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Daylight exteriors: Where does the gaffer play in?

Jacob Mitchell

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Hey all!


Newer to the forums here. I'm shooting a senior thesis project coming up next weekend, and like any student project I'm trying to always up my game to the next level.


We're shooting a lot of daylight exteriors, and I plan on setting up a lot of 10x's with diff to just get some more control of the light and to keep it consistently soft on close ups.


My understanding of the workflow between G&E is still growing, and I was wondering what the gaffers role would be on a daylight exterior scene? It feels to me more like we would only need a KG on a day that we're just flagging, rather than creating light.


Wondering if anyone could elaborate more on this.

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If you are not running any lights nor using any electricity all day on a student project, then there isn't really anything for a gaffer to do unless they want to work as a grip that day. I don't know what your deal is with the gaffer, maybe he or she has a guaranteed number of work days so you might as well find something for them to do.


But often on a bigger day exterior shoot, there are still power requirements for different departments even when there is no lighting. On a day like that, a gaffer might decide their time is better spent preparing the next location or stage set, or doing some administrative work, organizing the truck, I don't know... and leave setting up some Honda putt-putts to an electrician, whatever. But on a bigger shoot, there is a chance that HMI lights will get used with a generator and then the electric department would be working as usual.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I agree with David entirely but David is very good and knowledgable and can handle a day exterior without a gaffer. A lesser experienced DP may need/want advice from a gaffer and or key grip about working with the sun all day, how to progress during the course of the day with the sun/clouds, and have advice about bounces, diffusion and negative fill especially during close ups and the like.





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Most of that -- bouncing or diffusing or reflecting sunlight -- falls under the grip department and the Key Grip, not the Gaffer.


Doesn't mean that the Gaffer won't have some good ideas on the topic... but generally if there are zero lighting and power requirements for the shooting day, a production isn't going to hire a Gaffer just for their opinions on dealing with natural light, unless they are on the payroll anyway because most of the other days of the show require lighting and power.


Of course, there can be good reasons to plan on having some lights available for day exterior work unless you are intellectually committed to just using available light on principle, ala Terrence Malick.

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yep here it is normal that the "gaffer" handles also the bouncing and flagging etc. everything lighting related which affects the final image. Grip department handles only camera related stuff like flagging the monitors, using dollies and other gear like tripods, etc.


Here the "gaffers" make lots of creative decisions on set regarding the lighting (working for the DP of course but when they know the style needed they are quite independent on set) which necessitates them to be available for all shooting days, even if there is just a styrofoam or two needed for the shot. In Finland the local term is broadly translated "Head of Lighting" ("Valaisija" or "Päävalaisija") although the term "Gaffer" is also used in the credits. In the States it falls more on the shoulders of the Cinematographer to make the creative decisions regarding lighting I think?

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Speaking from my own experience, as David more or less said the role of the Gaffer during daylight shoots varies depending on the scale of production...typically on a big shoot the gaffer just kind of hangs out while us electrics take turns baby-sitting the power run...if there's a night shoot later in the day or even in the week he may leave one of us in charge and go supervise that set up...sometimes he'll just take a nap in the truck (everybody needs a break sometimes, even the boss).


When I'm the gaffer on smaller, indie stuff...it still depends on the size of the overall crew. If there are enough grips then usually after running power to the set (which on a smaller operation usually just involves a couple stingers and a honda putt putt) I'll just sit in the truck and game plan for future lighting days with the best boy. if the crew is short on grips then I'll jump in and be a grip for the day.


I've done a couple shoots where either the KG wasn't the most knowledgable when it comes to lighting, or the DP and I had a relationship and he just trusted me, and I would basically dictate what diffusions and reflectors would go where, essentially taking over that portion of the KG job but leaving set up and rigging of everything under the actual KG's jurisdiction...but I prefer not to do it that way and let the KG be totally independent in his job, sometimes it just shakes out that way.


Sometimes on day exes I just find myself on cloud watch all day - I live in Texas, the weather can change on a dime here.

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