Deciphering Movie Credits

It takes a lot of people to make a budget movie, and it seems like every single one of them — from the lead actors to the manicurists — gets a spot in the end credits. As movies have gotten more complex and special effects more technological, the end credits have become longer and longer.

Not all of the titles you read on movie end credits are self-explanatory. Directors, electricians, and caterers are easy enough to understand, but what on Earth is a best boy? Or a gaffer? Read on to find out what some of these more mysterious crew members do.

Key grip

Grips are the crewmembers who assemble, disassemble, and move equipment on the set. The key grip is the head of this crew, who makes sure the set is built correctly and according to its design.

Gaffer

The gaffer is the head of the electrical department and the chief lighting technician. He or she is in charge of designing and executing the lighting in a scene.

When movie-making was in its infancy, films relied on natural light to illuminate scenes. Mirrors and large sheets of canvas (practically sails) were used to reflect the natural light into the scene. The person in charge of lighting used a long pole with a hook on the end, called a gaff (a nautical term), to adjust these mirrors and sails between takes as the sun moved across the sky. He then came to be known as a gaffer.

Best boy

The best boy is the second in command of a crew, like a supervisor. In larger movies, you'll likely find a best boy grip and a best boy electric. The best boy grip supervises the other grips and reports to the key grip; the best boy electric supervises the crew of electricians and reports to the gaffer.

And no, you don't have to be a boy to be the best boy.

Foley artist

Not every sound you hear in a movie was recorded during the filming. Most of it is added after the fact by foley artists (named after sound effects pioneer Jack Foley, 1891-1967, of Universal Studios). Using both high- and low-tech tricks, foley artists add sound effects to the video where it's needed. Whenever you hear someone getting punched, or walking across a wooden floor, or firing a laser gun, that is the foley artist at work.

Other positions of note

Some crewmembers have titles that make sense with just a little knowledge of movie and construction jargon:

  • The boom operator is in charge of the boom mic, a microphone on the end of a long pole that captures dialogue from above.
  • The clapper loader sets and snaps the clapboard at the beginning of filming a scene. The clapboard shows the act, scene, and take that is being filmed, and the noise that the clapboard makes gives the film's editors a definite sound with which to align the audio and video.
  • The dolly grip is in charge of moving a wheeled dolly on which sits the cameraman and the director. The dolly is used for scenes that call for the camera to move smoothly while filming.
  • The focus puller adjusts the camera's focus according to the director's instructions.