What Do People in Hollywood Actually Do?

caricatures of various movie crew members in Hollywood
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

So you moved to LA to work in Hollywood, but when you got your first PA job you couldn't tell an AD from a gaffer? Get ahold of yourself: we talked to Jenn Semler -- a producer (er... co-producer, see below) who's worked on major productions to tell you exactly what each of those people on set do, so you're not asking the grip to do the best boy's job:

Actor (male or female): If you are lucky, the only people who show up on screen when your film is finished.  

Art Director: The right, or left, hand of the production designer. The Designer decides what the world is, and the Art Director works with the entire art department to make sure that vision happens. Most of the time they also have to do all that work and keep the entire department on time and budget. 

Associate Producer: To quote David Mamet from State and Main,"[The credit is] what you give your secretary instead of a raise."

Assistant: There isn't enough space on the internet to list all the things an assistant does, but here goes a try: 1. Make coffee 2. Answer phones 3. Purchase gifts 4. Book travel 5. Do script notes 6. Get their boss home safe and alive every night 7. Etc. 8. Etc. 9. Etc.

Assistant Director (AD): If the director steers the ship, the AD makes sure he has the tools to do it. The AD sets the schedule and tries their VERY best to keep everyone on it. 

Best Boy: Assistants to their department head (either Gaffer, see below, or Key Grip, see below below), they work hella hard and always have various types of tape and cable ties at the ready.

Catering/Craft Service: They hold the cast and crew in their hands by keeping them fed, hydrated, caffeinated, and happy. For those that behave, they may also keep a small stash of your favorite treats hidden away on your rough days.

Co-Producer: Most of the time just as important as an Executive Producer or Producer but makes significantly less money :-) 

movie crew members in Hollywood, California
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Director: The leader of the pack, the righter of the ship and, if they know what is good for them, the buyer of the first round after wrap.

DP/Director of Photography/Cinematographer: Runs the camera crew to make the visual and lighting magic -- hopefully, super well supported by the grip and electric department. Some even throw that camera on their shoulder and operate. Sometimes while doing so they fall down. It's funny.

Editor: The person who shapes the movie into what it becomes. The right (or left) hand of the director and the person most relied upon to fix what is wrong well after the fact. 

Executive Producer: Up for grabs. The money person, the idea person, the line producer, the agent, or manager for the writer/director/actor or someone with the golden ticket. 

Gang Boss overseeing construction crew
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Gang Boss: I'm pretty sure sometimes they are just called construction foremen, but why would you call yourself that if you could go by GANG BOSS. Their job is to oversee the construction crew and make sure everything on set gets built as it should. 

Gaffer: The chief electrician and, hopefully, the DP's bestie.

Grip: They build and maintain everything that the camera goes on like a dolly or a crane, and also help set up all the stuff that the lighting equipment goes on. 

Producer: What they actually do is totally up for the grabs -- either they handle the money, or they're the boss, or they're just also someone with the aforementioned golden ticket.

Production Assistant (PA): Does just what the job says -- assists the production in a variety of ways. They always carry a walkie talkie. They're also the first person you should befriend on set because they can get you what you need -- whatever that is.

Production Designer: The person responsible for the overall look of the film. They chat with the director and bring (with the help of a sizable art department) that vision to life.

Production Supervisor: It can be SO many different things. But the best ones are like ghosts because they do all the things that need to get done and no one even notices they needed doing. 

script supervisor on movie set
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Script Supervisor: Watches everyone like a hawk. It is their job to monitor action, wardrobe, props, set dressing, and hair and makeup on screen. Basically if in one take the actresses' hair is up and she walks to the right, it needs to stay up and she has to always move to the right and it's the scripty's job to make sure that happens. Sometimes they call the job continuity supervisor. Sometimes.

Second Unit: The gaggle who shoots the "other stuff" for a movie. Mostly anything not involving the principal cast -- like action scenes, or pick up shots.
Writer: They created, whether originally or through adaptation, the world that got everyone excited about making the movie.

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Jeff Miller is the editor of Thrillist LA and has never worked on a film set, but he's visited a few of them. Find him on Instagram at @jeffmillerla and on Twitter at @ThrillistLA.

Jennifer Semler currently works in film production but her first job in LA was wrangling psychics. No seriously, she was responsible for the whereabouts of 20 psychics.