The Technical Departments include: grips, electrics, sound and data imaging technicians and they all revolve around the Camera Department, which is arguably the most important of the technical departments. These highly-skilled crew members all work closely together in order to produce the best possible images and audio for a TV programme. Technical workers in TV are referred to as ‘Crew’, and are generally employed during production, though senior technical members (Heads of Departments) usually come on board earlier in pre-production.
The Camera Department exists in varying degrees in the world of TV and is headed up by the director of photography or lighting cameraman. The DOP is in charge of the overall look of the production. The DOP sometimes camera operates, but if the production budget allows, the following crew are employed to support the DOP: camera operator, focus puller, clapper/loader, camera assistants, camera trainees, and a digital imaging technician (DIT) who is an on-set expert in digital cameras required to make adjustments to the multitude of variables available in the camera to manipulate the resulting image. Productions that require a large camera crew are usually scripted drama of some kind, be that soap, scripted reality or the major television dramas. You can also find larger camera crews on entertainment programmes which require multiple cameras. On reality shows camera crew are almost extinct, with duties fall to the PD or shooting researchers.
The Electrical Department provides the lighting for any production that wish to use lighting equipment. The Electrical Department also works closely with lighting companies, who usually supply the heavy duty equipment. The Electrical department safely rig and set lighting in line with the DOP’s plan and then de-rig the equipment after production wraps, then return it to the lighting company.
The Sound Department is responsible for recording full clean dialogue, wild tracks, off camera lines, room tone and any live action special effects during the production process. The Sound Department is one of the smallest on set, but heavily involved in all aspects of the shoot. Even when there is no dialogue the sound team will record a guide track and atmos to be used in post production. On most factual programming the sound department consists of one sound recordist on larger productions, many productions will require the camera man to me monitoring sound also. Again, scripted drama often requires a larger team of mixers and sound supervisor or one production sound mixer and assistants depending on the requirements of the shoot.
All technical Production crew have an eye for detail and high levels of accuracy in order to carry out intricate technical instructions under tight time constraints. They can be brought in last minute or be attached to a production for a number of weeks. If they work predominantly in broadcast, freelance crew will work over multiple genres of television, plus promos, digital content and corporate films.
On documentaries or small one-off specialist factual programmes, the camera department may be a one-man/woman band. camera assistants are scarce. Due to budget cuts after the credit crunch - camera ops and assistants have been phased out and shooting teams now regularly consist of: self shooting producer/director assisted by a runner, assistant producers or researcher - everyone involved will be more multi-skilled and hands-on. Be prepared to take on camera assisting responsibilities and label stock/rushes and other materials. The junior team maintain and prepare camera accessories, sound and lighting equipment, and occasionally assist with data wrangling, operate a second camera and direct questions to contributors.
Entertainment shows employ tons of cam assistants. Some game shows will have 10 cameras rolling at once, with 5 assistants, and a DIT, who can also rig up GoPro’s with the assistants. On a show like Dragons Den, there could be as many as 3 assistants. So if it’s a bigger crew you’re more likely to get assistant positions, as there’s much more cable running, rigging GoPros, lights, grips etc. In situations like these you will have a sound recordist attached to the each of the main cameras, or it it’s a studio production like Strictly or Britain's got talent sound is run to the gallery.
Children’s TV/Comedy/Drama/Entertainment (soaps):
Camera assistant positions are commonly found on large scale children’s TV, comedy and entertainment productions that can justify the extra hands and costs. They are less frequently found on documentary and factual programmes, which tend to have very low budgets and small crews, or use self-shooting PDs/lighting camera operators. In most areas of the industry, the position of camera assistant is regarded as the most junior role. You wouldn’t want to confuse an assistant with a focus puller - as focus pullers need to have received some training or worked on short films to make sure their technique is air-tight. In many areas of the industry you can bite the bullet and make the step up when called for, but if you are talking a step into this role you have to come up with the goods. You may find a focus puller, clapper loader and assistant on the same production (drama or comedy/sitcom), but the assistant won’t be handling the camera or lenses - they will just be concentrating on giving general support to the whole Camera Department.
Usually shot in a studio environment with a gallery or something similar, assistants can be found if the production have some track in that day, or need some extra hands. Some channels will be filming concerts or backstage interviews which can often need camera assistants to help with a multiple camera set-up.
The OB truck is the hive of activity when working in outside broadcast. You will most likely find camera operators and - depending on the scale of the project - camera assistant. The OB truck is the home of the broadcast technician, but you will also find camera operators and an audio technician and mixer. Depending on the scale of the production junior broadcast technical roles can also be found.
The entry level positions for the Technical Departments in TV production are:
2nd Assistant Camera
Junior Lighting Technician
Common TV Career Routes:
Runner > Camera Assistant > Lighting Camera/Studio Camera > Camera Supervisor
Runner > Camera Assistant > Focus Puller > Camera Operator > DOP
Logger > Data Wranger > DIT
Camera Assistant > Data Wrangler > DIT
Trainee/Apprentice > Spark > Best Boy > Gaffer > Lighting Director (studio only)
The hierarchy of the Camera Department on factual/children’s TV/music TV/documentary/entertainment/sports/OB. Not all of these positions will be present.
Data Information Technician (DIT, usually running their separate workload but part of the Camera Department)
DOP or Lighting Cameraman
The hierarchy of the Lighting Department mainly present in entertainment/music TV/childrens TV/comedy:
Gaffer (also know as Chief Lighting Director, or Lighting Director/Designer) most senior position, can combine all roles in one, or separate if the budget allows
Lighting Designer (more common on theatre or massive entertainment shows which require a lot of pre planning)
Spark(s)/Lighting Technician/Electricians (sometimes separate, sometimes combined positions)
The hierarchy of the Sound Department mainly present in Entertainment/Music TV/Reality TV/Documentary/OB:
The hierarchy of the Sound Department mainly present in comedy/children’s TV/drama:
Boom Operator (1st Sound Assistant)
Areas of the industry these entry level jobs could lead into:
Audio Post Production