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 recces too see how the lighting will work on location and draw up a list of the kit that will be needed to achieve the artistic vision.
Then they pitch for the kit. They put in a request to the line producer for the equipment they need and appoint a best boy to hire the crew and order the gear. During filming, they work out the positioning of the lights and 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 law on 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
Organisation: work within budget, schedule the crew and the kit requirements, prioritise and meet deadlines
Working at heights: be good at climbing ladders as most lights are set up above head height