This is a term you see all the time in movie and television credits. For all the exposure, the title remains a mystery to most people. What on Earth is a grip? For high-end video shoots, the answer is “indispensable”.
Grips take care of a wide variety of manual jobs during the set up and production phases. Grips will work with the director of photography to set up cameras for tricky shoots. This can be anything from getting a camera hooked up to a complex jib to fastening it under a helicopter or plane for daredevil aerial shoots. They may also be responsible for setting up and keeping tripods stable, helping to operate the jib after setup, and helping to stabilize or maneuver a dolly. They may also be tasked with laying down the tracks on which the dolly rolls. This can be time consuming and tricky, as the tracks must be perfectly level for the integrity of the shoot and the safety of the dolly operators.
In the U.S., grips can also work with the lighting director to set up all the equipment needed for that aspect of the shoot. However, there can be some limitations as to what they’re able to do. For example, in areas where union rules apply, grips may not be allowed to directly touch the lights, although they can help set up the supports.
They can also help set up supplemental lightning needs, including methods for altering the way light is reflected or counterbalanced. For example, if you’re doing a shoot in a real house you may need to block out sunlight streaming in through windows. If the window is visible in the scene you can’t just toss black cloth over it. Instead, the grips may need to build special tents outside the windows, under which lights will be placed to mimic the lighting needed for the scene. In an outdoor scene, grips may erect large screens to help soften the harsh glare of natural sunlight,
At this point, you may be wondering why they’re called “grips” instead of “jacks”, as in jack-of-all trades. No one is really sure when the term started to be used, although some speculate it goes back to the days when movie cameras were actually hand cranked to get the film to move through. Men were employed to “grip”, or hold the camera’s legs steady, so that the cranking motion didn’t cause the camera to sway and wobble during filming. Now, grips are the go-to people when technical issues arise during a shoot. They often have a wealth of expertise and experience that makes them excellent problem-solvers.
In a highly complex shoot there may be several grips. Generally there will be one lead, or key grip. That person’s main assistant is sometimes called the “best boy” (though women certainly fill the role as well these days). The rest are often known as “gang” grips.
One of the most crucial duties of the grips is to ensure the safety of everyone working around all of the rigs on the set, especially any equipment such as lighting cranes or other structures that the grips have put up.
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