What is a Gaffer, and What do Gaffers Do on Set?
Also referred to as the Chief Electrician, Supervising Light Technician or Chief Lighting Technician, the Gaffer is responsible for all of the electrical work on a production. Gaffers will work closely with the Director of Photography to create the appropriate lighting effects by installing light equipment and arranging the power supply to achieve the desired “look.”
Gaffers generally have many years of experience on set before they qualify for this demanding position. They work on the film studio set, and on location, as needed. Depending on the size of the production, there may be a single Gaffer or several Gaffers that work as part of the rigging team to produce the proper electrical components for a successful production.
Responsibilities of the Gaffer
Gaffers are responsible for the Health and Safety of the set crew. The routinely inspect the electrical safety of the production to ensure minimal risk. Gaffers also monitor and control the lighting budget to stay within the scope of the project by selecting the proper lighting and equipment for the project. Gaffers carry out recces, plan and prepare light installations and install proper equipment to ensure the best lighting for the production.
Working closely with the Best Boy to ensure that the correct equipment is ordered for the set, Gaffers check the list of lighting and act as mediators between the rest of the light crew and the Director of Photography. Gaffers have a strong working knowledge of equipment and can suggest resolutions and ideas to accommodate production needs.
The Gaffer will operate the lights during filming by position equipment as needed to ensure optimal exposure. The job may be challenging and demanding, so Gaffers must be committed and ready to work under various conditions. Gaffers are responsible for choosing their lighting team and assess the set to ensure legal regulations associated with working with electricity are followed. For the lighting crew, Gaffers are a necessary spokesperson that help them to be heard. The job requires long hours, excessive travel, and the ability to endure unpredictable schedules with ease.
Due to the technical nature of this role, Gaffers must have strong ability to foresee upcoming needs while understanding the potential risks and repercussions involved with various choices. They have great problem solving skills and are communicators that effectively lead the team throughout the production. Gaffers are self-confident, assertive leaders that can enter a set of 100 people or more and direct the team with ease. Rapid decision making with strong ability to justify choices is required. Gaffers are patient, tactful, and respectful of others.
Vanity Fair has a really entertaining video showcasing what happens to a film with and without a Gaffer: