Nine Obscure Film Crew Positions Defined

The Foreign Correspondents crew

Some positions on film crews have funny titles - so funny that their obscurity has become a running gag among casual filmgoers. Everybody has heard the terms "best boy" and "gaffer", yet few people know what they do. Well, I'm here to set you straight. Please note that each position's definition varies a good deal, depending on the individual as well as the size of the production and number of crew members. I will give you definitions (and gender use) based solely on the crew positions on my film Foreign Correspondents.

  1. Craft Services. Or, on-set catering. The craft services person is in charge of heading to the grocery store each day and buying edible (and preferably healthy) goodies to stock the craft services table, keeping the cast and crew well-fed during the often grueling production schedule. Wonder why so many film crew people have pot bellies? Thank craft services.
  2. The First Assistant Director. The whip-cracker. The clock-watcher. At times, the party pooper. This poor person, referred to as the first AD, is often the least-liked person on the set, but one of the most important. His chief job is to keep everybody working hard and staying efficient so that the film doesn't go over-budget or beyond schedule. Usually the one who has to scream at people to get to work, so the director doesn't have to. This always makes the director look good.
  3. The Second, and the Second Second. More assistant directors. Better-liked than the first AD, these two are in charge of corralling extras, fetching actors from their trailers, tracking down wandering crew members, getting people to sign release forms, and helping the director and the first AD arrange each day's shooting schedule. Don't ask me why one is called the second AD and the other is called the second second AD (as opposed to the "third"); I just don't know.
  4. The First AC. Assistant camera! Very important position. Often called the "focus puller" because he has to adjust the focus on a moving camera while the cameraman (who is also the director of photography in small productions) has his hands full, the first AC also logs each roll of film, keeps an eye on the amount of footage being shot, and makes sure the camera gate is clean. Yes, there is a second AC as well.
  5. The UPM. Or unit production manager. Occasionally called the line producer. The crew member who deals more with the public than anybody else: arranges locations, books hotel rooms, organizes travel arrangements for everybody, helps the producer hire people and arrange payroll. Always on the phone and always going crazy, but God bless the hard-working UPMs of the world.
  6. The Art Director. This is not the production designer. Despite the highfalutin "director" title, the art director is not in charge of creating the sets, but instead helps the production designer (his boss) achieve the vision for the film: tracking down the right props and scenery (with help from the property master and the set dresser, respectively), overseeing set construction, and making sure that there's something cool to look at in each shot. The production designer can't always have time to deal with the details, and that's where the art director comes in.
  7. The Gaffer. Now we come down to the great mystery positions. This is quite an important job, actually. The gaffer is in charge of lighting - which lights to order, which to use in certain scenes, where to place them, whether they should be "flagged off" (some of the light shaded off a portion of the set) or cut down in intensity, etc. Works closely with the director of photography.
  8. The Key Grip. Each film crew is separated into departments: art department, camera department, and so on. The grip department is in charge of carrying around all that heavy film equipment: lights, light stands, dollies and dolly tracks, etc. The key grip is the head honcho of this department. He hires his crew and tells them what things to haul out of the truck and where to put them. He does quite a bit of equipment lugging himself.
  9. The Best Boy. The big one! Actually, on our film - and on most films - there are two best boys: best boy electric and best boy grip. The best boy electric is the immediate assistant to the gaffer, and the best boy grip assists - you guessed it - the key grip. The terms "best boy" and "gaffer" come from old shipping lingo: whenever a ship would lie in harbor, a local landlubber who needed assistance with moving furniture or whatever would trot down to the pier and hire the ship's gaffer (who rigged the boat's sails) and his "best boy". Now you know.