The 5 Best and Worst Jobs on a Film Set
Which jobs on a film set are the best and the worst? It depends on whom you ask. I compiled this list based on my observations over many years of working on set, and I deliberately omitted the director and actor categories.
People working in departments in the categories mentioned may disagree that they’re the best or the worst jobs on a film set, but these are my observations. If you’re just starting in the industry, this may provide insight into various departments.
Here are my picks for the five best and the five worst jobs on a film set:
- Makeup and hair.
The folks in these departments work hard, but makeup and hair have a warm trailer to work in when the rest of us are running around outside in the cold at 6 am.
Then they come to set with their chairs and sit down while filming the scene, checking on the actors as needed. They have no heavy equipment to haul around all day.
If they have a good relationship with a particular star, they may be hired as the exclusive makeup or hair person for that star.
Makeup and hair people are highly paid, too. All in all, not a bad gig.
- Art Director.
I’m a big fan of all kinds of interior design, and the art director falls into that category on set. They design the look of the set, decorating the space in which the actors work.
Art directors generally do their jobs off production, so they‘re usually not on set when the camera rolls. That’s part of the appeal of the job. They’re a significant part of the production, but don’t have to be around on set all the time.
Of course, most art directors usually have to start at the bottom, which means they have to do plenty of grunt work to get to be art directors.
But every job has its downside.
- Sound mixer.
If you have an affinity for all the intricacies of the world of sound and don’t mind wearing a headset all day, this could be your dream gig. The pay is excellent, and sound mixers usually get a rental fee for their carts.
They get to sit all day, too, which is a plus with the hours we work in our industry. However, I don’t include the boom person in this ‘best’ category.
It’s too trying to hold up your arms all day holding the boom mic. My shoulders ache just thinking about it.
Unfortunately, the IATSE sound local is known for being notoriously difficult to join. Still, there are always non-union gigs out there.
- Costume Designer.
The costume designer designs the wardrobe look of a show. While contemporary shows may be all clothes buying and alterations, period shows mean the costume designer will be designing some incredible looks.
Think Bridgerton or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, with their period wardrobe, all of which has to be custom designed and made to order.
Like the late Edith Head, some costume designers have become legends in their own right, and their design sketches sell for top dollar as works of art.
Costume designers do an incredible amount of research to create the look of a show, but their work is sometimes the only thing that ends up being memorable in an otherwise forgettable film.
- Script Supervisor.
The thing I like about the job of script supervisor is that they are a one-person department that works with the director, and indirectly, the editor. But this is definitely a job for a detail-minded person.
The top script supervisors work on big films with high-profile directors. They get apid above union scale and have as much work as they want to take on.
As I've mentioned before, they also get to sit down, which is a definite asset. Script supervisor is a solid job for the right type of person.
And thank you to the script supervisor who gave me a clear Plexiglass ruler when I was a trainee. I still have and use it.
- Camera Department.
Okay, I know many of you will disagree with me on this, but any department where two people were killed on set in the past few years goes on the ‘worst’ list.
This job is especially hazardous on low-budget films, as evidenced by the recent death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and the 2014 death of camera assistant Sarah Jones.
Camera assistants are under constant pressure on the set and carry heavy camera cases all day long. Many report they don’t even get short bathroom breaks.
There’s a reason the members of IATSE Camera Local 600 voted not to ratify the IATSE contract. Those who work in the camera department feel many of their concerns were not addressed.
The camera department may seem glamorous from afar, but spend a day watching how hard and thanklessly they work. I’ll pass.
- Set Dressing.
Yes, I know I put the art director on my ‘best jobs’ list but set dressing is a lot of moving heavy furniture around, and the lowest positions don’t pay well.
The set dressers get the sets ready before the crew comes in to film. It’s a job for the young and robust.
I’m not sure if there are ways into the art department other than set dressing. If so, I’d pursue those if I wanted to work in this department.
- Grip and Electric.
Okay, it’s two departments, not one, but they’re both extraordinarily physical and demanding departments. My husband worked in set lighting for thirty-plus years and said all the cable-pulling, setting up lights, and loading and unloading trucks take a brutal toll.
Ditto for the grip department.
If you can survive the physical demands long enough to get into the best boy, gaffer, or key grip positions, it could be a decent career.
But neither department would be my first choice of jobs on a film set.
- Special Effects.
Today many special effects can be added in post-production, but there’s still work for the special effects department.
Some people enjoy this job, but it’s too dangerous for my taste. I worked with plenty of effects people in my career, and they’ve had to rig explosives and set up other hazardous things.
Try doing that when you’re exhausted after a week of long days filming.
- Prop Department.
There isn’t much downtime on set for the prop department. They have to hustle all day long, as there’s rarely a scene with no props in it.
I know prop people who love their jobs, but for me, there’s just too much to keep track of to make it a great job. And they often have to carry heavy stuff and rarely sit down.
I admire this department greatly and can’t imagine filmmaking without it. It just wouldn’t be my choice to do this job.
So that’s my roundup of the best and worst jobs on a film set. Feel free to give me your choices in the comments section.
See you on set.