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).
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.
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.
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.