This is traditionally a male-dominated section of the industry, although some women now work in these roles. Members of the Lighting department work in studios or on locations, both indoors and outdoors. They must be qualified electricians and generally acquire their skills with a combination of on-the-job experience and college training. It is usual to start work in a lighting hire company to gain a thorough knowledge of all types of equipment, but some individuals start their careers working in theatre. Many of those working in the Lighting department become freelancers once they have established themselves in the industry.
All members of the Lighting department are trained to work safely with electricity, and all its obvious potential dangers. They interpret the ideas of the Director, the Designer and other departments such as Make-Up and Costume, and choose the correct lights and equipment to meet the production brief. Lighting has become increasingly sophisticated, utilising a variety of lamps and accessories to create special effects. Some lighting set-ups are quite simple, and only require minimal lighting and a minimal crew, but dramas and feature films may require several hundred lights, many of which are computer-controlled. The sheer variety of equipment means that Lighting Technicians, once trained, may take up specialist roles within the lighting team.
Gaffers check the list of lighting with the Best Boy to ensure that the correct equipment is ordered, and mediate between the lighting crew and the DoP. They must be able to suggest and interpret ideas, and have a thorough knowledge of a wide range of equipment, and of its operation. They position the equipment, and operate the lights during filming. Gaffers need to be committed to completing the job, often in difficult circumstances. They choose the lighting team, and must be aware of the legal regulations relating to working with electricity, driving, and employment. Gaffers act as the spokesperson for the lighting crew. There may be a considerable amount of travel involved in this role, and irregular, unpredictable working hours.
Gaffers must to be imaginative, and need high-level technical skills proven over several years of work. They must have strong problem solving skills. Excellent communication and team leadership abilities are required, plus the ability to quickly gain the respect of their crew. The role requires self-confidence and assertiveness, as they may have to walk onto a set of 100 people and direct others in their team. Fast decision-making is essential, as well as the ability to justify their decisions. The role also requires patience and tact, plus the ability to compromise, and to balance differing opinions.