For both stage and screen, the same is usually true: lighting takes the longest to set up. On any film or television set, you can expect the lighting crew to require the most installation time—with the exception of complex special effects rigs or especially ornery actors. Therefore, the rigging gaffer and his or her crew prepare for each setup and location by laying out the broad strokes that allow the chief lighting technician (gaffer) and cinematographer (director of photography) to come in and make minor adjustments.
The rigging gaffer is a member of the electrics or lighting department and works under the direction of the gaffer and the DP. He or she has a crew of set lighting technicians and set wiremen, including a best boy, and is generally responsible for pre-lighting on set. Ahead of principal photography on a new scene or location, the rigging gaffer arrives to survey the site and plan installation as per the gaffer’s instruction. This person supervises the crew in unloading the lighting truck and installing cable, rigging equipment, and lighting instruments according to the gaffer’s design. This is only preparatory work, as the primary lighting crew will follow to focus lights and refine the look, as will the grips install gobos and other accessories. Essentially, the rigging gaffer ensures that all gear is in working order, in place, and ready to be locked down upon arrival of the gaffer.
Skills & Education
As a senior member of the electrics crew, the rigging gaffer must have an expert-level knowledge of production lighting equipment, electricity, and principles of lighting for film and digital video. A college degree in film and television production is encouraged, and courses in photography, fine art, and electrical engineering are beneficial. Specific training in electrical safety and proper wiring is necessary in the field of production lighting. The ability to troubleshoot and conduct repairs down to the component level on all electrics department gear is especially beneficial. The rigging gaffer should be an effective leader who is capable of delegating work and monitoring multiple subordinates, as well as ensuring efficient use of time in the installation process.
What to Expect
To attain the role of rigging gaffer, you must first gain experience as a best boy and set lighting technician or set wireman. This person is second to the gaffer and therefore may be required to assume the responsibilities of the chief lighting technician in his or her absence. As with most technical positions on set, work as a rigging gaffer may require the individual to carry equipment in excess of 50 pounds and involves working around at heights and with high amperage systems. The role of the rigging gaffer is typically a freelance position and is hired by the gaffer or director of photography. Full-time employment may be available with production rental houses that supply lighting equipment and contract technicians for feature production. Rigging gaffers are eligible for membership in IATSE, the union that represents artists and technicians in theatrical production, as well as film and television. On union calls, or work secured through the union hall, technicians are required to supply a basic assortment of personal tools while on set. The same is often true for non-union gigs, so it is a good idea to spend the money on your own Gerber or Leatherman multi-tool, as well as a small flashlight, c-wrench, and gloves.
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