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Movie Business

What Is A Gaffer In Film?

Photograph of the blog post author, Jodie Francis

Jodie Francis


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Would you like to become a gaffer? Maybe you would like to learn more about the job role of a gaffer in film? If this is the case then welcome, you have come to the right place! Consider this article your complete guide to the job role, as we will take things back to basics answering the much-asked question ‘what is a gaffer’? 

film gaffer with lighting equipment

We will also take a look at the different routes that you can take to get into the role, such as university courses, internships, and teaching yourself the key skills.

So, make sure that you keep reading to discover more about the job of a gaffer. 

What Is A Gaffer?

film gaffer with lighting equipment

Let’s begin by answering the all-important question ‘what is a gaffer’? During film production, a gaffer is the main lighting technician on the set

They are also the head of the electrical department, so their role is an extremely important one in the smooth running of a film production. As part of the gaffer job, they will also be in charge of a team of lighting technicians. 

They will ensure that this team produces the correct lighting plan that has been approved by the director and producer. The second in command of the gaffer is the best boy electric. This job role sees the individual help to lead the group of lighting technicians. 

What Does A Gaffer Do?

So, what does a gaffer do in film production? They have many different responsibilities to keep track of.

Let’s take a deeper look at the film gaffer job description. 

Pre-Production Responsibilities 

lighting equipment

The responsibilities of a gaffer begin during pre-production. The first responsibility of the gaffer is to read through the script and make notes of the lighting needs for the production. This includes any special lighting needs that will require a special purchase of new equipment. 

They will then meet with the director of photography (DOP), producers, and the director of the film to discuss the lighting. They will communicate their vision and goals to the gaffer. 

Next, they will consider the gaffer lighting equipment that will be needed for the production. This will mean they need to make a plan of all the equipment and make sure that everything fits within the budget that they have been given. 

Responsibilities During Production 

film set with lighting equipment

When considering what does a gaffer do during production, there are key duties to cover. For example, they will need to organise the best boy, lighting technicians, and lamp operators. 

They will have provided them all with the plan of the lighting during production. Then, they will oversee the setting up of the electrical equipment and lights. 

They will need to ensure that they have all the correct equipment at hand, such as gaffer tape as this will help to maintain the security of electrical cords while on the set. Safety is of vital importance, and the gaffer will watch as filming takes place. 

They will not only ensure that the lighting is correct, but also that all of the necessary safety aspects are in place. 

What Is The Difference Between A Gaffer & A Grip?

film gaffer with lighting equipment

If you search for ‘what is a gaffer in film’, it will likely also come up with the role of a key grip. So, what is the difference between the two roles? As we already know, the gaffer works with plenty of other departments and people during their job role. One of these groups is the grip crew. 

The grip crew are in charge of all of the non-electrical equipment that’s needed during a film production. They keep track of this equipment for the camera operators and the gaffer.

The non-electrical equipment is referred to as rigging. This equipment also covers equipment that’s used to help move or hoist other vital equipment. 

The grip department will specialise in camera rigs, which are used to stabilise cameras while they are on the move. They also specialise in lighting rigs, which help to ensure that special lighting effects can be achieved during filming. 

The key grip is in charge of the grip crew. They will ensure that everything runs smoothly, particularly when it comes to rigging. This is much like the gaffer is in charge of their own crew and the lighting requirements of a film production. 

The key grip will also have a best boy or best boy grip who is the second in charge. This is similar to the gaffer’s best boy electric. 

How To Become A Gaffer

Now that we have gone over what is a movie gaffer, let’s dive into how you can become one.

You will first need to consider and weigh up the options that are available to you. For example, you could opt to go to university and gain a relevant degree. 

This will be a good option for some people, especially those who have already been to college. 

However, some people may prefer to take a more hands-on approach to learn the necessary skills for the job. This could involve being hired by a big company or working on a particular film production project. 

There’s also nothing stopping you from taking a more direct approach to your own learning and doing it yourself!

This could involve reading articles on the internet, watching helpful videos on YouTube, or even making contact with someone in the gaffer role for some advice. 

What Qualifications Do You Need To Be A Gaffer?

film gaffer with lighting equipment

So, what qualifications do you need to become a gaffer? There are many different degrees that you could obtain that would be relevant to the career of a gaffer. 

For example, you could study at the London Film Academy for a BA (Hons) in Filmmaking. The teachers and lecturers are all industry professionals, and the course helps to give the students an idea of what it would be like to work in the real world. 

The course will give an overview of the various positions in filmmaking and what they will entail. 

The course will also give a clear picture of the up-to-date software that’s used. This is a great course option for you, as it provides you with an in-depth knowledge of the film industry

Another great university for film studies is the University of Warwick. There are many options open to you at this university.

For example, there are undergraduate courses like Film Studies, French with Film Studies, Hispanic Studies with Film Studies, Film and Literature, Italian with Film Studies, and German with Film Studies. 

They also have postgraduate courses like Research in Film and Television Studies MA and Film and Television Studies MA if you would like to take your studies further. This is a wide range of options for you, especially when it comes to language and film. 

Overall, going down this route is a good idea for many reasons. For example, it gives you an overview of the many different aspects of film production.

It also gives you the opportunity to learn from industry professionals and ask them questions for advice on how to get into the industry for your preferred role. 

You may also be able to get work experience while you’re studying. It’s important to note that a degree is not necessary to becoming a gaffer, but it may help you to stand out when it comes to being interviewed for the job.

Keep reading to discover how to become a gaffer without any qualifications. 

How To Become A Gaffer Without Qualifications


As we previously said, the education route won’t be for everyone and that’s completely fine. There are many options open to you, for example, you could become a gaffer by becoming an intern. 

Some internships can be paid while others can be unpaid. This will allow you to get the experience that you need, as well as being able to shadow other gaffers and relevant job roles in the film industry.

You could also become an apprentice; however, this will likely involve doing some kind of part-time college course

Finally, entry-level jobs in the film and production world may also help you to work your way up through the ranks. This could involve becoming a runner or assistant on set

There are definitely some skills that you can work on before attending your interview. For example, you will need to have good communication skills. This is because you will need to be able to speak to a variety of people, like the director and producers, and ask them questions about their vision. 

You will also need good communication skills to effectively manage your team. Your organisation and planning skills need to be top-notch, as this is a large part of the job. You can work on improving these skills, as they will help you to complete your job more efficiently. 

Furthermore, it’s important that you understand light and have an artistic eye. This will put you in good standing when it comes to learning the technical skills that you need. 

This also applies to your electrical knowledge, as you will need an in-depth understanding of cables, fuses, circuits, heating, and more.

Finally, being able to demonstrate a basic knowledge of filmmaking will also be helpful. This is especially relevant when it comes to understanding the different roles and what’s expected of them. 

Where To Find Gaffer Jobs

film gaffer with lighting equipment

Next up, you need to consider where you can find gaffer jobs. The best place for you to begin is to sign up to job sites, such as Indeed, Totaljobs, LinkedIn, and more. These websites will advertise gaffer jobs, as well as lighting crew jobs. 

There are also handy websites like StarNow and Production Base, who specialise in filming jobs. 

Gaffer Salary

money stock image

Now let’s outline the salary that you can expect from becoming a gaffer. It’s important to note that this will vary depending on a range of factors.

For example, whether it’s a permanent role or freelancer, the type of project, your experience, and where it’s being filmed. 

It’s been determined that the average hourly wage can fall between £8 to £12.50 per hour, with overtime wages going up to £20.50 per hour. It’s very common to be asked to work overtime in the film industry. 

Now You Know How To Be A Gaffer

film gaffer with lighting equipment

That now completes our guide on how to become a gaffer! We hope that we have successfully answered what is a gaffer, and the other aspects that come with the job. 

There are many avenues open to you, you could go to university to obtain a relevant film degree, become an intern or apprentice, or teach yourself! It’s important that you make a decision on what method will suit you best. 

Additionally, when it comes to the salary of a gaffer you will need to consider a range of things, the main being whether it’s a freelance or permanent role. You will likely earn more if you can prove that you have more experience in the job role. 

This means that you may be able to see an increase in your pay as you become more experienced. 

Are you a gaffer? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comment section below. Also, if you enjoyed this article, be sure to share it on your socials and tag us in your post @musicgateway! 

We wish you luck in finding your next role as a gaffer! If you would like to read more informative content about the film industry, then check out the Мusic Gateway blog. Here are articles on What Is A Key Grip, What Is A Best Boy, and Hard vs Soft Lighting In Film to get you started.

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