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Key Movie Production Roles: Above the Line and Below the Line


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Movie production in progress

Filmmaking involves all types of personnel with different levels of work and importance in the project. Everyone on the staff is important in each movie production, but key roles don’t change throughout the production phase.  

If you’re working on set, you must be familiar with the terms above-the-line and below-the-line, referring to personnel involved in the movie. Each has a specific role and level of employment, based on different legal contract templates. 

Below, we will define each type of personnel and the level of their involvement and importance for every film production.  

Defining Key Roles: Types of Film Positions 

Above-the-Line Personnel 

Many advertising employees may be familiar with the term above-the-line. It is used for major advertising productions on a larger scale. There is a similarity in the level of importance for film productions, but it mainly refers to the higher-ranking personnel. 

ABL refers to essential and irreplaceable roles in the movie project. They are crucial parts of the film in key creative roles. The producers, directors, screenwriters, and key actors are all in the ABL classification. They are the most integral members of the final post-production cut. 

Not one can be replaced at any point, except for uncontrollable circumstances. For example, in the 90s classic film The Crow, Brandon Lee suffered a lethal injury during filming. Thankfully he’s done most of his scenes before the accident occurred. He was the first CGI-recreated actor for some of the remaining needed scenes.  

 Also Read: Contracts and Agreements to Protect Your Film Part 2

Meanwhile, on Star Wars Episode IX, JJ Abrams came back to replace the original director, causing a massive overhaul to the film. However, it was still in the beginning phase. 

An above-the-line contract includes a set budget already agreed upon by the film company and the person in that role. Whatever compensation and working conditions stipulated in their contract remain fixed throughout the project. Their documents are signed and agreed upon in advance. Any deviation or changes made by the company will mean a breach of contract. There are usually no changes made from beginning to post-production unless a new agreement or change is added.  

Below-the-Line Personnel  

Below-the-line staff members are mostly behind-the-scenes personnel and those with technical roles. Minor role actors and extras with no critical parts in the actual film are also BTL. Many of them can be contractual or temporary employees with a smaller or variable compensation agreement. They may or may not be part of the whole duration of the film. 

Also Read: Contracts and Agreements to Protect Your Film Part 1

A below-the-line contract is usually on a per-day and per diem basis. Some of the personnel may only serve at a particular part of the film as well. While many BTL staff may have variable payment arrangements, some are also set. The legal contract templates they use are often for non-regular employees. Some BTL workers such as set designers, photographers, camera crew, and post-production may be regular employees till the end of the film production, but their contract rates are much lower.

The Wrap

As part of the film industry, you must always protect your rights, whether you belong to the above-the-line or below-the-line category. Working with professionals like Creators Legal, who offers legal contract templates, is necessary for acquiring the proper working and compensation terms for everyone in the entertainment industry. 

Creators Legal is the first and only legal platform built just for Content Creators. Get simple, straightforward, and trustworthy creator contracts in a fast, easy-to-use platform. With a powerful guided Form Builder, a secure e-signature system, and your own personalized dashboard to store and organize all your contracts, you can get yourself protected in minutes without the need for expensive entertainment lawyers! 

Want to learn more? Check out, where you can get film single-use contracts or monthly and annual subscriptions on all contracts for creators! Try us now.

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