Who’s who on the film crew?
If you’ve watched the credits rolling by at the end of a feature film you will have gotten a feel for the number of people and the range of skills involved in creating a ninety minute movie. Many of the job titles are incomprehensible to anyone but an industry insider: the Best Boy (Grip), Foley artist, Chaperone or Greensman. We’ve tackled some of those roles in our A to Z of Film & Video Production, but here we thought it would be helpful to break down the composition of a crew that’s likely to turn up on a range of typical corporate video shoots – from a simple case study to a 30 second ad spot involving actors and grip equipment.
Let’s start at the shallow end.
It’s possible that all a shoot requires is an operator with some self-directing nous and a camera. We might call them a Filmmaker. Crucially this person has to be able to manage all their kit on their own, so they probably won’t bring much more than the camera, a tripod, small monitor, a few lenses and perhaps a light with a stand. A filmmaker operating alone will make decisions based on a brief that has been agreed in advance and roll with the punches on the day, using their initiative. For filming broll (ie general location shots) a lone filmmaker is a low-key and cost-effective approach, but if there’s an interview involved or more nuanced requirements, then you’ll need an extra person.
DIRECTOR of PHOTOGRAPHY
A Producer/ Director (also known as a PD) is the go-to production person (as opposed to technician) for the bulk of corporate work. As the title suggests a PD wears two hats – a producer’s (all things practical involving client liaison, budgets, schedules, deliverables) and a director’s (scripting, literally giving direction to the camera team, working with the editor after the shoot). On big productions the producer and director roles are separated and compartmentalised, so that the director – who is more concerned with the vision of the piece than the fiscals – would have to approach the producer for more of anything (time, celebrity actors, explosions) rather than just reward him/herself.
On a corporate video the PD is likely to have been involved in all the pre-production leading up to the shoot including the extrapolation of information from the brief to create a script, visiting the location for filming on a ‘recce’ (a ‘scouting’ to our American cousins and ‘un repérage’ in France), the crewing and the scheduling. On the day the PD will direct, guiding the Director of Photography on what needs to be achieved visually, asking interview questions and liaising with the client. After the shoot the PD will manage the edit, working alongside the editor, and be responsible for client management right up to delivery.
In this instance we have called the camera technician a Director of Photography, often abbreviated to DP or DOP and alternatively called a cinematographer, though that term is more typically associated with feature films. Any corporate video production company worth its salt will have an in-house DoP. There is a distinction being made by using the term DoP from filmmaker (more a jack-of-all trades who may also edit), and a Camera Operator, who will be technically sound but who will follow the vision of the DoP. The DoP works with the PD to achieve the look of each shot, which often involves lighting. A DoP is therefore often also called a Lighting Cameraman or Camerawoman, and on a typical corporate shoot will set up and adjust the lights him/herself. As shoots get bigger the DoP will stop operating the camera and handling the lights, leaving this to other individuals who work to realise their vision.
In corporate video production the DoP will also manage the sound, whether that’s a lapel mic clipped to the speaker or a boom mic positioned just out of frame on a stand. This approach presumes that the sound being captured is from a static position and that only one or two contributors are speaking at the same time. As soon as there is a requirement to capture sound on the move or there are a number of contributors speaking concurrently, then its time to introduce a new member of the team: the Sound Recordist.
Here are some example of NextShoot videos created using the above crew structure:
Stylus Look Ahead 2020 Trailer
The National Gallery: Courtaud Impressionists – Manet https://nextshoot.com/video/the-national-gallery-manet
The Creative Land Trust
Arup – Tunnel Ventilation
Clayton/ Deliveroo Case Study
CBRE- the Royal college of Pathologists
DIRECTOR of PHOTOGRAPHY
We’ve established the role of the PD and the DoP.
Joining them in this scenario are further team members for a filming day that involves:
- a three camera interview shoot with two contributors speaking to each other in an interview format
- these two contributors walking together through an office and delivering lines that we need to capture as both pictures and audio
- the capture of high quality ‘natural sound’ of the office environment .
- the use of some heavy kit (a dolly and track with stands, for example)
- a very tight schedule
The specifics of this shoot will require three extra crew members.
First of all, because we need to cover 2 interviewees talking to each other with 3 cameras (ie one wide and two close-up shots), the DOP is going to need the support of a Camera Operator. The DoP would manage one close-up, the Camera Operator the second close-up and the PD can make sure the wide shot is running and in focus. As we touched on above, the Camera Operator is not being called on to make any decisions about the shot size or lighting set-up, just to follow the instructions of the DoP and to adjust the framing and focus of the shot during the interview.
Next up, we’re going to need a Sound Recordist. The nomenclature for roles in film and TV is evolving and fortunately it’s no longer accurate or acceptable to assume that the person operating a camera or a sound mixer is a male. So while cameraman and soundman as generic terms are on the way out, the gender neutral terms are not universally agreed. At NextShoot we refer to someone recording sound on set as a Sound Recordist. In this scenario we’re going to need one, in particular to boom the ‘walk & talk’ sequence, and also to ensure that the quality of the ‘natural sound’ is very good. A Sound Recordist is not only an extra pair of hands to sling a boom on the move, they also monitor the sound input to the camera through their mixer/ record, adjusting it as needed, and record all the sound separately onto their own device. So, when the budget allows, a Sound Recordist is always welcome on the team, especially as they remove the responsibility of the often fiddly business of capturing sound from the DoP.
And finally, given the broll is going to involve some heavy kit and we’re on a tight schedule we would recommend a Runner. What does a runner run after, you ask? Tea, mainly, but having an extra pair of hands on set can be invaluable as it frees up the creatives and technicians to focus on their job rather than ordering lunch and feeding the metre.
Here’s an example of NextShoot content created using the above crew structure:
Royal Shakespeare Company:
DIRECTOR of PHOTOGRAPHY
HAIR & MAKE-UP
We’ve arrived at the deep end.
A corporate video production company works directly with brands and organisations, and is also hired by agencies as a service production company to fulfil the vision they have created with the brand directly. Either way, a video production company like NextShoot is working on increasingly sophisticated content with higher production values.
As ambitions for a video develop so does the need for specialisation on the crew, and while a corporate video production company may have a number of in-house experts there’s inevitably a time when it calls on its roster of freelance specialists to support its core team.
In this scenario – a real one in fact – we introduce a crew with the specific skills and expertise that you would find on sophisticated branded content or a 30 second commercial spot, and someway up the ladder towards the sort of crew used on a small independent movie.
In this instance there is a separation between the Producer and the Director, whose roles we have touched on above, both supported by a First Assistant Director (1st AD).
Contrary to their title, 1st ADs don’t actually direct. Above all are responsible for managing the filming schedule. To do this effectively a 1st AD will attend a technical recce ahead of the shoot day with other key crew, typically including the Producer, Director, DoP, Gaffer and First Assistant Camera (1st AC). From the technical recce the 1st AD builds a filming schedule that allows time for each set-up, sequence, move and break.
On the shoot day the 1st AD typically calls for the talent, shouts out the start and end of each take (‘Action! and ‘Cut!), gives cues for the background artists, keeps the director and the crew on time and assists the director and producer in checking off the shot list.
The 1st AD is often supported by a Second Assistant Camera (2nd AD) who works more closely with the background artists, often chaperoning them into the right position in frame from instructions given by the 1st AD on a walkie-talkie.
On set the 1st AD and the director often discuss the schedule. The 1st AD is empowered to be blunt with a director telling them that they can have another take, but perhaps at the cost of another shot, or (less often) advising them that they’re ahead of schedule and have time to try something different.
There can be a number of other production team members on a shoot (an Assistant Producer for example), but for most corporate work a producer will suffice. One industry entry-point role is invaluable, however: the Runner. Runners often report to the Assistant Directors, but generally assist wherever they are needed and their duties vary depending on where they are assigned. These may include acting as a courier, keeping the set tidy and distributing call sheets and other paperwork. Where there isn’t a catering team on set, runners help with food orders and, crucially, organise tea & coffee for the crew between breaks.
The DoP is head of the Camera Department and works with the director to translate their vision of the mood of the film into a lit frame. Ahead of the shoot the DoP will assemble the equipment list needed for each shot and sequence – from cameras, lenses and lights to jibs, cranes and drones. On set, the DoP is responsible for all lighting plans and the quality of the light. The DoP suggests the lens, angles and camera movement for each shot, working with the director and then passing instructions to their team. A DoP on a medium sized production is likely to operate a camera if it’s on a tripod or a dolly. As soon as a camera gets mounted onto a crane with multiple axes a specialist operator is required, overseen by the DOP.
If your production requires smooth tracking shots of people on the move that cannot be achieved on a track, then you’re going to be adding a Gimbal Operator to the call sheet. A motorized gimbal can keep a camera level on all axes while the operator moves with the camera. This gives the impression to the viewer that the camera is floating through the air, an effect achieved previously by the Steadicam (often seen up and down the touchlines of football games). Gimbals can be mounted on vehicles and even drones, where vibrations or sudden movements would make it impractical to use a tripod or other camera mounts.
The First Assistant Camera (1st AC or Focus Puller) is on set to support all the cameras, whether on a gimbal, tripod or jib.
The 1st AC will visit to the equipment hire company ahead of a shoot for a prep day or longer, depending on the amount on equipment being used. During this prep period the 1st AC checks every piece of kit, in particular the cameras and lenses, to ensure nothing is missing or broken. If an unchecked camera or lens is found to be faulty on a shoot day it could jeopardise the ability to get a crucial shot or impact the schedule adversely before a replacement is received.
On location the 1st AC is responsible for setting up the cameras at the start of the day, requiring a good deal of technical know-how across a range of camera and ancillary equipment such as wireless monitoring kits.
The 1st AC is also know as a Focus Puller. Pulling focus is their primary responsibility on set, which is typically done using a wireless follow-focus lens control system and a monitor. They also ensure batteries are charged, that media cards are on standby and often take the camera between takes to give the DoP or Camera Operator a break.
At the end of the day they make sure everything gets put back in its box before being returned to the hire company.
Depending on the number of cameras being used, a production may also require a Second Assistant Camera (2nd AC, or Clapper Loader) and even a 3rd AC. The Second Assistant Camera operates the clapperboard at the beginning of each take. When film stock was more commonly used, the 2nd AC loaded the raw film stock into the camera magazines.
We’ve touched on the role of the Sound Recordist already, whose prime function is to make sound recordings of excellent quality, free from all unwanted noise. On a corporate production the Sound Recordist will typically be taking sound via radio mics and/or a boom mic to their recorder/mixer which they wear in a special shoulder-mounted bag. The sound can be passed directly to the camera and/or recorded separately.
While ‘the Gaffer’ is a respectful term used by football players for their manager, on a set it’s the name given to the head electrician and the person responsible for executing the DoP’s lighting plan. Essentially gaffers shape the light to meet the DoPs objectives using flags, nets or diffusion filters to control their direction, softness and intensity. Gaffers traditionally manage the electricians on set.
A Spark is an electrician who reports to the Gaffer. The electrical team handles power on a set, usually for lighting, and manages the power draw on the building or generator.
Grips have their own department on a film set and are headed by a Key Grip. They work closely with the camera department to provide camera support, especially if the camera is mounted to a dolly, jib or a crane.
After a take the DoP and director are often found peering into a monitor (maybe with the client), reviewing the last shot – picture and often sound. This immediate review process is made possible by Playback or Video Assist. During playback a shot can be looped so that those watching have ample opportunity to see and hear the take under review before deciding whether to reshoot or move on.
As the person responsible for transferring the filming data on a camera’s media cards to hard drives, the Digital Imaging Technician (DIT) has become one of the most important crew members on set.
DITs use their own kit, including programs that perform checks on data totals to make sure all media files are accounted for. DITs have their own processes, but what they have in common is that they back up each card at least twice.
DITs perform quality control checks throughout the filming day to ensure nothing is corrupted and although data corruption is rare, it’s better to know about it on set while there’s still a chance to reshoot.
A DIT also knows how to manipulate colour profiles to execute the specific look wanted for a project. DITs feedback to the Director and DoP about the quality of the image – for example about the graininess of a sequence shot in low light.
On corporate videos Make-up Artists also tend to a contributor’s or actor’s hair (ie they’re a Hair & Make-up Artist). On bigger productions these roles are split. After their initial work, Hair & Make-up artists are always present on set for final adjustments before the camera roles.
The Wardrobe Supervisor is in charge of the maintenance and organisation of the costumes during the production. On larger productions the Wardrobe Supervisor will manage a team of Costume Assistants and Costume Dressers, overseeing which outfits will be needed for each scene. A Wardrobe Supervisor needs to ensure that all costumes arrive on set or on location along with the necessary equipment (sewing machines, irons, steamers) and ensure that all hired in costumes are returned safely.
On a corporate video it’s likely many of the actors will wear their own clothing on camera, but they will have been instructed by the production team to bring a selection of outfits. In this situation the Wardrobe Supervisor will oversee which option is worn.
Finally, we come to ‘the talent’: the actors who speak or take specific direction, and then the ‘extras’, ‘Background Actors’ or ‘Supporting Artistes. For corporate content it’s likely that actors will have been cast through a Casting Agent (who might hold auditions and send video footage of options to the production company) and then booked through an Agent. For extras there are now plenty of online platforms that make it quick and easy to book Supporting Artistes. As soon as children of school age are involved in filming there are a number of protocols that need to be carefully followed. A permit may be required from the council where they go to school and they will require a parent or Chaperone to accompany them.
Here are some example of NextShoot content created using this crew structure:
Bloomberg Press Video: https://nextshoot.com/video/bloomberg-london-building-press-video
Bloomberg Inside Story: https://nextshoot.com/video/inside-bloomberg-london-video
That’s a wrap on a possible crew for a high end corporate shoot, but if that’s whet the appetite for an even more comprehensive list of possible team and crew members, then you’ll find that list here