AKA: Chief Lighting Technician
The head of the electrical department, responsible for the design and execution of the lighting plan for a production. Early films used mostly natural light, which stagehands controlled with large tent cloths using long poles called gaffs (stagehands were often beached sailors or longshoremen, and a gaff is a type of boom on a sailing ship). In 16th Century English, the term "gaffer" denoted a man who was the head of any organized group of laborers.
The gaffer, or “juicer,” is the chief lighting technician and electrician. His primary concern is lighting the set, but he also supervises the entire electrical crew. Why “gaffer”? “The gaffer, some say, derives from the gaff pole,” reveals Stephen Kaye, “which was the pole used to adjust the lights up on the grid above the set.” Mr. Kaye is a gaffer and the president of Kaye Lites, a lighting rental company. “But that’s the problem with the film industry,” he continues. “It’s all lore, so it’s hard to tell where these names really came from.” While Kaye may not be entirely sure of the origin of his job title, he is certain as to why he enjoys his job. “The thing that makes lighting great,” Kaye says, “is that you can create moods, and paint with light.” The gaffer’s right-hand man is the “best boy.” These days, however, the best boy doesn’t just work with the gaffer. “You may now have a gaffer and a key grip who share the same best boy,” Kaye says. “It’s an important role, because sometimes the best boy needs to know everything.” The “key grip” is the person in charge of all the other grips – “key” as in “chief.” Kaye has done those jobs and knows they’re hard work. But they have benefits, too. They help you gain experience in many filmmaking disciplines. Also, they allow access to craft services. “One of the nice perks is that you can go to the craft-service table anytime and grab something to nibble,” Kaye says.