Film Crew List
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When award season comes around, you’ll hear a lot about which directors, actors, and films can expect to take home some hardware. However, when it comes to a major motion picture – or even an animated short – it takes much more than a few big names to create a work of art.
Those big names, however, are considered “Above The Line” crewmembers. Why are they referred to as “above the line?” In simplest terms, these are the people that get up on stage when a film wins an award. They usually make more money than the rest of the crew and are the names the moviegoing audience recognize, or will soon become familiar with.
Above the line members may be responsible for getting the film made, but it’s below the line crewmembers that get the work done. The executive producer doesn’t make sure the actors look their best (or their worst) throughout a 13-hour day, the Hair and Makeup Department does. Directors don’t build scaffolding for lights or cameras, the grips do.
Above the Line Crewmembers
These are the members of the filmmaking team responsible for getting a film made. Securing the rights to original works or adapted screenplays, hiring members of the crew, making sure finances are in place, and everything else a feature film needs.
In the newspaper business, the important stories are placed above the fold so they can be seen when people walk by a newsstand or a newspaper box. Similarly, above the line folks are the names you see on the screen before the movie starts in earnest.
Executive Producers – When a feature film is made, it’s a pretty good bet the Executive Producer played a major role. They secure at least 25 percent of the funding and other contributions, such as bringing star power to the film, name-recognition, or clout. In some cases, the EP could be one of the stars of the film; studios can’t miss moneymakers like Tom Cruise or Charlize Theron. Such star Executive Producers might even choose to forgo taking a salary from the film, opting for a percentage of the profits instead.
Producers – The importance of a producer can’t be overstated as they take a very hands-on approach in getting a movie made. In addition to securing financial backing, they also acquire scripts or other works, hiring many of the above and below the line personnel, and overseeing the day-to-day operations. While the creative part of the movie is left to the director, cinematographer, screenwriters, and department heads, the producer works hand-in-hand with the line producer(s) to make sure costs are managed.
Directors – They’re responsible for every aspect of a movie: How the movie is shot, coaxing performances from the cast, and working with department heads to create their vision of the film. The sights, sounds, and emotions as seen on the screen all come from the director.
Screenwriters – As writers of original works, professionals hired to turn an existing work into a film (a hired gun), or to rewrite another screenwriter’s work (a script doctor), it is the screenwriter who is charged with giving the director, actors, and others their cues through effective delivery via the script itself . After all, with no story, there is no movie. Bear in mind, a screenwriter can be hired to write the first draft, while other writers are brought in to write subsequent drafts and to edit or rewrite at the direction of studio heads, producers, or directors.
Principal Cast – Although they are often thought of as a separate entity (Academy Award winners always refer to the “cast and crew”), the principal cast is one part of the above the line crew. These are the actors who will be on the poster, make promotional appearances, and show up in trailers and on various marketing materials.
Below the Line Crewmembers
These people work under the auspices of the director. Before they get hired, the director, screenwriter, and producers need to be in place. Once their costs are determined, i.e. the “line” is set, the remaining crews can then be hired on or slated to work on the film.
Line Producer – As you may have guessed, the line producer is in charge of that line. They calculate costs for the entire production and make sure everything stays within that budget. Providing production management and clear communication, line producers straddle that fine line between giving the directors what they need and making sure the finances stay on track.
Assistant Director – The director’s vision is carefully curated by the assistant director. They assign jobs, create and disseminate call sheets, produce shooting schedules, and keep the production moving. Also known as the 1st AD, they work closely with the director to make sure that vision is met.
Script Supervisor – Working closely with the director, the script supervisor will take or transcribe notes made by the director while scenes are shot. They know whether a particular scene has wrapped or if more filming is needed. These notes are then relayed to the editor to make sure they have the information they need to start editing. Some notes are also put in place for continuity.
A good script supervisor makes sure no unintended “bloopers” make it to the screen. Certain shots may require several takes, so it’s important everything looks the same in each shot so that editors can pick and choose the best angles and takes which will comprise the movie. For example, if an actor absent-mindedly unbuttons the top button of their shirt between takes, it could lead the audience to deduce that they must be buttoning and unbuttoning it throughout the scene.
Production Assistant (PA) – A jack or jill of all trades, PAs are usually seen with their ears glued to a walkie talkie and lending a hand to anyone who needs it on set. Being able to communicate with every crewmember, production assistants are often a conduit between the above the line and below the line folks.
Director of Photography (DP)/Cinematographer – Charged with the visual aspects of the movie, the DP is tasked with bringing the director’s visual desires to the screen. This includes the right amount of light for any given scene, where that light is coming from, camera angles, lenses, and framing. Grips, gaffers, camera operators, and lighting technicians all work under the DP.
Production Designer/Art Director – This person is responsible for the look of the movie. This means finding the right location, adding visual cues when needed such as signage, costumes, and vehicles that suit the timeframe of the movie. They work with the DP, gaffers, grips, wardrobe, hair and makeup, prop department, and more.
On large productions that require a larger crew, the production designer is the professional who is in charge of the overall look of the film as conveyed through dress, furnishings, and the environs of the film. As a liaison between the director and the DP, the production designer will direct the art director who then directs members of the art department. Especially on smaller films, the production designer and art director are jobs handled by the same person.
Set Designer – Working from thoughts provided by the director, DP, or production designer, the set designer sketches, then builds, sets for scenes. Usually found on sound stages, set designers also work on location doing things like constructing the facades of buildings.
Set Dressers – Once the sets are designed, the set dressers add those key features that complete the look of the scene. Grandfather clocks, pool tables, and wingback chairs for a high-class lounge, or pizza boxes, empty liquor bottles, and beer cans for the morning after a frat party.
Prop Master – Head of the Property Department. Whether it’s a player piano for a Western or a soda machine for product placement, the prop master purchases or otherwise acquires on-screen visual pieces.
Weapons Master – Whether it’s guns shooting blanks, a battle-ax for a mid-century action movie, or a ray gun for a sci-fi pic, this crewmember secures, procures, or creates the weapons for a movie. They are also charged with providing armor for marauding aliens or Ming Dynasty warriors.
Camera Operator – Working with the DP and director, the camera operator helps set up the shots for principal photography. On difficult shots, the camera operator rehearses each movement, whether it’s working with a crane, a dolly, or tracks to follow the action. They’ll also assist with getting the appropriate amount of focus or light for every shot.
Focus Puller – Also known as the 1st AC (assistant camera), this position keeps the lens focus on the subject for any given shot. If the lead is walking away from the camera, this crewmember makes sure they stay in focus. It’s a difficult position considering they aren’t behind the camera during the shot.
Key Grip – This crewmember builds scaffolding and other apparatuses to handle lighting and cameras for particular shots. However, they handle very little of the wiring or equipment.
Gaffer – Part of the electrical department, gaffers will run the wiring to the light stands and set up the camera rigs for the operators both on a sound stage and on location. They work closely with the DP and key grips to ensure scenes are shot appropriately.
Best Boy/Girl – On most film sets, there are two kinds of best boys. One for the electrical department, and one for the camera department. Both positions serve as the second in command. Although the two departments work closely together, their jobs are kept quite separate.
In the camera department, the best boy assists the key grip who’s in charge of camera rigging, scaffolding for lighting, and other structures needed for filming. If the key grip needs a crane for an overhead shot, they likely ask their best boy/girl to get one set one up.
The other best boy answers to the gaffer who is the “head electrician” so to speak. The best boy in this position is tasked with doing various tasks related to anything electrical such as double-checking all the electrical connections for the different lighting/camera apparatuses.
Stunt Coordinator – As the name implies, this crewmember designs, plans, choreographs, and hires stunt performers for a given production. This could include fight scenes, how to handle a weapon, or working with stunt performers to make sure their actions are done safely but with max effect.
Boom Operator – Sound mixers place boom mics to capture conversations, monologues, close-speeches, and other dialogue without picking up other ambient sounds. These mics are located at the end of a telescoping pole, allowing a wide range of motion. Boom operators work the booms, making sure to keep it out of frame (unless it’s used for comedic effect).
Craft Services – While filmmaking seems glamorous, there are often 12 to 16 hour days either on a sound lot or on location. If an actor is in full regalia, it’s not easy heading down to a fast food place to pick up a burger basket. Enter craft services: they provide food, snacks, beverages and other forms of sustenance. On longer shoots, craft services set up hot meals for the cast and crew. They set up the kitchens, eating areas, and provide plenty of food for those who are constantly on the go.