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Actress sitting in chair with lights on set

Actress

Male and female Actors getting out of limo on the red carpet

Actor

Gaffer aiming light on set

Gaffer

Female executive producer making a deal on her cell phone as she walks through the city

Executive Producer

Male Cinematographer shooting on location

Cinematographer

Showrunner in meeting with his production team

Showrunner

Production Assistant looking at footage on camera

Production Assistant

Choreographer teaching a dance in studio

Choreographer

Best Boy Grip adjusting lighting on set

Best Boy

Key Grip working on lights on film set

Key Grip

Foley artist in his sound studio

Foley Artist

Black female Screenwriter writing at home

Screenwriter/TV Writer

Colorist showing her editing suite to a coworker

Colorist

Armorer showing actress how to shoot a gun

Armorer

Associate producer wearing headphones on set

Associate Producer

Actors on set that showcases a 19th century production design

Production Designer

Line Producer running through the budget with an older film development executive

Line Producer

Producer talking on her phone in her office

Producer (Film)

Director of Photography looking at camera on set

Director of Photography

Female Entertainment Lawyer holding manila folder and walking outside

Entertainment Lawyer

The film crew are often the unsung heroes in the movie-making world.

We get it. The Actors–those in front of the camera–are the professionals audiences come to know and love. Moviegoers will specifically watch a film just because they know Nicole Kidman or Samuel L. Jackson, or Tom Hanks is in it.

And sure, on occasion, the Director might also compel someone to spend two hours watching their film. But on the whole, the dozens and perhaps even hundreds of film crew members that work on a single movie get little attention or accolades for it.

So we’re putting a spotlight on these incredibly hard-working folks whose time, energy, and talent make up what we often call “movie magic.”

What Is a Film Crew?

A film crew is made up of all the movie-making professionals outside of the Actors–often referred to as the cast–whose specific expertise and contributions result in the ideation, production, and ultimately distribution of a film.

What crew is needed for a film?

Anna Keizer

Great question! And one that will likely have an entirely different answer from project to project. The truth is that–at least in theory–a single person could fill every film crew role if they wanted to.

Now, to be clear, we’re talking about someone who perhaps writes their own script, shoots it with their own camera (or smartphone!), edits it together, and then sends it out into the world via an online streaming platform. It happens.

But outside of that scenario, you will likely have at least a few people as part of a film crew–but the number of people who are part of it almost always comes down to the film’s budget.

For a project that is truly ultra-low budget, maybe all you have are the Producer, Director, Screenwriter, and Editor whose roles may be split in some fashion between several individuals.

The bigger the budget, the more film crew you can bring on. Not to mention, bigger films typically have to abide by union rules that delineate specific roles. No wearing “lots of hats” in those cases.

For a studio-backed blockbuster with a nine-figure budget, you may potentially have a thousand film crew members when counting them all the way from development to distribution. (This is usually the case with movies with a strong VFX presence, as it often takes hundreds of people to complete them all.)


How much do film crews get paid?

Anna Keizer

This question can be answered in much the same fashion as the previous one.

First, it all depends on budget. For a super indie movie that is not considered a union project, the Producer can pretty much set any rates they want so long as the film crew members agree to them.

If it is a union production, that changes the rules quite a bit. Every single union has minimum rates that the Producers, production companies, and studios must abide by. Film crew members with more years in the industry and/or the expertise that usually comes with those years will typically earn more.

Second, it’s important to keep in mind that who gets paid what also depends on the nature of the role. For better or for worse, a Production Assistant who is part of a project for the entirety of principal photography, which can last from weeks to months, may earn less than a Foley Artist who is part of a project for only a day or two.


What is the highest-paying job in the film industry?

Anna Keizer

The truth is that many low-budget films do not make back the money it took to produce them. So outside of what might be paid upfront to the film crew members, little is received by anyone in terms of distribution revenue.

But… If we’re talking about studio-backed films that typically get major theatrical releases–now in combination with streaming releases as well–certain film crew members can come out quite well when all is said and done.

Chief among them is the Executive Producer.1 In part, because they provide the initial funding for the film, this person often has the most control over the financial aspects of it. With that control can come lucrative rewards for their work should they strike a deal that includes payouts in the form of revenue sharing, licensing fees, and so on.

In some cases, other film crew members such as the Director and Screenwriter may also make a considerable amount of money from a project.

Both will receive upfront fees for their respective contributions to the film, but in many cases, they too may strike deals to benefit from the revenue that comes in after a film’s release. To be clear, though, it’s usually only Directors and Screenwriters with established names and reputations in the industry who can garner such deals.

Depending on the success of a film, millions of dollars can be earned by these film crew members.

But as the above information about film crew members indicates, the making of a movie is a highly collaborative process. Many, many people may contribute to a film, and each has a specialized job while part of the filmmaking process.

While perhaps a little overwhelming to consider the numerous people who help to make a movie happen, it likewise demonstrates that many opportunities exist for those whose passion is to one day be part of this industry.

Who Is on a Film Crew?

The film crew members who are actively working on a movie will depend on the stage in which the project is at any given moment.

Some film crew will stay on a project for essentially the entirety of its lifespan–from development through to distribution. But in most cases, the expertise of a particular crew member translates into them being an active part of the movie-making process for only a stage or two of it.

Below is a brief list of the major film crew roles that make up each of the five stages of filmmaking: development, pre-production, production, post-production, and distribution.

Development

During this first stage of the filmmaking process when the script is created and refined, it may be a collaborative effort between the:

It may also be a combination thereof or a solo effort on behalf of the Screenwriter.

Pre-Production

When funds are acquired to produce a film, pre-production begins. On account of these funds, more film crew members are hired in preparation for the next stage of production–also known as principal photography.

The crew members involved in this stage may include:

Production

This stage of the filmmaking process often includes the greatest number of film crew members. In some cases, crew has carried over from the pre-production phase, while others are new to the project and onboard strictly for principal photography.

Crew at this stage includes:

Post-Production

As a movie moves into the post-production phase, many film crew members will fall off, only to be replaced by others whose expertise is required for this specific stage.

Post-production crew may include:

Distribution

During this final stage of the movie-making process, nearly all film crew members have concluded their time on the project. In many cases, only the Producer remains to see through the completion of the project to distribution.

What Is the Difference Between Above-the-Line and Below-the-Line Crew?

You might occasionally hear someone refer to a person on a film as “above the line” or “below the line.” So what in the world does that mean?

Above-the-line film crew members consist of the Producer, Director, and Screenwriter. They are paid from what is allocated as the above-the-line budget, which also includes the salaries for the lead Actors. This is because these individuals typically have the most creative power on a production. On occasion, the Casting Director and Cinematographer may also be considered above the line.

The below-the-line film crew is pretty much any other professional on a project. Their creative input is not as influential on a project, as they are typically day-to-day crew members.

What Does Each Crew Member Do?

Below is a brief explanation of what each film crew member is responsible for on a project.

Keep in mind, though, that the titles listed–nearly 30 in total–can represent only a fraction of the total crew members for a big-budget film. And for a small, low-budget movie, two or three or more of these roles might be carried out by a single person.

Producer

This is the person, or group of people, who see through a film from start to finish. They will supervise the budget and typically are tasked with bringing on board several of the other key crew members such as the Director and Screenwriter.

Director

The Director is generally thought of as the guiding creative force behind a film. While primarily known for shaping the performances of their Actors, they often have a hand in the writing, shooting, and editing of a movie as well.

Line Producer

The Line Producer is the person who creates the budget breakdown for a film. They provide a cost for every single element associated with a movie and oversee how the production sticks to that budget throughout the filmmaking process.

Screenwriter

The Screenwriter is responsible for the creation of the script that the rest of the film crew will realize during the rest of the filmmaking process.

Cinematographer

The Cinematographer leads the camera team and decides how the film will be shot and movie will look in terms of lighting, angles, and other elements used to create a visually and emotionally compelling story.

Casting Director

The Casting Director makes the initial decisions about which Actors may suit the various roles that must be cast for a film.

Production Designer

The Production Designer leads the creative team responsible for the look of the locations and sets used for a film.

Costume Designer

The Costume Designer provides the creative vision for what the Actors will wear in a given film and makes sure that their costumes both inform the characters and work in harmony with the rest of the movie’s visuals.

Storyboard Artist

As the project is readied for production, the Storyboard Artist will help in the realization of the script’s scenes by drawing storyboards that represent future camera shots.

Location Scout

Unless a film is shot entirely on a sound stage, actual locations will be needed. The Location Scout is the person who seeks out locales that fit the descriptions used in the script and determines their viability for the shoot.

1st Assistant Director

The 1st Assistant Director (1st AD) works alongside the Director. They help in making sure that the shoot is running on time from shot to shot and act as the coordinator between the Director and other figures on set.

Script Supervisor

The Script Supervisor helps to ensure the consistency of a film in terms of dialogue, Actor blocking, and any other element that may disrupt the continuity of a movie from take to take.

Camera Operator

Some Cinematographers act as their own Camera Operators, but on most sets, a dedicated individual–the Camera Operator–is the person who physically mans the camera during each shot.

Gaffer

The Gaffer is the head Electrician on a set and is responsible for all usability and safety issues related to the electricity during a shoot.

Key Grip

The Key Grip is the person in charge of the film crew members who position the camera and support equipment.

Hair & Makeup Artist (HMU)

The Hair & Makeup Artist is tasked with making each Actor look both presentable on camera and believable as their character. Depending on the scope of a film, this position may be split between dedicated Hair Artists and dedicated Makeup Artists.

Sound Recordist

The Sound Recordist is the person on set who captures the dialogue spoken during each take and any diegetic sounds that help to enhance the audio qualities of the film.

Post-Production Supervisor

As their name implies, the Post-Production Supervisor oversees the post-production stage of the filmmaking process, including the people and tasks related to it.

Editor

The Editor is the person responsible for how the film will unfold from shot to shot and scene to scene. This person determines the shots used, their order, and their duration to help in telling a cohesive and captivating story.

Sound Editor

A Sound Editor is the person responsible for integrating the audio elements of a film and adjusting their volume to create an audio track that supports the visual elements of a film.

Dialogue Editor

The Dialogue Editor is specifically responsible for how the dialogue is layered and used in a film.

Foley Artist

Should a particular sound be needed for a film that cannot be captured in real-time on set or pulled from a computer library, a Foley Artist will be used to recreate that sound effect through other means in a studio.

Composer

The Composer is the person who creates an instrumental soundtrack or score that helps in conveying the emotional tone of the film from shot to shot and scene to scene.

Sound Designer

A Sound Designer is someone who oversees the creative integration and impact of the audio elements in a film.

VFX Artist

The VFX Artist is a person who helps in the creation of a shot that cannot be produced in its totality either on a sound stage or location. Using computer animation and design, they realize the required shot for the film.

Colorist

The Colorist is the individual who alters the brightness, saturation, and other visual elements of the film either to correct errors made on set or to enhance the existing footage for added impact.

FAQ

Is there a specific title for the person who creates jewelry for the set?

Alison Stolpa (Careers in Film Staff)

Yes! These professionals are known as Special Costume Manufacturers, or more simply, Specialty Jewelers and Costumers.

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