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The Film Production Process
It's no accident that the business of moviemaking is nicknamed "The Industry" in Hollywood. From its beginnings in the studio system, filmmaking has been an industrial process.
It comprises three main phases: preproduction, production (principal photography), and postproduction.
Different people are involved at different points of the production schedule, which can take weeks, months or years, depending on the size and scope of the movie. A crew can be a couple of dozen people for a small, independent film, or thousands for a major Hollywood blockbuster.
Above the Line vs. Below the Line
The industry divides crew members into two categories: so-called "above the line" and "below the line."
Above the line people are those with the highest level of power, the ones who have authority over the production. They include principals in the production company, producers, writers, the director, and the principal talent (actors or stars). Needless to say, they earn the most money.
Below the line workers are everyone else in the production crew, generally divided by profession into departments. Their compensation and working conditions are generally governed by union contracts.
Preproduction refers to the phase of filmmaking before the start of principal photography. It starts once someone—a studio, a production company, a group of investors—gives a green light to a script or pitch to go into production, meaning they agree to pay for it.
- Writer and Director: They finalize the shooting script.
- First Assistant Director (1st AD): Prepares the shooting schedule.
- Executive Producers: They handle financing, oversee major elements of production.
- Producer: Manages the production/production team. There are different types of producers.
- Line Producer: Manages the budget and schedule throughout the production.
- Production Manager: Oversees daily production decisions such as budget, scheduling, and staffing. The PM generally reports to the line producer and supervises the production coordinator.
- Production Coordinator: Coordinates all logistics involved with the cast, crew, and equipment.
- Production Assistants: These are the lowest-level crew members who act as gofers and utility players on a production. They're involved at all levels of production.
- Location Manager: Finds and secures all the locations, takes care of permits.
- Assistant location manager: Works with the location manager and the various departments in arranging technical scouts for the essential staff
- Location scout: Does much of the actual research, footwork and photography to document location possibilities.
- Production Designer: Translates the film into visual form (settings, costumes, makeup).
- Art Director: Works with the production designer, creates and dresses sets, acquires props, and helps determine the overall look. On a smaller crew, this is also the Set Designer.
- Location Manager: Finds and secures all the locations, takes care of permits.
- Set Designer: Works with director and art department to create and design all structures and interior spaces for production.
- Costume Designer: Creates costumes in keeping with the characters and setting.
Production and Principal Photography Crew
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Principal photography is the phase when everyone is on set shooting the movie.
- Director: The boss.
- First Assistant Director (1st AD): Organizes the crew and ensures that the film comes in on schedule.
- Second Assistant Director (2nd AD): Helps the 1st AD supervise the set and also manages and hands out important documents such as scripts and call sheets. Depending on the size of the crew, there may even be a 3rd AD.
- Visual/Special Effects Supervisor: Oversees both creative and technical elements for the special or visual effects on a project. Special effects are practical (i.e., physical) effects created on set—such as fire or puppetry—and captured in camera. Visual effects are added in post-production, such as computer-generated imagery.
- Script Supervisor: The person who keeps track of everything that has been shot, including any deviations from the script. Responsible for matching continuity from one shot to the next, including props, wardrobe, dialog, and blocking.
- Director of Photography (DP): Works closely with the director to determine the look of the film, lighting, and framing. Also referred to as a cinematographer.
- First Assistant Camera (1st AC): Ensures every shot is clear and in focus; also called the focus puller.
- Second Assistant Camera (2nd AC): In charge of the slate (shot number, take number) and holds it in front of the camera before each shot.
- Camera Operator: Operates the camera at the direction of the DP.
- Film Loader: Handles the film before and after exposure, ensures its secure transport, keeps track of film stock during production.
- Steadicam Operator: Specially trained camera operator who handles motion-stabilized camera rig.
- Gaffer: Also called the chief lighting technician. Responsible for the design of a production's lighting plan.
- Best Boy or Best Babe: Assistant to the gaffer or key grip (see below), responsible for the electric truck, rentals, staffing, and other electrical issues.
- Lighting Technician: Sets up and controls lighting equipment and electrical power on set.
- Key Grip: Grips are technicians who move and set up non-electrical equipment—such as flags, overheads, and bounces—in coordination with the lighting department. The key grip is the chief in charge of grips on set.
- Dolly Grip: Responsible for the movement and placement of dollies, cranes and other heavy equipment on which cameras and camera operators are placed.
- Production Sound Mixer: Ensures the sound is properly recorded and mixed on set. They also select microphones, operate sound recording devices, and sometimes mix audio signals.
- Boom Operator: Holds the boom microphone and is responsible for mic placement and movement during filming. They make sure the mic doesn’t show up in the shot. On smaller sets, the production sound mixer might do this job.
- Set Decorator: Responsible for decorating and dressing sets during production.
- Props Master: In charge of finding and keeping track of all the props that appear on screen to add authenticity.
- Costume Supervisor: Works with costume designer to manage on-set wardrobe. Formerly called wardrobe supervisor.
- Makeup Artist: Chooses and applies appropriate makeup to the actors.
- Hairdresser: Styles the actors’ hair and is responsible for upkeep. On a low-budget production, the makeup artist and hairdresser is usually one and the same.
- Stunt Coordinator: Casts and supervises stunt performers. Designs and supervises all on-set in stunts in collaboration with director and DP.
- Caterer: Prepares meals, snacks and craft services table for cast and crew.
This is the final stage of filmmaking, when footage from principal photography is edited, and sound, music, and visual effects are added.
- Editor: The creative head of the post-production process, the person who works closely with the director to assemble and cut principal photography into the finished film.
- Sound Designer: In charge of post-production sound on a film, working closely with the director. Also called Supervising Sound Editor.
- Sound Editor: Assembles and edits all sound effects.
- Foley Artist: Creates post-production sound effects in sync with the final edit of a film.
- Visual Effects Editor: Works under supervision of the Visual Effects Supervisor to add post-production visual effects to final cuts of live action sequences.
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