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Have you ever wondered who the real heroes in a film production are?
Then look no further than the best boy.
A best boy is the role that keeps the project going smoothly and assists near and far with all sorts of tasks.
One of the tasks the best boy typically works with is the lighting. You can read our article on film lighting to learn more about it.
What is a best boy?
No, we are not talking about the nickname to your dog or some sort of children's pageant show. A best boy/girl is one of the most vital people on a film set and is underappreciated by the audience who watch the films.
A best boy is essentially the right-hand person to the gaffer. A best boy is to the gaffer what Robin is to Batman. You typically have a gaffer who is the chief electrician/lighting technician on a film set. The best boy supports that work by assisting them in whatever they need.´
The gaffer is typically associated with the adhesive gaffer tape and is known as the sticky tape that keeps a production together. So what is a best boy associated with?
Well, the best boy doesn't have any products named after them. But that has more to do with their name sounding like you're addressing a dog than their work contribution. In fact, best boys are more like co-pilots and sometimes cover for the gaffer when they're on break. The truth is that many best boys take the job to gain work experience and pep up their resumé to become a gaffer themselves.
Job description of a best boy
- Hiring a crew
- Managing the crew
- Workplace safety
- Managing the logistics of the equipment
- Rigging locations
- Coordinating with the different rigging and photography crews
- Making sure union rules are applied
And you might ask yourself, what is left for the gaffer to do? Well, that's why assistants are universally considered underappreciated.
Why are they called best boys?
The origin of the word best boy is unclear. Some suggest that it was a name used by tradesmen or ship crews for their apprentices. People believe that the name just carried over to the film crews.
The name sounds a little condescending to a grown person, but it wasn't meant like that when it was popularized. Since the 1930s, best boy has just stuck and become the norm for most productions.
There are two types of best boys addressed on sets: best boy electric and best boy grip. The latter is sometimes called assistant chief lighting technicians.
What is a best boy electric?
The best boy electric is the name given to the second in command to the gaffer in charge of electricity. The best boy electric mainly works as a foreman of the electrical team and manages the day-to-day activities.
What is a best boy grip?
The best boy grip focuses on the lighting and mainly assists the key grip. The best boy grip is the foreman of the grip crew and manages the day-to-day activities.
What does a best boy do?
The best boy electric ensures that all the cables, generators, and other electrical equipment are placed correctly. The electrical equipment must be functioning and not be in the way of the crew or set design itself. You can't have the electrical cables sneak into shots of the production, and that is, among other things, what the best boy electric makes sure of.
The best boy electric also manages the schedule and paperwork for the electrical department, oversees loading and unloading of trucks, monitors different repairs, and oversees the pre-lighting on the production.
They also communicate and handle all of the logistical needs for each scene and ensure that it can be shot on time.
The best boy grip does whatever the key grip needs them to do, which usually entails setting up the lighting on a set and managing the rest of the lighting department.
Film lighting is vital for any production and one thing that most common moviegoers do not even think about. But it really does make or break a movie. Whether it is key light or film noir lighting, it sets the tone for the scene.
And that is why the best boy grip is an invaluable role in the production crew. They overview all of the lighting equipment and people involved in the setup. The best boy grip also oversees other grip activities such as dollies, cranes, rigs, and other camera equipment.
4 Skills needed to be a best boy in film
Several skills define the best boy, and the best boy is typically defined by their versatile toolbox. We have gathered a few skills vital to have to become the best boy on a film set.
1. Attention to detail
The best boy must have an attention to detail when approaching their work. Film productions are typically expensive, and time equals money. So the production must be going as smoothly as possible.
If the best boy accidentally leaves a cable in the shot, the electricity isn't working, or equipment/staff is missing, that means delays. That's why they should be very meticulous when they approach their work.
As explained earlier, lighting is a vital factor in film production, and the lighting should be just right for every scene. Therefore, the best boy must ensure that the lighting matches the stage and the actors or set it is lighting up.
2. Communicative skills
Communicative skills are vital in many workplaces, and in film production, that is no less true. The best boy is typically in charge of managing and coordinating a larger crew, and therefore communication skills are needed.
They need to clearly explain to people what they have to do. They also have to communicate with many different people and understand that not everyone communicates in the same way.
Film production can be a stressful and intimidating environment. Best boys should always make sure that they are not imposing unnecessary stress upon their crew.
The best boy must be flexible and adaptive and understand that things will change and go wrong in film production. No matter how you plan it, problems will occur, and it is up to the best boy to fix them.
Furthermore, they must be flexible in the sense of their skill set and knowledge. They have a wide array of tasks that are not only related to lighting/electrical work but also management and logistics. That's why it doesn't hurt to have business experience or knowledge before becoming a best boy.
But that is obviously not a requirement, as a lot of it is learned while working. The best boy must always be ready to learn from their mistakes and experiences and take in everything the job entails. They can always use the experience in future productions.
4. Understand teamwork
Lastly, the best boy should understand that teamwork is the key to a great production. And they need to understand the principles of teamwork.
In some cases, you're working with different crews on each production which means that several times a year will be like the first day on a set. It is not easy to manage a new crew, but it has to be done. That's why understanding teamwork is necessary as you need to manage and coordinate these people on the project.
They also need to understand the chain of command in film production. And this has to be followed on a set, regardless of how they feel about it. Their job is to set the lighting in the way they're asked to, even if they disagree with the end product.
Up next: Explore the duties of a gaffer
The best boy is typically the assistant to the gaffer, and if you want to know more about what type of work they do, you can read our article on gaffers in film.
You can also check our article on filmmaking to learn more about filmmaking in general.
What is the best boy grip?
The best boy grip is the assistant of the key grip on a film set.
What does a best boy grip do?
The best boy grip works with lighting and other equipment like dollies, cranes, and rigs on a film set.
Why is it called best boy?
No one knows for sure. But it is speculated to be a nickname for an apprentice or originated from sailing crews.
What is the difference between a gaffer and a best boy?
A gaffer has direct contact with the film director, and the best boy follows whatever directions they are given by the gaffer. The gaffer determines how the lighting/electrical equipment is set up, and the best boy does it.