Understanding On-Set HierarchyBy
Recently, we were on a set with a wide variety of people. It reminded me that as a parent of child actors how low in the TV and film set hierarchy we sit.
If you are newer to the biz, this is a very basic introduction to a general TV and Film set hierarchy. If you have been around a while, you will surely be able to come up with exceptions to this hierarchy, but as always, this describes generalities of Showbiz and is not written in stone.
Depending on the size of the production, this layer cake can have two or more layers of importance and ability of each of these players to act like a Diva on set or off. The most basic is, the more you get paid, the higher you are on the hierarchy. But most people know only what they are making. Another clue is where you hang out between scenes and where you eat. If your name is on a dressing room door, you’re pretty high up. Even if your title or job description is on a door, you are still somewhere in the top 50%. If between scenes and for meals you are outside in a tent, you are likely lower on the totem pole. So here’s a guide.
The top layer is occupied by box office stars, directors, producers, top-name writers, top-name directors of photography and in certain cases, investors and/or advertisers. Each has their own star power and the top layer shifts between these entities. Until you are earning millions of dollars per picture, you’re not here yet.
Layer Two includes ensemble cast members (or the rest of the ensemble if there is a major-named star), assistant directors, assistant producers, maybe the writer(s) and director of photography (if they aren’t top names), and specialized contributors like special effects experts.
Layer Three includes crew members (which can be its own layer for some productions), supporting cast, make-up, wardrobe, props department, assistants to people higher up, set photographers, electricians, lighting – just about everyone who isn’t you.
Layer Four includes craft services, gophers or runners, other credited, but un-named cast – boy 1, friend 2, and set teachers.
Layer Five includes background players or extras, janitors, laborers, honey wagon drivers.
Layer Six and below is us, parents or guardians of child actors on any level above. Please don’t take offense if you consider yourself higher, but the truth is, you are the only unpaid person here even below interns. They are also unpaid, but at least have been chosen by the producers and/or directors. We are just necessary distractions.
It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO of a multi-gazillion dollar business off set. On-set you are just a stage-parent. Like the old adage about children, Showbiz parents are expected to be “seen, but not heard.” You are expected to keep your child in line if they get unruly and to make sure your child is on set and ready to shoot when the director calls “action”. Other than that, no one involved in the production wants to know what you think.
O.K., that sounds a bit harsh, but one way to be quickly dismissed as troublesome is to assume as the parent of a child actor (even a star) that you have ANYTHING to say. The surest way to be out of showbiz almost as soon as you’ve gotten in is to be a parent or guardian of a child actor and to demand things on-set or off. (We’ll talk about how to handle problems on set without being labeled as trouble in a later blog.)