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A gaffer in the motion picture industry is the head of the electrical department, responsible for the execution (and sometimes the design) of the lighting plan for a production. Sometimes the gaffer is credited as Chief Lighting Technician. In television the term Lighting Director is often used, but sometimes the Technical Director (T.D.) will light the studio set.

Experienced gaffers can coordinate the entire job of lighting, given knowledge of the time of day and conditions to be portrayed, managing resources as broad as generators, lights, cable, manpower. Gaffers are responsible for knowing the appropriate color of gel (plastic sheeting) to put on the lights or windows to achieve a variety of effects, such as transforming midday into a beautiful sunset. They can re-create the flicker of lights in a subway car, the motion of light inside a turning airplane, or the passage of night into day.

Usually, the gaffer works for and reports to the director of photography (the DP or DOP). The DP is responsible for the overall lighting design, but he or she may give a little or a lot of latitude to the gaffer on these matters, depending on their working relationship. The gaffer works with the key grip, who is in charge of some of the equipment related to the lighting. The gaffer will usually have an assistant called a best boy and, depending on the size of the job, crew members who are called "electricians", although not all of them are trained as electricians in the usual sense of the term.

Many gaffers are expected to own a truck complete with most basic lighting equipment and then rent extra lighting equipment as needed.

Very famous is the adhesive tape called after the gaffer: gaffer's tape or gaffer tape. Often it is misspelled as "Gaffa tape".


Early studios were "available light" only, so there were articulated mirrored panels in the roof of the studio buildings that could be pushed from the floor by long "gaff" poles to bounce the sunlight to where it was needed on the set. Because the Earth moves continuously these hinged panels would need to be gaffed after each take. Once electric lighting instruments became the standard equipment, the light operators were known as electricians while the older, more experienced lighting technicians were still known as gaffers. Eventually it came to mean someone in charge of lighting.

Also posited: early films used mostly natural light, which stagehands controlled with large tent cloths using long poles called gaffs (stagehands were often beached sailors or stevedores, and a gaff is a type of boom on a sailing ship), or a pole with a hook on the end to assist in bringing nets or large fish aboard.

Other usages

  • In 16th Century English, the term "gaffer" denoted a man who was the head of any organized group of labourers, and the usage continues in colloquial British English to this day as a synonym for "boss". The word is probably a shortening of "godfather" (rather than the more commonly believed "grandfather") and is sometimes still used colloquially to refer to an old man (as in Gaffer Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings). In 16th and 17th century rural England it was not confined to elderly men and was used as a title slightly inferior to "Master" and similar to "Goodman". The female equivalent was "Gammer" (which also came to colloquially refer to an old lady).
  • In glassblowing, a gaffer is the central figure in the creation of a piece of art. For example, At the Corning Glass Works in Corning, New York, a gaffer is a skilled artisan who blows through a long tube to shape molten glass into a variety of useful and/or artistic objects. A business district of Corning has been named "The Gaffer District" in honor of these artisans.
  • Commonly used now to refer to sports coaches (football, rugby, etc) in the UK.

See also

Home | Up | Assistant director | Best boy | Body double | Boom operator | Camera operator | Cinematographer | Clapper loader | Construction grip | Dialogue editor | Director of audiography | Dolly grip | Executive producer | Film director | Film producer | Focus puller | Foley artist | Gaffer | Grip | Light technician | Location manager | Production designer | Production sound mixer | Property master | Scenic design | Scenographer | Script supervisor | Second unit director | Set decorator | Sound design | Sound editor | Stunt performer

Movies, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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