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Empire Film Studies 101

Or, 'What the hell is a key grip?' Your essential guide…

What is a grip? Who’s Foley and why does everyone call that man The Gaffer? Anyone who has sat through the credits of a movie will have wondered what the people on the list actually do. Here we bring you a list of film set employees, from the lowly runner to the director himself, and explain what exactly it is that they do to earn their name in lights...


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Christopher Nolan directing The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan directing The Dark Knight Rises.

What do they do? The poobah, grand fromage and first link in the on-set chain, the director is the person responsible for getting a vision onto the screen. The buck for all creative aspects of the film – acting, photography, production design, music – stops here. In reality, the amount of control a director has can vary enormously. A jobbing short film / music video / commercials director might be recruited to shepherd a star vehicle (which said star will direct in all but name), while an A-list auteur can demand the moon on a stick and get it (James Cameron) or strike terror into the hearts of all present (Michael Bay).

Required skills In addition to artistic vision, all directors, be they auteur or hack, require immense organisational, technical and people-management skills. Whether said skills come in the form of velvet glove or hobnailed boot is very much down to personal style.




Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer on set of Pirates Of The Caribbean: One Stranger Tides
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer with Johnny Depp on the set of Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

What do they do? Producers shepherd films from beginning to end, from rights acquisition to final release. Like the Mouth of Sauron, they may represent the faceless behemoth of the studio, forming the bridge between the money men and the director (who they’ve usually been responsible for employing) or they may be money people in their own right. They manage budgets, and oversee pre-production, production and post-production, sometimes in close relationship with their director and other times... less so.

Required skills This job needs similar artistic and interpersonal strengths to the director, with the added requirement that they be comfortable with number crunching, have serious commercial nous and keep a close eye out for great projects in the first place.




Kate Capshaw, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford - Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom
Director Steven Spielberg, stars Kate Capshaw and Harrison Ford with executive producer George Lucas on the set of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom

What do they do? In theory, executive producers supervise the production on behalf of the financiers, while associate producers are essentially second-in-command to the main producer, responsible for whatever producing tasks are delegated to them. Line producers manage the budget and the day-to-day running of the production. And co-producers are often line producers who also branch out into creative decisions. They can also be principal producers from secondary companies working in cahoots with the main production company. Executive (and sometimes associate) producer credits can be bestowed as ego boosts to people only peripherally involved in the production, such as investors, hence David Mamet’s claim in State And Main that “an associate producer credit is what you give your secretary for Christmas instead of a raise”. In such cases what they do is… well, not very much at all.

Required skills They’re much the same as those for the main producer, but more specialised and compartmentalised. Unless, that is, it’s an honorary title, in which case being mates with someone high up enough should do it.

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Your Comments

1 Lack of recognition
I know you can't include every role but there is never recognition for the Production Accounts teams or transport teams, and barely any for the production team. These roles can run over a year whereas many 3rd ADs and runners are barely on for a day or two. A bit more recognition for the behind the scenes workers would be appreciated from an in depth movie magazine. Where's the BAFTA for Best Budget? More

Posted by allykerr_1 on Sunday January 19, 2014, 22:14

2 Having worked as a runner...
...can definitely attest that you need patience, stamina, the ability to live on no sleep, an amazing memory and the ability to take people's grief on a minute to minute basis. Slug it out for two to three years and if your liked, no reason you can't jump up the ladder to where you want to start training properly. Be sure though. It's a tough start. More

Posted by coomi77 on Wednesday January 15, 2014, 15:11

3 RE: Special effects and visual effects are different departments
Yes! Thank you! I was going to point out the very same thing. More

Posted by Dropje on Wednesday January 15, 2014, 11:27

4 Special effects and visual effects are different departments
Despite pretty much everyone referring to them as the same thing special effects and visual effects are two completely different departments. The special effects supervisor is in charge or anything that happens on the day - for example pyrotechnics and the visual effects supervisor is responsible for anything that is due to happen in post production, for example green screen replacement. More

Posted by ed2bob on Tuesday January 14, 2014, 19:47

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