This morning, as I was drinking my coffee and catching up on my reading I came across an article which made reference to "all the gaffers" on a set.
This (and I've seen the same mistake before) makes me nuts.
There is one gaffer per shooting unit. He (or she) works directly with the Director of Photography (DP for short) to light the scene and is the head of the set lighting department. If you see more than one gaffer lighting a set at the same time, something's gone terribly wrong.
All those people moving lights around are called lamp operators or "juicers". As a side note, you are safe referring to "all the grips" on set, although grips do not handle lights. They have enough to do without having to do my job (which would be moving lights around and, it seems, confusing certain magazine contributors).
So, if you're thinking about dropping the "all the gaffers" bomb, please refer to this handy dandy guide to lighting-related crew folks:
Director of Photography: The guy (or gal) who makes the creative decisions about how the scene will be lit and shot. The DP is the head of the camera department, but he (or she) also decides the general look of the lighting and what "mood" the scene should have.
Gaffer: The gaffer (remember, there's only one), after discussing the scene with the DP, is the person who gets on the walkie talkie and tells us exactly what kind of lights to use and where to place them. The gaffer, since he (or she) stays on set, is also a good source of information about what's going to happen later in the day ("Remember when we wrapped that set because they were done shooting in it? Start getting it ready again. It's up next").
Best Boy Electric: The gaffer's assistant, so to speak. The best boy is responsible for hiring additional crew and laying them off when they're no longer needed, supervising the lighting crew ("You're late again, asshole. You owe everyone a Starbucks drink after lunch"), which can be like herding cats some days, ordering equipment from the rental house and making sure it doesn't get lost or damaged, and keeping track of everyone's hours so we get paid the correct amount. Unless we start to get peeled really badly, the best boy is never on set.
Lamp Operators: On set, our job is to carry out the gaffer's instructions about which lamps he (or she) wants and where. If we don't have a rigging crew, we show up early (a "pre-call") in order to run cable from the generator to the set and try to grab the best equipment staging area before the grips get it.
Key Grip: The key grip works with the DP and the gaffer. Grips don't touch lights unless they're being nice and helping us out. The rule of thumb is that anything which casts a shadow is grip - one can't just aim a light at a set and leave it, because of a phenomenon known as "spill". Lighting is a precise thing, and one only wants the light to shine on a certain area of the set (or the left half of the actor's face) - so the key grip instructs his crew where to place "flags" to keep the light only on one area.
Best Boy Grip: same as the BBE (best boy electric), different truck.
Dolly Grip: The grip who's in charge of the camera dolly. No, not the dress-wearing kind of dolly, but a very heavy wheeled hunk of steel which can roll (on metal track), and has an arm which can raise and lower the camera in order to create those fancy moving shots that take forever to set up and audiences don't even notice. Dolly track, when laid down, must be perfectly level or the camera shakes as the dolly's moved down the track.
Grips: Grips, in addition to precision shadow-casting, are responsible for general safety on set. They build ramps, reinforce stairs and handrails, move set walls, hang pipe grids and greenbeds (walkways which are suspended over a set), build tents outside building windows so we can shoot night scenes during the day, and assemble and operate those gigantic, complex camera cranes.
Don't believe those ads on the back pages of certain film-related publications ("Learn to be a grip movie technician in 10 days!"). Grip is not an entry-level position.
On a show with more than one shooting unit, these positions will be duplicated for the second unit, and shows with rigging units will have a rigging gaffer and rigging key grip with associated personnel. On shows without a rigging crew, the best boys are responsible for pre-rigging sets.
I could go on (and on and on and on), but I'll stop here.
If you're writing something and aren't sure about what any particular crew person does, please don't guess - just email me and ask. Although I sometimes take a few days to answer emails, I'll be more than happy to help.
Unless you want me to go insane - in that case, just keep it up with "all the gaffers". I'll eventually snap, I promise.