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What is a Gaffer?
In the ancient era, long before the invention of gas and electric lamps, laborers would light street lamps using a specialized pole known as a gaff. The gaff is long enough; it could reach the tops of the wicks. Therefore, anyone who used the gaff was referred to as a Gaffer.
However, Gaffer’s service is used widely in the filmmaking industry in modern times. With that said, the question arises, what is a Gaffer in a film?
A Gaffer is a central technician responsible for lighting and electricity on the shoot location. Like the old lamp lighting Gaffer, the Gaffer’s primary concern in the film is to oversee and execute the lighting plan of video production.
The Gaffer also controls a team of electricity techs on set. When it comes to providing the precise amount of light and electricity for pre-and post-video production, a Gaffer is held accountable.
Two heads are better than one, they say. This statement is true of the Gaffer and the best boy. The best boy is second-in-charge to the Gaffer. He assists the Gaffer in directing the team of technicians responsible for light and electricity, and together better results are obtained. (1)
The role and responsibilities of a Gaffer
When a video blows the mind of the viewers and gets positive reviews, there’s a Gaffer to thank. The specific roles played by the Gaffer cannot be over-emphasized. A gaffer’s service is rendered during the pre-production and production stages of the film.
Here are the roles and responsibilities of a Gaffer in video production;
Pre-production responsibilities of a Gaffer
A Gaffer is expected to do the following before making a lighting decision for film production;
- Movie script reading
Reading and comprehending the script is the first and foremost task of the Gaffer. The values, intent, and message to the viewers must be clearly understood before making any lighting decision.
Working knowledge on the two kinds of light – hard light vs. soft light will help the Gaffer in the decision process. The tone and meaning a hard light will give to the subject and background are entirely different from soft light.
- Collaboration with the video’s executives
Video executives like the director, the producer, and the director of photography are essential personnel in video production. Therefore, it is expected of a Gaffer to have meetings with this personnel before the video production begins.
When Gaffer meets with the right persons, the goals and visions of the film will be communicated. The parties involved will work effectively with one another without any hiccup.
- Preparation of a lighting plan
The next duty performed by a Gaffer is to develop a lighting plan. A lighting plan will consist of the lighting needs of the set and how they can be met. It is also the job of the Gaffer to determine what lighting kits will be best for the production.
When preparing a plan, the Gaffer must be careful not to exceed the proposed budget of the video. Decisions such as best budget-friendly led lighting kits for video production are made by Gaffer.
- Location scouting
Here’s another activity carried out by a Gaffer. Every corner of the location must be familiar with the Gaffer. This knowledge will help Gaffer develop creative ways to meet the lighting needs of the set.
Production responsibilities of a Gaffer
During the video production, the Gaffer also has duties to perform. Some of the functions are discussed below;
- Building and organizing lighting team
A Gaffer does not work alone but with a set of experienced people called the lighting team or crew. An on-set typical lighting team includes the gaffer, best boy, lamp operator, and other technicians with solid knowledge of lighting and electricity.
The lighting team is an essential part of the shoot as they oversee and control lighting effects on the subject and scene. They are also needed to adjust the lighting screen for the best cinematic effects.
- Handing over of plan to the best boy
The best boy is second to the gaffer in the lighting business. The gaffer must carry the best boy along in the plan for the two to work effectively without contradicting interests.
The best boy should understand the intentions of the gaffer to lead the other team members correctly. Hence, a good gaffer does not hoard vital Infos from the best boy.
- Set up lighting and electricity
No other person can set up the scene’s lighting and electricity than the infamous Gaffer and the lighting techs. It is the sole responsibility of the gaffer to determine the best lighting for the background and the subject.
When there’s a need for adjustment in lighting, the attention of a gaffer is valuable. The gaffer is also expected to make specific decisions like choosing the
best light for green screen or blue screen.
- Observation of the lighting on set
During production, the gaffer is on standby. As light and electricity tech, the responsibility of ensuring there’s no malfunctioning in the lighting kits/equipment while shooting.
The gaffer also put all necessary safety measures regarding light and electricity to prevent accidents and injuries.
A concise comprehension of the visions and the goals of the video’s producer helps a gaffer make the best lighting decision for the shoot set.
Grip vs. Gaffer
When an internet user searches ‘what is a Gaffer,’ there’s a high probability of ‘what is a grip’ popping up on the search page. The grip team of film production is as vital as the gaffer and a must-have.
Both the gaffer and the grip are responsible for the positioning of lighting on stage as befitting to the film’s goals. However, they differ significantly in their specific functions when comparing grip vs. gaffer.
The grip team handles the non-electrical aspect of video production. Hence, the duties of a grip team are performed mechanically. Some of the functions include hoisting camera and lighting accessories from one point to another, stabilizing the camera when in motion, and rigging of stage light to achieve specific effects. (2)
Another difference that stood out in the grip vs. gaffer comparison is where the gaffer’s primary concern is lighting the stage; the grip crew shapes the light. The grip team can ensure the right amount of light focuses on the subject and the scene by maneuvering the camera properly.
That said, it is safe to say the grip is there to make the job description of the gaffer easier. Hence, they work hand in hand during video production.
Qualifying for the post of a Gaffer does not demand any particular education requirements. However, prospective Gaffers with a Bachelor’s degree in stage lighting have the edge over others without a degree.
There are a lot of options to exploit to become a Gaffer. One could get a degree in stage lighting and electricity. Or through paid or unpaid internships where one is granted the opportunity to train on set from the best Gaffers.
A Gaffer is undoubtedly a necessary section of a video production crew before and on-set. Becoming a Gaffer is not a stressful process; however, the job description must be well understood.
A Gaffer’s job requires a lot of experience and familiarity with lighting equipment and the set location. Remember the discussion on what is a gaffer? A gaffer must be willing to start from the bottom, amassing experience on the way to the top and being the gaffer who instills confidence and trust in the producer.
Are you interested in becoming a Gaffer? Let us know in the comment section below, let us know how you intend to go about the gaffing business.
- Jo Light. (2019, October 31). What Exactly Is a ‘Best Boy’?. Retrieved from https://nofilmschool.com/what-is-a-best-boy
- Kim Leonard. (2020, September 27). What is a Grip on a Movie Set? Job Description and Duties. Retrieved from https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/what-is-a-grip-film-definition/