Of Grips, Gaffers and more…
The cast of a production may be the face, very few talk about the skeleton – the crew. They are as instrumental to a production as its cast. We aim at highlighting some key roles. We have earlier talked about Cinematography. This segment talks about another important part of the crew – the Grip team.
You might have seen this in many a movie – the hero is hanging precariously under a speeding truck, his legs dangling close to the tires, somehow managing not to get run over. Or the many car chases where it seems camera is like the omnipresent Almighty, catching the action from the precisely correct angle. Well, all thanks to the grip who makes it possible to capture action from key (often dangerous) angles. Every movie production, television station, and concert hall has or should have grips.
A grip is a member of the crew who builds and operates cranes and pulleys needed to move a camera during shooting. The team is headed by the Key Grip. He supervises grip crews to mount, move, and construct film rigging. The key grip works with the director of photography (DP) and gaffer to help setup the sets and to achieve correct lighting and blocking. Chief assistant to the key grip is the best boy (grip) who is responsible for organizing the grip truck throughout the day. The grip in charge of operating the camera dolly is the dolly grip who places, levels, and moves the dolly track and pushes and pulls the dolly. They work closely with the camera department (for camera placement) and the lighting department to create the necessary lighting arrangements as the DP wants.
Though the role of grips is not as well defined in India as in other developed countries, slowly they are being included in the early stages of planning. They work with the production heads to scout for locations and conduct technical recce. The key grip has to come up with solutions to the filming needs, he may have to build specialized tools to achieve difficult camera maneuvers. Grips build and maintain the equipment that support cameras and also satisfy rigging needs on the set to enable mounting cameras where they will provide the best shot possible. Rigging is basically creating a platform so that a camera and all supporting tools can be used together to achieve filming needs.
Though many grips start off with no specialized education, a formal course on camera, lighting, set design, production will provide a definite edge not just in understanding the work but also in getting hired. That said, the foremost requirement remains that you should be passionate about the process of production. On-the-job experience is highly valued.
Grips are multitalented individuals – they have knowledge of carpentry, mechanics, electricals and rigging. Other than knowledge of the craft, you need to be physically strong. This is a very physical role. On a given day you may be perched 50 ft. up in the air lugging a fifty pound equipment. You may be building rigs high up in the mountain or diving in deep sea. It may help you if you work out in the gym regularly and pump some iron. You need to be a very good listener and have a can-do attitude. There may be impossible filming needs where the grips are somehow expected to provide a workable solution.
Like most trades in the entertainment industry, getting a break is difficult. It will help if you have friends in the industry who can get you in on an ongoing production. Offer your services even if you have to work for free. Remuneration varies wildly based on demand and experience of the professional. If you have good experience with major productions, you will probably be busy for the most part. Most key grips bundle their services with grip gear.
Perhaps the most well-known Key Grip is Sanjay Sami. He has worked on major Indian as well as foreign productions. Hollywood producer-director Wes Anderson has worked with him in most of his productions. He has also been known to guide new entrants in the industry. Arjun Bhurji and Ninad Nayampally are other seasoned key grips in India.
Grip is a profession for people who are passionate about the trade and ready to sweat it out on the sets. He/she should be ready for a career-long learning process. While some grips have moved on to other aspects of film making like Cinematography, there are grips who have specialized in the trade and have achieved exemplary success in the field.
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