What is a Gaffer?
A Gaffer is the head of the lighting and power department on a film set. They work mainly in pre-production and production and are responsible for helping to achieve the desired cinematic image.
What is the job?
The Gaffer will collaborate with the Director and Cinematographer to decide on the aesthetic for the visuals of the film, and make a plan of how they are logistically going to achieve them. This involves the Gaffer scouting the locations and where the lights can live in each set up, as well as making sure cables can be run and finding a safe place for the generator. On top of this, the Gaffer will work with the Cinematographer to create lighting plots, which act as a reference point to help establish a plan.
Other duties that the Gaffer is responsible for include negotiating with Producers, as well as Production Managers, on the electrical budget and required lighting equipment. The Gaffer must constantly work with their crew to make them as efficient as possible, to make sure production is happening quickly and efficiently. If the lighting department is slow, shots will be cut and the production may go into overtime (this is because changing lighting setups usually takes the most time in a transition on set).
The role of a Gaffer is an extremely important one, and without it, films would look completely different. Take a look at this video to see just how important a Gaffer’s decisions can be!
- Ability to deal with high-stress environments
- Good communication
- Ability to lead a team
- Good organisation
- Knowledge of film lighting and equipment
- Logical approach to problem solving
- Willingness to work long and irregular hours
Salary & Working Hours
The role of a Gaffer is often a freelance position and therefore you must be flexible with the hours you are willing to work. Sometimes you may be needed to work for ten days straight, with only one or two days off in between, and other times you may only be needed one day a week. Your working hours will ultimately depend on when and if there is work available.
The salary for a Gaffer varies across companies and ultimately depends on the production that you are working on. However, average hourly wages range from £8 to £12.50 per hour, and average overtime wages range from £12.50 to £20.50 per hour.
How To Become a Gaffer
As with most jobs in this industry, there is no direct entry. Some individuals choose to work on set as an assistant, some choose to go to film school, and some choose to study for a degree. However, the most important part of becoming a Gaffer is ensuring you have an understanding of all the different departments on set, as this will help with collaboration.
As a Gaffer is one of the highest positions in the lighting department, you will more than likely start out in an entry position such as an assistant on set, and work your way up from there. Taking on roles such as Lighting Technician will provide you with experience and show that you are capable of the responsibility that a Gaffer role entails. Furthermore, being part of the lighting team will enable you to learn from others and understand the department fully. Internships are a great way to get this experience, and working on low-budget productions can be a great way to build up your skills.
Where Can It Take You?
As a Gaffer, getting rehired or referred to other jobs is often determined on how well you are able to effectively make a plan and then accomplish it. In terms of career advancement, the Gaffer is the top position in the lighting department, and so once you become a gaffer, advancement will generally only be through working on larger shoots. As your reputation grows and you get to know more Cinematographers, you may have the opportunity to move onto larger sets and longer shoots. Advancement in this industry is a matter of networking, hard work and talent!
Become a Gaffer
If you are ready for the next step in your career, why not take a look at the latest Gaffer on our jobs board? You can view our latest vacancies here.