How does a video production really come together? It’s usually on the backs of the camera crew and the production crew. A production crew is the crew that actually shoots and records video, after the script has been written and the storyboarding has been completed, and before any modifications or editing occur. While the camera crew is the major part of the production crew, it isn’t the whole of the production crew: the production crew also includes the executive team and the audio team.
The Major Players of a Production Crew
At the very top of the production crew is the executive producer, producer, director, production assistant, and the assistant directors. While they aren’t on the camera crew, some of them will work closely with the camera crew throughout production. In a smaller production, the director, production assistant, and assistant directors may be the same person, and may be involved directly with the camera crew.
An executive producer and producer are usually hands-off but have an idea for the end product of the production. Usually an executive producer is purely a financier who is using a production as an investment (or who believes in a production), while a producer may be more involved in the day-to-day operations of a project.
When it comes to a commercial endeavor, internal company videos, or other corporate-sponsored videos, the company itself can be viewed as the producer. Meanwhile, the Director will have a vision for the project and will be tasked with actually completing it. While the Director is not traditionally on the “camera crew,” the Director works consistently with the camera crew to get the shots that they want.
In larger productions, a Production Assistant and Assistant Directors will assist the Director. The Director may only focus on the major scenes of a production while the Assistant Directors work with the camera crew to get filler scenes or establishing shots that aren’t necessarily critical. A Production Assistant will handle the managerial aspects of the production.
The Camera and Lighting Crew
- -Director of Photography. A director of photography will work to determine the framing and composition of shots, which are decided upon during the storyboard stage and included within scripts and script reviews. In a smaller team, a Director of Photography is likely to be the same as the Director, but they do have a different skill set in larger productions. In larger productions, the Director is responsible for the look and feel of the film as a whole, while the Director of Photography is more responsible for individual scenes.
- -Camera Operator. The camera operator is the specialist who is actually responsible for operating the camera equipment to physically acquire the scenes. The Director of Photography tells the camera operator which shots they need to get, which includes how the shots are captured, what to focus on, and what timing to use. Camera operators are extremely skilled individuals who train with a multitude of different types of camera equipment, some of which can cost millions of dollars. In a smaller production, the Camera Operator is often going to be the core individual in charge of the production crew, and will often be the same person as the Director of Photography.
- -Camera Assistant. A camera assistant uses monitoring solutions to review what is being captured by the Camera Operator, ensuring that the scene hits certain notes and that it remains in focus. Camera assistants are often used to aid with continuity and to make sure that scenes are technically correct, as the camera operators may not be able to track everything at once. In a smaller production, it’s more likely that the Camera Assistant will be the same person as the Camera Operator, giving the Camera Operator an even more significant role.
- -Gaffer. A gaffer is an individual who is responsible for rigging lighting and often sound of a production, depending on the size of the production. While the gaffer has a role involving setup, they must often do this setup during the production itself, because the production will be switching from location to location for each and every scene. A gaffer has a very critical production role, because they are responsible for the actual filming going off without a hitch.
- -Key Grip. Key grips work to make sure that the lighting and the blocking of a scene has been completed correctly. What is actually seen on camera is usually a very small part of a scene. There are often markings and signals on the floor or just out of sight, there is equipment throughout the location, and there are places where the actors and cameras need to be at specific times. The key grip is responsible for organizing all of this, making sure that the actual shooting flows like clockwork.
- -Best Boys. Best boys are usually responsible for helping with the audio and video capture. There’s often a best boy for lighting and a best boy for audio. Lighting is one of the most important aspects of a production, as without the right lighting the right scenes won’t be able to be captured. Best Boys are occasionally called “Best Babes” today, as there are both men and women in modern productions
Sound Mixing and Capture
- -Sound Mixer. During the production, the sound mixer will be responsible for capturing the audio clearly and making sure all the relevant audio is captured. During a production, a single stream of audio isn’t captured. Instead, audio is captured individually for each actor, ambient noises, or sound effects. These sounds are mixed later on, but they need to be captured first, which is what the sound mixer will be responsible for. In post-production, sound will be blended in together.
- -Boom Operator. A boom operator is the person who manually acquires the sound during production. Boom operators often need to navigate the set live, moving around and making sure that the right sounds are captured at the right times, and that they always stay just out of range. Boom operators are used to acquire specific sounds such as the sounds of individuals speaking, without having to individually mic up each person. A talented boom operator is necessary during a production because one of the major production mistakes is having a boom in scene.
The Size of a Production Crew
As you can see, a reasonably large camera crew is or production crew is going to be extremely large, often consisting of dozens of individuals. When you add assistants and other essential personnel, it can number in the hundreds. But most smaller video productions and corporate video productions aren’t going to have these people.
A smaller production is, however, still going to have these roles, it’s just that these roles are going to transition to the same person. A small camera or production crew may only be a handful of people, with the Director also being the Director of Photography and the Camera Operator. A single person may be responsible for the capture of video, while another single person may be responsible for the capture of audio.
A production crew can also be tailored to the product at hand. Sometimes a production may require live actors and may need individuals to manage cast, while other times a production may not have any actors but may require scenery consultants.
Understanding the roles involved with a production also works hand-in-hand with understanding the important components of a production crew. A production crew has to work on the overall vision of the product, the video capture, and the audio capture, at once. The production crew has to adequately prepare all of this for the post-production team. Together, all parts need to work to create a complete project.
Working With a Production Crew
Production crews have large numbers of assistants, grips, and best boys because the production itself has to occur quickly and without a hitch. Video production is the most costly stage of creating a video: during the process of production, everything has already been fine-tuned and optimized so that the right scenes can be acquired as quickly as possible.
Production has to go smoothly, which is why there are often secondary individuals and even tertiary individuals checking every scene. As the Camera Operator captures video, assistants are making sure that the video has been captured properly. Continuity experts and photography experts are making sure the scene has the appropriate feel and there aren’t technical issues involved.
Many production crews work together over long periods of time and know each others methods of working, making the production smoother. As well, many directors have favored crews that they prefer to work with, because they’re accomplished individuals and because their methods of working work well together. Working with a production crew can be as much an art as it is a skill.
That’s a complete overview of the camera crew and the production crew, but there’s more to a video production. Post-production (otherwise known as video editing) and pre-production work (which includes the creative brief and the planning stages of the production) is what turns the actual production into a project. Video projects are extremely complex, which is why many prefer to outsource the labor: creating a complete video start-to-finish can require dozens of hands, including specialized labor and technical labor from experts.