Sunday, June 10, 2012

Learn About Film Crews: Gaffers and Electricians

Gaffers and electricians form the “electric” part of the phrase “grip and electric.” Gaffers, who usually lead the electrical department, are responsible for the set’s lighting. They must know how to create the right mood for each scene, and how to transform any type of lighting into what the Director of Photography requests. (Some gaffers are given more latitude in lighting decisions than others.) Electricians work under the gaffer.

The electrical department works directly with grips, so much so that sometimes the two jobs are interchangeable on smaller sets. But on larger operations, gaffers and electricians set the lights in place, then grips modify them with flags and other accessories. The lights themselves can consist of tiny mood lights all the way up to giant, sun-simulating monsters.

Generally, there are three ranks in the electrical department:

Gaffer: This crewmember leads the department and has the most control over lighting.

Best Boy Electrician: This worker serves the same role as the Best Boy grip: equipment and personnel management. Think of this person as the team’s foreman.

Electrician: These perform general tasks under the direction of the Gaffer.

Like their counterparts in the grip department, members of the electrical department use a wide array of tools and equipment. Generators, cables and power splitters provide power to the lights, so a working knowledge of that equipment helps. Electricians often keep wrenches, screwdrivers and other hand tools in a tool pouch for quick access. They will also have a supply of power adapters and extension cords (colloquially called “stingers”).

On the more delicate side, a light meter helps decide what adjustments need to be made. Gloves and safety cables (to hold lights in place) provide safety, and flashlights help when entering dark areas such as the space above a ceiling. And of course, gaffer’s tape usually resides on set in large quantities. Gaffer’s tape is similar to duct tape, but it does not leave a residue and thus does much less harm to surfaces and equipment.

People who know how to use all that gear are a boost to any production. Though it may not be clear just from the credits, a good electrical department makes for a safer set and excellent lighting.

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