Movies and Film: The Job Descriptions

The Job Descriptions

Here is the list of the most high-profile jobs (not covered elsewhere) in the Hollywood system:

  • Art director. The person responsible for the look of a film's sets, he or she is also responsible for their construction.
  • Assistant director. Most of the time this is an administrative position rather than truly directorial. The assistant director helps break down the script and make decisions about the shooting order.
  • Associate producer/production manager. 1) The next-in-charge of a film after the producer. Depending on the relationship with—and the working style of—the producer, the assistant producer can have a greater or lesser say in creative as well as administrative decisions. 2) The actual administrator for the daily operations of the film.
  • Best boy. 1) A person in charge of the paperwork for administering the head grip's or gaffer's crew. Can take care of timesheets, salaries, and so on. 2) The head grip's or gaffer's gofer. An apprentice to the gaffer or key grip. So called because he (or now she) is the "best" person available for the job.
  • Boom operator (or boom man). The technician who handles the boom microphone and its paraphernalia, making sure that it is in position to record sound to the best advantage. Requires a steady hand to hold the mike over the heads of the actors.
  • Cable person. This person makes certain the sound cables are efficiently and inconspicuously placed.
  • Camera operator (or second cameraman). The technician actually operating the movie camera. Of course, this person is under the careful supervision of both the director and the director of photography.
  • Carpenter. The person whose crew physically builds the set.
  • Casting director. Often in collaboration with the director and/or producer, the person who actually picks the "talent," or actors who will appear onscreen. This means not only the stars, but supporting players, bit players, and so on. At one time studio employees, most casting directors now work independently, though often regularly with the same directors and producers.
  • Cinematographer (director of photography). This is the person who literally brings the director's vision to light. Sometimes the cinematographer is almost as responsible for the look and feel of a film as the director. It is impossible to think of Citizen Kane (1941) without Gregg Toland, or Charlie Chaplin films without Rollie Totheroh. Other major technicians—art directors and gaffers, for example—consult with the cinematographer who, with the director, actually decides on mood, angles, and composition.
  • Compositor. Really one of a host of computer programmers now involved in film production, the compositor creates layers and textures for the film image in order to lend it a greater impression of reality.
  • Computer animator. The computer programmer in charge of digitally creating special effects that will be transferred back to celluloid. Images can be transformed live-action sequences, or completely computer-generated.
  • Construction coordinator. Answerable to the art director, the construction coordinator is responsible for the actual construction of the film set.
  • Continuity clerk (continuity girl, script girl, script supervisor). Traditionally a woman, this person makes sure that, if an actor is walking toward the sun in one shot, he is walking in the same direction in the next shot, though the camera may be set up at a different angle. Or, if there is a cat in the room in one shot, that cat is still scratching up the furniture and coughing up hairballs in subsequent shots.
  • Dolly grip. The technician who operates the dolly, a wheeled and motorized platform on which the camera is placed for "dolly" or "tracking" shots.
  • Executive producer. As the job title suggests, an executive, and administrator in charge of the business end of production, issues such as raising money for the budget. Rarely involved in the day-to-day operation of the film, the executive producer may be involved in the business of several productions at once.
  • Gaffer. 1) The chief electrician, responsible for lighting the set. 2) More generally, the technician who makes the set run smoothly, from scouting locations to streamlining the set. Legend has it that the term originally applied to the European carney who herded, or "gaffed," audiences into the circus tent.
  • Grip. 1) A jack-of-all-trades on the set, responsible for physically moving and setting up equipment, sets, and so on. The "muscle" on the set, the grip must also be able to do a bit of carpentry. 2) The grip is in charge of all physical work except electrical.
  • Key (or head) grip. The person on the set in charge of the other grips, or the crew of workers.
  • Lamp operator. Person in charge of operating film lamps.
  • Lead man. The set scrounger, responsible for finding objects to make the set more atmospheric or realistic.
  • Line producer (production manager). This executive oversees the day-to-day operations of a film's production.
  • Location manager. The person who finds locations at which to shoot.
  • Mixer. The sound technician who assimilates—or "mixes"—sounds together for each of a film's sequences, determining the relative values (volume, pitch, and so on) of the background music, dialogue, ambient noise, and so on.
  • Model. The actor filling in for close-ups of a portion of the principal actor's body; a "body double."
  • Modeler. Originally, a technician who makes the small-scale models that are photographed as if life-sized. Now more often applied to the computer programmer who creates 3-D digital images that are then transferred to film.
  • Nursery man. The worker who provides the appropriate plant life for a scene.
  • Producer. The chief administrator for a film; the producer's duties can vary widely. The producer is at the beginning of the process: buying the rights to the original book on which a movie is based. He or she considers various "treatments" of the original "property," selects the director, and consults on creative aspects and budgets. Sometimes the producer has little visible effect on the product. Other producers, like Arthur Freed at MGM, are almost auteurs themselves.
  • Production designer. The person who decides how the film is going to look, based on the needs and vision of the director and the script.
  • Prop man (property master). The property man keeps track of, cares for, and places the props on the set.
  • Publicist. Promotes films and stars through press releases, publicity events, contacts with newspapers, distribution of publicity stills, and so on. This job overlaps with that of the public relations executive. The "unit" publicist publicizes a particular film.
  • Screenwriter. The craftsperson who writes the scripts. The writer may adapt a literary work, produce an original script, or revise ("doctor") an already-existing script. Like most of the rest of filmmaking, screenwriting tends to be a collaborative effort.
  • Second unit director. The director of the "second unit." The second unit is the film crew that photographs sequences for which the director and principal actors are not required.
  • Set decorator. On instructions ultimately from the art director, the set decorator actually furnishes a set with the items that create the appropriate atmosphere and ambience: rugs, lamps, and potted palms.
  • Set dresser. Related to set decoration, set dressing is the art of making the set look as if it has always been inhabited, rather than new and artificial.
  • Sound crew. The technicians on the set responsible for audio recording. This crew is sometimes a single person: the sound man.
  • Sound designer. The production designer for sound, the sound designer oversees all aspects of sound recording for a film project.
  • Special effects supervisor. The special effects team is now most often an independent company rather than a division of a major studio, so the effects supervisor can be either an administrator or a supervisor of the day-to-day operations of the special effects team.
  • Stand-in. Chosen for their physical resemblance to the main stars, stand-ins are the people who substitute in place of the stars during the often time-consuming process of readying the set for actual photography.
  • Stand-by painter. The set's "touch-up" painter who makes any last-minute adjustments in the set's color and sheen, subduing glare or changing hues when necessary.
  • Story analyst/reader. This is the person who considers whether a script or a literary property is worth considering as a film.
  • Stunt coordinator. Determines where, in the film script, stunts will take place.
  • Stunt person. The stunt people take all those falls, dives, crashes, and punches that make a film "action-packed." The stunt person can play a distinct, if minor, character: the yeoman in the landing crew on the original Star Trek series you know is going to die upon landing on the hostile planet. Or she can double for the star in the automobile crash that no one could actually survive in real life.
  • Supervising editor. The person in charge of film editing, this technician works closely with the director and, if budget allows, supervises a team of editors.
  • Swing gang. The grunts who fetch and carry props and other equipment to and from the set.
  • Talent. Vernacular expression of the people in front of the camera; the actors. Occasionally used ironically.
  • Unit. The designation for the technical crew actually working on the set.
  • Unit photographer. The still photographer who takes publicity photos on the set for the film.
  • Visual effects supervisor. The person who oversees the team that actually creates special effects.
  • Wrangler (animal wrangler). The person responsible for the animals acting in front of the camera, whether dogs, horses, mice, or fish. Cares for the animals. Job can overlap with that of the "animal trainer," who actually owns and prepares the animal for movies.
Robert Taylor listens in with sound technician Howard Voss in the special Sound Truck while on location for MGM's Westward the Women (1951).

Robert Taylor listens in with sound technician Howard Voss in the special Sound Truck while on location for MGM's Westward the Women (1951).

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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