What does a gaffer do?
Gaffers have all the power when filming, quite literally. They head up the team that sources, installs and runs all the electrical equipment needed to make a programme. They are responsible for cables, lights and generators.
The role of a gaffer varies depending on the type of unscripted TV show being made. On a multi-camera studio show, the lighting is designed by a lighting director. Gaffers work with the lighting director and camera team to understand their desired light effects and to figure out how to achieve them. They work out the positioning of the lights and any other electrical equipment. They head up a team of electricians (sparks) that is responsible for moving and setting up this equipment. They make sure everything has been properly tested and is being used in accordance with health and safety laws.
If an unscripted TV programme is being shot on location, the gaffer works directly with the director of photography (DoP). In these instances, the role is more like the role of a gaffer in film and TV drama. They recce a location and think creatively with the DoP about how to achieve lighting effects. They establish what kit is needed where and when and they specify the necessary power systems and required crew.
Gaffers can be staff or freelance. They tend to be employed by a studio for multi-camera shoots and by facilities companies for outside broadcasts. On smaller, single-camera shows, the camera department might be responsible for the lighting and other electrical equipment.
What’s a senior electrician good at?
- Electrical knowledge: have electrical qualifications and a thorough knowledge and understanding of circuits, power supplies, motors, cables, fuses, thermal relays, fault current protection switches, heating, air conditioning and more
- Lighting skills: have a good eye for colour, be knowledgeable and experienced at using all lighting equipment and aware of what can and can’t be achieved on each location
- Communication: use strong leadership skills to give direction and collaborate with crew from other departments, have strong interpersonal skills for working with the public, onscreen artists and contributors
- Health and safety: know health and safety regulations including legal requirements, show strong attention to detail, be confident climbing ladders and working at heights
- Organisation: schedule the required crew, supervise kit requirements, oversee the rig (setting up), the use of equipment and de-rig, work within budget and meet deadlines, troubleshoot and offer alternative solutions