Gaffer Role

When it comes to working on a film set or location work the idea of ‘Lighting Designer’ tends not to be an official role, more of a blending of the role of a cinematographer and of a gaffer. I am already well aware of what a cinematographer does, technically and creatively, and how they fit into a film crew. However gaffer is more of a general term I have used to define someone who works on lighting purely technically to execute the requirements of the cinematographer.

The Oxford Dictionary has used the term ‘Gaffer’ to describe the chief electrician in films since 1936. Another term a gaffer can be credited with is CLT (Chief Lighting Technician). On a film set the job encompasses managing light under the director of a Director of Photography – the understanding I was already working under. This role removes any creative control as they implement the design presented and discussed with the DP (or Lighting Director in Television).

Creative Skillset defines the following traits for this role:

  • Deep knowledge of lighting
  • Able to interpret lighting plans
  • Strong team-working skills
  • Knowledge of electrical theory and practice
  • Adaptable and resourceful
  • Work long and irregular hour
  • Physically demanding tasks
  • Good colour vision
  • Knowledge of relevant Health and Safety legislation

The Creative Skillset website is a great source for locating additional information about a variety of roles across television, filmmaking, and the entertainment industry:

My only concern with this role is the electrical qualifications that are recommended to help out. I feel confident when it comes to lighting with a lot of experience as a technician, but doubt whether I have the inner working knowledge for advanced technical terminology and techniques. It is definitely a good starting point to get my foot in the door, but ultimately I crave the creative control over lighting that comes from a role of Cinematographer or Lighting Director.


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