If you’ve ever watched the credits after a movie or television show and asked yourself “What the heck is a Gaffer?”, then read on to get the answer.
Most positions on a film crew have pretty self explanatory names like “Production Manager” or “Assistant Director”. While you may not know exactly what these jobs entail, you can at least make a fairly good guess based on the name. Other job titles like “Gaffer” can be quite puzzling though because the name gives no clue as to what this person actually does.
Basically, the Gaffer is the Head Electrician on a film set. This is an extremely over simplified definition though because a film electrician and a regular electrician are very different. Both are responsible for the safe installation and distribution of electricity. However, a film electrician is making temporary installations mainly for creative reasons while a regular electrician is making permanent installations mainly for practical reasons.
A Gaffer is responsible for executing the creative vision of the Director of Photography (D.O.P.) by placing lamps of various colour, size and intensity to illuminate the set and the actors. Once the D.O.P. and the Gaffer have discussed the requirements for a particular shot, the Gaffer then instructs the rest of the electricians (often called Electrics, or Sparks) where each lamp is to be positioned. The position, colour, etc. of each lamp depends on the mood of the scene and whether it is day or night. The Gaffer is also a master at manipulating light to create effects like car headlights passing, flickering fire, reflections on water, and the list goes on and on.
The Gaffer is an integral part of any film regardless of where or when it was shot. Various talented Gaffers were instrumental in creating the wonderful lighting in all of Kevin Sullivan’s productions from Wind at my Back to Anne of Green Gables