WHO’S WHO, IN THE ZOO: The Shoot – All these people, what do they do?

By - CTL
February 20, 2017

By Marcus Honesta.

One thing a young or even a not so young marketer might find useful is a simple guide to how a film shoot should run.

To the uninitiated, attending a shoot generally makes you feel as though you are in the middle of a MASH unit. (Remember the famous television show about life in a mobile army surgical hospital unit?) There’s hours of sitting around waiting for something to happen, then a swarm of activity, apparent bedlam and chaos, then it’s back to sitting around waiting for things to happen.

Hoards of people stand around apparently doing nothing. There are small groups beavering away, but not really seeming to achieve anything and there is always a deeply concerned looking individual, who continually gazes at his or her watch whilst thumbing through a crumpled document with lots of pictures and writing all over it. I bet they’re wondering how far they’re behind schedule, where they should be, and how much overtime they’re going to be up for. Congratulations, you’ve just met the producer.

You’ll notice at a glance a number of disinterested souls sitting on couches, reading newspapers, New Idea, or playing games on their iPhones / iPads. You’ve just discovered video village. This is where the client and agency are quarantined. This is where you are expected to spend your day. Fear not, there is always a helpful lad on hand hovering with a constant supply of coffee, bottled water, lollies, baskets of fruit and baked treats to distract you from the hours of boredom.

There is a TV screen designated especially for you to follow the proceedings, when they finally get underway.

Understanding the bones of the process will assist you in appreciating where all your money is going, and how and you can contribute to the circus.

How does the song go? “Let’s start at the very beginning….”

Call Time:

This is the time the various contributing players are booked to arrive on set and commence work. Generally speaking the agency and client will be advised to arrive later, most likely an hour to an hour and a half after the crew. This is done in an endeavor to limit your time doing nothing to a minimum.

Set Ups:

When you first arrive at a location, you will notice an area set up outside where various crew are stuffing themselves with assorted breakfast offerings. Muesli, wraps, veggie burgers, tea, coffees, juices or water are all part of the service. They will be surrounded by a number of burly looking chaps lugging heavy lights, stands, and a piece of equipment you will probably think has been borrowed from an early Apollo space programme.

This is the Dolly. It is used to mount the camera on what looks like railway tracks, to ensure the smooth carriage of the camera when it is moving.

This process will seem to drag on for an eternity. My strongest possible advice is to stay well clear and enjoy the wraps or rolls the caterer has provided and have a soy mochaccino with extra sugar.

The Shoot:

Eventually proceedings will get underway.
You will find the script is broken up into various scenes. The fellow who seems to be in control (hopefully the Director) will generally ask the actors to perform the same actions time and time and time and time again. When he is satisfied with their performance he / she will usually make a bee-line to visit the area where you’re seated (video village) where he will, with enthusiasm and with joyous rapture, proclaim ‘”We’ve got it, let’s move on”.

This is a danger moment for you for what the Director thinks represents the best interests of your product, and what you think may well be diametrically opposed. Be aware of the old adage “speak now or forever hold
your peace”

It is critical at this time that you are satisfied that all the itty-bitty bitty things (so slavishly discussed and agreed upon in the pre-production meeting) are now addressed. We will discuss the protocols of just how you should go about making your feelings known later.

There is no going back once the shot is wrapped-up and the crew has moved on. Most importantly when you see the edit for the first time there will be no opportunity to say, “I’m not sure about the performance of the lead talent, or I don’t like the fruit bowl on the bench or the dog looks a bit mangy.” The egg is well and truly scrambled and will never be able to be put back into its shell.

These set-ups will go on for what seems an eternity until the noisiest of all the souls on set (the First AD) will scream “LUNCH”.

Lunch is generally something of a bacchanalian feast. Tables and tables of gourmet dishes
are presented for your hard-working crew to nosh on. The feasts of ancient Rome pale into insignificance by comparison. The really funny thing is where they usually take place. Generally it’s under plastic marquees on foldout plastic tables and chairs, on borrowed front lawns or handy open public parks or fields. It’s truly epicurean Michelin dining under the Southern Cross! These feasts come to an abrupt end, when the same noisy soul who commenced proceedings shouts ‘WE’RE BACK”.

The afternoon will progress in a very similar manner to the morning, with the caveats I have already alerted you to, until that noisy fellow again takes the center stage and screams “IT’S A WRAP”. Everyone on set will react with thunderous rounds of applause, very much like an audience at the Opera when the curtain falls on the last act of Verdi’s Aida.

To the uninitiated it seems the only thing missing is the dimming of the lights, then a spot brightly shining on the maestro in tails walking on and taking the customary bow, with the usual round of encores.

PART TWO: Unmasking Shoot Protocols

When Can I Ask Questions?

The truth of the matter is that it’s better to speak up at the time you have a concern than to be the proverbial Shrinking Violet. Remember you’re not just there as an accessory, you very much have a role to play and the responsibility for how your product will eventually turn out.

In truth, no question should be considered too small or stupid to be asked. What would be stupid is if you sit there like a stunned mullet and then later complain that you didn’t get what you wanted or expected.

This is not of course an endorsement or encouragement to become a right royal pain in the arse. There is a way to go about it and we will deal with this in the next section.

Who’s who on the Totem Pole in the Production Process

The lines of communication on a production set are clearly defined and should be followed. If you’re on the client side your first point of contact should be the account service representative from your agency. If they are not on set then the agency producer is next on the totem pole. If you can’t find the agency producer, then the production house producer is the next cab off the rank. If for some reason, none of these people are available, speak with your Director. I you’re on the agency side take out the account service level and follow your nose.

Red Card & Sin Bin Moments

As in all sports, schools, families and life, there is certain types of behavior that can get you sent to the naughty corner to consider your wickedness with the hope that, in due time, you might seek redemption and forgiveness. Most probably, if you break established rules there’s a very good chance those in the know will simply think you’re a dick head and politely say nothing. You certainly do not want to get a reputation like this. People like this rarely get any favors, such as a little overtime not charged for. They fall into the category “Why should we bother; they’re such arseholes”.

The most heinous and unprofessional example of what not to do on set is screaming instructions from video village at the talent and / or the Director. News of your behavior will spread like wildfire, not unlike the reporting of soccer hoodlums rioting on a Saturday night. I guarantee pandemonium and disruption ensue. Your talent will become confused and it could affect their performance. The end result will be your Director (who by the way you are paying a small fortune) may become confused, lose his concentration and possibly make mistakes. Worse, some being reasonably highly-strung souls will have a hissy fit, spit the dummy, kick over their high chair, and retreat to his/her Winnebago. Mob rule might work in Liverpool on a Saturday night, when turning over buses, setting fire to police cars and looting the local hi-fi store seem are the intended outcomes but it has no place on a film set.

: What do all the guys standing around do?

The Production House Producer

He/she oversees the delivery of your television commercial. They are charged with preserving the integrity, voice and vision of the commercial and will also often take on some financial risk by using their company’s money to pitch for and win projects; this is especially so during the pre-production period, before a commercial is fully paid for. He/ she is ultimately responsible for completing the production  for the agreed budget, and timing.

The Director

The Director controls and directs the actors and crew in the making
of your commercial. He/she controls the artistic and dramatic aspects of the production while guiding the overall execution of the creative. He works with the agency creative team, to bring their creative vision to life.

The director also plays a key role in post- production. He or she works with the off line editor to confirm the shots that will be used to tell the story.

First AD

The duties of an AD (He’s the one standing in the middle of the shoot making a lot of noise) include setting the shooting schedule, keeping note of daily progress against the allotted shooting schedule, maintaining order on the set, rehearsing cast, and directing any featured extras.

Production Manager

The production manager supervises the physical aspects of the product (not the creative aspects).

This includes technicians, budget and managing the lists and scheduling. It is the production manager’s responsibility to make sure the filming stays on schedule and advise the producer of anything that will affect the budget, such as timing and the progress of each scene.

Production Assistant

Assists the first assistant director with set operations. Production assistants are almost always referred to as PA’s. These are the people who are called on during a shoot so solve any unforeseen and often quite challenging problems that arise from time to time. If they disappear for a couple of hours they are most likely back in the office, ‘sorting things out’.

Directory of Photography (DP or DOP)

The Director of Photography is the person photographing the commercial. In the movies he is known by a much grander title ‘The Cinematographer’. In commercials, most times, he is known as the DOP.


A gaffer is the head of the electrical (lighting) department, responsible for the setting (and sometimes the design) of the lighting for a production. His assistant is called the Best- boy. Both are qualified electricians. Usually a gaffer works for and reports to the Director of Photography. A word to the wise, don’t’ even think of touching or helping or getting in the way as these lamps carry enough voltage to kill a bull elephant.

Grip (Key Grip)

The key grip is the head of the Grip Department (Lighting & Rigging) and is the chief rigging technician on the set.
He arranges the movement of the camera, the placing of cameras on any stationary, moving, flying or floating surface, in fact anywhere a camera is required. The key grip directs the crew of grips, many with specialized skills including dolly grips, crane operators, or special equipment operators.

Sound Recorder

The production sound recorder is head of the Sound Department on set. He/she is responsible for recording all the sound, including dialogue
and / or atmosphere tracks on set that will be used in the editing. They choose and set microphones and operate all the recording devices which can directly affect the final outcome of the film as dramatically as the DOP.


Also known as the “continuity person”. Sometimes, on smaller productions, this role is looked after by one of the PA’s. They keep track of what parts of the script have been shot and keep notes of any deviations between what was actually filmed and what appeared in the script – they must alert the producer so mistakes aren’t made.

Art Director / Art Department

The art director reports to the production designer, and oversees artists and craftspeople, such as the set designers, graphic artists, and illustrators. He/she is responsible for the final visual look and image of the back drop in front of which the actors will perform.

Set Designer

The set designer develops and designs the sets or interior spaces called for by the production designer.

Set Decorator

The set decorator is in charge of decorating the set.


The Buyer is number two in the set department, below the set decorator. The buyer locates, and then purchases or rents the set dressing.

Props Master

The property master, more commonly known as the props master, is in charge of finding and managing all of the stuff on the walls and benches that will decorate the overall set.

Armorer or Pyro Technician – not often used in smaller budget productions.

The armorer is a specialized props technician who deals with things that go bang. This requires special training and licenses –
stay well clear.

Construction Coordinator / Manager

The construction coordinator oversees the construction of all the sets. (Mostly on larger lm productions.) Smaller productions rely on the art director to supervise the carpenters.

Greens Department

The greens man is the specialized set dresser dealing with the arrangement or landscape design of all plant material.

Special Effects

This department oversees the mechanical effects, tricks and visual affects the script calls on to create optical illusions during live-action shooting.

Make-up Artist

Make-up artists work with makeup; hair and special effects to create any character or look for anyone appearing in your film.

Hair Stylists

The hair stylist is responsible for styling and maintaining the hair of anyone appearing on screen. They work in conjunction with the make-up artist.

Unit Manager

The unit manager fulfills the role of providing certain craft services on set such as tables, chairs, tents, teas, coffees, water and lollies.

Production Coordinator

The production coordinator works for the production manager, they most often rent equipment, book crew, and the talent.

Location Manager

The location manager oversees the locations department and its staff, typically reporting directly to the Production Manager and/or Assistant Director (or even Director and/or Executive Producer). They’re responsible for final clearing or guaranteeing permission to use a location for filming.

Location Scout

Does much of the actual research, footwork and photography to present possible locations. They will also get various permits and advise if councils are lm friendly.

Post-production Producers

Are responsible for post production, the part of the process where the footage is edited and sound and visual effects are applied. The post production producer should maintain clarity of information and communication between all stakeholders.

They should be ever alert as to the process related to the budget allocation, and any potential overruns.

It is a pro-active role; and the good ones save time, money and aggravation.


Knowing the role that all of the players perform will certainly, in time, allow you to judge how well honed a crew is, BUT, remember you have hired them to do a job. Allow the professionals to get on with the work that is needed to bring out the best possible creative result for your script. This is not to say you are not to have a voice, but much should have been settled at the PPM (Pre-Production Meeting).

Your main function is to ensure that this is really happening.

I have been told that attending a shoot is about as much fun as watching paint dry, or grass grow, but be warned great care and attention must be focused on each and every take, each and every scene, each and every set up, because there’s no point in complaining that you don’t like the final edit when you were an accomplice to it happening.

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