What The Eff Is A Gaffer Anyways? (July 2006)
If YOU know what a gaffer is, then you're a supernaut because even I, the great and knowledgeable Squish, don't, and if you thought that you'd hoard such treasures all for yourself, then I'm just about to burst your bubble, cause I'm telling the world!
Alright enough of that guy, if you ignore him he'll just go away. Let's get to the nitty gritty. According to the dictionary, a gaffer is the head glassblower... and he blows the gaff, which is actually a very specific sail that they use in glassblowing... at sea...
Not buying it eh?
Ok, ok, fine. In this movie-world context, the gaffer is the chief electrician in charge of lighting on a motion-picture or television set, but wouldn't it be cool to have a glassblower on staff at every film?
To clarify, it's not just the guy who tells that OTHER guy, "Hey, Kid! Plug that in!" They're responsible for the design and planning of lighting, so another commonly used title would be Chief Lighting Technician, but that doesn't nearly sound as sub-culture cool.
Imagine you have the fog, the ghost, the graveyard and the clock striking a haunting witching hour. You still need moonlight, but it's 3:00 PM. The gaffer is the one to set the night on fire (so to speak). Or, think of a rocking subway car where our hero is getting mugged by pistol-totting thugs. The lights flicker just long enough for Protagonist to pull the emergency stop-cord and get away! Without the gaffer, not only would the getaway opportunity be impossible, but it probably wouldn't look like they were in a subway train at all. Need a sunrise on a cloudy day? That gaffer girl is the one who can set that right up for you! Get it?
Now don't go blaming the gaffer when a scene is lit up stupid. They DO answer to the director of photography, who is in charge of everything lighting, but the gaffer would normally be the hands-on person following their instructions.
Finally, before you run off to set your sights on this exciting and lucrative position, remember you'll probably have to work your way up the chain, becoming an assistant to the gaffer first, otherwise know as the best boy, or if you're lucky, you'll end up as the key grip, responsible for some of the lighting equipment. Before we sign off, think about that famous scene in Citizen Cain, where the newspaper man looks down pensively and all we see of him in detail is the streak of light across his eyes while the rest of him was silhouetted in shadow.