Making sense of the many positions on a film set can be challenging, especially when there are titles as whimsical and opaque as “Best Boy.”
Chances are you’re reading this blog post because – more than other positions – the job title of “Best Boy” has you feeling a little perplexed.
Perhaps you’re a Production Assistant working alongside a Best Boy right now and you’re dying (but too afraid) to ask “what do you actually do here.”
Or maybe you’ve seen “Best Boy” roll in one too many movie credits and you’ve decided it’s time to get to the bottom of this rather elusive role.
In brief, the Best Boy is responsible for managing either the electrical or grip departments on a film set.
While this sounds straightforward, it’s important to understand that the Best Boy’s day-to-day duties are highly varied and the skillset required of them is notably specific.
Luckily, if you’ve ever asked yourself…
• What even is a Best Boy?
• What’s the difference between a Best Boy Grip and a Best Boy Electrical?
• How much money does a Best Boy make?
Then you’ve come to the right place! In this blog post, we’ll provide you with everything you need to know about the Best Boy role.
Let’s get started!
The Best Boy is responsible for managing the grip and electrical departments. Typically there is one Best Boy per department, in which case they are referred to as Best Boy Electrical and Best Boy Grip.
In the simplest terms, the Best Boy acts as an all-hands-on-deck assistant for the Key Grip or the Gaffer – the respective heads of these departments.
A quick refresher:
• Key Grips are responsible for setting up and maintaining the equipment used by the camera and lighting departments
• Gaffers are responsible for the design and execution of the lighting plan for each scene
The role of Best Boy is as old as Hollywood. Nonetheless, the origins of its name remain somewhat of a mystery.
Many speculate “Best Boy” comes from the early days of moviemaking history when sets were far more casual and crews were exclusively male.
During this time, it was common for production houses to employ young boys to work as assistants on set. In particular, they were often called upon by Gaffers and Key Grips who required a lot of support when moving and setting up gear.
With this in mind, it’s no stretch to imagine an old-school Gaffer or Key Grip setting up and demanding that the crew gives them their “best boy!”
The Best Boy is a highly dynamic position that is responsible for juggling a myriad of tasks. These can range from physically moving gear to handling administrative duties, such as hiring key department personnel.
However, if you want to fully wrap your head around the day-to-day duties of the Best Boy, it’s critical to make distinctions between the responsibilities of the Best Boy Grip and the Best Boy Electrical.
Working with the Key Grip: The Best Boy Grip works alongside the Key Grip to ensure that all their department’s gear is set up properly and functioning correctly. They also provide the Key Grip with ongoing feedback about the camera, including whether their setup has achieved the desired “look” for the production.
Managing the movement of heavy equipment: Safely transporting all the heavy-duty gear from point A to point B is a job in itself. That’s where the Best Boy Grip comes in as they are the ones responsible for overseeing the safe and effective movement of all grip gear.
Managing the rigging of all grip equipment: As their title suggests, one of the primary duties of the Best Boy Grip is to manage the setup of grip equipment. This means managing the rigging of all on-set camera gear, including tripods, stands, static rigs, tracks, and cranes. In addition to setup, it is on the Best Boy Grip to ensure that all grip equipment is disassembled and packed up safely and securely.
Troubleshooting technical issues: To maintain the shoot’s schedule, the Best Boy is responsible for troubleshooting and swiftly resolving any technical difficulties related to grip gear.
Working with the Gaffer: The Best Boy Electrical works directly with the Gaffer to make sure that all of the set’s lighting gear is correctly installed and ready for the shoot. Together, the Best Boy Electrical and Gaffer ensure that the lighting reflects the director’s vision for each scene.
Setting Up Lights: In collaboration with the Gaffer, Best Boy Electrical is responsible for carefully planning and executing the complex lighting setup needed for their project. The goal here is to ensure that each shot is lit in exact accordance with the vision of both the director and cinematographer.
Running Electrical Cables: One of the Best Boy Electrcial’s main jobs is to manage the running of all electrical cables on set. Considering all the high-powered gear found on a film set, cable running can be a complex process that requires careful consideration from the Best Boy Electrical.
Ensuring Safety: The Best Boy Electrical ensures that all electrical equipment is set up safely. It is crucial that they are familiar and up to date with all safety protocols and regulations as they are the ones in charge of managing high-voltage equipment.
In addition to managing the electrical and grip departments, Best Boys are in charge of handling some very important administrative duties. These include
• Hiring electrical and grip crew members
• Creating and organizing crew schedules
• Managing the budgets of their departments, including monitoring expenses and reconciling invoices
• Ensuring that their crew and the equipment they use comply with industry safety standards and regulations
• Tracking and maintaining equipment inventory
• Communicating with the production office to ensure that all necessary documentation and paperwork is up to date and ready pre-shoot
Successful Best Boys typically possess a combination of formal education, on-the-job training, and natural leadership abilities.
Here are five skills that we believe every Best Boy must have:
1. Technical Knowledge: As a senior position on set, Best Boys must have a thorough technical understanding of lighting and camera equipment. For example, in many ways, the Best Boy Electrical functions as an on-set electrician. They must be educated in the fundamentals of electricity as a trade, while also being knowledgeable of film-specific lighting gear. Similarly, the Best Boy Grip will need to understand the fundamentals of cinematography while having the technical know-how to manage and rig high-end camera equipment.
2. Problem-Solving: When problems arise on set – which they will! – Best Boys must be able to think quickly on their feet. Common issues every Best Boy should be prepared to resolve include scheduling disputes, faulty or broken gear, and unpredicted weather conditions.
3. Communication Skills: Communication is constant in the day-to-day life of the Best Boy. They must be able to efficiently and effectively communicate with the Gaffer, Key Grip, and Production Manager while also delegating tasks to other members of their department. In a sense, they are the glue that holds their departments together.
4. Attention to Detail: Best Boys are constantly dealing with expensive and potentially dangerous equipment. Because of this, being exceptionally detail-oriented is practically a prerequisite for the job. They must be able to accurately ensure that all of their gear is being maintained and safely set up – this requires hyper-vigilance!
5. Ability to Work Under Pressure: Film sets can be highly stressful, especially for anyone in a managerial position. As a result, the Best Boy must be able to maintain a cool head, even during a production’s most intensive period.
Currently, there is no specific degree or diploma required to become a Best Boy. It is common for Best Boys to start as camera assistants, grips, and electricians, before gaining enough experience and skills to “level up.”
That being said, Best Boys do require a strong technical background. So if you are interested in this role, pursuing a degree in electrical engineering, video production, or a related technical field could expedite your journey to becoming a Best Boy.
According to GlassDoor, the average salary of a Best Boy in Canada in 2023 is $57,149.
However, both Best Boy Grips and Best Boy Electricals can earn anywhere between $50,000 to $100,000 a year depending on their hours.
It is also worth noting that Best Boys are typically paid an hourly wage that is managed by a union. In Canada, that union would be IATSSE Local 728.
Although Best Boys play a crucial role in the success of a production, their responsibilities tend to be misunderstood. Without a doubt, this has to do with their ambiguous job title. But also, it has to do with the fact that they occupy a dynamic managerial position that requires them to wear many hats at once.
In this blog post, we aimed to clear the air around the Best Boy by offering a thorough breakdown of their key duties and skills. If you take away one thing, it should be that there are two kinds of Best Boys – the Best Boy Grip and the Best Boy Electrical and that they are in charge of managing their respective departments.
Oh, and before you go!
If you’re interested in breaking into the film and television industry – as a Best Boy, perhaps? – then sign up for Toronto Film School’s industry-focused newsletter, Insider Advantage.
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