The Actor And The Crew

During your time in the makeup or wardrobe trailers, you may encounter agitated young people with walkie-talkies and hurried looks on their faces. They will come into the trailer and bark into the walkie-talkie, bark at those at work, and probably bark at you, too. These are the production assistants, or PAs, as they are commonly called, a group of people who perform a variety of tasks on the production. The ones the actors come in contact with are the messenger/escorts. They deliver information to whomever needs it: "The director wants you on set as soon as you're ready," "The costume designer is coming and wants the actor playing Jojo to report to wardrobe first thing for a fitting," "We need the actors on the set ASAP," etc. They also escort the actors from one place to another. They rarely introduce or identify themselves to you. Their demeanor can be upsetting to the organized calm of the makeup and wardrobe process.

The PAs represent the actor's first encounter with the crew members who are working on the movie set. They are the front runners on the dividing line between cast and crew. The crew's work is labor-intensive, and each crew member knows where he stands in the hierarchy of his department and the production as a whole. Crew members work diligently to prepare the space into which the actors step to work. Everything is done for the picture. There is a definite dividing line between those who work in front of the camera and those who work behind it. This seems to exist on all movies, no matter their style, budget, or director.

When you are ready to go to the set, the crew will be working around you. To give you a clearer understanding of what those you see around you are actually doing, here is a list of some of the departments, their crew members, and what their responsibilities are:


The director of the movie is the head of the directing unit. I think that we § are all familiar with who the director is; how she goes about doing the job ^ is a matter of style. Basically, the director is responsible for taking the script ^ and putting it into pictures with sound. The director is involved with all of £ the creative decisions on the film, from pre- through postproduction. To ^ help her do this job are: g

First Assistant Director

This person works very closely with the director and the production manager. The responsibilities include making sure the shoot runs smoothly, navigating the background actors, and assisting in giving direction to the actors. On the set, this person is referred to as first AD. First ADs also oversee a lot of paperwork, like the call sheet.

Second Assistant Director

The second AD assists the director and first AD, mainly with logistics and paperwork.

Dialogue Coach

In the event that the film requires certain types of speech or accents, a dialogue coach will be on the set to oversee the consistency of the spoken text.


This is the camera crew, led by the director of photography.

Director of Photography

The director of photography, or DP, is responsible for all moving pictures in the film. The DP chooses the equipment and labs that will be used to shoot the picture, as well as the rest of the camera crew. The DP is as important to the film as the director is. The two must work well together for the picture to be successful.

Camera Operator

The person who operates the camera that is taking the picture. Most DPs have operators that they work with. Sometimes, the DP will operate the camera himself on certain scenes. On the lower end of filmmaking, the DP is also the camera operator.

First Camera Assistant

This person assists the operator by pulling focus, measuring the distance for u the focus, and making sure that the gate is clean. This is the person who will ™ come towards you with a tape measure and give you marks. If there is a mark that you are supposed to hit for the camera, you must do it accurately J and without looking like you're doing it.

Second Camera Assistant

The loader. This assistant cleans and maintains the camera and its parts, as well as loading and unloading the film.


The electrical department works under the director of photography. On a big-budget film, particularly if there are large spaces being lit and photographed, this could be a big crew.


The chief electrician is called the gaffer and is in charge of the lighting needed by the DP to get the picture that is desired.

Best Boy

The best boy is the assistant to the gaffer and takes care of the equipment. I've never seen a woman do this job. I'm sure that female best boys exist, but I am not sure if they would be called best girls. My guess is probably not.


Responsible for rigging and operating the lights. On a big-budget film, there could be a lot of electricians.


Grips are carpenters and construction workers. They build and operate the things that hold the lights and move the camera.

Key Grip

The key grip oversees these workers and answers to the director and the director of photography.

Dolly Grip ^

The dolly is a cart on wheels on which the camera is placed to move it while ^

shooting. It is often on tracks to ensure a smooth ride. The dolly grip lays -g the tracks and operates this cart. The dolly grip is also responsible for the § cranes that move the camera.


These are the people who swing the tools that build the things needed to ^

fulfill the key grip's instructions. ^


As the name implies, the sound department is responsible for the sound of the movie. This includes the recording of the dialogue of the actors. A lot of the sound departments' work takes place off set and in postproduction, but the crew members on the set are:

Production Sound Mixer

This person is usually somewhere out of the way of the camera and will be wearing headphones and sitting at a cart with a sound mixing board. He records and mixes the levels of all the sound on the set needed for the picture.

Boom Operator

This person is always very close to the actors if a boom is being used. The boom is a type of microphone that is held at the end of a long pole. The problem that the boom operator faces, besides exhausted arms, is holding the boom close enough to the actors for the speech and sounds to be recorded, but out of the frame of the picture. It also cannot cast a shadow anywhere in the frame. I've had boom operators practically laying between my legs as I acted, because it was the only place they could go to ensure that their job be done.


The property master is responsible for all the props called for in the script. These include all the things that are handled by the actors.


The assistants to the property master care for and place all the props that an actor uses in the film. The actors only touch them when they are working. After each take, the property assistants will replace the props.


This is a very important job on any production. This person is responsible for taking detailed notes of each take during the production. The position is often referred to as Continuity. Script supervisors record the scene, a the take number, the camera position, and what lens was used. They also ™ record changes in the dialogue and the actions of the actors. The script < supervisor notes every single thing that you do or say, when you picked J up a glass, if you brushed your hair out of your eyes, and what small pauses or word changes you have incorporated into the text. The script supervisor's vital observations are reported back to the actor during the various coverage takes. The script supervisor is on set during shooting at all times. Never disagree with her, even if you are sure you're right. This job has been dominated by women in the industry from the very beginning; they still dominate this field. That is why the position is often called the "script girl."


The actors or any performer in front of the camera, even animals, are referred to as "talent." I'm not sure if the term is sarcastic or not; I'll really have to try and find out where it started.

There are a lot of people on a set, as you can tell from the previous list, who are all more or less in fairly close proximity to your work area. Many of them will be staring directly at you as you work, some to judge your acting performance, some to watch that your appearance remains appropriate for the scene, others to watch for unwanted shadows, and still others to make sure that as you move, you stay within the frame and in the correct focus for that shot. Each will have something to say to you; each is equally important. Your actual playing time at any given moment is usually just a few minutes. Most of the time is spent preparing everything for those few minutes when the camera is actually rolling.

The need and usage of the relaxation, the concentration, and the value of the small subtle gestures of the face will become very clear to you when you are called to the set for your first camera blocking rehearsal of the first scene of the day. Whatever you have prepared for this scene must be incorporated into the direction of the director. You've got to feel yourself out on your first day. You must be attentive to the style and desires of the director and the crew around you. You have to feel out the dynamic and how the director wants you to behave. Whatever he wants, whatever rhythm is set, whatever joke or seriousness prevails, ^ you must find a way to fit in and follow the lead of the director. Even if you disagree with creative decisions or questions of taste, you have to »g respect his authority and do it his way. It's the only way you will be able s to work. ^

In an interview in a special movie edition of los angeles magazine, Q Jodie Foster said, " I really believe that the actor's job is to serve the direc- £ tor . . . even if by week one you realize he doesn't know what he wants . . . ^ or you don't like his style, you still have to serve him. . . . [T]he director is g the visionary of the movie, they get to have the party the way they want it." You won't know how the director likes his party until you start working on the set with him. Just remember, you have been invited to this party, and as a guest of honor, you're expected to behave yourself appropriately. Don't throw your energy around haphazardly; you will need it for the day ahead. In the next chapter, I will describe some of the possible camera setups and ways that a scene could be shot, to give you a better idea of what to expect.


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Film Making

Film Making

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