Gaffer, Best Boy, & Key Grip Roles in Video Production?
  • June 30, 2019
  • Merideth Melville
Nosferatu - Eleven Cast Members Credited

Once upon a time, movie credits lasted mere moments and played at the beginning of the film.

The 1922 vampire German Expressionism classic Nosferatu, (employing some of the first special-effects) and the inspiration for cinematic vampires of today, credited only eleven cast members and five others. The movie's credits lasted 1 minute 35 seconds.

By the early 70's, credits shifted to the end of movies, allowing them to run longer as blockbuster movies with special effects required them to do (along with union rules, copyright laws and just plain ol' inflated Hollywood egos).

According to an article in the New York Times, "Baseline, which compiles information about movies, quotes the following statistics:

The original Star Wars in 1977 listed 143 people in its credits. In 1999, The Matrix listed 551, including Longy Nguyin, a sports masseuse. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers listed 559 names, Finding Nemo listed 642, and the third installment of the Matrix series had 701."

Star Wars - 1977 - 143 cast members

As everything else in life continues to go up, so too has on-screen credit time. Case in point: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King closing credits lasted 9 minutes and 30 seconds.

The first five minutes was dedicated to the usual cast of show-biz characters: the actors, producers, editors, writers, etc. Eight minutes in (if still in your seat), you'd see the names of the "wrangler manager", "stable foreman", "compositing inferno artist" and, of course, the person who brought snacks to the set (caterer).

Three credited positions asked about frequently are Gaffer, Best Boy, and Key Grip. Here's a quick look at what these jobs are:


All work in the Lighting and Grip Department. The Gaffer is head of lighting (sometimes referred to as the "Lighting Designer") and as the leader of that crew, carries out the dictates of the Director of Photography (the DP) as translated through the desires of the Director.

The Gaffer scouts out locations to figure out what type of lighting will be needed. He or she is the bridge between the DP and the crew. This allows the DP to spend time with the Director and with the camera operator, setting up shots.

One origin of the word, "Gaffer" comes from the term used to describe men who adjusted lighting in English theater or tended streetlamps – using a pole with a hook on its end, "the gaff".

Best Boy

The Best Boy is the assistant to the Gaffer – his/her "right hand man". The Best Boy oversees the lighting crew and is responsible for ordering all the necessary lighting equipment.

Best Boys also assist the Key Grip and as such, work closely with the camera team.

The origin of the term, "Best Boy" comes from Hollywood legend – when crew rigging up lighting, electricity or cameras were in need of some assistance, they would yell for someone to send "their best boy" – the most qualified person from their team to help. The name stuck.

Another origin of the term comes from the seafaring world, around the turn of the 20th century. On a ship, the "best boy" in the crew would work as the Captain's second-in-command.

There are no "Best Girls" – females are also called "Best Boys".

Key Grip

Before shooting begins, the Key Grip attends location scouts with the Gaffer and DP to determine what equipment is required (dollies, cranes, mounts, camera cars, tracks, jibs, etc.).

The Key Grip executes the demands of the DP in terms of lighting and camera movement – supervises the grip crew (which may include crane operator and rigging grips) and coordinates with the electric and camera departments to ensure the safety of the crew. The Key Grip supervises all the grips, who set up and move the cameras on set.

On a non-union, low budget set, one person might have to work as the Gaffer, the Best Boy and the Key Grip. If this happens, expect a gripe at the end of the day!

Merideth Melville

Merideth Melville got her start writing and producing entertainment documentaries for the original Travel Channel. That work took her to Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Bermuda and Borneo. From there, she jettisoned to NASA, where she ran the Motion Pictures Division (responsible for all the pre and post onboard films) during the Shuttle years. She then worked with Houston-based Zen Film for many years before starting Boss Media.