, it’s not a role I have to deal with often, but on bigger productions the Best Boy plays a pretty important role, making sure the electrical load stays balanced and uninterrupted power gets supplied where needed.

Production Sound Mixer. Where the Gaffer controls the lighting, the Production Sound Mixer is in charge of all things sound on the set. This includes placement and selection of microphones, operation of the recording devices and live mixing of the audio.

Editor. With the proliferation of GoPros, everyone has an “edit.” It’s a cool phrase that underscores, however unintentionally, the importance of the editor. Shoot all the raw, amazing footage you want. It’s the editor who cuts and pastes that footage into a coherent, compelling story.

The great thing about this industry (film/video) is that there are plenty of opportunities for a hard-working creative type to get involved. With cheap and accessible gear like GoPros, just about anyone can try their hand at being the director, DP and editor of an adventure story.

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2 Responses to “It Takes a Village - 9 Crucial Film/Video Project Roles + Descriptions”

  1. Digisumo Says:

    Great post Jimmy. I’d like to add 2 more crucial positions to make everything better, if I may? Audio post mixer and colorist. Good sound is crucial to picture and doesn’t end with the production sound mixer. An good audio post mixer can take all the sound elements, clean up edits/noise and blend them altogether to make the production shine. If you can’t understand dialog, it makes it very difficult to enjoy a piece. An excellent colorist will match all the shots, iron out issues with color and exposure and give the production a polished professional look. Often times an editor will try to do both of these, but using a professional who specializes in these, and has the appropriate tools/knowledge, will make a production so much better.

  2. Dave Katz Says:

    Jimmy - I read this article last year when you posted it, but today came back to it and re-read it. Very good description of all the roles. Really helpful. Thanks man.

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