I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked “What is a Grip?”, so if you’ve ever asked that question read on to get the answer.
Grips are an extremely important part of creating both camera and lighting set ups on any film set. The Grip Department generally consists of a Key Grip, a Best Boy Grip, a Dolly Grip and several just plain Grips. Like the Electrical Department, the Grips all work under the direction of the Director of Photography (D.O.P.).
First and foremost, Grips are responsible for building safe, secure and steady platforms for the camera. For instance, if a shot requires that the camera follow the action on a dolly track, the grips would have to build the track so that it is perfectly level and strong enough to support the weight of the camera, the dolly, the Camera Operator and the Focus Puller. This combined weight is usually over 1000 pounds.
Once the track is built, it is then the Dolly Grip’s job to push the Dolly along the track. This may sound easy but it is a very specialized skill. The Dolly Grip must push the heavy dolly at the correct speed while at the same time perform any crane moves that the shot requires at exactly the right time and speed. Grips also set up camera cranes like the one pictured here on the set of Road to Avonlea.
Grips are also instrumental in rigging camera cars and tow rigs as seen in this photo from Wind at my Back.
In addition to dealing with the camera, grips are also responsible for erecting non-electrical equipment that modifies light whether it’s natural or generated by lamps put in place by the Electricians. This equipment can consist of anything from a large frame as big as 20’x20’ that contains various materials that diffuse, reflect, or cut light as per the D.O.P.’s instructions, to placing a small “flag” in front of a lamp to cast a shadow. Grips also create “Cookies” and “Gobos” to create shapes with light (ie. the shadow of a window frame on a wall) and create lighting effects.
Basically, Grips are kind of like the “handymen” on a film set. They are incredibly creative and versatile and can rig virtually anything extremely quickly. Whether it’s building an elaborate dolly track or rigging a lighting grid in the studio, Grips make it possible for Director’s and D.O.P’s to put their creative visions on screen for all to see.
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