What Is A Best Boy, Gaffer and Grip?

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Have you ever watched the credits roll at the end of the film and found yourself wondering ‘what the hell is a best boy/gaffer/grip/Lance Henriksen?’

That’s okay, they’re not the most descriptive titles, but we’re going to try and make you less stupid by giving you a rough guide to them. You can then use this knowledge to bore a date into ending a night out early. It’s okay, no need to thank us, just read on. (And leave a thank you in the comments).

GAFFER

Harry-Redknapp-gaffer
The Gaffer (if your internal monologue doesn’t switch to Cockney when you think the word “gaffer”, then what are you even alive for?) is the head of the lighting department.

The Gaffer’s job to make the lighting in the film look like how the Director of Photography wants it. They will determine what lights are used and how they are set up. The Best Boy (and sometimes the grip) then sets them up.

The term Gaffer comes from a couple of sources. In ye olde Victorian Britain a “Gaff” was a long pole with a hook on the end that was used to adjust theatre lights. Gaffer is also a colloquial British term for a “Boss”. So as the boss of the lighting department, Gaffer is the perfect title. Apart from Boss of the Lighting Department, but that doesn’t have the same character.

Also, the film industry usage of the term “Gaffer” is how Gaffer Tape got its name. The tape is especially useful in the film industry as it can be used to tape down cables and other stray filming paraphernalia, such as runners, to keep it out of shot, plus it can be removed without leaving a load of glue on your set. But as anyone who’s worked on a film set will tell you, Gaffer Tape has myriad uses beyond taping pesky cables.

As we used to say; something’s broken? Use some gaffer tape on it. It’s still broken? You haven’t used enough gaffer tape on it.

KEY GRIP/GRIP

Key Grip
The Grip (or Key Grip) is the person in charge of setting up equipment to support the camera, and on some sets, support lighting equipment (but not the actual lights. Never touch the actual lights). It’s a physically demanding job where experience is invaluable.

The Grips set up all the rigging which allow the camera to move about within a set in a way that captures the shot as the director wants it, so this can involve working on camera dollies, cranes, tracks and other camera setups. When a grip does their job well, the camera movement through the scenes will be seamless, so much so that you don’t even think about it, meaning you don’t think about the grips. This is the life they chose.

There is a difference between grips on US/Canadian films and grips on European films. In the US/Canada they sometimes set up the equipment to support the lighting, in Europe they just handle camera equipment. It’s union stuff.

BEST BOY

Best boy gold star on head
The Best Boy is the assistant to the Grip or Gaffer. They are the right hand men or women to the heads of the departments. They’re the Stringer Bell to the head of department’s Avon Barksdale.

Their job is to manage more lowly crew members in their department, schedule works and hire equipment, carry out admin and paperwork, work with other production departments, and act as the day-to-day representative for that department to the rest of the production crew. They basically get shit done.

The age of the term is unclear, but it’s old. In traditional crafts like carpentry, masonry and social media strategy, the best boy was, as you might guess, the best boy that the owner of the craft shop had working under them, which effectively made them the second in command. This term has carried over into the film industry.

‘What about when the Best Boy is a girl?’ you ask. Well the department undertakes a complex, disturbing, ritual involving Mr Muscle and the sacrifice of a runner to the Production Manager. Then they call the girl ‘Best Boy’, anyway.

LANCE HENRIKSEN

lance-henriksen-in-aliens
We’re not 100% sure, but we’re fairly certain it’s a type of salt-water fish found in the north Atlantic.

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About Author

David Price is the editor of Gorilla Film Online and co-writer/co-producer of MarsCorp and The Bunker podcasts. He has made a number of short films and has watched more than 12 feature films. Writers/con-artists can contact him at daveprice at gorillafilmmagazine.com

9 Comments

  1. I’ve always wondered and now I know! Excellent clear and concise explanations that I derived more than one laugh and/or giggle from!! Really enjoyed it thoroughly!!!

  2. Theres so stupid names on the set of a movie or TV show. Best Boy has to be the worst….But then there’s Boom Mic Operator…..Wtf?

  3. Oh wow, you killed me with that Lance Hendriksen joke…if any of you don’t get it then you haven’t seen a sun fish…that is the perfect description man…well done..killer…Bishop the nice android..unlike Ash….my name’s Ash too…

  4. “…we’re going to try and make you less stupid …”

    Strictly speaking, the correct (and less stupid) expression is “try TO make you less stupid” as one cannot separate the attempted action from the resulting action. It would be similar to saying something as awkward as “…we’re going to attempt to bake and bake a cake…”

  5. Wow! I was convinced the “gaffer” was just someone with a back-pack full of gaffer tape for whenever it’s needed on set.
    This is big!
    Thanks

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