In this comprehensive article, we’ll give you an insight into the different departments during production and the various roles within each department.
After this read, you’ll have an idea solid of what’s needed during a standard production.
However, we’ll also mention how certain roles amalgamate for smaller-scale production.
On the other end of the scale, we’ll mention roles that will only really be seen in large scale productions.
We’ve sectioned this guide with tabs below. This makes it easy for you to refer to the different departments easily. Here’s the table of contents to explore each department.
Understanding The Line
The Line is drawn to clarify the budget.
This term is often seen in finance and advertising but holds a slightly different meaning under the lens of film production.
When creating a budget for the film, crew members are either “below the line” or “above the line”, and the difference isn’t only budgetary but also divides the crew by their method of remuneration as well as their role in the production.
The best way to describe the line is by exploring what exactly the industry means by “below the line” and “above the line”.
Below the line
Crew members budgeted below the line often charge at a variable rate. This means that if shooting runs later into the night than anticipated, these crew members will be paid over their standard day rate. The same applies to additional days or reshooting.
On the other hand, if the director decides to forgo filming a scene, your below the line crew won’t be paid for days that they aren’t needed.
Below the line crew often have more of a technical influence in production, rather than creative. In essence, they provide guidance and expertise to the creative team. These professionals are also seen to be more easily replaceable, or “non-key” members of the crew.
Above the line
These crew members tend to be present for the entire production process.
Film crew members above the line are charged at a fixed rate, meaning their pay isn’t dependent on the factors relating to the film’s production. There are far, far fewer above the line roles than below the line.
Above the line positions typically include:
A film director manages the creative aspects of production.
The director watches auditions and selects actors for the production. They’ll also monitor and oversee the film’s budget. However, there is also a hugely creative aspect to the role of the director. This is the person responsible for making the script come to life. They give the actors and crew guidance to develop their vision of the film. Between working with department heads, interpreting the nuances of the script, directing actors, and collaborating with the editors to assemble the film— the director wears many, many hats. Directors, although don’t appear on screen, make the crucial decisions during filming. Later in production, they’ll work with the editing team to produce the final version of the film.
A producer is responsible for finding and launching the project. Either the production company employs the film producer or they work independently. They select the script, coordinate writing, source financing and also have a part to play in directing and editing. The main difference between the director and producer is that the producer is more involved in the business aspects of production whereas the director is more concerned with the creative side of the project.
An executive producer is primarily concerned with sourcing money for the project and making sure that it doesn’t run before production is complete. They typically contribute a considerable sum of their own money to a project, and so earn a top credit in the film.
Essentially, the Executive Producer is the head of the production team and funds the entire movie. They’ll often also attach talent to the production, seeking A-list actors to make the TV or movie more enticing for studio buyers or financiers.
Executive producers tend not to be involved with the day-to-day running of the set, unlike the producer.
Also known as a screenwriter, they are the creator of the production’s script. Their job involves creating the dialogue, the characters and the storyline of a script. It’s a big responsibility as the script is the skeleton of the production. A script needs to have strong dialogue, pacing and story arc for all the other elements to come together.
They may work with co-writers to hone the script and work in the pre-production phase but also into the production phase as rewrites, edits and additional dialogue will be required as the script comes to life.
Of all of the teams within film production, this is the front face of the production and so is more familiar. Having famous actors often affords the production a better chance of securing funding, as big names fill theatre seats.
The casting director is in charge of sourcing talent. They meet with the directors and producers involved to discuss what they’re looking for, and they’ll also study the script to get a sense of the production. They also negotiate contracts, manage a casting budget, and coordinate and hold auditions.
Line producers create the full production budget (also called line budget) during the pre-production phase. Their key role during the production stage is to ensure that the move is shot according to the shooting schedule.
In tandem with this, they’ll keep tabs on that all important budget. This means that the line producer needs to come up with solutions if it looks like the movie are set to go overtime or over budget.
A UPM is the primary administrator on set.
In essence, what the line producer outlines, the UPM sets in motion. In low budget productions, the line producer is also the UPM. A UPM reviews the day’s production script at the end of the day and foresees and mitigates any obstacles to filming. They’re often in charge of transportation, lodging and handling new hires.
Production Coordinators are in charge of the organisational aspect of production.
Their role starts in pre-production as they set up the production office, organising equipment, supplies and staff. They also distribute shooting schedules, scripts, revisions, as well as crew and cast lists. Managing actors, organising food and drink and solving day-to-day problems that arise ensure that filming goes smoothly.
The assistant production coordinator assists the production coordinator from pre-production to the end of filming. Their role revolves around organising, communication and logistics.
Set Accountant keeps track of expenses and is versed in the various production departments. They monitor and manage the finances involved in each stage of creating a movie or TV series. They’ll often be asked to run an estimated cost of going ahead with a particular scene or location.
The set accountant will advise on tax incentives and how they will apply to the production. Depending on the country or region of production, a tax incentive may be offered, and set accountant will advise at the best options available. Another part of their job is to work with the creative departments to discuss budgeting, review their spending so far and predict how much more will be needed.
An office PA supports a film’s production with clerical tasks. This involves handling paperwork, as well as picking up or delivering items. They’ll also be responsible for calling locations and vendors.
Also known as a first or 1st AD, the first assistant director has the task of coordinating the cast and crew so that the director can focus on creative decisions.
They are directly in charge of overseeing all department heads and ensuring that the entire cast and crew are working on schedule. The 1st AD plans the daily schedule as well as the long-term production schedule. They also break the script down into storyboards to create clarity on how each scene will be shot.
The 2nd AD, or second, creates daily call sheets from the production schedule alongside the production coordinator. Again, where the 1st AD relieves the director of an overload of responsibilities, the 2nd AD does the same for the 1st AD.
Essentially, they’re similar to a backstage manager, communicating with actors as well as keeping track of hair, make-up and wardrobe.
The 2nd 2nd AD deals with the increased workload of a large or complicated production.
They won’t be necessary for every production but are essential for a production with a large cast. 2nd 2nd ADs are often in charge of setting up background actors and filling out the production report. If the 1st AD is putting out more fires than one person can manage, it’s up to the 2nd 2nd AD to step in and start solving issues.
The key production assistant is responsible for all the production assistants on set and making sure they fulfil their designated tasks.
They generally lead a team of PAs throughout production and have a cross-department presence to provide help when needed. Key PAs know each crew member’s strengths and delegate tasks during shooting. They’ll monitor the lockdown of the set to ensure that there are no distractions during takes.
Most departments have their own PA, also known as set PA. This varied role involves responsibilities such as making coffee for cast and crew, copying scripts, running errands for the department, answering calls, and helping cast and crew find their stations.
While PAs tend not to have much say in decision-making processes of production, their role is still an important one on set. This is also the rung of the ladder that people first step on when pursuing a career in film production.
The location manager is responsible for finding and locking down filming locations before production commences.
They are often under a tight deadline to source and secure locations before production is set to start. The role involves applying for permits, coordinating with other departments, and settling location contracts. Their role is crucial in setting the scene for the director’s vision.
Location scouts are entrusted with sourcing locations for the best match. They refer to the scenes and assess the interior and exterior, then pass the information on to the location manager. Finding locations within budget is a major aspect of their role.
The transport captain leads the transport department. The entire department sources all necessary transportation used by the production. This includes transporting the cast between locations and sets as well as airport pick-ups.
A transportation coordinator is responsible more for handling the logistics of transporting cast and crew plus the associated equipment to the location of the film shoot.
This includes transporting equipment and crew to the filming locations and hiring transportation vehicles that are required during the production.
Transportation coordinator’s will often manage a small crew and ensures that everything safely arrives from A to B. The vehicles needed are often large and they’ll have to make sure that the route planned is suitable for potential wide/tall loads. Of course, they’ll also have to work within budget and be punctual. This is a role that requires a knowledge of vehicles and good time management skills.
Think of the picture car coordinator as the professional who handles the usage, repair, modification, and movement of vehicles on movie sets.
They maintain the condition of cars and preempt mishaps that may interrupt the shooting timetable. Note that this position really only relates to large scale productions, otherwise the role is given to another member of the transportation department.
The production sound mixer leads the sound department during pre-production and production.
They act as sound recordists during filming, and are also in charge of the recording and balancing audio effects on set. This includes all dialogue during every take, and also encompasses wild sound, which is any location sounds that the post-production team would want to use in the film or as reference. They also manage wireless personal microphones.
A boom operator operates the recording equipment.
Their main role is to capture the desired sounds during each take. The name comes from their instrument, the boom mic, which suspends above the shot with a boom arm. The boom operator positions the boom mic at the optimal distance from actors to record with the best sound quality.
A sound utility, also known as a sound technician or cable person, is another key member of the sound department. They are tasked with assisting both the production sound mixer and the boom operator on set.
The director of photography, also known as the DP or cinematographer, is the person responsible for creating the look of a film.
They have a collaborative relationship with the director. Many directors will work with a specific DP on an ongoing basis to create continuity in their work. For example, Robert Yeoman is Wes Anderson’s go-to DP. The distinctive visual style is a stand-out feature of their movies.
A camera operator works with cranes, mobile mountings, portable cameras, remote-control cameras, and digital cameras to shoot scenes.
They typically work closely with the director to capture the vision of each scene using filming techniques. This involves selecting the appropriate equipment and editing software during production and setting up equipment accordingly. They’ll prep and rehearse scenes while following camera scripts.
The 1st Assistant Camera, also known as 1st AC, or Focus Puller, controls the focus of a shot in progress.
They draw the focus wherever it’s intended or playing with techniques to create intrigue during a scene. The 1st AC helps to set up the gear and works with the camera operator and DP.
The 2nd Assistant Camera, also known as the 2nd AC, keeps track and maintains all camera gear, including accessories and lenses.
They help the 1st AC by setting the marks used by actors. They display the film slate in the best spot for the camera. Another important task of theirs is to oversee memory card inventory and transport footage to the digital imaging technician (DIT). 2nd ACs also maintain a log of the technical details for every shot recorded.
Gaffer, or the chief lighting electrician, is in charge of carrying out the lighting plan for production.
This involves working out the position of the lights and the quickest way to set up the lighting between shots. They’ll work closely with the DoP (Director of Photography), key grip as well as their own department to create the artistic vision for the scene.
Another aspect of their role is being responsible for the lights’ safety and will need to comply with the law on electricity, driving and employment.
The best boy is the first assistant to the grip crew or the lighting department and serves a number of roles on set.
Where the gaffer works with DoP to design the lighting plan, the best boy works to carry out that vision topside. They are assistants to their department heads, the gaffer and the key grip. Essentially, the best boy acts as the foreman for the department. Note that when a female is in this role, they are called ‘best girl’.
On a side note, No Film School explores the origin of the term, “Some say that in the early days of filmmaking, members of the grip and electrical departments would regularly go to each other and ask for help “from your best boy.” That would usually be the second-in-command, or best boy. Others claim the name comes from sailing jargon or even the era of British apprenticeship.”
The Electric Light Technician, often simply referred to as the “Electric” is responsible for the lighting equipment. They work under the instruction of the Gaffer the Best Boy. The role involves setting up, rigging, programming, monitoring, repairing, as well as operating the lighting equipment to enhance each scene.
Often known as a genny, the Generator Operator ensures that the generators are functioning optimally. This role is particularly important in remote areas or where extra power is needed. Since there is so much equipment required on set, generators work to meet the energy needs of the equipment. These generators need to be maintained but also adjusted to distribute the electricity to where it’s needed so the electrical circuits don’t become overloaded.
The set dresser works with the Art Director along with the Storyboard Artist to storyboard specific scenes in order to help guide the construction of individual sets.
Their role also involves arranging the shooting set with necessary furniture, decorations and any other artistic elements to make the DoP vision come to life.
The prop master runs the property department.
This includes storing and transporting the props, and making sure they’re all accounted for shoot days. They’ll organise the creation, renting or purchasing of props which often includes hiring craftspeople. They’ll also be responsible for keeping the prop development on schedule in time for production.
A key grip works with the DoP to decide on the camera set-ups and lighting equipment that are required to bring each scene of the film to life.
They hire the equipment, recruit their crew members and manage the budget. The key grip is in charge of setting up equipment to support the camera on set. They’ll set up the rigging that allows the camera to move around the set to capture footage. The grip works on the cranes, tracks, camera dollies and camera setup.
Before each scene, the grip collaborates with the DoP to review what equipment is needed.
As you may guess, the best boy grip is second to the key grip. Generally, the best boy keeps the day-to-day operation of the electrical or grip departments running smoothly.
Often, this professional creates the work schedules, hires crew members, identifies tasks that need completing, and delegates this workload.
The dolly grip operates the dolly during the shoot.
A dolly is a wheeled cart, usually, one that runs on rail tracks which helps add depth to scenes. An assistant rides on top of the dolly to capture the tracking shots. The dolly grip also sets up the rail track for the shots and maintains the dolly. This is a highly specialised role and generally isn’t involved in lower-budget productions.
The key makeup artist is in charge of the makeup department. They create and design makeup designs for leading and supporting actors. Depending on the production, this may include intricate and extensive prosthetic work or special effects makeup.
They also hire a team of makeup assistants.
The key hairstylist is in charge of the hair department.
They work with the director, production designer, and key makeup artist to create hairstyles to suit each character as well as create continuity within the world of the film or TV series.
They also hire a team of hairstylist assistants.
Not altogether common, the special effects make-up artist (SFX makeup artist) uses makeup and prosthetics to reproduce anything from wounds and deformities to supernatural features. This role is most commonly seen in fantasy and Sci-Fi productions.
A costume designer is in charge of designing the outfits worn by actors during filming.
This is a very different role from fashion design, as the key function of their job is to make each character come to life as well as build the world of the production. Texture, colour and fabrics all come into play to create a cohesive aesthetic vision.
There are two types of wardrobe in the film production world. The ‘making wardrobe’ involves the design process and the pre-production stage whereas the ‘running wardrobe’ is ready to go during production.
The wardrobe supervisor takes responsibility of running wardrobe and organises and accounts for all clothing and footwear during filming. Other roles include managing their team and allocating specific jobs or areas to different members.
They’ll also organise the laundry schedule as well as the maintenance of clothing for the duration of production.
The set costumer supervises the wardrobe team so that costumes are worn according to design.
They’ll ensure that costumes are kept in top condition. This role can have a broad scope to include steaming clothes, keeping track of their whereabouts (especially between sets) and storing costumes safely depending on the scale of the production.
A costume designer is the person who designs the costumes.
Their role is to create the characters’ outfits and create the tone of the world through these costumes. They work alongside the director, scenic, lighting designer, sound designer as well as others in their department. They’ll also need to collaborate heavily with the hair and make-up department.
The tailor not only fits and alters costumes but also brings a creative flair to the costume design team.
They’ll help the actors to move as freely as possible during filming— this can be a challenge when shooting period dramas! They’ll often make adjustments to the costumes, for example, if there is a fight within a scene, they will have to rip or stain the fabric accordingly.
No award for this one— a shopper shops.
Their role involves sourcing outfits and finding those iconic pieces that make a production memorable. They often have to negotiate rental and purchase costs and source everything in time for production.
Visual effects mostly take place during post-production. However, a supervisor from that department needs to be present during the filming of scenes with VFX. They’ll help layout the scene to provide technical support.
Not necessary in every film production, a choreographer creates dances or stylised movements and teaches them to the cast.
This may involve training non-dancers, and they’ll work closely with the director, or second unit director, as well as a musical director.
Craft services, as known as crafty, are foods and drinks available throughout the day on a film set. Craft service crew members set up the snacks, meals and drinks during production. Craft services keep the display stocked during the, often long, shooting days.
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