Additional Key Positions

Technically under the umbrella of the art department, but often working independently in close consultation with the director, is the costume designer. This individual can make a critical difference in audience acceptance of screen believability. Whether for period dramas or contemporary films such as Juno, accurate, acute and sensitive wardrobe design can significantly augment the artistic level and audience impact of a movie. Under the costume designer is a host of other crewmembers – from head costumer, women and men’s costumers, and seamstress.

In today’s marketplace, product placement and effective use of established brands can make a difference throughout a film, but particularly in the area of clothes. Films have started and augmented clothing trends and the smart costume designer can subtly weave in established lines with off the rack thrift store duds. Good relationships with clothing designers can significantly reduce wardrobe department costs; even if many stars now get in their contracts the ability to keep the clothes they wear after the film has finished all its re-shoots. It can be a small price to pay to keep the actors happy.

It’s important that the costume designer, along with the hair and make-up staff, have harmonious working relationships with the cast. Nothing strains a production more acutely than a grumpy actor or actress who emerges out of the hair and make-up trailer in a bad mood that will only get worse during the course of a shooting day. If they also hate the clothes they’re wearing (and many actors do) the collective experience is that much worse.

The good costume designer will listen to an actor’s feedback and design clothes that are both comfortable to work in and consistent with the actor’s conception of character. The same is true of the hair and make-up designers, whose canvas, after all, is the individual actor’s face and body. Their opinions should count.

Two more categories are often overlooked as not being as important as the more visible keys listed above. These are the sound recordist, and the location manager.

The soundman plays a role that is often undervalued and under appreciated. The person wearing the headphones who yells “Speed” at the beginning of every filmed take to indicate that sound is being recorded is critical.

No one wants to be quiet on a film set, and quiet is all-important if location sound is to be used. The good soundman will find a way to triumph over the noisiest location, and get those few moments of golden silence that allow a scene to progress unimpeded, and contribute something immeasurable to the finished version of the movie.

Looped or ADR (automatic dialogue replacement) dialogue, which is added in post production and synched to the actor’s lip movements, never feels quite as real as, well, real dialogue recorded on the set in the moment that the actors are most in character and completely in the flow of the movie. That quality survives all the sound mixing and editing that a dialogue track undergoes, and still emerges as a significant element of a film story’s plausibility.

The sound recordist will own his own equipment, and will likewise usually come with a preferred crew, including a boom operator and a cable person, basically a utility sound crew member who literally pulls the sound cables that snake around a film set. The sound recordist’s role ends when production wraps, and then the sound editors and mixers take over. But they also appreciate the contribution of the professional recordist, who makes their job so much easier and the picture so much stronger.

Finally, a good location manager is worth his or her weight in production gold. Technically reporting to the production designer, the location manager (who may or may not also have been the location scout) usually works closely with the director, producer, line production/UPM, and first AD.

The ability to secure desired and necessary locations, to work smoothly with national, local and state film commissions and elected officials, to keep harmonious relationships with the community and the individuals who are inevitably inconvenienced by location filming, are the hallmarks of a good location manager. The loss of a location, particularly at the last minute, can be devastating to a production and demoralizing to the production team. With a good location manager on board, this rarely happens.