Movies and Film: Film Personnel: Gaffers, Grips, and Gofers

Film Personnel: Gaffers, Grips, and Gofers

Who the heck are those people in the opening and closing movie credits? At one time we all thought a gaffer was an elderly, talkative, alcoholic inhabitant of a pub. Whose best boy, exactly (the gaffer's?), and what makes him best? Are there other boys who are just okay?

Depending on which critic you read, or which filmmaker you read about, film is almost always either a "corporate" or a "collective" endeavor. In other chapters we have discussed the people at or near the top of the corporation/collective: the bankers, the studio heads, the best and most famous directors, and so on. (See, for example, "Film Financing, Production, and Distribution.") The people in this section are the unsung: the workers, technicians, and grunts without whom a film could not be made.

Though we will say a word about these kinds of jobs in other countries, the vocabulary and definitions in this section are largely derived from American cinema.

Mystifying Movies

In a way, we don't know what the "dolly grip" does because movies don't want us to; they "mystify" us, making us believe that they magically appear. As one theory has it, understanding the "means of production" of film would destroy the illusion that film simply is, that it exists as anything other than the brief fulfillment of our fantasy lives. This reasoning is why some viewers are afraid to learn anything about the movies: It will destroy the illusion on which pleasure depends.

However, for better or worse, reminding us that movies are created artifacts doesn't necessarily work against our movie-going pleasure. Think of movie musicals, which are constantly showing us how musicals are made ("Gee, let's put on a show!"). Or television specials titled The Making of Whichever Overbudgeted Spectacle Broke Box-Office Records This Month. Or the outtakes at the ends of some movies like Being There (1979). These moments capture audiences by giving them the feeling that they are being "let in on" moviemaking secrets.

So this section contains the secret for decoding the credits at the beginning and the end of films. We have left out the most obvious job descriptions—"mouse wrangler" should be obvious if a little odd—as well as the jobs discussed elsewhere (in the technical chapters on sound, editing, and camera work, for example). Movies can be magic, but they require an enormous amount of intelligence and labor from an enormous number of people.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Movies and Film © 2001 by Mark Winokur and Bruce Holsinger. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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