Every successful film or television project needs a talented, well-organized gaffer working at the helm of the electrical department. They play a critical role in ensuring the cinematographer’s lighting plan is executed correctly, ultimately helping the director tell the story they want to tell.

What is a Gaffer

A gaffer is the chief electrician. Basically, a gaffer works as the head of the electrical department on film and television sets. The term “gaffer” is derived from British slang for a production tool that was used in theatre productions in the past. The tool was a hooked metal pole. This pole was was used to adjust the stage’s lights. It was nicknamed a “gaff” which eventually became the term used to describe a gaffer. The name is fitting since it’s a gaffer’s job to manage and ensure the desired lighting is achieved.

Gaffers work directly with the director of photography during every step of the project. By working closely with the cinematographer, the gaffer ensures the electrical department delivers the exact lighting arrangement the cinematographer has in mind for the shoot.

Why do you need a Gaffer?

Every cinematographer needs to have a good gaffer. Lighting, in many regards, is more important than the camera used in the production. After all, you can have the most expensive camera available, but if you’re shooting in a pitch-dark room, it won’t be able to pick up anything. Lighting is also one of the most challenging elements to manage and set up. However, talented and experienced gaffers consistently achieve their desired cinematic image with the use of lights and running cables.

Being a gaffer requires a person to be both creative and technical. They need to know how to use all the gear they have available to them and know how to make the most out of their fixtures. At the same time, they need to be creative enough to come up with unique solutions to problems their gear can’t solve.

Nothing ever goes exactly as planned on set. So, gaffers need to be quick on their feet to find a solution. Additionally, their role requires them to be highly communicative with the electrical department working under them and with the project’s cinematographer. They must give solid instructions to ensure everything is done correctly because any fixes or mix-ups wastes valuable shooting time.

What are the main responsibilities of a Gaffer

A gaffer’s role on a project starts in pre-production and continues throughout the production stages.

A Gaffer’s role in production

To start, a gaffer usually meets with the producers, the director and the director of photography. This is where the gaffer gets an idea of what they all expect to achieve with project’s lighting. So, if they envision the project lighting that looks natural and realistic, they know the project calls for more natural lighting. The gaffer reads through the script and notes any instances that require special lighting needs.

After meeting with the heads of the production, the gaffer develops a plan to execute their vision for the project. At this stage, the gaffer plans what lights and equipment are best suited for the project. The budget of the project dictates what the gaffer chooses. Most of the time, gaffers work with a strict budget, so they select only what the project needs.


The gaffer puts a lighting crew together. This crew always includes a best boy. The best boy works as the gaffer’s second-in-command, helping the gaffer lead the lighting technicians and power department. The gaffer shares the lighting plan with the best boy, who then leads the team to set up the equipment and lights on set.

Before the shoot, the gaffer goes to scout the filming location before production. With the script, the gaffer notes electrical sources and any issues that might arise during shooting. For instance, the location might be overcast on shooting day. After scouting, they talk with the best boy, director, cinematographer, key grip and producers to find the best solution to the issues they noted.

Gaffers are essential for achieving great cinematography

Bottom line, Gaffers play an essential role in every project they work on. They ensure the lighting plan runs smoothly while managing the entire electrical department. At the same time, they work closely with the project’s cinematographer, director and producers to effectively communicate their vision for the lighting to the best boy and the electrical team. While it’s an extremely difficult job, in the end, gaffers play an important and valued role in the industry.


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