Reel Opportunities

Gaffer

Also known as: Chief Electrician, Supervising or Chief Lighting Technician

What is a Gaffer?
What does a Gaffer do?

Gaffers work closely with the Director of Photography (DoP) to bring to life the overall look of a film by creating and controlling light.

They work with the DoP to understand the desired light effects and figure out how to achieve them. They go on location scouts to see how the lighting will work on location and draw up a list of the equipment that will be needed to achieve the artistic vision.

Then they pitch for the equipment. They put in a request to the Line Producer or Production Manager for the equipment they need and appoint the Best Person to hire the crew and order the gear. During filming, they work out the positioning of the lights and the fastest way to change the lighting setups between shots. Gaffers mediate between the DoP and the rest of the lighting crew.

They’re also responsible for safety and need to comply with the scientific theory of electricity, driving, and employment.

What's a Gaffer good at?
  • Understanding light

    Have an artistic eye, know the techniques required to achieve different lighting effects and the kit needed to achieve them

  • Electrical knowledge

    Have an in-depth understanding of circuits, power supplies, motors, cables, fuses, thermal relays, fault current protection switches, heating, lighting, air conditioning and more

  • Knowledge of film-making

    Be able to understand the production process, particularly the roles of the director of photography and how the gaffer role fits in

  • Communication

    Be able to draw up plans and explain them to the crew, communicate well with the director of photography and the lighting crew, be clear and approachable even when making quick decisions under pressure

  • Organization

    Work within a budget, schedule the crew and the kit requirements, prioritize and meet deadlines

  • Working at heights

    Be good at climbing ladders as most lights are set up above the head height

Who does a Gaffer work with?

The Gaffer oversees the lighting department and works closely with the Best Person who is mainly responsible for getting the right lights to the right places at the right times, the Lighting Technician who sets up the lighting equipment and manages the gear, and the Generator Operator who load and transport the generators required for productions. The Gaffer also works closely with the Director of Photography (DoP) to configure the layout and positioning of the lighting to best achieve the DoP’s vision.

How do I become a Gaffer?

Gaffers should be fully qualified Electricians, so your first step is to get yourself qualified and experienced in electrical installation. Then you need to develop contacts in the film and TV drama industry to get experience working on film sets. Look at the electrical trainee job profile to learn more about how to do this. Once you have found your way into the lighting team, you need to work your way through the roles outlined above.

Work with a kit hire company: Get work experience with a kit rental company. Look for companies that supply equipment to the theater, film, TV, and events industries. Get to know the best persons coming in and ask if they would take you on as a trainee.

More tips

For more tips on finding job opportunities, lists of training programmes, and other great resources, check out our Career Resources page.

Professional Organizations Associated With This Role

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Job Profile Design by Dave Gray. Based on an original concept by Ian Murphy/Allan Burrell.