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A key grip is actually the chief supervisor of a union crew responsible for moving lights, dolly tracks, cranes and scenery. While grips are primarily hired for their physical strength and construction skills, a key grip also has some administrative responsibilities.
This person works very closely with the head electrician, known in the movie business as a gaffer. As part of a pre-production movie crew, the key grip, gaffer, director of photography and a location producer will discuss the logistics of a specific filming site. All of these people must understand the needs of the script and have an understanding of how difficult a particular location shot might be.
The key grip must determine if lights can be rigged up safely on a mountainous set, for example. Cameras often work on a system of tracks called dollies. It is the work of grips, working under the supervision of a key grip, to install these tracks and remove them after the shots. Even if the film is shot on a set inside a studio, grips must move walls and lights to accommodate cameras and dollies.
Because the position of grip is almost entirely unionized, breaking into the ranks is difficult without connections. An entry-level grip can make 25 to 35 US dollars an hour, but may only work two days a week. Those two days can last 18 hours or more, however, and overtime wages are substantial. Experienced grips with good work practices can be promoted to the position of 'grip boss'. The grip boss works closely with the key grip in order to translate general orders into specific job assignments.
Most film work is contractual, so any qualified grip may be hired as a key grip for the duration of the production. Quite often the production company will hire a respected and experienced key grip and then allow him or her to handpick a crew. A film construction crew which works well together can help a director meet his own production schedule with minimal downtime.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the primary role of a key grip in film production?
The key grip is the head of the grip department, responsible for the setup, maintenance, and adjustment of all the equipment that supports cameras, including tripods, dollies, tracks, jibs, cranes, and static rigs. They work closely with the director of photography to help achieve the correct lighting and camera movements, ensuring that the visual elements of a scene are captured as intended. The key grip's expertise is crucial in crafting the film's visual aesthetic and ensuring the safety of on-set operations.
How does a key grip differ from a gaffer?
While both key grips and gaffers play essential roles in lighting and rigging on a film set, their responsibilities are distinct. A key grip focuses on camera support and movement, as well as the physical manipulation of light through diffusers, reflectors, and flags. In contrast, the gaffer, also known as the chief lighting technician, is responsible for the design and execution of the lighting plan, working under the direction of the director of photography. The gaffer manages the electrical department, ensuring that the lights are correctly positioned and powered.
What skills are necessary to become a successful key grip?
A successful key grip must possess a combination of technical knowledge, creative problem-solving skills, and physical strength. They need to be well-versed in the use of various grip equipment and have an understanding of camera lenses and movements. Leadership skills are also vital, as key grips manage the grip crew and collaborate with other departments. Additionally, they must be adaptable, able to quickly respond to changes on set, and ensure safety protocols are followed at all times.
Can you describe a typical day for a key grip on a film set?
A typical day for a key grip starts with a review of the day's shooting schedule and a meeting with the director of photography to discuss the visual requirements. The key grip then leads their team in setting up the necessary equipment for the day's scenes, adjusting for camera movements and lighting needs. Throughout the day, they are hands-on, modifying setups as needed and ensuring everything runs smoothly and safely. The day ends with dismantling equipment and preparing for the next day's shoot.
What kind of training or background do key grips typically have?
Key grips often start their careers working in lower-level positions within the grip department, such as grip assistants or dolly grips, learning the trade on the job. Many have backgrounds in film school or technical courses, but hands-on experience is paramount. As they gain experience and demonstrate their skills, they can advance to the position of key grip. Continuous learning is essential, as they must stay updated on the latest technologies and techniques in camera support and rigging.