The large crews that are associated with modern big budget Hollywood films reflect not only the scale and scope of the production but also a sophisticated division of labor. Early films were smaller and thus far simpler in this regard. It was not uncommon in early films for one individual to act as cameraman and director, performing all the necessary duties: selecting the subject, shooting, developing, printing, editing, and exhibiting the movie. As films became more complex and increasingly relied on staged rather than documentary subjects, a division of labor appeared between camera operator and director. This task specialization, which eventually gave rise to distinct occupational categories, set the stage for further specialization as production companies discovered the economic advantages of simultaneously producing a range of longer films. The key to realizing these advantages was the accumulation and management of personnel and resources on a large scale. However, making efficient use of resources and personnel on this scale depended on achieving labor economies. Influenced by Frederick W. Taylor's concept of "scientific management," producers sought and promoted greater efficiency by increasing task specialization in film production, which by its nature is the most labor intensive, and thus most costly, part of their business.
The rise of the studio system in the United States in the early twentieth century reinforced the link between economies of multipicture production and greater division of labor. The studios were instrumental in creating the system of labor division that has continued to characterize most feature productions. The hallmark of this system is the way that film crews are organized into departments, each of which has distinct responsibilities in the filmmaking process. Each of these departments employs a range of individuals with specialized expertise, who work as a team to create the finished product.
Technical innovations have altered filmmaking practice and led to the creation of new roles while reducing the need for others. For example, the introduction of synchronized sound in the late 1920s required a whole string of crew members to set up and operate recording equipment and to edit the sound during post-production. Conversely, the development of high-quality digital cameras means that a professional looking film can now be made without some of the crew previously required to handle the more wieldy 35mm camera and the substantial lighting it demands. The division of labor and occupational structure of modern film crews are therefore subject to changes in technology, expertise, and professional regulations.
The involvement of some members of the team may be confined to either the beginning or the end of the production process. For example, the involvement of scriptwriters often ends before filming starts, whereas the visual effects team is usually not involved until the shoot is over. In general, however, the stage at which specialists become involved varies from film to film. Title sequence designers, for instance, may work with the director from a very early stage in the production, as they did for Fight Club (1999), or may be brought in during postproduction, when a less ambitious title sequence may be one of the last elements to be added. There are some crew members, most notably the producer and usually the director, who tend to remain with the production throughout the process, largely because they are essential for the cohesion and continuity of the project.
The size and diversity of modern film crews has led to an extraordinary proliferation of job categories. Most of these categories are in any case variations on the basic division of labor that operates in a film crew. This division of labor is well accounted for in the job descriptions of department heads who are employed on most contemporary films, as well as some of the more prominent roles in each department. The following descriptions are arranged in an order roughly chronological to the film production process, beginning with the producers' team, and progressing through preproduction, production, and postproduction.