The 10 Most Essential Roles On A Film Crew

by Mandi Harrison

I enjoy watching the credits roll at the end of a movie. I know that the dozens and sometimes hundreds of cast and crew roles listed each contributed something to that finished movie.  

After making the decision to make movies, I researched all the different crew members needed on set to make a movie.  I was surprised to realize that we were already doing what most of the positions needed while working at the photography studio, and that I knew someone that could fill each of those roles. 

Here is a list of the crew members* that are most needed during filming.  This is based off of making a small to no budget independent movie; no blockbuster special effects here!  

* I'm not posting the writer (which is the most important role- story is everything) because filming has now started; the script is done (hopefully). And the actors aren't included because we are just looking at the crew members.

 

1.  The Producer

The producer gets $h*t done.  They can help develop story, find financing, and sign off on all major decisions. In a BIG HOLLYWOOD STUDIO™ production, the producer gets all the little ducks in a row and heads off for other projects, just checking in from time to time for the Powers That Be, aka The Money. Producers find great material and/or talent to tell a story he or she believes in. 

Being a producer is great for someone who is organized and great at budgeting and dealing with people.  Because you have to deal with ALL the people and ALL the money (or lack thereof).  You have to remember all the details and look at the bigger picture.  

2. The Director

The Director is basically the same on all budget sizes.  They are the one whose vision is being created.  Even if they didn't write the material, its still their interpretation of this vision.  A great director is someone who knows how to clearly communicate and knows how to work with people. From shot lists to scene breakdowns, set decorating to which use of lens, great directors see everything through and through; down to the packaging and rendering of a film, what colors an actor looks great in and how the camera dances within a scene. There's a lot of leadership, creativity and self-awareness in this role. 

3. The Assistant Director (or AD) 

The AD runs the set; they set up the scene breakdowns, help with budgeting (more on that later), keeping everyone on set where they need to be, making sure safety is ensured and that all documents are signed.  This person is super-organized and detail oriented and has excellent time-management.  

4. Director of Photography (or DP)

More commonly known as cinematographer.  The DP works closely with the Director to bring the story to life visually.  On bigger productions, there might be a separate camera operator. Sometimes on a small budget, the director will have to operate the camera.  Even though having a DP is a luxury, it's one that should be taken.  Having someone to focus on that one aspect will lead to a better finished product.

5. Line Producer

 On a movie's budget, the producer, writer, director and actors' fees are all called above the line.  Those are considered the essentials.  The rest of the crew and all other fees are called below the line; they are considered replaceable.  The line producer helps ensure that the budget is being met and helps with the hiring of key crew members.  They also set a daily budget and works with the AD to ensure it is met.  If you are great with numbers and puzzles, this is the role for you! 

6. Production Designer

Works with the director to set the visual tone for the movie.  Everything needs to work for the story.  They work with color and texture to set the tone for the movie.  They pay attention to detail and are super creative. On larger sets, production designers are actually the managers of art directors and other art departments. 

7. Script Supervisor

The script supervisor is the quality control of the set.  They document what has been filmed and what was added or cut from the script.  They make sure there is continuity, meaning that each take is set up the same way and that if a character is wearing a particular outfit in a scene, they need to be wearing it in any scene that takes place the same day.  Attention to detail and patience are key for this role. 

8. Grip/Gaffer

These are two roles that are different but are often lumped together.  The grip handles all equipment- the set-up and transport.  The gaffer handles everything electrical.  Attention to detail and safety are big factors.  

9. Production Assistant (or PA) 

The PA handles anything that needs to be do on set.  That could be running errands for the director to helping the set designer to chasing down the actors.  This really gives you a little taste of everything on set, so it's great for students and people just wanting experience.

10. The Editor

Even though most editing won't be done until after the filming is complete, having someone to start going through footage and logging the best footage will help the process.  Having someone who understands great storytelling and has an eye for detail can make an okay story great.  

 

There are so many more roles that put a movie together: sound, costume designer, hair and makeup, etc.  Whether there is $20 or $20 million dollars involved, there are still the same amount of pieces to put into the puzzle.  The budget just helps you figure out how many players you can hire.

 In independent filmmaking, multitasking and organization are pivotal. It's just like running a business.  Knowing how to do all the roles will help you when you can hire people to fill those positions, so you know you've hired the best.