Overview

Who does What

... and why

Lamp

In the beginning was the idea. And from that all else flowed. A television programme’s job is to tell a story. And the storytellers are many and varied. So before looking at the process, you need some idea of who does what, when and to whom.

I’ll start off with television; film is more or less the same, but with a huge number of people – some of them with strange titles; Best Boy, anybody? For a more in-depth look at film style production, have a look at the On Location section

There are, very roughly, three kinds of chaps working on most programmes; Production people, Technical people and In Vision people. Production bodies first:

The Producer

This is the person who’s generally in charge of the entire production.

In smaller productions the producer may be the director as well. In this case he is known as a producer-director.

If not, he’ll find a separate director.

The Director

The duties of the producer and director are, in theory, separate and complimentary; the producer decides what goes into the programme, the director is responsible for how it looks and sounds. That’s the theory – in practice the situation is a little more mobile. For a start, the producer has selected the director; if he now decides he wants things different, he’s free to say so. And if the director disagrees strongly, he’s free to walk out.

Other Production Titles

There may be an associate producer who looks after scheduling, manages the budget day-to-day, and generally assists. This body is sometimes called a line producer, unit manager, and various other things, some of them not entirely complimentary.

The producer may write the script himself, he may want the director to do it, or he might commission a writer. In some cases the writer may have already written the first draft before a producer comes on the scene.

One or more production assistants (PAs) may be hired to help the producer and director. During rehearsals these people keep notes on production needs, notify the personnel involved about changes, etc. In the studio the PA keeps things running; on location he or she looks after continuity, etc. Location PAs are often called ADs – Assistant Directors. On a feature there will almost certainly be two or three of them, with a strict hierarchy about who commands whom to do what.

There can be many other production office people. On all but the smallest programme there will be a production secretary; assistant producers will prepare short inserts on film or videotape for magazine programmes; researchers will meet possible interviewees and dig deep looking for interesting material; there may well be one or more greeters to look after guests on studio day. They all help the producer and director – suggesting ideas, reading local papers, making useful contacts, etc.

And in television, though not often on film, there will be someone called an executive producer. He or she is usually in charge of a string of programmes; a nightly current affairs magazine, for example when it’s not possible to have direct control over each item in every programme. Then there may well be a Monday producer, Tuesday producer, etc. Actually, in the case of a magazine programme, the executive producer is usually referred to as the editor. Or even executive editor.

The Sharp End – Out Front. Actors, Presenters, etc

What the ‘front of camera’ people do is fairly easy to understand. They are actors, reporters, presenters, etc. But the presenter of a magazine programme might well have some measure of control behind the camera as well. A news anchor, for instance, will probably re-write many of his lines – not changing the story, but changing the words he uses to tell that story. And big stars like to change lines too. In America ‘front of camera’ people are referred to as ‘the talent’ – strange; it infers that producer and director have none!

Depending on the kind of production the ‘in vision’ personnel may just appear for the shoot, and maybe some over-dubbing later. That tends to be the case with dramas, etc. With non-fiction type programmes, the presenter(s) may become part of the full-time production office, researching programme ideas, even directing insert material.

Technical and Craft People

Some craft people will join the production team quite early on in the pre-production process. The Designer, trendy title Art Director, will obviously need to become involved early on in a drama, especially if there are complicated sets to construct. And for a period play, the costume designer will obviously need quite a bit of preparation time.

Location Productions – Film Style

By ‘Film Style’ I mean a programme produced one shot at a time as opposed to a studio production which might well occur in real time – ‘as live’ if not actually live.

On a large location drama, the cameraman, now usually called the Director of Photography, may join the team some weeks before the start the shoot. He will help select locations, and liaise with costume and set designers to produce the ‘look’ the director wants to achieve.

On medium to small programmes, sound recordists need very little preparation time, as long as the locations are all suitably quiet (no motorway nearby). On location he will need at least one assistant. If many radio microphones are needed, or there is a big band, he may need several. They will probably arrive for the shoot, and disappear after the wrap party.

Other ‘craft’ people become involved at various times depending on the scale of the production.

The make-up department may be quite huge on a large costume drama. On a simple magazine programme, only one person may be needed.

The Designer, or Art Director, and his assistant(s) will be around, checking his sets, organising painting and installation, and adding little touches like photographs, potted plants and cushions to dress the set.

On a very simple location shoot there may only be a cameraman and a sound recordist. On a large shoot there may be a couple of dozen people in the camera department; a camera operator, a focus puller, a clapper loader, one or more grips (chaps who set up tripods, tracks, etc.) and any number of electricians.

In the studio, the variation on crew size isn’t usually as large.

In charge of the whole technical team there will usually be a Technical Manager. In America he’s called the Technical Director or Technical Producer. He makes sure everything is working, reminds the director about crew breaks, liaises with the thousand and one external technical people, etc. On a larger production he will become involved a couple of weeks in advance – booking extra crew members, hiring camera mounts, etc.

The studio equivalent of the Director of Photography, the Lighting Supervisor, or Lighting Director may start work two or three weeks before production, but he will not usually join the team full time. He designs the lighting plan, arranges for the equipment needed, and sets up and checks the lighting.

On all but the simplest programme there will be a Vision Mixer. This is the person who controls the huge board (also called a Vision Mixer) that controls which camera goes on air. This is a very responsible job – on a drama, the vision mixer gives the production its rhythm and pace. In small American studios the Technical Manager and Vision Mixer are often one and the same person.

The Sound Supervisor or Audio Director with his assistant(s) sets up and checks microphones, monitors sound quality during the production, and makes sure communications are all working properly. The Character Generator Operator types titles, sub-titles, and closing credits into a special computer.

The Costume and Make-up Supervisors usually sit with the Lighting Director so they can consult each other about possible problems – a character’s shirt which is too white, for instance.

The Vision Mixer, Lighting Director, etc., sit in the Control Gallery with the Director. Many of them, especially the Director, need to talk during transmission or recording and if they were in the studio you’d hear them as well as the actors – a bit distracting during a tender love scene! So they’re not in the actual studio, but a small room adjacent to it.

On the Floor

In the studio proper or ‘on the floor’ as it’s known are the other members of each team – camera, sound, etc.

There will be three or four camera operators, of course. They line up the cameras for perfect pictures, and work with the director, lighting director, and sound department in blocking (setting up), rehearsing and shooting each sequence.

There is a Floor Manager or Stage Manager who is responsible for everything in the studio or actual location. In some organisations he or she is called the Floor Director – the actual director usually works in a separate room called the gallery. The Floor Manager has a number of assistants and stage hands, who make sure performers are called, look after small props and perform the thousand and one tasks that are needed to ensure the programme is recorded or transmitted.

On most programmes, the Sound Supervisor will be assisted by one or more Boom operators. They control the triffid-like devices with long arms that dangle microphones above performers’ heads.

And depending on the scale of the production, there will be camera assistants to clear cables, electricians to adjust lights, scene shifters, etc.

Nearby

Other people will be in nearby rooms. Maintenance men are usually to be found in an adjacent workshop, making sure everything is in tip-top condition and ready to sort out any electronic emergency.

There will be a videotape operator who looks after the recording equipment and accessories; he also monitors the quality of sound and vision as it’s recorded, and does a spot check on the tape afterwards. For anything other than the simplest programme, two tapes on two machines are running in parallel; the chance of faults developing on two machines or two tapes at once makes the recording almost fireproof.

Make-up and wardrobe have already been mentioned. They’ll be in a room or rooms to the side of the studio, ready to adjust wigs, sew up seams, press trousers and adjust costumes for size. And wash and iron clothes if there’s custard pie throwing!

The electricians may be shared with another studio if there is more than one. Like carpenters and painters, they work hardest before rehearsal has begun, then their duties are usually minimal. So most of the preparatory people might then move onto another studio where rehearsals start later. They’ll be on call, of course, if there’s an emergency.

Other people might be in nearby rooms, ready to go to the studio when needed; animal handlers, chaperones for children, plumbers, maintenance men and teleprompter operators. And someone to sweep up afterwards. And the lady who makes the tea.