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If the thrill of being on a production set and getting your hands on the nuts and bolts of movie magic appeals to you, then being a gaffer might be the path that fulfills this passion.

What Does a Gaffer Do?

Gaffers are essentially in charge of lighting equipment and set-up in conjunction with a production's director of photography (DP). It is tough work involving the loading and moving of lighting equipment and understanding how lighting sets the scene for a film or show.

A Gaffer's work starts with setting up power and structure to all the lighting equipment. This includes running electrical wiring, erecting scaffolds or cranes and maintaining safety on the set.

Lighting on a production set is expensive so there is much at stake in how gaffers operate. As a gaffer is one of the most technically demanding jobs in production, selecting the right person is not a decision a DP takes lightly.


Gaffers are sometimes called Chief Lighting Technician or Key Electrician. The position is usually offered by a DP. The DP is looking for someone who is certified or experienced as an electrician. Just as importantly, a gaffer needs an artistic sense of how lighting works. It's also vital for gaffers to understand the effects of color and shading when working with lights in order to set a mood or create an intriguing scene.

A Gaffer's Role on Set

The three indispensible members of a DP's team are the key grip, gaffer and best boy. A key grip manages the DP's lighting and camera equipment, which is called rigging. It is the gaffer's job to power the lights and direct the best boy on their placement. With the immense variety of lighting available to productions, this knowledge is best gained in film school.

Countless productions are shot each day for movies, music videos, commercials and TV. There are many available gaffer jobs.

However, the field is competitive. Being qualified as an electrician is the critical part of getting an internship or apprenticeship on set. Though, an understanding of lighting and how it can be used to create effects will give a gaffer an edge in winning the best opportunities.

Technically savvy gaffers with film school lighting experience are the breed that help DPs win Best Cinematography Awards.

Start Toward Your Future as a Gaffer

Academy of Art University's School of Motion Pictures & Television prepares students to enter the film industry. Students receive incredible opportunities to share their work with the field's greats such as Tippi Hedren, Robert Butler, Steve McGlothen and others.

Through campuses online and in San Francisco, Academy of Art University offers accredited Associates (AA), Bachelors (BFA) and Masters (MFA) degrees in fields such as Acting, Cinematography, Directing, Editing, Producing, Production Design and Screenwriting. Continuing art education courses and pre-college scholarship programs for high school students are also available.

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