Gaffers and Audio Engineers: Do you Need Them on Set?
Once you’ve got a script in place and decided you’re ready to make your own film, the next step is to hire your crew members. You may not have the budget to hire people for all the positions that you’ll see on a big-budget studio film crew, and many directors take on tasks like location scouting and editing themselves. But can you do the work of gaffers and audio engineers? It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to do everything yourself. How about a grip or best boy? Do you need both an audio engineer and an editor? Below are some film crew positions you might be less familiar with.
A gaffer is a person who assists the director of photography (or cinematographer) by finding and setting up the appropriate lighting. If you’ve ever worked with thick black tape called gaffer’s tape , you’ve probably noticed that it can be used to tape down electrical cables (which might be attached to lights). Check out this interview with gaffer/lighting director JP Gabriel for more information about what a gaffer does:
A grip (or sometimes called a “key grip”) is someone who would assist the gaffer and DP in setting things up, be that lights or camera equipment. If you are using dollies, cranes, tracks or other things to mount your cameras on, then the grip would make sure they’re all positioned correctly so that the camera can move the way you want to film a scene. On a union production, note that union rules often dictate what pieces of equipment people in certain positions can and cannot touch.
As an indie filmmaker, you probably won’t have a best boy on your first production – but doesn’t it sound like a cool title you’ve always wondered about when you see film credits? This person – who can be male or female, of course – assists the gaffer and the grip and may be in charge of other production employees (such as production assistants). He or she might assist with setting up equipment, procuring equipment, filling out paperwork, etc.
Don’t forget how important sound is for a polished film. Even if you know how to edit sound along with your footage, you’ll need to make sure that the sound you record during filming is high quality. You may need an audio engineer to help you set up microphones properly to capture the actors’ dialogue in addition to ambient sound from the scene and any sound effects. Be aware that the more types of equipment you add to your film production (like a wind machine, for example), the harder it may be to get good sound. “The main problem is always getting the mic in close enough to the actor – it’s the bane of the sound recordist on a film set. Often he or she gets ‘shoved’ and the priority is given to the visual image,” warns Roger Savage, who has worked on films such as Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge.
You might also need help with temp music tracks (used before final music is added to your film), ADR (automated dialogue replacement for lines that are inaudible or need to be added after filming), Foley recording and the editing and assembly of sound effects. An audio engineer would also be familiar with various file types. Finally, you might see audio engineers referred to as sound editors (hence the Academy Award for sound editing). These people are in charge of all the sounds you hear in a film.
If you’ve ever filled out an Oscar ballot to guess the winners, you’ve probably also noticed a Sound Mixing category. A sound mixer works with the audio files created after the sound editor has finished assembling the dialogue, in-scene sound, music and sound effects. He or she makes sure that all the sounds can exist together and make sense for the scene. If you want the audience to hear a loud explosion but also the musical score – plus a scream from the main character – then your film’s sound needs to be mixed. “You can’t simply hide problems you might be having behind a hyped-up music score,” Savage says.