Monday, May 7, 2012

Learn About Film Crews: Grips

Grips. Though they have a strange name, grips form the backbone of almost any video or film crew. Grips are responsible for tasks such as assembling and operating dollies and cranes, and they also work with the Director of Photography to create and modify the lighting for scenes.

Confusingly enough, grips do not actually touch the lights; that responsibility falls to the electrical department (though on smaller productions, the two departments may overlap). Grips do, however, modify the light through the placement of diffusers or gobos (gobos are anything that’s placed around or in front of a light to modify it).  Grips can increase the light on a subject by bouncing light off an object onto them; a common example is bouncing sunlight off a board or mirror. Conversely, grips can reduce the amount of light by using a flag or other barrier.

Grips are also responsible for setting up ladders and rigging for themselves and other members of the crew to move around on. This means grips have a large role in ensuring safety on a set.

Professional grips often belong to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. When it comes to specific productions, the grip department is broken down into several types of grips:

Key Grip: The Key Grip leads the grip department. He works most closely with the Director of Photography to set the lighting of a scene.  Once lighting is decided on, the Key Grip tells the other grips what to do.

Best Boy Grip: If the Key Grip is the head coach, the Best Boy is the general manager of the grip department. They take care of hiring and scheduling, as well as equipment management. Equipment management is a very important job, as lost or broken gear could result in lost hours or days. The Best Boy Grip may need to keep track of hundreds of pieces of gear on larger sets, and even smaller productions implement a daunting amount of gear.

Construction Grip: These grips are responsible for assembling and maintaining major set pieces, such as walls. They also take care of rigging on the set.

Dolly Grips: Like construction grips, dolly grips have a straightforward name. They put together and operate dollies. Dollies create movements like push-ins or pull-outs, a different effect than zooms. (Zooms are created by camera lenses and look less natural: human eyes can’t zoom). Dolly grips also operate cranes, which are needed for vertical camera movement.

3rd or company grip: These are the footsoldiers of the grip department. They perform general grip duties as directed by the Key Grip.

No matter their title, grips need a wide array of tools. Wrenches, screwdrivers and Allen wrenches are key parts of any grip’s arsenal. A multitool can cover many needs, and adjustable tools help save space and weight. A work knife or box cutter is useful, as are a level, clamps and a flashlight.

Grips also need gaffer’s tape, markers, and work gloves. A product called Dual Lock—it’s Velcro on one side and an adhesive on the other—can be used for mounting objects to a surface without damaging it.

It’s not quite clear where grips got their name—one theory is that it refers to their tool bags, while another claims that it came from the days when several men had to hold on to crank-powered cameras. Regardless, having a good team of grips makes any production go more smoothly.

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