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  • Writer's pictureGiles Gough

Five key crew roles (and who to choose for them)

Updated: May 17, 2021

When it comes to how big a film crew should be, the answer is “how long is a piece of string?” I’ve shot footage where it’s just myself and one actor and I’ve been on at least one film set where I counted one hundred people working on the one production. But if it’s your first film as part of your Media coursework, chances are you’ve been put into a small group and you’re trying to figure out who should do what when filming. This is a short guide to give you an idea of what some of the essential roles are even for a small crew. Here’s a pic from our upcoming short film ‘Reset’ to give you an idea:

Director of photography: In layman’s terms, this is what we might call ‘head camera operator’. This person is responsible for setting up the shot, adjusting the lighting and creating the mis-en-scene that will hopefully show a real flare for cinematography. For this role you want someone with a leaning towards the technical, who knows how to get the best out of whatever camera you’re using. Someone with a passion for photography is often a good choice for this. If they can tell a good story with one picture think how good they’ll be with 24 frames per second!

Boom Operator/Sound: Good sound is crucial on any film. An audience may be willing to sit through a film with shaky visuals but if the sound quality is poor, at best it can obscure the dialogue and at worst, it can be physically painful. Yes, most cameras will be able to record sound, but the main purpose of a camera is to record the visuals and you will soon find that the cameras built in mics are sorely lacking. That’s why it’s essential to have someone paying attention to the sound the whole way through. Consistency is key on this job, if the recording level has been a little too quiet for the first half of filming, you may want to stick with it so you can adjust it all to the same settings later on. For this role you ideally want someone tall, with a good ear for detail, good upper body strength (try holding a stick above your head for three minutes and you’ll see what I mean) and infinite levels of patience.

Clapperloader: Arguably one of, if not the most iconic production role, the clapper loader is key to making the post-production run smoothly. The clapperboard exists to serve two functions; firstly at the start of each clip the clapperboard appears to show the scene, shot and take that you’re currently on. This means that when you’re looking at the clip in editing you can tell exactly which take is which. Secondly, the ‘clap’ sound as the arm hits the board helps to sync the sound to the video. This job throws a person literally into the middle of the filming process. It works well for someone who is completely new to filmmaking and can learn on the job, someone who can follow instructions precisely and can get in and out of frame very quickly.

Production Assistant: The production assistant’s job is to record on paper every shot. As filming progresses, they fill out a ‘footage log’ that reflects what was the shot, whether it was a good take or a bad take and some notes about why it was good or bad, e.g. ‘plane coming over’. The production assistant works closely with the clapper loader to the point where on many of my shoots they will switch up roles or if we’re really stuck, be the same person! The reason this role is important is that when filming is finished you can hand over the footage log to your editor who can see straight away which takes to use, which will speed up your workflow tremendously. This job works really well for someone who is less interested in the technical stuff, but is very detail orientated and always on top of things.

Director: If you’ve done all your homework and you’re very lucky with the team you have recruited, there should be little else for the director to do on set beyond deciding what’s a good take and shouting ‘action’ and ‘cut’. But this is rarely the case on indie or no budget film projects. That’s why it’s vital the director has a good understanding of every job that’s being undertaken in the project. You may find yourself framing the shot, adjusting the lighting or just making sure that everyone is fed and happy. In most film projects, the director is the driving creative force, meaning they are the ones who are responsible for making sure the film is finished on time. They are often the writer and producer of the film as well as planning out the day’s shooting. This job is ideally suited to person who can be a bit obsessive, someone who is laser focused on getting the job done whilst at the same time having the people skills to make people feel included and giving them space to make their own creative choices.

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