Grips are the “make it work” people. They are trained in the art of pulling solutions out of thin air. The grip department, as its namesake indicates, is the keeper of the bag of tricks, and good grips have a gadget or gizmo for every potential need—or they can bend, twist, or cut something to work. Primarily the grip department is concerned with cutting light (the saying goes that electricians make the light and grips make the shadows) and facilitating camera movement. Grips also move set pieces, hang lights, lay dolly tracks, rig camera cranes, and spot camera operators.
A grip can be specialized, like a dolly grip or crane operator, or a generalist. In either case, the grip answers to the best boy grip and key grip. A set ops grip helps achieve desired lighting conditions by setting flags and bounces. Larger productions will have a specific technician (the dolly grip) responsible for operating the moving camera platform (the dolly). Rigging grips assist in the setup of lighting effects, work with the leadman under the direction of the construction coordinator on scenery and sets, and pre rig camera and crane setups. During photography this person works under the direction of the key grip.
Maintenance, repair, and inventory control of grip department gear—C-stands, chromakey backdrops, flags, plates, cable, jibs, and track—is the job of the best boy grip (or, on smaller productions, the second grip). An entry-level grip is someone with a general knowledge of the department who is capable of stepping in to any of the roles under the best boy grip, and helps out where needed—loading and lugging gear, building catwalk, flying drops, striking setups.
Most important, though, the grip department is responsible for the safety of all rigging on the set. The lights hanging overhead, the backdrops balanced behind the actors, the cameras in midair, ramps stunt performers launch themselves off—grips rig all of these, and everyone on the set puts their trust in this crew’s careful work.
Skills & Education
A film and television production degree is not required, though training is a must. Grips are responsible for hundreds of pieces of equipment; production courses are worth it just to learn the terminology. If you don’t know the difference between a cucoloris and a floppy meat axe, maybe you should consider taking a few courses in production process and cinematography. Most universities and community colleges offer film/TV programs, IATSE has a limited-access apprentice program, and industry workshops can offer a preliminary introduction to the duties of the grip department. A grip should be mechanically inclined and understand electricity, lighting, and color. Many working grips have a professional background in commercial or residential construction, and they must have extensive safety training.
What to Expect
This crew does a lot of heavy lifting and manual labor. Safety is always the first priority for a grip; if a crane or set piece comes down, the key grip may face serious legal consequences. You must be comfortable with long hours, travel, and working in all weather conditions. The charisma to develop good working relationships with all types of people is imperative for this freelancer. Most of all, a strong work ethic is a must—the lazy need not apply. Grips are right in the thick of the production process and have significant opportunities to work closely with DPs, ADs, and other production staff. A grip with a hefty résumé of credits can move up to become best boy grip, key grip, or eventually a DP.
Have some feedback for our editors? Contact Us