Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Behind the Scenes 9: The Grips Department

Question: What’s the difference between a grip and a PA?
Answer: A PA can spell “grip.”

The Grips boys are the butt of a lot of film industry jokes because they're the brawn rather than the brains of the film industry. That said, considering these guys often have to understand technical things like velocity to weight ratios and other stuff I have no hope of understanding, they can't be too stupid.

My note: While gripping is not exclusively a male job, in a line of work  that involves as much muscle as this it's rare to find a female grip.

"But what do Grips do?" I hear you wail.

Put very simply, the grips department is responsible for everything underneath the camera. So while the camera team work on the camera itself, the grips are in control of everything that moves or supports the camera - legs (tripods), dollies, jibs, cranes, tracks and other camera mounts.

Put even more simply, their job is to push, pull, mount and hang stuff.

The head of the department is the Key Grip. Aside from supervising where the camera goes and how it moves, he is often also responsible for safety around the camera.
According to one website I visited, the name Grip comes from old circus terminology. Since I don't know much about circuses, I can't comment.

The key's chief assistant is the Best Boy. As with the Lighting Department, the Best Boy is the most senior assistant. On larger shoots and feature films, he also handles the logistics and paperwork for the team.

On our smaller shoots we often only have one key grip and one assistant, but the more complicated the equipment, the more assistants will be needed. For example, to build a length of track, level it across often very uneven ground, and assemble it (including loading on the very heavy crane weights) requires a great deal of labour.

Question: Why was the dolly invented?
Answer: To teach grips how to walk upright.

While reporting to the Key Grip, the Dolly Grip works closely wth the camera department. His role is to move the dolly (see picture below) or crane on which the camera is mounted and to ensure it runs smooth and level at all times.

Dolly in motion - from www.act.org.li

Rigging Grips are the guys who assist lighting with preparing the next set-up by setting the lights, rigging scaffolding, hanging black-out cloth etc. However in the UK, where union rules are very specific about who can do what, this is handled exclusively by the lighting team.

There are a whole bunch of other specialists involved in mounting and/or moving the camera, which we'll look at next week. [Warning: it may get a little technical.] And if you have any questions, just ask.

For a great insider's view of being a grip, here's a fun blog post.

And finally, for some light relief for anyone who's made it to the end of this post, here's a whole bunch of film industry "how many people does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" jokes.

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