Did you know that the first motion picture, The Roundhay Garden Scene, was a production in the 1880s? It’s 1888, to be precise, when a French inventor, Louis Le Prince, filmed his family dancing in a circle in a whopping two seconds clip!
While that may seem insignificant now, the innovation is what would eventually lead to the commercialized cameras and movies we see today.
Before the advancement of the Hollywood scenes, movies included a single scene, less than a minute long and typically silent. Awkward! So, to make up for the silence, sometimes a live band would perform as the movie was playing.
That’s it about ancient movies.
There are many different roles in the current era of digital filmmaking. You can see on the credits that seem to go for ages at the movie’s end. It showcases every professional who took part in the film, from the cast to the costume designers.
But which role exactly do the parties play?
Here we describe the main roles in making a film. Of course, not all films will have to fill every role, but these are the possibilities:
We start with a basic question:
What’s ‘The Line’
There first two phrases you’re likely to run into in the world of movie terminologies are ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line.’
The terms originate from a corporate practice in film production budgeting. A literal line visually divides positions that are paid as per pre-negotiated fixed rates (above the line crew) and positions paid according to a variable daily or hourly rate (below the line crew)
Theoretically, the simple accounting designation is the only difference between the two groups of the movie crew. But in practice, the above or below the line signifies the major division in the film roles hierarchy.
Above The Line Roles
If you were to construct a film crew hierarchy chart for a production’s duration, the above-the-line film crew positions would generally be found at the top.
The above-the-line positions involve those who carry the most creative and financial responsibility, make major decisions, and work from the pre-production to post-production stages.
Let’s break down the most common above the line roles:
As the title suggests, the director has the highest authority to guide the cast and crew. They’re tasked with the visualization aspect — creating the overall vision through which a film eventually becomes realized.
Generally, the director controls the artistic and dramatic aspects of a film and envisions the script while guiding the actors and the technical crew to fulfill that vision. They also have a key role in selecting cast members, production design, and the overall creative facets of a film.
The key responsibilities of a producer include creating the conditions for filmmaking, providing high-level managerial guidelines, and setting the project into motion.
The producer initiates, harmonizes, oversees, and controls matters such as securing funding, hiring key personnel and organizing for distributors. A film can have several producers who may take a role in production, development, or financing.
3. Executive Producer
Executive producer (EP) is often a catch-all term representing authority without necessarily denoting a specific film crew role. Their nature of tasks can vary from one producer to another.
While executive producers are typically not involved in the technical aspect of the filmmaking process, some may have had a direct hand in the financing. And others may have earned the title as an additional inducement for some contributions like scripting and advising.
4. Casting Director
The casting director is in charge of managing the casting process for a film. They choose the performers for the characters of a movie, which involves inviting potential actors to recite an excerpt from the script for audition purposes.
The work of a casting director often ends long before the physical production starts; that’s obvious. Yet, their existence demonstrates an important principle as one of the above-the-line positions.
5. Principal Cast
They may be SAG or just SAG-eligible. Whatever the case, the earnings of any principal cast members signify the typical above-the-line overheads in any film’s budget.
Though actors and actresses aren’t considered film crew positions, they represent some of the most fundamental movies set roles. You wouldn’t certainly find them on a movie production pyramid chart, but on-screen talent ranks high at all times in the film crew hierarchy food chain.
Below The Line roles
Whereas most above-the-line positions carry a great deal of power, they primarily rely upon the critical thinking and hard work of those specialists with boots on the ground -the below-the-line crew.
These make up the majority of the film roles positions. As such, Massive roles are broken down into discrete departments that correspond to their job descriptions. Each department has a separate hierarchy that exists in miniature.
We’ll take a look at below the line positions department by department:
1. Assistant Director (AD) Department
The AD Department acts like the center wheel that keeps all the other departments together for the whole production to move forward. Their main responsibilities are coordination, scheduling, and communication.
a. 1st AD
The straightforward 1st AD’s mandate is to back the director in attaining their vision. But their errands stretch far beyond the artistic concerns of the director. They’re vital in keeping film production on its feet in matters like crafting the shooting schedule, running the set, keeping things on schedule, and helping to solve logistical issues as they arise.
b. The 2nd AD
The 2nd AD is simply the 1st AD’s right hand. They have two primary responsibilities; handling daily call sheets and taking care of talent-shepherding and keeping them informed to and from the set. At the directive of the 1st AD, they’re mostly coordinating forces behind the scenes to solve or avert problems of all kinds.
c. The 2nd 2nd AD
The role of a 2nd 2nd AD is to help ease the AD department’s workload, especially in large-scale shoots or when the degree of difficulty becomes bigger than a small standard team can handle.
You may not see a single 2nd 2nd AD in a low-budget movie. But you’re likely to find several of them working on a blockbuster with a big crowd of background performers or a film crew the size of a small army!
d. Set Production Assistant (PA)
Production Assistants belong to the production department, though they often receive most of their marching orders from the AD department. They support the prerequisites of the shooting set itself, not those of a specific department.
Set PA’s role seems invaluable specifically because they can be called upon to do nearly any task. They’re only limited by need, not specialization, yet they’re the lifeblood of film production.
2. Art Department
The Art Department manages the physical creation of visual elements in a film. Any object you see one or more department members probably handled on-screen.
a. Production Designer
The Production Designer heads the art department. Together with the director and director of photography, they craft the overall visual appearance of a film with the help of other movie set roles within their department. High-level decision-making activities occupy a large portion of their time.
b. Art Director
These are the field general who manages and organizes the rest of the art department film team to get the job done.
The Art Director may wear many hats depending on the size of the production. But in general, their roles have most to do with the supervisory responsibilities. On larger-scale productions may have several Assistant Art Directors.
c. Set Dresser
The Set Dresser is in charge of organizing the shooting set with decorations, furniture, and other graphic elements. Sometimes they will work with Set Designers or Set decorators to handle jobs that are more engrossed in planning and preparation.
d. Prop Master
Prop Master is responsible for tracking and organizing all non-weapon props used in a film.
In smaller productions, the roles are carried out by one individual within the art department. While on larger productions, the Prop Master is in charge of the Props Department, linked to art but populated by specialized movie set roles concerning the design and construction of prop items.
e. Art Production Assistant
What differentiates an Art PA from other PA film crew roles is that they’ve developed some skills and basic knowledge specific to the art department. Working as an Art PA is often a doorway to working in other art department positions.
3. Camera Department
There would be no movie without this department. It’s the literal focal point of image capture on any set.
Members of the camera department work closely with the Director of Photography plus the Electric and Grip Departments to attain the overall look of a movie.
a. Director of Photography
The Director of Photography is theoretically the head of the camera department. They record the images of a film in line with a director’s idea and are in charge of creating light, capturing light, and bending light in a way that realizes a pre-agreed expression.
b. Camera Operator
The camera operator controls the camera in the course of the takes. They create smooth and accurate movements, using operating apparatus ranging from handwheels to simple tripods. A multi-camera production can have several camera operators at any given time.
c. 1st Assistant Cameraperson
1st AC’s duties include set-up and on-set maintenance of cameras and other related accessories. They were uniquely known as the focus puller during a shot. But with the propagation of digital cameras, their duties have expanded to manage a wider array of image capture, specification, and settings.
d. The 2nd Assistant Cameraperson
2nd AC organizes the camera squad’s gear, keeps records, and helps with general camera team tasks. Despite being at the bottom of the camera department’s hierarchy, they’re distinguished by their honorable and sometimes fun task of operating the camera slate before or after each take.
e. Digital Imaging Technician
DIT is one of the newest standard positions of the film crew. Born from the distinctive complications of digital shooting, they manage and troubleshoot all aspects of the digital workflows on set. They’re mainly concerned with ensuring that the cameraman shots footage that meets the aesthetic needs of a production.
4. Sound Department
The Sound Department uses various digital techniques and technical innovations to ensure that dialogues are heard clearly on set.
a. Sound Mixer
Sound Mixer’s role revolves around recording and balancing all relevant sound on the shooting day. That includes everything from principal dialogue to film audio track, room tone, and other sound effects.
b. Boom Operator
As you’d expect, the boom operator operates the boom mic. They also take a significant role in positioning microphones around sets and actors to achieve the highest quality audio recording.
Bigger film productions may require a Sound Assistant or Cable person to assist in placement and equipment monitoring.
5. Electric Department
The Electric Department generates light; they execute the director of photography’s lighting plan in collaboration with the Grip Department.
This role represents the chief lighting technician and head of the electric department. They coordinate the placement and powering of lights to achieve the desired illumination as directed by the director of photography. The best gaffers also craft technical solutions to resolve artistic challenges.
b. Best Boy Electric
The BBE is the gaffer’s lieutenant. Though they’re less involved in major creative decisions in lighting plans, their responsibility may include delegating day-to-day management tasks such as maintaining equipment and hiring personnel.
c. Lighting Technician
Also called electrics or lamp operators, LT is responsible for setting up and regulatory lighting equipment and providing temporary power distribution on set.
Most productions hire several electrics, which may be asked to move back and forth between the Grip and electric departments.
6. Grip Department
The electric department creates light, and then the Grip Department manipulates it.
Utilizing reflectors, silks, flags, and tons of other equipment, they influence existing light to help the director of photography achieve the desired outlook.
a. Key Grip
The Key Grip heads the grip department as the chief Grip on set. As a collaborator and counterparts to the gaffer, they’re similarly tasked with planning and coordinating grip essentials to implement a lighting plan. But unlike the gaffer, Key Grip is also the safety arbitrator on-set.
b. Best Boy Grip
The BBG is the Key Grip’s second-in-command. They tackle sensitive decision-making operations, oversee the construction of more complicated grip elements, and organize the grip truck throughout the day. They quite literally make the set move.
The Grip executes strategies outlined by the Key Grip, best boy, and director of photography. If anything needs to be moved on a set, you’d literally need a grip to move it for you. This could seem extreme, but rules exist to prevent harm. The grip team’s work is critical to the safe and timely operation on set.
d. The Dolly Grip
The Grip is in charge of setting up and operating a dolly is called the dolly grip. They place, level, and move the dolly track, push and pull the dolly, and execute the complicated camera moves required by many films.
7. Hair & Make-Up Departments
Hair & Make-Up Departments prepare on-camera talent for the big screen, perform special effects and maintain on-screen continuity.
a. Make-Up Artist
Make-Up Artist sets the character’s look for any given scene. They collaborate with the director, production designer, word rope designer, and director of photography to create a cohesive look that contributes to the film’s overall aesthetic.
b. Hair Stylist
Likewise, the Hair Stylist takes care of the character’s hairstyle for a given scene. This requires diverse skills to handle multiple hair types and aesthetic requirements and solve unpredictable follicular issues.
Large productions may require assistant hair stylists and make-up artists to offer extra hands and eyes in carrying out plans for their department.
c. Special Effect Artist
Special effects Artist works with live models or structures in the entertainment industry to achieve looks beyond typical make-up and hairstyling techniques. Whether hidden squibs or silicon-molded facial prosthetics, their work is behind many of your startling moments in the thing movie magic.
8. Wardrobe Department
This department chooses, coordinates, fits, and makes every garment you see on screen.
a. Costume Designer
The costume designer is responsible for all the costumes and clothing are worn by the performers on the screen. They design, plan, organize and craft the creative drive behind all garments down to fabric, sizes, and colors.
b. Costume Supervisor
In essence, the costume or wardrobe supervisor manages the execution of the costume designer’s vision. They organize the wardrobe workspace; supervise the making or sourcing of garments, budget, and department logistics.
c. Set Costumer
Set Costumer is always on set. They’re on standby, watching the quality and continuity of the performer’s costumes before and during takes. They can make adjustments as necessary, whether fixing a tear or adjusting the collars.
The role of a tailor, aka a cutter, fitter, or seamstress, is rather straightforward. They’re the costume technicians responsible for the construction and alteration of costumes. Their number may vary depending on the scope of the project.
e. Costume Buyer
This is simply the shopper who visits stores and rental houses to source and buys fabrics and garments. The role of a costume buyer requires a rare combination of fashion taste, communication skills, physical endurance, and financial management.
9. Catering and craft service Departments
The departments make sure that the film crew is fed and hydrated.
Catering Department is utterly responsible for providing designated meals, while Craft Service provides food and drink all through the shooting day.
External companies or individuals mostly fill on-set jobs of both departments. There is no official hierarchy of individual positions within either department.
10. Stunts Department
Stunts Department handles all high-flying daredevilry in a feature film, commercial or television show. Unless you’re Tom Cruise, most productions need these real action heroes who risk life and limb to execute some of the most thrilling sequences in movies like Spiderman
a. Stunt Coordinator
A stunt Coordinator is an expert in generating physical illusion while mitigating any physical danger. They collaborate with directors to design, choreograph and cast whatever script’s stunts require. It’s one of the few film-set roles that need physical proficiency and logistical expertise.
b. Stunt Performer
As perceived by the director and stunt coordinator, stunt Performer is the actual folk who carry out a given stunt. This role isn’t for the faint-hearted. They require a keen eye for personal safety, a willingness to put safety at reasonable risk, and courage.
c. Set Medic
The Medic isn’t technically a member of the stunts department. But if the department is active, a Set Medic is an absolute requirement. They’re prepared for a short-term response to medical emergencies of all kinds. That could mean anything from nursing a concussion, creating an open wound, and administering mountains of ibuprofen to overstressed crew members.
11. VFX Department
On-set roles of the VFX Department include giving guidance and suggesting digital solutions or visual effects. However, their involvement extends to post-production activities.
a. VFX Supervisor
The holder of this position is the director’s chief visual effects adviser. They handle the final look of an effect and are concerned with the proper execution of its elements, both on set and after set. Depending on the scope of a production’s visual effects, there could be several VFX Supervisor positions.
b. VFX Coordinator
VFX coordinators are in charge of the organizational role of scheduling and managing actions to create visual effects to keep them on track with the post-production work.
12. Production Department
The production Department makes up the basic structural support for the entire movie production project. They maintain records, manage budgets, issue payments, and keep the production in good legal standing.
a. Line producer
The primary duty of a line producer is to manage a budget. They act as a go-between above and below the line crew. They are also involved in hiring crew and managing the schedule once actual shooting has begun.
b. Unit Production Manager
The UPM may be called to deal with almost all challenges but is primarily concerned with managing all cost-related decisions.
They’re the final guard of any funds flowing in or out. They’re the best person to ask if you have crew salary or payroll issues. So they play an important role in getting any movie well-staffed up before cameras roll.
c. Production Coordinator
Production Coordinator is a very literal title. They’re the crew who coordinates all departments to ensure they’re on the same page.
They work side-by-side with Office PAs and other production staff to handle all paperwork and communication necessary to keep everyone working towards the same goal and the whole production running smoothly.
d. Location Manager
The location manager does the final clearing of a location for filming. They report directly to the production manager, assistant director, and director. The location manager must often assist production and finance departments in maintaining budget management regarding actual location permit fees and labor costs.
Sometimes, Location stands as an individual department featuring the location manager as the head, plus other personnel like the assistant location manager, location scout, and location assistant.
e. Set Accountant
The accountant monitors finances to ensure the relations between expenses and budget remain as planned. On top of accounting skills, it requires familiarity with how the various departments function independently.