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Who does what on a film set? And how many of them are there? What is HMU? What is a Scripty? In this episode of Crash Course Film Production, Lily gives us A BIG OVERVIEW on the Production Team. Who they are, who they report to, and why they're important.


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  Intro (0:00)

Making a film can seem daunting. After you have a screen play and you've done your pre-production, you still have to film the thing, and you're gonna need help.

Orson Welles once said, "A writer needs a pen, an artist needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an army." But he also co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in Citizen Kane.

So which is it? Do you need hundreds of people or couple disciplined artists doing everything? Well, it depends on your movie. Every successful film production has the same kind of jobs, but the scale can vary a lot. Every story has different needs. And maybe the best place to start sizing up the needs of your project is in the inner working of a film set, where the actual filming takes place.

And then, of course, there are the people. The crew that work on and off the set during principal photography, when most of the movie is being filmed.

I'm Lily Gladstone, and this is Crash Course Film Production.

[Opening music]

 The Production Team (1:00)

Some people refer to different positions in a film crew as "above the line", or "below the line". This idea is a holdover from the studio days, when budgets on paper had a literal line between different jobs. 

The people "above the line" like writers, directors, producers and certain actors negotiate a payment before shooting began. And those "below the line" were paid a rate for everyday they worked.

If we're sticking with the Orson Welles analogy, everyone "below the line" is the filmmakers army. The general of that army is the unit production manager, or UPM.

Usually the director picks the key creative roles to support the film, like production designer and cinematographer. But the Unit Production Manager is responsible for hiring everybody else, and managing all of the moving parts of production. They oversee pre-production, from picking locations and planning out the shooting schedule, and sometimes they're on set when a scene is being filmed, but not always.

They might be checking in with the Art Department to make sure the sets are ready for the next day's shoot. Or visiting the production office to work with someone like the production accountant, who makes sure everyone gets paid. The UPM is also the contact for any local authorities, and companies the production is working with.

Now, the person running the film set is the head of the production department. The first assistant director, or 1st AD. They work with the director to schedule the details of everyday shoot and communicate what every department needs to do. Plus, they're responsible for keeping everyone safe.

If you've ever visited a film set, and saw someone you thought was the director, it was probably the 1st AD. They are the ones calling the role, telling people to do specific things at specific moments. Shouting things like "roll sound", "roll camera", and sometimes even "action". While the 1st AD is always on set, the second assistant director or the 2nd AD, is usually at base camp, which is just off set.

Base Camp is the behind the scenes of the behind the scenes. It's usually where the crew eats lunch, where the bathrooms are, and where the department and actor trailers are. The 2nd AD is the main point of contact between the set and the actors when they're not acting. They make the daily call sheet, which is the document that tells everyone in the cast and crew where they need to be, when, and who they report to on the next day.

When a scene has extras, or background talent, the 2nd AD may go on set to work with these actors. They also oversee the rest of the production hierarchy - any other ADs and Production Assistants. We call them PAs.

PAs are the lowest rung on this ladder, but they're still super important. There's a pretty good chance that everyone on a set has been a PA at some point. Their main job is anticipating needs and communicating between departments, like by making sure everyone hears all the 1st AD's calls. 

So, the production team is the glue that holds the film set and all the departments together. 

 The Different Departments (3:16)

And there are a bunch of departments. 

Let's start with the Camera Department. The person responsible for the look of the film is the Director of Photography, or DP, also called the cinematographer. They work with the director to translate the script into a shot list, which is a plan for how to visually convey every single scene. 

The 1st AD uses the shot list to plan the daily schedule. On an independent film, the cinematographer might also be the camera operator. But, usually, the cinematographer directs the camera crew, which includes operators and camera assistants, or ACs. 

While ACs aren't actually framing shots and operating the camera, the 1st AC helps focus the camera, so they're sometimes known as the Focus Puller. ACs also maintain equipment and keep camera notes for continuity. 

Cinematographers need to understand story, cameras, and lighting to pack a visual punch. So they work with the Gaffer, also known as the Chief Lighting Technician. They're the head of the Electric Department, and design and implement the lighting of each scene. The Gaffer's second-in-command is called the Best Boy or Best Boy Electric - no matter their gender.

Both the titles "Gaffer" and "Best Boy" have been around since at least the 1930s, but it's unclear how the names came to mean "head electricians."

On smaller crews, the Electric Department might be just a Gaffer and a Best Boy. But on larger crews, these two might organize dozens of electricians and lots of equipment. 

And you can't talk about Electric without talking about the Grip department. These departments are close buddies, and are sometimes called G&E. While Electric oversees lighting and getting power to the set, Grip oversees all the rigging for lights. That includes all stands for lights, as well as flags, silks, and nets, which are fabric used to control or block light. 

Grip also handles specialized rigging for other departments too, like cranes, dollies, dolly track, which help with specific camera movements. The Key Grip leads the team and their number two is the Best Boy Grip, who carries out the Key Grip's plans for rigging. 

G&E is often the largest department on set during filming. But the smallest department is only one person: the Script Supervisor, or "scripty," who's in charge of - you guessed it - the script. Here at Crash Course, we call them "Supes." 

They make sure the actors stay true to the writer's dialogue. So if you ever hear an actor call "line," they probably forgot what to say and are asking the Script Supervisor for help. This department is also called Continuity because the "scripty" is responsible for thinking ahead to how the editor will cut everything together. 

To hear all the words being said, the script supervisor needs to work with the sound department. The head is the Sound Recordist, or Sound Mixer, whose job is to hear everything. They're usually just off-set, monitoring sound in a slightly quieter place. 

They manage the Boom Operator, who's on set and trying to get the microphone as close as possible to the actors' mouths without being in the shot. 

Now, all the departments we've talked about so far are involved in capturing the film. But there are a bunch of people that work both on and off set to create the world that's being captured. 

The art department, for instance, designs, builds, or transforms sets, find and creates props, and dresses each location to match the director's vision for each scene. Their fearless leader is the Production Designer, who works with the director in pre-production to create the look of the world. 

Then, the Art Director organizes everyone else and makes the Production Designer's plans real. Everything in the mise-en-scène is found or made by the Art Department. So the more complex a film is, the larger the team tends to be. 

Similarly, the Wardrobe Department is responsible for channeling the themes of the film, the time period, setting, and character traits into the clothing of each character in each scene. Even if it looks like someone doesn't have any costume changes, they probably have different versions of the same outfit - like a bloody shirt, or ripped pants - depending on what happens in the film. 

The Costume Designer is responsible for pre-production planning. While everything on set and in the wardrobe trailer is overseen by the Costume Supervisor. Set costumers dress and undress actors before and after shooting, paying close attention to continuity between scenes. 

And to complement Wardrobe, there's Hair and Makeup, or HMU, which tend to get lumped together as one department. Of all the crew, Wardrobe and HMU spend the most one-on-one time with actors, and play an important role in making them feel safe and confident while doing their work. 

A film with a very small cast might have one person who does all the makeup and hair styling, while larger casts might have an HMU artist for each lead actor. Most makeup artists can make people look really good or bad or rough, depending on what a scene calls for.

And ifa film needs a lot of specialized makeup, like scars for a war or full-on monster faces, then you call a Special Effects Makeup Artist. They're the bridge between HMU and the Special Effects Department, which is led by the Special Effects Supervisor. 

Special Effects is in charge of every on-set effect, from creating artificial snow or rain, to orchestrating a car crash or an epic explosion. I've mentioned safety before, but it's worth repeating over and over again. Especially when we're talking about special effects or stunts, which are cast and choreographed by the Stunt Coordinator. 

Before potentially-dangerous scenes, the 1st AD will repeat all the general safety instructions on set. Then, either the Special Effects Supervisor or Stunt Coordinator will talk through what should happen, and what everyone should do if something goes wrong. Most crews will have at least one trained Set Medic, like an EMT. Or a special team might be brought in, if a potentially dangerous scene is being filmed. 

Now, we've talked about almost everyone you might find on a set. But where the set is changes throughout a film - thanks to the Locations Department. In pre-production, the scout will search for places to film, based on the script and practicality. Once the director and producers approve of the locations, the department keys will go on a "tech scout" to make sure they can do their work, too. What we see on-screen is actually just one small part of the location!

The location manager and location assistants plan where everything will go, from the set that will appear on camera to all the trailers in base camp. They're the first to arrive and the last to leave. The second people to arrive are usually drivers in the Transportation Department, which is overseen by the Transportation Manager. They get all the large equipment and trailers to set, and shuttle cast and crew back and forth. Obviously, the more people you have, the bigger the team you'll need.

And, speaking of big teams, the one job that should never be forgotten, is actually two jobs. And it's feeding all the people! Catering companies are contracted by the UPM to cook 1 to 3 meals per day. And the Craft Service person is the crew member that manages a station of snacks and drinks on set. Both the person and the station can be affectionately called "Crafty." 

During a difficult day of shooting, "Crafty" might be the only thing keeping you going. The power of a granola bar and a friendly face should never be underestimated! Like, ever. Seriously, feed your cast and crew. And make sure you're paying attention to allergy and dietary restrictions. No one's doing that to be high maintenance. 

Crewing a film set is demanding work, but it's work that attracts people who really love it. We could easily make a 90-minute video about all these talented people...but you know, scale!

 Review and Credits (9:14)

Today, we discussed scalability and how the needs a film dictate the size of a film crew. We learned about the different departments and jobs on a set and how they interact. And next time we'll start diving into these roles in more detail, starting with that piece of equipment at the center of every set: the camera. 

Crash Course Film Production is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel, check out a playlist of their latest shows, like PBS Infinite Series, Dep Look, and Brain Craft. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of all these nice people. And our amazing graphics team is Thought Cafe.

[Theme music]