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Gaffer/LD journey - certificates & courses

Dragos Czinjepolschi

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Good evening ladies and gents,


I just came back from my C&G BS:7671 18th Edition exam and realised that I'm still missing some information regarding the legal requirements to call oneself a lighting designer/gaffer/spark in the UK.


I thought maybe it would be a good idea to open a thread about these details especially here where(UK) you cannot just decide overnight that you want to be a gaffer but actually need to get qualified.


My questions are

  • What are the minimum requirements to call yourself a Spark or taken seriously as one? (besides BS:7671, I heard that also NA7909(3) is recommended to get things started)


  • Do you need to get certified as an electrician to even begin your journey towards becoming a gaffer?


  • In your experience as a gaffer, which qualifications/courses you absolutely had to get to be part of larger productions?


  • Can you be part of an union if you are not fully certified as an electrician? (e.g. BECTU)


  • How far can you wing it as an unofficial gaffer? (uncertified) Which is the point where the law prevents you from working on set no matter your experience?



Thank you for your time and hope other users will find this helpful ^__^




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Depending on the level you;re talking about, but other than productions at the lower end (smaller crew with one electrician) you're unlikely to walk in as a gaffer. .


Some further information






Any electricians I've worked with in film & TV are qualified, many have worked in the construction/building industry, others in theatre.,

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Hi Brian,


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question.


Level wise I would say beginner-ish?


Let me give you my example. I have 1 and a half years of working in a kit rental house and 1 year and 1 and a half of designing lighting on still sets*, stills and motion commercial shoots and full length films, shorts and student films**.


Even though I am not fully certified, I can advise my DP on what lights to use, how much power they draw, line loss, what kind of genny we might need and prevent the house fron catching fire :).


Is there a way to avoid the constructions path or owning a HGV license? It's not that I don't have respect for those jobs but I am interested more in the creative side rather than ripping cables out of walls to power up the set, hahah.


*which does not require any certification even if I was working with big continuous lights

**expenses only projects I joined for credits, no matter what kit we used




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So I understand there is no other way to get in than through the militaristic way?


According to Creative Skillset you need to have spent 2 years as an apprentice/trainee before becoming a technician. When can you even dream of becoming a gaffer? What about people who decide to join the industry at 35 with no qualifications? How long would it take them to become a gaffer?


Would it be better then to join the Camera department? I've seen DoPs who are 20 something years old and already made big budget films, without any legal impediments.




Returning to the main topic, does anybody know the specific c&g levels required to pursue this gaffer way?

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I'm not sure what the specific requirements are for each grade but I am aware that most people on a film set in the UK tend to have the same qualifications as people who do home electrical installations. Getting that qualification is not quick. I'm not sure if it's a legal requirement but it may often be a requirement of insurers, which means more or less the same thing in practice.


That said I have seen some astoundingly poor practice from set electricians all over the world and I suspect that in practice anyone with a basic understanding of loading and earthing protocol and the proper distribution of multi-phase loads would do fine. Not, I should hasten to add, that I'm encouraging anyone to work without knowing what they're doing.



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The only gaffer I know who started at 35 was a qualified electrician, started being gaffer on small commercials (basally himself and another electrician who worked for him), made contacts as they went along, before building up to feature films. He was in the right and time to do this and the other electrician has also done well. They also worked under gaffers on larger projects and both have good people skills.


Usually you have to start at the bottom in order to get in, because as gaffer you're going to have people working under you and you learn large amounts by working in good crews.

Edited by Brian Drysdale
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Phil, Brian, thank you both for giving me some insight on this matter. Although I'm very eager to pursue this path (and I'm not getting any younger hahah) I understand and agree that it takes time and things need to be done properly and in a safe manner.


I have to admit that I feel a bit discouraged. Becoming a domestic installer first takes quite s some time and quite some cash. Do you think it is possible to do an electrical apprenticeship while still working on small projects which don't require a qualification but pay the bills?


I will do some more research and try to find the exact C&G courses needed for domestic installers in the meantime. Stay tuned.


For people leaning towards the creative side of lighting would you rather advice them to follow the camera department and aim for the DoP position?


Thanks once again for your time!




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I know DPs who have used both methods, these experienced gaffers had worked for at least 15 years in the lighting department before becoming a DP..


You usually need work experience as well as the exams, that's the advantage of apprenticeships, the best offer both. Two years for an apprenticeship is a lot shorter than it used to be, in the past it could be 5 years.

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15 years, wos that sounds like quite a ride.


Where would be the best place to look for apprenticeship opportunities? It's a pretty closed industry and most of the times you have to dig deep in order to find people willing to train rookies.


Also, as a cinematographer, to what extent would you outsource the lighting design to the gaffer? Would you rather concentrate at the scene and movement and trust the gaffer to handle the mood or just leave the technical side to him?




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  • 3 weeks later...

Hello gents and ladies,


Question above is still available if you were wondering, hahah. ^__^


I'm back with info regarding the minimum legal requirements to start one's journey. After a couple of e-mails to BECTU I had the pleasure to chat with James Eade (C&G 7909 trainer) and Mark Thornton (branch secretary for the Lighting Dpt) who have both confirmed that the recommended minimum requirement for the electric department is a C&G 2365 Level 2 qualification (which is around 4.3k Pounds).


I will be back with more in the near future.





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