What you do in the job?
The chief electrician responsible for the lights and provision of power, often in difficult conditions and carrying considerable responsibility. No light = no shooting!
Gaffers work on all genres of television programming, including multi-camera and single camera shoots, in studios, Outside Broadcasts (OBs), and on locations. They report to the Lighting Director, Director of Photography (DOP), the Lighting Company or the Production Company. They are responsible for all the practical aspects of lighting sets and locations. They collaborate closely with Lighting Directors in order to fulfil their creative vision for the production's lighting. Gaffers may be employees of broadcasters or of lighting facilities companies or they may work as freelances.
During pre-production, Gaffers liaise closely with relevant Heads of Department, discussing all lighting aspects of the production, including crewing and equipment requirements, shooting dates and durations, etc. Gaffers subsequently produce a list of the required equipment, e.g. lamps, cables, generators, and request quotations from Lighting Companies for consideration by the Lighting Director or Production Company. If the quotations are over budget for the production, Gaffers may suggest compromise solutions during discussions with Lighting Directors or Production personnel. In some cases, Gaffers may advise about effective lighting methods and suggest suitable equipment.
Once agreement has been reached about equipment and crewing levels, Gaffers order the required equipment from Lighting companies and specify the crewing requirements. Gaffers may employ their own Best Boy* and/or other supplementary crew members, or these personnel may be supplied by the Lighting company. Where specialist vehicles and equipment are required, Lighting companies may insist that their own personnel operate them during the shoot.
From the Lighting plan Gaffers brief the Lighting crew about each production, ensuring that they are aware of all aspects of the shoot, particularly Health and Safety requirements, including use of work equipment and clothing, and working at heights. On OBs Gaffers supervise the rig of the Lighting equipment (building suitable rigging, setting up lamps, etc.). They often work for several days prior to the shoot, ensuring that all the required lamps and other lighting equipment are placed accurately according to Lighting plans prepared by Lighting Directors, and solving any practical problems which may arise. In studios, the Lighting rig is usually already in place, but additional lamps and other equipment may be added. Gaffers carry out detailed risk assessments, and advise Lighting Directors about any potential problems, suggesting solutions or alternatives where appropriate. They work closely with Camera, Sound and Production personnel to create a safe and creative environment for the shoot.
Under the supervision of Lighting Directors, Gaffers focus each rig according to the relevant Lighting plan, sometimes using specialised computer equipment and software. During rehearsals, Gaffers brief other members of the lighting team about any special requirements during the shoot. Where follow spots are required they nominate a Follow Spot operator and provide comprehensive instructions. They take detailed notes from Lighting Directors about any required re-sets or adjustments, ensuring that all changes are made prior to the commencement of each shoot.
During production, Gaffers observe and supervise all aspects of the Lighting department's work, including the operation of computerised Lighting boards. They troubleshoot or suggest alternative working methods or equipment where necessary, and generally ensure the smooth running of the shoot in terms of Lighting. Once production is completed, they oversee the Lighting de-rig, ensuring that all equipment is stored appropriately, or packed and loaded safely for return to the relevant Lighting company or supplier.
What qualities are required?
well qualified electrician. Technical ability, a level headed approach - you may be dealing with highly-strung people under challenging and pressured conditions.
All members of the Lighting team must have a deep knowledge of, and sympathy with, what is required and what can be achieved in terms of lighting for each production, in any particular studio or location. Gaffers must know how the Lighting plan will work, or how it can be adapted, to preserve the original concept. They must be able to interpret Lighting plans, including all aspects of the rig, scale drawings of all lamps and their positions, and what lighting gels and circuits to use. They must also ensure that the rig is achievable in the time available. Gaffers need to be able to work effectively with members of their own team, and with all others involved in the production process.
Key skills include:
a wide knowledge of television lighting and associated equipment;
an understanding of all aspects of television production;
knowledge of electrical theory and practice;
excellent IT skills;
adaptability and resourcefulness before and during the production process;
a logical and fast approach to problem solving;
good communication, interpersonal and team skills;
patience, self-discipline and reliability;
diplomacy and sensitivity when working with artists, other contributors, members of the public and all crew members;
willingness to work long and irregular hours;
ability to undertake physically demanding tasks;
ability to concentrate for long periods of time and to pay attention to detail;
good colour vision;
a thorough knowledge of the relevant Health and Safety requirements and legislation, and the ability to carry out risk assessments.
How you start and where you can go with it?
Lots of location experience in any of a number of roles.. but followed by a good stint as an electrician/sparks, and eventually reaching the responsible position of Gaffer.
Essentially, Gaffers must be experienced Lighting personnel, having started their careers as Lighting Electricians, progressing to Best Boys*, and to Gaffers. Many Lighting Electricians are general electricians with specialised Health & Safety training and relevant electrical qualifications. Generator drivers may also move into the Lighting department. Gaffers may ultimately become Lighting Directors.