Whether it’s Mission: Impossible or My Dinner with Andre, the closing credits of any movie reveal a dizzying variety of film crew positions that have contributed to its creation.
And if you’re going to work in the film industry, you need to have at least a passing familiarity with each and every one of them.
In this post, we’ll help you successfully navigate the flood of film set roles on your next call sheet by decoding the basics of film crew hierarchy and running down the essential on-set jobs within it.
Let’s start with a basic question:
When the topics of movie set terminology and film crew jobs converge, the first two phrases you’re likely to run into are “above the line” and “below the line”.
Both terms originate from a common practice in production budgeting, in which a literal line is used to visually divide film crew positions that are paid according to a pre-negotiated, fixed rate (“above the line” crew) and film crew positions that are paid according to a variable hourly or daily rate (“below the line” crew).
In theory, this simple accounting designation is the only real difference between the two categories.
In practice, however, being above or below “the line” represents the first major division in film crew hierarchy.
If you were to construct a film production hierarchy chart for a production’s entire duration, the above the line film crew positions would generally be found at the very top.
Above the line crew members are those who carry the most creative or financial responsibility for a given project, and they’re usually working all the way from pre-production to post. They’re the ones who make major decisions and are often directly or indirectly responsible for securing financing.
Let’s break down some of the most common above the line film crew positions:
The Director provides the guiding creative vision for a production. They aren’t necessarily the ultimate authority on a given project, but they are responsible for shepherding it creatively through the entire creative process, meaning they exert great influence over all other film crew positions.
As such, you’d find them near the top of any film production hierarchy chart.
But they won’t be there alone.
The Producer is one of the most fundamental of all film set roles. It’s one of many film crew job titles that can carry any part of a wide range of responsibilities, but, primarily, producers are responsible for securing funding, setting a project into motion, and providing high level organizational guidelines.
In other words, without a solid producer (or team of producers), there would be no movie.
For that reason, unsurprisingly, you’d find them at the very top of any film production hierarchy chart, above even the director and below only the project’s financiers.
In the world of feature film crew job titles, “executive producer” is a catch-all term that represents authority and respect without necessarily denoting any specific film crew jobs or tasks. They often fulfill highly specific film set roles, but the exact nature of their responsibilities can vary dramatically from one executive producer to another.
Some executive producers may have had a direct hand in financing a film, while others may have been awarded the title as additional incentive for some other contribution, like scripting or advising.
In fact, the title is so malleable that some executive producers aren’t involved with production crew duties at all. The simple contribution of their name to a project might be enough to warrant an executive producer credit.
Technically, of course, actresses and actors are not considered film crew positions, but they do represent some of the most crucial movie set jobs in existence. While you wouldn’t necessarily find them on a film production hierarchy chart, on-screen talent always ranks high in the film crew hierarchy food chain.
The casting director is in charge of finding the right performers for a given project.
For obvious reasons, the casting director’s job is often finished long before physical production begins, and, in that sense, they operate entirely outside of the day-to-day film crew hierarchy. However, their existence as one of the above the line film crew positions demonstrates an important principle.
Despite its typical use, the phrase “above the line” does not denote superiority in any way. While many above the line film crew positions are very important and do carry a great deal of power, they are not inherently “better” than the rest of their film crew family.
The fact of the matter is that above the line film crew positions rely entirely upon the hard work and critical thinking of those professionals with boots on the ground: the below the line crew.
Below the line film crew positions make up the vast majority of any film crew hierarchy. As such, below the line film crew job descriptions are many and varied.
A film production hierarchy chart would break this massive collection of movie set jobs down into separate departments that correspond to related film crew job descriptions. Contained within each of these individual departments, a separate film crew hierarchy exists in miniature, starting with a department head and working down to increasingly specialized film crew job descriptions.
To understand the collective film crew hierarchy of all on set jobs, let’s take a look at below the line film crew positions department by department. Starting with…
The AD Department is something like the center of a wheel, keeping all the other departments joined together in order to make the whole production move forward. The department’s major responsibilities are scheduling, coordination, and- more than anything- communication.
The job of 1st Assistant Director both is and isn’t exactly what it sounds like.
On one hand, the 1st AD’s mandate is simply to assist the director in achieving their vision. On the other hand, their day-to-day responsibilities stretch far beyond the creative concerns of the director and are crucial to keeping any production on its feet.
The 1st AD is responsible for crafting the shooting schedule, running the set, making sure that all other film crew positions are functioning on time, and dealing with the thousands of daily problems that arise on even the smoothest of productions. Their minds are both highly active in the present yet always calculating circumstances in the future ahead.
1st ADs are the ultimate problem solvers among all film crew positions, but that doesn’t mean you should bring your problems directly to them. Instead, you should approach their second-in-command.
The 2nd Assistant Director is the 1st AD’s right hand.
In their most basic form, 2nd ADs are responsible for handling daily call sheets and shepherding talent to and from set. However, their job descriptions are rarely that simplistic in practice.
Unlike most other movie set jobs, 2nd ADs have to maintain a basic understanding of how nearly every department operates. At the behest of the 1st AD, they’re most often coordinating forces behind-the-scenes to solve or prevent problems of all types and sizes.
The 2nd 2nd Assistant Director helps to ease the AD department’s workload when a shoot’s scale or degree of difficulty becomes larger than a small, standard team can handle.
Movie set jobs like the 2nd 2nd AD are hired on a situational basis. You may not see a single 2nd 2nd AD in the credits of a low-budget indie, but you would likely find several of them working on a blockbuster with large crowds of background performers and a film crew the size of a small army.
Technically, all Production Assistants belong to the production department (which we’ll cover later), but Set Production Assistants oftentimes receive a majority of their marching orders from professionals in the AD department instead. As the name implies, Set PAs support the needs of the shooting set itself, as opposed to those of a particular department.
Set PAs- along with other PA film crew positions- occupy the lowest rung of any film production hierarchy chart, but they’re also frequently referred to as the lifeblood of film production as a whole. The role of the Set PA is invaluable precisely because its low position makes it one of very few film crew jobs that can be called upon to carry out nearly any task.
The Set PA’s role is limited only by need, not personal specialization.
Film crew positions within the Art Department oversee the physical creation of all visual elements in a film or television series. Unless it’s CGI, if you can see an object on-screen, it was probably handled by one or more members of the art department.
The Production Designer is the head of the art department. They work with the director and director of photography to craft an overall look for a film, achieving it with the help of a wide variety of movie set jobs found deeper within their department.
Given that a large portion of their time is occupied by high-level decision-making activities, the most important skills for a professional production designer are the abilities to communicate and delegate.
The Art Director is the production designer’s second-in-command. They’re a field general, who organizes and manages the rest of the art department film crew to get the job done.
Depending on the size of the production, the Art Director may wear many hats. For that reason, it’s not uncommon for professional art directors to have developed a wide range of capabilities within their field. In general, however, Art Director movie set jobs are mostly concerned with supervisory responsibilities.
On larger productions, Art Directors typically have several Assistant Art Directors working below them.
The Set Dresser is a specialized role in charge of arranging the shooting set with furniture, decorations, and other graphic elements.
On larger productions, the Set Dresser will work in conjunction with a Set Designer or Set Decorator, film crew jobs that are more focused on planning and preparation. However, on smaller productions, all three roles are often either carried about by a single individual or split according to need among other art department film crew positions, like the production designer, art director, etc.
The Prop Master is in charge of sourcing and organizing all non-weapon props used in a project.
On smaller productions, the Prop Master is usually one individual within the art department, assisted by others as necessary. On larger productions, however, the Prop Master is often in charge of their own Props Department, a sub-department associated with art but populated entirely by specialized movie set jobs revolving around the design, management, and construction of prop items.
The Art Production Assistant is an all-around assistant dedicated to the art department.
What separates an Art PA from other PA film crew jobs is that they’ve generally developed some basic knowledge or skill sets specific to the art department. Unsurprisingly, working as an Art PA is often a gateway to working other art department film crew positions higher up in the film crew hierarchy.
The film crew positions within many departments are often flexible according to the specific needs of a given production. However, few departments are as flexible or varied as the art department.
I’ve already mentioned Set Decorators, Set Designers, and Assistant Art Directors, but there are many more potential members of the art department not mentioned here. From construction foremen to concept artists to carpenters, the range of necessary film crew positions working the art department can be as endless as budget and imagination allow.
The Camera Department is the literal focal point of image capture on any set. Its members work closely with the Grip and Electric Departments to achieve a film’s overall look under the guidance of the Director of Photography.
CAPTION: You literally wouldn’t have a movie without the Camera Department.
At her or his core, the Director of Photography is responsible for recording the images of a film in accordance with a director’s vision. That means that they’re in charge of creating light, bending light, and capturing light in a way that achieves an agreed upon look.
Technically, the Director of Photography is the head of the camera department, but they also guide the creative decisions made by grip and electric departments.
The Camera Operator controls the camera during takes. They are skilled at creating smooth and precise movements, using operating gear that may range from simple tripods to hand wheels or electronic control systems.
On multi-camera productions, there may be several camera operator film crew positions working at any given time.
The 1st Assistant Cameraperson is in charge of the set-up and on-set maintenance of the camera and related accessories.
Traditionally, 1st ACs are most uniquely known for being responsible for pulling focus during a shot. However, with the proliferation of digital cameras, the duties of a modern 1st AC have expanded to cover the management of a wide array of image capture settings and specifications.
The 2nd Assistant Cameraperson is in charge of organizing the camera crew’s gear, keeping records, and assisting in any general camera team tasks.
Despite being at the bottom of the camera department’s film crew hierarchy, the 2nd AC is distinct from all other film crew jobs in that they’re responsible for the honorable (and, occasionally, fun) task of operating the camera slate before or after every take.
The Digital Imaging Technician (DIT) is one of the newest standard film crew positions on the scene. Born from the unique complications of shooting digitally, the DIT manages and troubleshoots all aspects of the digital workflow as it exists on set.
Best known for their data management responsibilities, Digital Imaging Technicians are often mistaken for working in post-production. However, they report to the Director of Photography and are chiefly concerned with making sure that footage being captured by the camera will meet the production’s aesthetic needs. These basic job descriptions clearly place the DIT among the crucial team of film crew positions that make up the camera department.
The Electric Department creates light, collaborating with the grip department to execute the director of photography’s lighting plan.
The Gaffer is a production’s chief lighting technician and head of the electric department. They plan and coordinate the placement and powering of lights to achieve the level of illumination desired by the director of photography.
The best gaffers are also excellent collaborators, crafting technical solutions to solve creative challenges.
The Best Boy Electric (BBE) is the gaffer’s chief lieutenant, the second-in-command. They’re often responsible for delegating day-to-day managerial tasks- like hiring personnel and maintaining equipment- and are generally less directly involved in major creative decisions within the lighting plan.
While the traditional “Best Boy” title is still most typically used, the alternative film crew positions of “Best Girl” and “Best Person” are gaining popularity and may very well be encountered on your next call sheet.
Better known simply as an “Electric”, the Electrical Lighting Technician (ELT) is responsible for getting power anywhere and everywhere on set. They’re also instrumental in executing the lighting plan under the guidance of the gaffer and best boy electric.
The majority of film crews hire several electrics, though lower-budget productions may ask them to work as “Swings”, moving back and forth between the grip and electric departments as necessary.
The Generator Operator is responsible for managing any generators that a production brings to set.
Low budget productions utilizing only small generators may not require a generator operator. However, on shoots with large generators or large arrays of generators, a competent generator operator is essential to not only to the success of the production but also the safety of all cast and film crew members.
If the electric department creates light, the Grip Department takes it away.
Utilizing flags, silks, reflectors, and a 5-ton-truck’s worth of other equipment, the Grip Department manipulates existing light to help the director of photography achieve a desired look. They also physically support other departments as necessary with rigging and temporary structural elements.
The Key Grip is the head of the grip department. A natural counterpart and collaborator to the gaffer, the Key Grip is similarly tasked with planning and coordinating grip elements to execute a lighting plan.
Unlike the gaffer, the Key Grip is also the arbiter of safety on-set.
The Best Boy Grip is the key grip’s second-in-command. They tackle sensitive managerial operations and oversee the construction of more complicated grip elements.
On a large production, the organizational skills of a solid Best Boy Grip can mean the difference between wrapping early and accruing vast quantities of overtime. They quite literally make the set move.
The Grip physically executes the strategy laid out by the key grip, best boy, and director of photography. On a union shoot, if literally anything needs moved on a set, you’ll almost certainly need a grip to move it for you.
To the uninitiated, this may seem extreme. However, these rules exist to prevent harm. The work of the grip team is essential to the safe and timely operation of any set.
The Dolly Grip is a grip dedicated to the set-up and operation of a dolly. They lay track, perform maintenance, and help execute the complicated camera moves required by many films, television shows, and commercials.
The Dolly Grip is but one of several potential grip film crew positions whose duties are highly specialized. Depending on the needs of a given production, the movie staffing process of pre-production might include a search for unusual gripping expertise. It’s not uncommon to see film crew positions like rigging grips or construction grips in the credits of larger feature films, even though they rarely show up in the world of low-budget indies.
Collectively referred to as “The Vanities”, the Hair & Make-Up Departments prepare on-camera talent for the big screen. Their work can also be essential to executing special effects and maintaining on-screen continuity.
The Key Make-Up Artist is in charge of setting the talent’s look for a given scene. They work closely with not only the director but also the production designer, director of photography, and wardrobe designer to craft a cohesive look that contributes to the film’s overall aesthetic.
Similarly, the Key Hair Stylist is in charge of setting the talent’s hairstyle for a given scene. This requires a diverse range of skills to account for multiple hair types, varying aesthetic requirements, and solving unpredictable follicular problems.
The Assistants within the Hair and make-up departments provide extra hands and eyes to carry out the plans of their department head. The more principal or background talent that a production requires, the more HMU assistant film crew positions you’ll likely find in the credits. HMU assistants can also prove invaluable in keeping an eye on the performers’ looks as they need adjustments through the shooting day.
Less common but no less important, the Special Effects (SPFX) Make-Up Artist specializes in achieving looks that go well-beyond the requirements of standard make-up and hair styling techniques. Whether it’s silicon-molded facial prosthetics or hidden squibs, the work of the SPFX Make-Up Artist is quietly behind many of your favorite moments of movie magic.
The Wardrobe Department is responsible for choosing, coordinating, fitting, and constructing every garment you see in a given film, television show, or commercial.
The Costume Designer is the head of the wardrobe department. In collaboration with the director, they craft the creative drive behind all clothing that the audience sees on screen.
Depending on the size and requirements of the production, the Costume Designer may preside over a large number of film crew positions within their department, granting them creative access to a wide variety of external expertise that reinforce their own professional skills in the textile arts.
The Wardrobe Supervisor is an essentially managerial role within the costume department. They manage existing wardrobe items and oversee the performance of all costumers and dressers working in the department.
In essence, they manage the day-to-day execution of the costume designer’s vision.
The Set Costumer represents the wardrobe department on set. They’re on standby, watching the performers and making adjustments as necessary, whether that means fixing a minor tear or adjusting shirt collars to ensure proper continuity.
It’s a surprisingly fast-paced job that requires quick-thinking and a present mind.
The Costume Coordinator, as you might expect, coordinates all aspects of the costuming process.
They’re the film crew positions that keep everyone on track, maintain records, and generally connect the dots to make things happen according to plan. A good Costume Coordinator can save a wardrobe department a lot of time and even more headaches.
The Tailor is responsible for the actual construction and alteration of costumes. A project that sources the majority of its wardrobe from vintage shops and costume houses might only need one or two tailors on hand, but massive, wardrobe-heavy productions (like The Favourite) will often require an entire costume shop of capable tailors and supporting film crew positions.
The Shopper shops. They visit stores and rental houses of all kinds to find the perfect shirt, shoes, or bedazzled belt.
But make no mistake; the Shopper does not have an easy job. The role requires a rare combination of taste, communication skills, and physical endurance. And given the always-present constraints of time and money on any production, the Shopper may very well have the most stressful day-to-day responsibilities of all the film crew positions in the wardrobe department.
The Sound Department is responsible for getting the best on-set sound possible. They use a wide range of analog techniques and technical innovations to ensure that dialogue can be heard crystal clear in even the most clamorous of conditions.
The Production Sound Mixer is in charge of recording all relevant sound on the shooting day. That includes everything from principal dialogue to room tone to wild lines to limited sound effects.
On set, the role of the Production Sound Mixer is quite different than that of a sound mixer in post. The Production Sound Mixer is concerned with gathering high-quality raw audio materials that will only later be layered into a film or television show’s final mix.
The Boom Operator is, of course, responsible for operating the boom mic, but they also play a significant role in placing microphones around sets and on performers in order to achieve the highest overall quality in the audio department’s recordings.
On low budget productions, the Boom Operator and the production sound mixer film crew positions are often filled by a single individual, but it’s important to recognize that their skill sets differ considerably and should always be hired as separate film crew positions whenever financial circumstances allow.
Larger productions may require that a Sound Assistant or “Cableperson” be hired among the sound department film crew positions.
The Sound Assistant primarily supports the department through microphone placement and the monitoring of equipment, but they may be called upon to assist any other member of the sound department with any task requiring additional personnel.
The Craft Service and Catering Departments make sure that the film crew is fed, hydrated, and ready to work. The Craft Service Department provides food and drink throughout the shooting day, while the Catering Department is exclusively responsible for providing designated meals.
The on-set jobs of both departments are often filled by external companies or individuals operating as an LLC. As such, there is no official film crew hierarchy of individual film crew positions within either department. However, craft service and catering personnel are vital members of the film crew family.
Unless you’re Tom Cruise, the Stunts Department handles all acts of high-flying daredevilry in a feature film, television show, or commercial.
These women and men are the real action heroes, risking life and limb to plan and execute some of the most exciting sequences in movie history.
The Stunt Coordinator is an expert in creating physical illusion and mitigating physical danger.
Usually experienced stunt performers themselves, Stunts Coordinators collaborate with directors to design, cast, and choreograph whatever stunts a script or sequence may require. It’s one of only a few film set roles that requires both physical expertise and logistical prowess.
The Stunt Performer actually carries out a given stunt, as conceived by the director and stunt coordinator.
Stunt Performer film crew positions are not for the weak of heart or stomach. They simultaneously require a keen eye for personal safety and a willingness to put that safety at reasonable risk.
The Set Medic is not technically part of the stunts department. However, if the stunts department is active on any set, the presence of a Set Medic is an absolute requirement.
The Set Medic is prepared for short-term response to medical emergencies of nearly any kind. In bad conditions, that could mean anything from monitoring a concussion to treating an open wound. In normal conditions, it generally means distributing mountains of ibuprofen to overstressed producers and ADs.
While the majority of modern visual effects are ultimately realized in post-production, it is often necessary for film crew positions from the VFX Department to be present on the actual day of shooting.
Their on-set jobs revolve around giving guidance and suggesting digital solutions, but their involvement with a given project extends far before and after principal photography.
The VFX Supervisor is the chief visual effects adviser to the director. They are responsible for the final look of an effect and are, therefore, concerned with the proper execution of each of its elements, both on set and beyond.
Depending on the scope of a project’s visual effects, multiple VFX Supervisor film crew positions may be present in the final credits.
The VFX Coordinator is an organizational role. They’re in charge of scheduling and managing actions within the creation of given visual effects in order to keep them on track with the overall post-production workflow.
Last but not least, the Production Department makes up the primary structural support of an entire project, start to finish. They manage budgets, maintain records, issue payments, keep the production in good legal standing, and generally put out any fire- sometimes literally- that might arise in the making of a movie.
Technically, the head of the production department is the producer, but the Line Producer is their below the line counterpart and is much more likely to have their boots on the ground.
“Line Producer” is a somewhat malleable title that could match any one of several film crew job descriptions on any given day. In general, their day-to-day tasks run the production gamut.
The Line Producer directs the actions of the production department as a whole. That may sound straightforward, but realize that the production department itself must be able to respond to the particular and rapidly-changing needs of the project as a whole. Perhaps more than anything, the Line Producer is, therefore, a problem-solver.
The Unit Production Manager (UPM) is the chief administrator of all film crew positions. They may be called to deal with an array of challenges, but the UPM is primarily concerned with the management of all cost-related decisions.
The UPM is a final defense against any funds going in or out. If you have film crew salary or payroll questions, the UPM is always the best person to ask. For that reason, they also play a vital role in getting any movie staffed up properly before cameras roll.
Working below the UPM and line producer, the Production Coordinator makes sure that all departments are on the same page. “Coordinator” is a very literal title in this particular case. They- side-by-side with the rest of the production staff- handle any paperwork and communication necessary to keep all departments working together towards the same goal and the production running smoothly overall.
The Set Accountant monitors a project’s finances, ensuring that the relationship between expenses and the budget as planned remains as copasetic as possible. It requires not only general accounting skills but also a specialized familiarity with how the various departments of a production function on their own, both physically and financially.
On larger productions, the Set Accountant may have an entire department of film crew positions dedicated to this task. However, on lower-budget productions, these same responsibilities may be split between the UPM and line producer.
The Office Production Assistant is dedicated to assisting only the film crew positions that work within a project’s production office.
In the heat of making a movie, production assistants can often be pulled into on-set tasks in mass numbers at the risk of leaving the production office short-handed. Office PA film crew positions were invented to combat this particular brand of PA famine.
Office PAs often acquire specialized skills in managing paperwork and handling certain budgetary elements. As such, working as an Office PA is an excellent segue into working in one of the other production department film crew positions.
The world of media production is vast and multi-faceted, meaning that we’re only scratching the surface of potential film crew positions, even among just those working during a project’s production phase.
To help you keep track of them all, check out our free film crew list pdf template.
And if we missed any of your favorite film crew positions, be sure to let us know.
At Wrapbook, we're all about providing the very best free resources to producers and their crews. However, this post is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Answers do not create a company-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any action that may affect your decisions or rights.
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