What is a grip?

Key Grip on The Alamo shoot (2004)

Key Grip on The Alamo shoot (2004)

In one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most experimental films, the famed director attempted to shoot a movie in “real time.” Through a series of long takes and hidden cuts, Hitchcock wanted to make Rope look as though it had been shot in one continuous take. Of course, it hadn’t been. A film reel only managed to take up 10 minutes of time back then.

Hitchcock’s Rope opened to mixed reviews, some unsure why a traditional method wasn’t used while others applauded the risk. Star James Stewart wasn’t a fan, feeling the director spent more time setting up cameras than on the characters themselves. Where most films of the era used up to a thousand shots, Rope took just 10.

What does this trip down memory lane have to do with grips? Without them, the film could never have been made. These crew members, led by a key grip, are responsible for the camera movement, working with camera dollies, and securing cameras on cranes, ladders, and other difficult shots.

Mastering Mobility

In Rope, the cameras had to be very mobile and were in almost constant movement. Because the movie was shot on a single set, backgrounds and furniture were moved – on queue – to allow the camera freedom. Actors had to be on the move, too: the large Technicolor camera used at the time needed a wide berth.

No wonder Stewart called it “exasperating.” But the endeavor illustrates the amount of work that goes into setting up cameras, dollies, and the tracks they used in film. Potentially dangerous at times, one of the camera operators on the film broke his foot on a dolly during the shoot. He was gagged and led out of the studio to make sure his yelps didn’t affect the scene being shot.

That’s one way to “break a leg.”

Of course, most cameras don’t weigh hundreds of pounds they way they did back then. Drone technology has also allowed directors to get shots that were once thought impossible. But when it comes to filmmaking, there will always be a place for dollies, cranes, and grips.

Bridging Departments

While the grip department of a feature film operates under a key grip, they are responsible for supporting other departments. They work with the director of photography (DP) as well as the electrical department to help build the stands holding lighting equipment. By bringing these two elements together, a shot can remain smooth and constant.

Grips working on building a movie setHowever, grips themselves don’t operate cameras or manipulate the lights or the wiring. That’s the domain of camera operators and the electrical division of a production company, respectively. They do, however, make it possible for camera angles to be set just so and allow or remove passive light onto the set.

Other members of the grip department include the best boy or best boy grip, which operates as the assistant key grip. They’re responsible for delivering direction from the key grip, hiring crews, and renting equipment. The dolly grip operates the dollies used to move the cameras and also works the camera cranes.

The majority of the grip department are construction and company grips. Construction grips work on building and dismantling sets and removing obstacles that might interfere with filming. Imagine the work put in by this crew when Rope was being filmed! Company grips take care of everything else under the eye of the key grip.

Some key grips working on feature film sets move on to other positions, such as a director of photography. They usually start out as a company grip or construction grip and absorb as much information as they can along the way. Others feel the best way to break into the business is to move to Los Angeles and attend a film school.

The Film Connection, however, has managed to combine the best of worlds.

Learn By Real-World Experience

We feel the best way to learn about the film industry is to get your hands dirty as soon as possible. That’s why Film Connection has connected with production company professionals in 43 states to offer a unique mentored externship education.

Where most traditional universities or trade schools can take years to finish, Film Connection programs and workshops last nine months at the most. But it isn’t the length of time that’s important, it’s what you’re doing during that time that counts.

You could spend it in a traditional classroom, working with other students on minor productions (which is awesome, by the way, if that’s your thing). Or you could use that time learning from the people who are already working in the industry, getting hands-on experience in your chosen profession.

There is still an eBook to read, tests to take, and a final exam to finish. But the education you get working side-by-side with your mentor which could range from doing 30-second commercials to being part of a feature film is different from anything you can get in a traditional school setting.

Of course, you only get out of our programs what you put in. Apply to Film Connection and see if you have what it takes.

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