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Women in Film Education (WIFE)

Participatory Photography at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema

Women in Film Education (WIFE)

Participatory Photography at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema


At the MHSoC, Film 2 and Film 3 production classes are two semesters long and are taught by either full-time or part-time professors. Every student is encouraged to submit a script, but only six are selected for production by a jury, which is usually composed of MHSoC alumni and/or graduate students. In these production classes, the professors help students develop their scripts into production plans and also teach them about different crew positions, according to industry standards. A class shoot always precedes the individual projects, and the crew (except the director) is assembled on the basis of a random draw. For the individual projects, however, the crews - especially the key positions - are largely determined by the student directors.

As our research participants have observed, a student crew often finds it hard to apply the theory they have learned to actual filmmaking. On the one hand, many have little experience of working with a large group of people. They are just beginning to understand the dynamics on a film set, such as how to collaborate with each other, respect classmates’ authority, and take full responsibility for assigned positions. On the other hand, while student film sets imitate professional film sets, they are not dictated by professional union rules regarding work hours, safety, and basic economic rewards. Thus, student filmmakers are in limbo: they are vulnerable to conflicts and exploitation, especially when a director’s passion for the final product overshadows the responsibility of maintaining a fair and humane working environment.  


In the fiction filmmaking classes, student film crews vary from 12 to18 members. The following list of crew positions, technical terms, and commonly used acronyms help readers understand the organizational relations and hierarchies in a student film project.

The Director

The director at film school is also the screenwriter and producer. She plays a leadership role in a film project, from conception to screening. She writes the screenplay, pitches the film to a jury, finances it, allocates funds, assembles and manages the cast and crew. She sometimes acts as distributor, promoting the film on social media and submitting it to film festivals.  The latter entails an additional investment as top festivals charge 100$ or more per submission. On a film set, the total number of actors and crew members may exceed thirty people. The director mostly communicates with the heads of various departments. Importantly, she plans each shot, choreographing the overall movement between the actors, set, and camera. Further, she oversees the entire post-production processes.


In film school, the director collaborates with her production manager (PM) and 1st assistant director (1st AD) to work out various issues such as the logistics, budget, and set management.       

  • Production Manager –PM
    The production manager’s main responsibilities include: production budget, local transportation, catering, equipment rental, and authorizing orders and expenditures.
  • 1st Assistant Director—1st AD
    The 1st assistant director’s main roles consist of preparing a shooting script from the shot list made by the director, producing daily shooting schedules, setting the pace on set, managing the actors, and facilitating the optimal condition for the shooting.
  • 2nd Assistant Director—2nd AD
    The main responsibility of the 2nd assistant director is to assist the 1st assistant director.   


  • Script Supervisor
    The script supervisor is in charge of continuity. Since shots are often filmed in a different order than they appear in the film being made, this person makes sure that various shots—including action and lighting—fit together seamlessly. 

Technical—Soft Materials (e.g., makeup, costumes, & textiles) Art Department

Led by the art director, this department contributes to the material appearance of the actors and the set.

  • Art Director
  • Prop Master
  • Costume Designer
  • Makeup Artist
  • Hair

Production:Technical—Hard Materials or Equipment (e.g., camera, lenses, microphones, & lighting equipment)

1) Sound
This department is responsible for the sound recording.

  • Sound Recordist
    The sound recordist manages the sound recorder, which turns the signal from the microphones into a digital file.
  • Boom operator
    The boom operator holds the microphone above the sound source such as an actor's voice.

2) Photography department
This department is led by the director of photography (DOP), who is the camera and lighting supervisor on the film set. This department is responsible for the lighting and recording images, and is composed of three teams: the camera team, the grip team, and the electrical team.

  • Director of Photography—DOP
    The DOP’s main responsibilities include: making plans of the basic lighting set-ups in advance, matching camera direction and lighting from shot to shot, determining exposure, setting the composition for the camera operator prior to each take (subject to the director’s approval), supervising all lighting, and taking notes of her lighting set-ups for continuity sake.

1)   The Camera Team
The camera team is in charge of recording the image with the camera.

  • Camera Operator
    The camera operator frames and records the image. Their assistants (see below) help assemble and take care of various equipment (e.g., lenses, the tripod, and the battery) and manage data storage.
  • 1st Assistant Camera (also called focus puller) –1st AC
  • 2nd Assistant Camera –2nd AC
  • Data wrangler

2)   The Grip Team and the Electrical Team—G and E
These two teams work in parallel to control the lighting of the set and of the actors. Where the electrical team is in charge of the physical lights, the grips manipulate the light without touching any electrical equipment by reflecting the light or blocking it with flags.

  • Gaffer
  • Chief Electrician
  • Head Grip
  • Best Boy


  • Image Editor
    The editors cut and assemble the raw images into a coherent film. This is often referred to as the final writing stage of the film.
  • Colorist (also called post digital imaging technician)
    The colorist digitally processes every image to achieve the desired hue and contrast.
  • Sound Design
    The sound editors and designers create the soundscape for the film (e.g., dialogue, ambience, foley, and sound effects), and insert the original musical score, composed by the music composer.  
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