THE TEAM THAT BRINGS IT TO THE SCREEN
Bringing a script to the screen can be a daunting process that takes hundreds of people from start to finish. To make it possible a film or television crew is broken down by department- each concerned with a very small part of the show. Each group requires a special kind of knowledge and experience. This is a rough overview of the positions.
Executive Producers/Developmental Producers – There are many types of producers. Executive and developmental producers get involved in the project from early on, raising money and using their connections to get studios and investors interested in getting behind a project and financing it. These are people who live and die by their networks and relationships. They are usually outgoing, charming, enjoy people and are very in tune with the way people think.
Writers - Depending on the project the writer on set may not be the first writer who wrote the first draft of the script. In fact they may be the 5th or 6th! Sometimes a script is written and then goes through several different drafts each with a different writer. Sometimes the writer is the same from start to finish. No matter what this person understands how to make a story progress and how to make us care about the characters.
Directors – The director is responsible for the blocking of the actors and their performances. Ideally, they should help bring the writer's story to life. Additionally, they work with the Director of Photography to choose the movement of the camera, and a kind of image that communicates the emotion of the story visually.
Director of Photography – The Director of Photography is sometimes called a Cinematographer. They are the head of the camera department and have an encyclopedic knowledge of different lenses and techniques for filming. They also work with the Gaffer or Lighting Designer. The best DP’s are smart, handle stress well, love photography, and are strong leaders with good organizational skills
Production Designer - Head of the Art Department. This person is responsible for the overall look of the film. Generally, they are artists with a strong eye for design. They guide the set designers, and decorators, and use color and shape to set the mood of the film. Working closely with the costume designer, set decorator, and scenic artists. They are concerned with making sure that the film has items that reflect not only the feeling of the movie but the time-period and place of the writer’s story.
Production – These are the people who are responsible for the day-to-day realities of shooting and preventing various disasters
The Line Producer – This is probably what you think of when you think of a producer. They are on the set every day making choices on how to manage the crew and keep the shoot running. They are responsible for all the other department’s safety and well-being, as well as bridging the gap between what the creative team wants and what is actually possible with how much money the movie can spend. They figure out creative solutions and at the end of the day they are responsible for the budget.
The Unit Production Manager / Production Supervisor - The line producer’s right hand and the liaison between the Producers/Writers/Directors and the Crew. They usually create the first budgets for the TV or Film, keep all costs on track and manage all the different crew. They negotiate deals for equipment and services. The UPM frequently does not have any creative input, and is there to support the film’s creative vision. However, sometimes they may be consulted. When shooting this person will often work 80-100 hours a week. If the shoot is union they are a member of the Directors Guild of America they are called the Unit Production Manager or UPM, if the film is non-union they are called a Production supervisor.
The Production Office The production office makes sure everyone has all the materials that they need to make the movie. That means everything from getting supplies, managing who gets a script when the writer makes changes, to sending out the Call Sheet (a document that tells everyone what we need and what we are shooting any given day), and keeping track of all the different documents and more.
POC The Production Office Coordinator orders all the cranes and equipment, facilitates getting cameras, gets film developed, manages the office, ordering everything needed. From wood to build sets, to ordering hairspray, if it’s not from the art department and it’s being used on set there’s a 90% chance that its order and delivery was organized by this person. They are also in charge of managing the signing of actor contracts, organizing table reads, and large production meetings and anything else that comes up during production.
Travel Coordinator – This person is essentially a travel agent who works out of the production office. They arrange travel for the cast and crew. That can be as simple as a fight for an actor to and from Paris, or traveling a crew of 200 to Morocco. If there isn’t a lot of travel on a show flights and accommodations are handled by the production coordinator.
Secretary – The secretary helps the Production Coordinator any way that they can. They manage the email lists that the crew uses to communicate- adding and removing people as they join and leave the production. They are also there to help the PA’s manage tasks.
Office Pas – This is an entry-level office position. It’s one of the first jobs people get on a movie or tv show. This is a go-fer position. You are often tasked with going on runs to pick up things for the show, helping different departments organize, or doing paperwork. The most important thing for this position is the phrase “How can I help?”
Accounting - This is the department that keeps track of what is being spent, as well as paying the crew, the location, and actors, and more!
Assistant Directors – Assistant directors manage the schedule for shooting, as well as running the set, and cueing actors, lighting effects and more.
1st AD – This is the person yelling ROLL and CUT and signaling the different moments that need to occur during the shoot. They make sure that the shoot is moving along fast enough to “make the day” which means finishing shooting everything that was scheduled.
2nd AD – This person is the master of paperwork. They create a production report which details everything that happened in a day, and a call sheet that tells the crew everything that is going to happen tomorrow. They also help the Unit Production Manager finalize different logistics.
2nd 2nd AD – This person is the point person for the 1st AD, helping them communicate swiftly and accurately to the crew and the one who manages all the Set Production Assistants
Set PAs – These are the on-set helpers. They are assigned tasks by the AD team. Always alert and always helpful this is another entry-level position. Almost everyone who works in this industry begins as a set PA!
Script Supervisor - This person is sometimes called the continuity supervisor. They sit next to the director and keep notes about each take, noting how long it took and if it was good or not.
Location Managers – Location managers are responsible for all the places the crew goes when they are not shooting in a studio. Dealing with neighborhoods, and making sure the crew is as minimally disruptive as possible while getting access to the places that they need to, these people are some of the hardest working folks on the crew.
Scouts – The adventurers! These folks go out with a list of the type of places that the director/producer/writers are looking for. They go out into the world, take pictures and see if people in the area will let a tv or movie shoot in their homes or on their block. They have a great sense of direction, a keen eye, and are great with people. They also usually have a good knowledge of local history.
ACs – Assistant camera or camera operators run the actual equipment under the director of the Director of photography. Focus pullers fall into this category.
Dolly Grip – This is the person that pushes the Dolly. That is the wheeled device that the camera sits on so that it can move smoothly.
Loader – The assistant to the entire camera department. They keep track of the film or the drives that are being shot on and what was shot.
Sound – The sound engineer records all the audio for the production. They keep detailed notes for the editor and do their best to work with noise on location, working to get the clearest recordings possible. They also are very knowledgeable about different microphones to get the best sound possible.
Construction – From building sets to taking a warehouse and turning it into a ballroom these carpenters can build an entire floor of a house or a jail cell quickly and efficiently.
Gaffer –The lighting designer should make sure that the light not only matches the mood of the piece but also makes sense for the time of day that this part of the story is taking place. They work closely with the director of photography to achieve different looks on the film.
Grip – Grips have two main concerns- working with the camera department if the camera is on a dolly, crane, or must be in an unusual position. They also hang up the lights. Though the Gaffers are responsible for the electrical wiring, the grips are the ones mounting the lights, and setting up a series of fabric called flags, and plastic called gels to change the quality of the light per the creative direction of the film.
Costumes - Sometimes called wardrobe depending on the show they will either design each piece or shop to create a closet for each character. They work closely with the creative team, communicating inner truths about the character via the things that they wear.
Props – The mad scientists of the set. They are responsible for the items used by the characters during the film. They consider not only the personalities of the characters themselves but how the items will look on screen. They are often experts in building and aging items. They’re extremely creative and have diverse skill set. From swords to pens, you can usually find anything in a prop masters kit.
Scenic Artists – News flash – Most of what you see on a set is FAKE! I know you know this- but perhaps you aren’t aware of what an extreme sense this is true. Unless we are shooting in a real location any brick you see on TV is paper, and oftentimes so is the wood. These people are incredible painters who pass an incredibly difficult test to get this job. One time I watched a group of three scenic artists paints a giant medieval fresco in TWO DAYS.
Set Decoration Once construction has finished building the set, and the scenic artists have finished the painting the set decorators come in filling the set with items that tell the story of the characters. Oftentimes these people are interior designers as well, buying and arranging items to give you the impression that the place we are is real.
Hair/Makeup - The glam squad? They are WAY more than that! They keep the actors looking good, or bad, depending on what the script calls for, and keep track of the continuity of the hair and makeup from shot to shot and scene to scene.
Casting - The casting department brings in different people they think would be right for the role to audition. They create the pool from which the director and producer will select the actors. They will also hire large groups of people for the background.
Catering/Craft Service – This is a team of chefs who feed the crew. With days ranging from a minimum on 12 up to 16 or 18 it’s important to keep everyone fed. Usually, they provide breakfast, lunch, and snacks in between. An army marches on its stomach and a film crew is a creative army.
Transportation – You may have heard of Teamsters before. When all the trucks drive into your neighborhood these are the guys behind the wheel. They also help get big equipment like camera cranes to where they are needed for shooting.
Special Effects – These are the folks who are in charge of the practical effects the you see on camera. If there’s a real explosion, or an exploding blood pack to simulate being shot Special Effects are the folks you need by your side to pull it off in a way that looks good but is also safe. They usually work closely with the Stunt Team.
Stunt Coordinator – Safety is the number one concern of this job. Taking an idea from the writer, for example- the main character jumps out a window and safely bounces off a store awing and figures out how to make it happen on camera while keeping everyone in one piece.
Video – Sometimes this job is called the Digital Imaging Technician. Essentially this person puts up monitors so that the director can see what is being shot, and for a show shooting digital, they help the director of photography get the best image possible.
The Post-Production Team
Visual Effects – Not to be confused with special effects. While special effects are practical, that is they happen for real on the day, visual effects are added after by talented digital artists.
Post-Production – This is where you will find the editors, the composers, and all the people who take everything that the crew has put together and assemble it into the final product you see in theatres.
This was written for my Page To Screen Workshop presented at the 2018 Fanfaire Comicon.