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In movie credits, what are the “gaffer” and the “best boy”?

Dear Cecil:

What is a gaffer? According to my dictionary, a gaffer is an old man, but I've yet to see a movie whose credits didn't mention such a creature. What do old men have to do with the making of movies?

George C., Phoenix

Cecil replies:

You Arizonans are so literal-minded. The gaffer is the head electrician in a film production unit, and is mainly in charge of the lighting. He is aided by his number-one assistant, the “best boy,” who also gets to be in the credits a lot of the time, right next to the “key grip” and the “second grip,” the head handyman and his chief helper, respectively. None of these is a title I would be eager to insert in my resume. However, the electricians at least get to yell such satisfying cinematic admonitions as “slap a jelly on the baby” (“please be so kind as to affix a gelatin filter to one of the 500-watt lamps”), which more than makes up for minor embarrassments of nomenclature, to my way of thinking.

Cecil Adams

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