Who's Who On Set?
Get a general idea of what everyone does on a shoot.
Arriving on set for a big (or even small) film shoot can be overwhelming for most! If you’re new, here’s a guide to the busy professionals you’ll see when you arrive in studio or on location. Lights, camera…Ah you know the rest
If you’re new to film production, a great place to start would be our Beginner’s Guide to Pre-Production. But if you’re ready for your first day on set, then keep reading!
The director as you might imagine calls the shots. As the creative leader of any shoot, their job is to make sure what is being captured is ideal for their vision and for the goals of the project. Most jobs on set are very detail oriented, however in contrast the director is looking at the big picture (that’s why they often have their own monitor!). Basically, they have to worry about EVERY detail.
A directors most important role is of course directing the performer (if any). It’s the director’s job to provide feedback and work with the performer to a desired and shared outcome. Depending on the production, this might be an actor, dancer, stunt person or any combo of these! Only the director should be communicating feedback to a performer directly. Of course suggestions can be made by others, but not before consulting the director who will then communicate to the performer.
On that note, it’s not uncommon for the assistant director to act as a go-between for any communication between the director to keep things clear and concise. While a client and director for example should have a good working relationship and steady communication, on the day of shooting it’s always best to have a go-between for any notes. Things can easily become overwhelming when directing because of the number of elements that need to be juggled.
Directors are indeed the head honcho as you might believe - but a director is only as good as their team. It’s important everyone’s role on set is respected, especially the directors.
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR (AD)
If you hear someone giving out commands and stating the time a lot on set, that’s probably the AD. An assistant director’s most important job is making sure the entire operation sticks to a schedule. This means consulting the shotlist made by the Director and DOP, checking them off as things go to make sure proper coverage and moving the production along. This is easier said than done, since delays can be many on set! So if they’re shouting and being bossy, don’t take it personally - it’s more than necessary! Time is money.
Things of AD’s as the great shepherds of the film set. They find the talent that are needed in front of the camera, corral extras and check-in constantly on every department. They need to make sure everyone is moving along smoothly so they’re often thinking 2-5 shots ahead of everyone else.
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Directors of Photography / Cinematographers (or DOPs for short) are heads of the Camera Department which is comprised of the AC (assistant camera), Camera Operators, Grips and Electricians. This team can be much bigger depending on the technological feats needed for a production (for example, a crane operator for a specific wide shot of a car zooming down a road!) but we’re just doing the basic roles here that are most often seen! DOP’s in short cover everything camera and lighting related.
As we discussed on our Guide to Pre-Production, producers can be thought of as the contractors of the film set. This is because a lot of the people on set are kind of like trades people that the producer hires to fulfill a certain job. Producers are the grand managers and planners. They facilitate the project from start to end.
In a commercials, producers have the closest relationship with their client. Producers can be hired by the client or can work internally for the client. In many commercials, there are freelance producers hired by the client and also internal producers on the client end, both collaborating on the project.
Now you might have thought producers fund the project. While it’s true that producers keep everything on budget and hold the purse strings, on a commercial shoot it’s ultimately the client funding a project. This is different than a feature film set for example.
Line-producers are brought on closer to shoot days to manage crew, logistics and on set challenges. Producers may do this too, but often find themselves managing other aspects of the project such as the budget, admin or client relations. It’s typical to see a line-producer is the shoot is particularly technical or logistically challenging.
CAMERA OPERATOR / ASSISTANT CAMERA
A Cam Ops job is pretty explanatory. As a part of the camera team, he takes orders from the DOP and moves the camera in set-up and during recording. In order to assist in moving the equipment and change the lenses, the Cam Op may have an Assistant Camera or AC. High-quality film cameras are heavy and require finicky parts to work as you may know, so having many hands can be crucial to keep things on time.
This person is in charge of making sure the audio captured on set is crisp, clear and precise. You can spot them from their headphones, adjusting knobs on their equipment where the talent’s mics are fed into. Sometimes they might be holding a boom mic - or they may have a boom mic operator do that.
ART DIRECTOR / SET DESIGNER
A set designer creates or sources any piece of set design, furniture or prop that is needed for a shoot. As you can imagine, this is incredibly broad and can range in specialties to prop stylists for food shoots to huge construction projects for in-studio builds. Every set designer has a specialty based on their portfolio. It’s their job to set up, take down and organize anything that may be needed to make a scene come alive.
This is a basic starting point - however this list could be endless! Filmmaking requires specialty from many fields depending on the project. We’ve worked with stunt teams, VFX teams and historians just to name a few! However, having this basic understanding should make your time on set less confusing and give yourself a bit more confidence to ask questions and understand the basics of what is happening. See you on set!