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A gaffer in the motion picture industry is the head of the electrical department, responsible for the execution (and sometimes the design) of the lighting plan for a production. Gaffer, outside of the motion picture industry, is a traditional British English word for an older man or boss. It is essentially a variant on grandfather, used as a term of respect for a village elder, and applied to those in charge of workers since the 19th century. Gaffer within the motion picture industry originally related to the moving of overhead equipment to control lighting levels using a gaff. It has been used for the chief electrician in films since 1936.[1] His assistant is the best boy.[2]

Sometimes the gaffer is credited as Chief Lighting Technician (CLT).

Experienced gaffers can coordinate the entire job of lighting, given knowledge of the time of day and conditions to be portrayed, managing resources as broad as electrical generators, lights, cable, and manpower. Gaffers are responsible for knowing the appropriate color of gel (plastic sheeting) to put on the lights or windows to achieve a variety of effects, such as transforming midday into a beautiful sunset. They can re-create the flicker of lights in a subway car, the motion of light inside a turning airplane, or the passage of night into day.

Usually, the gaffer works for and reports to the director of photography (the DP or DOP) or, in television, the Lighting Director (LD). The DP/LD is responsible for the overall lighting design, but he or she may give a little or a lot of latitude to the gaffer on these matters, depending on their working relationship. The gaffer works with the key grip, who is in charge of some of the equipment related to the lighting. The gaffer will usually have an assistant called a best boy and, depending on the size of the job, crew members who are called "electricians", although not all of them are trained as electricians in the usual sense of the term. Colloquially they are known as 'sparks'.

Many gaffers are expected to own a truck complete with most basic lighting equipment and then rent extra lighting equipment as needed.

The black tape which is used for temporary fixing of cables etc is thereby known as gaffer tape.


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary accessed 15 May 2009
  2. ^ Taub, Eric (1994). Gaffers, Grips, and Best Boys. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 153. ISBN 0-312-11276-9. 


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