Ever consider how your favourite films and TV shows are lit? Ever wonder who’s behind it all? Well, that job is done by a gaffer - the person who executes the lighting plan behind the production. We discover what’s involved in this career, how it feels to be on set, and what Nottingham’s film scene is like…
I was quite naughty in school, and not very academic, which seems to be common among the film industry. I just don’t think school environments allow you to be creative and work physically or vocationally.
I only recently got into being a gaffer. I started taking an interest in the film industry at sixteen during college, where I was able to do some work experience with a tutor. It was my first taste of producing roles and it made me investigate other areas like camera or director work, but none of it sparked a passion in me. It wasn’t until I joined university where I got into lighting. Going to the Arts University of Bournemouth, there were lots of opportunities and I got experience in lighting for the first time on actual sets. I love lighting work on sets because it allows you to be so individually creative and constantly try new designs.
In lighting, you can either be a spark or gaffer. During uni, I had experience being a spark, which just means you’re running around doing a bit of everything. It was really cool getting a taste of the industry before even graduating, and I got to work on short films and music videos, even a bit of commercial work. I especially liked my time doing some videography for gigs. This was very different to anything else at the time as it was much more hands on and fluid.
There’s no real typical day in my job, as we could be anywhere at any time. The one consistency is getting the call sheet the night before. Also, it's always an early wake up since we have to go to set and check out the equipment. It tends to be the busiest time during the mornings because you’re having to set everything out, check it all works and then start placing things where they need to be.
Schools push you into maths and English but not enough people are given the opportunity to be creative and pursue a role you would find in the film industry
Talking to the DoP (Director of Photography) is always important early on too, so you can understand what they want it to look like and what they want from all of you as the crew. Once you’ve done the setting up and the scenes begin, it's very relaxed as you’re just waiting around until you get a call to change the scenes or pack up and move onto the next set. These are the times in which you’ll find me nabbing a few extra biscuits or snacks from the crew food! Having said that, they’re usually very long, twelve-hour days and get pretty exhausting sometimes. They go quickly, though, because you usually get along with crew members straight away and are busy with extra tasks you need to do while not working specifically on the lighting.
It’s always a challenge when you first arrive at a project because it can be quite nerve-racking meeting new people or not knowing anyone you work with. However, as you work in the industry more and more, you begin to realise how small it truly is. Recently I worked on a project with someone, and we found out we had a lot of mutual friends, so there was that instant connection and ease. That’s one thing I love about Nottingham, they have such a great community here and so many more youths joining the film industry that you get to meet and stay connected to. That also has the extra positive of using word of mouth to get a job, because if people want a spark or gaffer, lots of people can now recommend me, and if I’m not available I can recommend lots of others too.
There’s no real typical day in my job, as we could be anywhere at any time. You might be called up one day and need to be across the country
The nerves are also calmed by the fact everyone is so nice in the film industry, even actors! Although I must add, actors do live up to their name of being quite eccentric and strange… in a good way, of course! What’s funny about everyone in the industry is that they are always a climber or boulderer. Every single person in the camera or lighting team. I haven’t yet made the correlation as to why they always are, but I could guess it is down to the creativity of choosing your own route when climbing, as it is with lighting.
The job does require people to be very versatile because you might be called up one day and need to be across the country. So, I’m looking to move to London soon as there will be a lot going on there, but I will definitely keep a line of work in Nottingham because the growing scene and community here is indescribable.
Hopefully in the future I will be doing more youth work. There is this conception that the film industry is hard to get into and although it is true, I want to change that. As I mentioned, the industry is built off word of mouth and experience - some say to get into a job you need to have done forty days of unpaid work, which is just unrealistic for people from working class backgrounds. So, I want to help people who may not be able to do that and may be from disadvantaged backgrounds. Schools push you into maths and English but not enough people are given the opportunity to be creative and pursue a role you would find in the film industry that isn’t acting.
Being a gaffer constantly gives me the opportunity to be as artistic and creative as possible, and that’s all I would want for others to experience.
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