How to Become a Movie Set Electrician

By Juliet Myfanwy Johnson

How to get on set as a movie electrician is a mysterious process. In the film business, getting your first job is usually through someone you know, or a friend of a friend of someone you know. It's no different in the lighting and electrical department. A movie electrician (sometimes referred to as a “spark”) is part of a crew of people responsible for the lighting on a motion picture. He works for the “Gaffer,” the Chief Lighting Technician on the movie. The Gaffer’s immediate superior is the Director of Photography, or “Cinematographer." Most electricians don't start out as electricians, but get on set as a production assistant and gravitate toward the electric department. There are a few ways to make the pathway to your movie lighting career a little easier.

Go to film school. Film school gives you the opportunity to hone your skills as an electrician on student films, not to mention the chance to be a gaffer or cinematographer. There are always boards in the film department with flyers begging for free help on student films. It's a great place to get experience.

Use one of your film school contacts to get a job as a set production assistant on a film, since getting your first job as an actual electrician is not an easy proposition. The usual route to a film crew is as a production assistant, the lowly paid position on a film that interacts with all departments on the set. During the course of shooting, distinguish yourself as a hard and eager worker and become friendly with the electricians and gaffer. Make your desire to become an electrician known.

Without contacts or film school, you can try working at a lighting house. A vendor (like Leonetti's, for example) is a lighting house where Gaffers order all their lighting equipment rentals. Working at a lighting house will give you access to working electricians, and knowledge of all the electrician's equipment.

Check out IMDB.com. Internet Movie Data Base has a tab for job openings. Click on it, and see if you qualify for an entry level position as a film set electrician. Also check out Reelgrok.com and Mandy.com. Both sites have production job listings, and international film production resources.

Learn as much as you can by hanging around the working electrics and offering to help. Learn the different needs of a lighting department. Seek to learn the art and technology of film lighting, and remember to always be personable. People continue working when they are remembered for their positive attitude and strong work ethic.

Tip

Top film schools in the country include, NYU, USC, UCLA, and Columbia.