Maybe you read the term “Best Boy” in the credits of a film and you were curious because it sounded funny. Or maybe you’re working for a super small indie project and have been told you’re going to be a Best Boy but have no idea what that entails. So what is a Best Boy anyways?
Like many film terms, the term “Best Boy” was originally used to refer to the second in command of a ship’s crew.
The Best Boy for the lighting or grip department is the first assistant to their respective department head. They are the first person a Key Grip or Key Gaffer goes to when they need their crew to get something done. The Best Boy is essentially the assistant director of the grip or lighting department. The right hand man. The hand of the king. However you want to phrase it, the Best Boy is a very desirable position for grips or electricians in the film Industry.
Like all grip and electric jobs, the Best Boy is a union position. So unless you’re working on smaller non union projects, you’re going to need to earn membership at your local film union. It is not uncommon to have between 2 and 4 Best Boys on a larger film crew, as there may be separate departments for rigging grip and electric. Usually Best Boy positions are reserved for particularly skilled grips or lamp operators. If you are currently working as a grip or lamp op, we’d recommend working extra hard to impress your head gaffer or key grip if you want to land a job as a Best Boy.
The Best Boy position actually comes with a certain amount of power and authority. They are capable of answering questions directed at their department. If they are not, they are the main point of contact with the department head. As you will see with our list of Best Boy duties and responsibilities, Best Boys have a lot on their plate. As a Best Boy, you have the ability to delegate tasks to the grips or lamp operators. Just don’t abuse your power and use it to sit on your ass while everyone else does the work. Everyone will hate you and you probably won’t be a Best Boy for long. You’ll be a Worst Boy.
What does a Best Boy do?
- Whatever their boss tells them to – The Best Boy is the second in command, and answers directly to the head of their department. This means that your job is whatever the hell your boss tells you it is. He may need to leave for parts of the day and leave you fully in charge. Or you may work with department heads that like to take full charge without anyone getting in their way. The full extent of your responsibilities will be up to your department head. The following duties are average responsibilities that you can expect to be tasked with as a Best Boy.
- Be the point of contact between their department and Production – This one’s an important one. As a production assistant, my boss would often delegate tasks to me which involved querying or relaying information to a department. For example, “Talk to the electric department and find out how many additional hires they have tomorrow”. While I was still newer, these instructions were always accompanied with “make sure you ask the Best Boy and not the Key Grip“. You don’t go bothering a department head unless specifically requested to, and the Best Boy acts as middleman between departments.
- Crew coordination, management, and hiring – The Best Boy, like an A.D., is often responsible for finding additional crew members for their department. They will directly manage them on a macro level, deciding who works when, and coordinate them to accomplish each day’s workload.
- Take care of the department’s equipment – Equipment frequently breaks or requires maintenance, and as the Best Boy, you’re in charge of making this happen. You probably won’t have to
- Attend tech scouts – On tech scout days, the department head will usually send his best boy to take notes on necessary equipment, staging areas, special requirements and other important discoveries. In essence, the point of a tech scout is to plan out everything that each department needs to prepare for each individual location. This includes coordinating things with other departments and discussions with the director to execute his vision.
- Leading the setup of equipment for a scene – The Best Boy, being the one to attend the Tech Scouts, is usually on the same page as the department head. This means that a Best Boy will often find himself either doing, or delegating the setup of the lighting or grip equipment for a scene.
- Paperwork – Bet you thought you could get away with this one huh? Commonly most or all of the paperwork is delegated to the Best Boy. This includes compiling submitting the crew’s time sheets, filling out equipment orders, lost or damaged forms, and any other paperwork that needs to get done. Distro paperwork like one-liners, shooting schedules, and script revisions are all often delivered to the Best Boy as well at the Key’s preference.
A Few Tips on How to to be The BEST Best Boy
Most of these can be applied to any position in the industry, but I’ll try to stick to tips specifically geared towards Best Boys. I’ve never been one, so this is primarily compiled from interviews with Best Boys I know and internet research.
- Take initiative – You probably wouldn’t have climbed this far without organizational skills. But it never hurts to reiterate. It will be appreciated if you know what you need to do and do it without needing your hand held. Keep your department running in tip top shape without any instruction and your boss will love you. Although, see our section below about politics.
- Maintain strong connections – As discussed earlier, the Best Boy may be tasked with finding crew members, or hiring additional ones on large days. You need to be right in the middle of the network of local grips and electricians. This is also important because those people are the same ones who will hire you to work as a Best Boy if they end up being the key on a show. Become great friends with everyone and don’t burn your bridges.
- Be well organized – With all the paperwork and planning you will be doing as a Best Boy, you NEED to be well organized.
- Know the equipment better than anyone – Being the Best Boy means being responsible for the equipment. You need to be a strong leader and also be very familiar with the tools that you work with. Knowing how to rig your gels, run your cables and set up your boxes better than anyone else will land you jobs. Study all the equipment until you know more than anyone else. It’s called Best Boy for a reason.
- Be aware of the politics and personalities – Every film set and every department head will have a different personality and thus a different set of (unspoken) rules. Some key grips or gaffers may think that you are taking too much initiative and going over their head, preferring a more passive approach. Other leaders may hate your passive approach and wish you were more involved. There is no one right answer, and it is important to understand the people you are working with. This also goes for interactions with other departments as well.
- Work as hard as anyone below you – At the end of the day, it is important that you remember you are just as much an infantry man as you are a commander. You are responsible for all of the above duties, and when you’re finished with those, you are a regular grip or lighting technician just like any other member of your department.
How Much Does a Best Boy Make? – Best Boy Salary
Reading all of this may have piqued your interest in pursuing a career as a Best Boy. So now you might be wondering, How much does a Best Boy make?
As a Best Boy, your pay is going to be a little bit higher than the rest of the grip crew, but slightly less than the Key Grip or Gaffer.
Typically the annual salary for a Best Boy in the grip or electrical department ranges between $50,000 and $75,000 per year. This will vary depending on whether or not they are working on indie films, mid range films, or big blockbusters. Just like any other position, the hours are long. Sometimes reaching between 14-20 hours in a single day, up to six or even seven days a week. As a Best Boy, your hours may be even longer when you account for all the planning and work that you may have to end up doing during your off time. Just think about all that sweet overtime you’re earning though!