Okie Gaffer Steve Mathis is arguably one of the top Gaffters in the world. His credits include Halloween, Back to the Future, Mrs. Doubtfire, Moulin Rouge!, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder Woman 1984, and the feature film Reagan, currently shooting in Guthrie, Oklahoma and starring Dennis Quaid.
A Gaffer, more formally known as a Chief Lighting Technician, acts as the head of the grip and electric department that is responsible for lighting the set. The Gaffer must keep in mind the vision of the Director, the Director of Photography, and sometimes the Production Designer when figuring out how to light the set. In pre-production, the Gaffer will attend the tech scout for a production's locations and make two lists. The first list covers the kind of rigging and equipment that will be needed. They will pass on this list to the producer and will work to adjust their needs to fit the production budget. The second list is a mandates list of the needed crew for the production schedule. Once this list is approved, they will hire a crew for the production. In prep, the Gaffer will usually work eight to ten hours each day.
At the beginning of each filming day, the grip and electric department arrives at call time. The Gaffer will delegate to the Best Boy, who interfaces with the production office, manages equipment, and helps lead the crew while the Gaffer works on set. On set, the Gaffer will direct the lamp operators, the board operators, and the rigging crew to help them know where to set up lighting. They will also work with their team to ensure the lighting is working properly. After the lights are in place, the Gaffer will notify the DP that they are finished with the setup. The DP will assess the lighting and ask the Gaffer to make adjustments if needed. During filming, a Gaffer works for ten to twelve hours each day.
Problem-solving: In prep, the Gaffer will need to be able to think through the needs of production, anticipate any problems that may arise, and prepare accordingly. During filming, the Gaffer will need to be able to adjust their plan if needed. This requires a base knowledge of how to light a set as well as an ability to work well with others under pressure.
Leadership: In addition to having technical knowledge of lighting, a Gaffer must lead the grip and electric team. This includes hiring people who are right for the job, effectively delegating responsibilities, and knowing how to compromise with others.
People-Skills: A Gaffer must be able to work with people in a way that is respectful and collaborative. This includes an ability to listen well, communicate effectively, and get along with others on set. As Steve puts it, “It doesn’t help to yell.”
Grip & Electric Department
Seek out opportunities to pa on a film set and make the right connections to get a job in the grip and electric department. In these positions, watch experienced people and learn the craft of lighting a film set.
Additionally, begin watching movies with the aim of learning how they achieved different lighting effects.
The union rate for this position is about $50 per hour for each hour up to 8 hours of work on set, $75 per hour for 8-12 hours, and $200 per hour for each hour after that.
A box rental (also referred to as a kit rental) can be negotiated. For example, Steve brings his own kit and trailer on production and receives $600-700 a week.
Union: IATSE 484. For more information on salaries and joining the union, visit iatse.org.
Mandates List: A list of the requested crew in a department for any given production.
Condor: Also referred to as a “cherry picker,” a condor is a piece of equipment that, on a film set, allows you to rig a light high in the sky.
Best Boy: Second in the hierarchy of the grip and electric department, the best boy interfaces with the production office, manages equipment, and helps run the team of board operators and lamp operators while the Gaffer works on set.
Color Temperature Reader: A specialized light meter that is used to measure the “white balance” or color temperature of light in Kelvins (K). In general, color temperatures over 5000 K are referred to as “cool colors” (with increasing saturation of blue tones) and color temperatures below 5000 K are referred to as “warm colors” (with increasing yellow or orange tones).
HMI: Also referred to as an “HMI Light,” these lights use arc lamps instead of an incandescent bulb to produce light. They use less power and run cooler than other kinds of light.
Tungsten: Tungsten lights use an incandescent filament bulb as a light source. Tungsten bulbs operate at a high temperature and have a high color temperature, providing increased luminosity. These lights are often used to mimic daylight and usually have open-faced or Fresnel light fixtures. These fixtures produce a continuous light and come with dimmers, but to change the color temperature on a tungsten light source, one will need to use gels.
Shot list: Sometimes, a Director and/or the DP will compile a shot list. The shot list is a document that maps out what will occur and what will be used during a scene in a film. When used, it acts as a checklist that can prepare a crew for what is to come.
French Hours: Term is used when a production has no break for lunch. Instead, food is offered throughout the day and the crew fits it in while they work. Most common in France, this schedule compresses a fourteen-hour shoot day into a ten-hour shoot day. Cast and crew must agree on this schedule before a production can employ it.
Meal Penalties: On set, lunch must be provided for the crew after six hours of work. If this deadline is missed, meal penalties are incurred every half hour after the six-hour deadline that lunch is not provided. Each penalty results in monetary compensation for the crew.
Learn more about Steve Mathis: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0558942/
Learn more about Noble Banks: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm7383003/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0
Film Crew 101: Certification is an extension of the free Podcast series "Film Crew 101" (available on apple, spotify, and wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts). Each episode pulls back the curtain on all the different roles that go into making a film or TV show from Gaffer's to Best Boy's and First Assistant Director's to Second Second Assistant Director's.
If you have ever dreamt about working in film and television but don’t know where to start, we invite you to get certified with Film Crew 101.