Life as a Grip
Get a grip! Well, you better if you want to make a movie or television show. Grips are the foot-soldiers in moviemaking. Yeah, if you’re doing something real low-budget, you can move all the equipment yourself. But if you’re on a professional production, the grips are the guys that get the heavy work done.
Grips work with the camera department and the lighting department to get the right equipment in the right spot for a shot. If the camera is mounted on a dolly or a crane, the grip is the one that moves that dolly or crane every single time in every single take to the exact mark to get the shot. The grip also moves all the light stands to their proper positions so that the gaffer and the electrical department can set up the lighting for the shot. Grips put together the rigging for situations in which lights might need to reach over set walls. And they’re responsible for all the hood mounts, side mounts, suction cup mounts and other mounts needed to attach film equipment to vehicles.
The formula for a good grip? A strong back and a quick brain. Oscar Branham is an experienced key grip who now works on the show “Entertainment Tonight”. When the show is on location for a press junket or an awards show, he’s one of the first people there, moving in all the equipment from the trucks. He’ll start getting the equipment off the carts and into the general position for the shots that will be needed. But when the director of photography shows up, all that can change quickly. They’ll need to shoot in a different direction for a better background. Or suddenly the sun breaks through the cloud cover and Oscar has to rig a big silk to cover the entire area. He’ll try to anticipate everything – and does a magnificent job doing it. But then the talent will arrive – and maybe they’re bald, so they’re too shiny for the shot. Or they’re shorter than the stand-in they’ve been working with. Changes always happen at the last minute – usually moments before cameras roll. A clothespin with some black wrap might quickly solve one problem; or a roll of neutral density gel might be thrown over a window that’s suddenly too bright. Usually when everyone else is taking a break for a bite, Oscar and the other grips have to change the set-up for the next shot. Oscar says he likes having interns to work with so he can teach them the ropes: what lighting stand works where, what kind of rig is needed for each kind of light. Plus it helps having someone else hump the equipment for a change. The only time Oscar can actually sit down and rest is when the camera is rolling… and that’s usually only for a few minutes. Then it’s back up, moving that stand, marking that position, pulling down that silk and getting a shiny board ready for the next bit of business.
It’s not glamorous, but it’s one of the most necessary jobs in the business. And one of the hardest. The grips are the last guys left standing when the production wraps – they’ve got to tear it all down for the night, get it back on the trucks… and get ready for a whole new day of the same thing tomorrow. But a grip like Oscar is proud of his work and never minds the sweat and the aches and the pains. It’s worth it when the shot looks like a million bucks.