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The gaffer on a film or television production is the head of the lighting department and responsible for executing the plans of the director of photography. She is a vital member of the production team because the speed and precision of the lighting crew is key in determining how much a director can shoot in a day. To be effective, the gaffer needs strong communication and problem-solving skills. As with most jobs in film production, you work up to gaffer through the ranks, by making connections and working long days. Many start out on student productions at no pay.
The Steps on the Lighting Ladder
The first step on the lighting ladder is grip, the person who does all the heavy lifting and moving of wires and anything else electrical. The key grip oversees grips. Above him might be a best boy, but usually it is the gaffer. One way to gain experience and make connections is to work as a grip on student productions. Most of the training is on the job, though working the lighting on high school productions helps, as do enrolling in photography and film courses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an associate’s degree or vocational certificate is the usual requirement for electrical, lighting and sound workers. While enrolled in the program you will learn how to use complex equipment. Though they work with electricity, and are sometimes called electricians, grips and the gaffer are not required to have certification as electricians.
Nate Lee was senior editor of Chicago's "NewCity" newspaper and creative director in a global advertising agency. A playwright and published poet, Lee writes about the arts, culture and business innovation. He received his Bachelor of Arts in English from Tulane University.