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Arts & Entertainment

Film Career Guide: Above the Line vs. Below the Line Jobs

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jun 26, 2020 • 2 min read

Director, producers, cast, costume designers, grips, production assistants—the number of people involved in the making of a single feature film is enormous. In order to organize film budgets, production crews are divided using “above the line” and “below the line” credits.

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“Above the Line” vs. “Below the Line” Jobs: Understanding the Difference

The industry divides crew members into two categories: "above the line" and "below the line." These terms refer to the top sheet of a film budget, where the entire crew is listed in individual line costs to show the film’s overall production costs. In the crew list, there is a line to separate two groups of line items: who is involved in the creative development of the film (above the line), and who is responsible for the day-to-day filmmaking involved in pre-production, production, and post-production (below the line).

While the film industry sometimes uses the term “above the line” to colloquially indicate someone’s high importance in a film’s production, it takes a combination of both above the line and below the line crew members in order to make a film—a motion picture can’t be made with only above the line crew.

What Does “Above the Line” Mean?

Above the line credits (also called ATL) in film production refer to the positions responsible for the creative development of the film—before pre-production or principal photography ever begins. The people in these positions make major decisions about the look and feel of the project. In general, above the line crew members are paid an agreed-upon sum, rather than being paid hourly, since it’s difficult to determine an hourly rate for intensely creative work.

Above the line roles are often used to secure funding for a film—if investors see big names in the above the line credits, they may be more likely to offer money toward the film’s budget.

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What Are “Above the Line” Jobs?

There are only a few film jobs that are consistently above the line—director, executive producer(s), producer(s), screenwriter(s), casting director(s), and principal cast. Occasionally, the cinematographer (also called director of photography) is included in the above the line credits—however, this is usually only reserved for extremely well-known cinematographers.

What Does “Below the Line” Mean?

Below the line credits (also called BTL) in film production refers to the positions responsible for the day-to-day work of making the film—during pre-production, production, and post-production. While the above the line credits are usually paid an agreed-upon amount, the below the line crew are usually paid hourly wages.

What Are “Below the Line” Jobs?

Aside from the handful of above the line credits, every other position on a film crew is a below the line credit, including:

  • First assistant director, second assistant director, etc.
  • Line producer(s)
  • Director of photography (also called cinematographer)
  • Production designer(s)
  • Production manager(s)
  • Production coordinator(s)
  • Art director(s)
  • Art department crew
  • Camera crew members (camera operators, best boy grip, key grips, grips, etc.)
  • Lighting crew members (gaffers, best boy electric, etc.)
  • Costume designer(s)
  • Hair and makeup crew
  • Special effects crew
  • Sound mixer(s)
  • Editor(s)
  • Composer(s)
  • Visual effects crew

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