This is an in-depth blog breaking down Working as a Key Grip in film and television. Please comment below. As a reader it is your responsibility to help us make this post better! What is it missing? Have any questions?
The Key Grip works with the Cinematographer and Gaffer to help shape and control the light as well as dealing with the movement and rigging of cameras. With the aid of the best boy and the other grips the grip department supports camera, lighting and often times art department.
Being a key grip is a tough job that requires a lot of technical knowledge, creativity and a sharp eye.
In England grips are exclusively part of the camera department and are not responsible for shaping light or supporting the electric department.
Working as a Key Grip:
- The key grip executes the Cinematographer’s wishes in order to shape and control the light.
- Execute and/or facilitate any camera movement or rigging. This includes dollies, cranes or camera placement and rigging on any stationary, moving or floating object
- Run the grip crew. This can includes grips with specific specialties, like dolly grips, crane operators, rigging grips etc.
- Work with the gaffer and translate requested lighting positions and needs into rigging options and equipment needs.
- Crew safety. On larger sets the First AD mainly deals with safety.
- Think ahead and keep an eye out for any problems that may arise. This includes having equipment standing by for close-ups, relights and solving issues before or as they arise.
- Being a Key Grip Involves Creativity. Being a grip involves an amazing combination of creativity and technical skill, but creativity is very important. You might need to do something out of the ordinary or come up with interesting solutions on the spot.
- High level of technical skill & knowledge. Know your gear and always be trying to improve your knowledge and skill.
- Strong problem solving skills.
- Strong communication skills. You must communicate clearly and give solid instructions to your team. Communicate effectively.
- Fast decision-making.
- Patience & tact. Often times you will be dealing with slow departments and crew members or having to discuss and ask for things from other departments. Patience and tact is a must.
Tools & Pouches
- 7 Tools Every Grip Needs Blog Post
- Technician’s Tools Blog Post
- 7 Tools Every Electric Needs Blog Post
Do you have a tool pouch? You’ll need to get one if you don’t.
Here are the 3 easiest ways to get one:
Probably one of the most important and useful tools a grip will carry. Imagine rigging without one, impossible. You will use this everyday on set. Put some sash chord through the hole in the handle and wrap it around your wrist for extra safety when on a ladder. 8″ &10″ wrenches are perfect, but also check out 6″ wrenches with extra wide jaws.
So useful even some AD’s carry one. A leatherman is a great investment that can last you many, many years. Some will come with a holster and some extras even. Look at some here
On many lower budget or indie jobs there will be no dolly grip and dolly responsibilities will fall on to the key grip. Imagine having to lay 24feet of dolly track quickly without a level. Check some out!
Measuring tapes aren’t just for playing swords, but a major part of a grips job. Use it to measure a window before cutting gel or plan out your dolly track before you start laying.
Screwdriver can be a little hit and miss, but with a Picquic you can pull the bit out and use them in your drill. Try doing that with any other screwdriver!
Just as useful as any other tool, a knife will come in handy in just about any situation.
Great for quick rigging, you won’t use it as often as some of the other tools, but definitely a must have.
The Tech Scout
Tech Scouting is a very important for the prep stage of the grip department. It is very important that the Key Grip is at all of the tech scouts. If not, the best boy should attend in place of Key Grip The tech scout is your opportunity to get an idea of how and where the scenes will play out, ask questions and coordinate with other departments or crew members.
As a key grip and best boy grip there are some very specific things you need to look out for during your tech scout.
- Be in on lighting discussions with he DOP and Gaffer.
- Make diagrams, lists and take notes as needed
- Make equipment lists or make sure package truck lists meet your needs
- Special Equipment requirements & Discuss rigging requirements, including lights, special stands, scaffolding, aerial lifts etc.
- Measure things like windows, walls, doors or whatever necessary.
- Discuss dolly positions or camera needs with DOP
- Discuss special tasks like gelling windows, building tents and make lists accordingly.
- Possible equipment staging areas
Prep & Production Meetings
Depending on the level of the production the key grip and best boy might given some prep time. It is very important that you take this time you prepare yourself for the project.
- Read the script! Don’t be afraid to take notes and highlight any questions or concerns.
- Watch any look references given to you by the cinematographer or anything the Director and Cinematographer are discussing.
- Discuss lighting approach with the Cinematographer and Gaffer.
- Discuss camera movement and grip support with DOP.
- Discuss support needs with Gaffer and any other necessary departments.
- Work on equipment lists or extras. Ask for expendables! Many productions will pay for your expendables. Often times you can get rolls of tape, pegs, trace paper foam core or gels which you may get to keep most of when wrapped.
- Attend any necessary production meetings.
On Set as a Key Grip
On day one of a job try to arrive on set at least 20-30 minutes before call time, introduce yourself around, have breakfast and get ready for what will usually be a very tough and stressful day.
If you happen to have a pre-call get a crack on your staging and/or working on any special tasks you will need done by call time. At call time report to the Cinematographer while the people under you are still working. There will either be a blocking right away or up to an hour after call. If it doesn’t happen right away get back to work.
Staging your gear is very important to the efficiency of the grip department. Generally gear is staged out-of-the-way somewhere, but still close enough to set that things are flown in quickly when called for. Everything is laid out neatly making every piece of gear accessible, in situations where laying out all the gear is unlikely it is customary to lay out the most commonly used items e.g. C-stand, Flags, sandbags and gack bin and dolly parts laid out while the other items will be brought out if called for.
In many cases the grip department will automatically build all the frames that are available. This is done based on conversations with the DOP or on the Key Grips discretion based on knowledge of the cinematographers style and likes.
Lighting the Set
After the blocking there will be a conversation between the gaffer, dop and keygrip. The DOP will go over their lighting plan and requests certain things of you. Write these down if necessary and delegate to your crew. As tasks start getting scratched off the list let you DOP know, It’s all about communication. If they request something that you do not have do not be afraid to let them know that it isn’t available and what their other options are.
As the sparks start to put up lights and camera is doing their thing, these are the things you need to look out for:
- Watch for any support needed by the camera or lighting department. This is stuff like sandbagging stands, rigging, setting up a courtesy flag for the director or camera team and anything you think will help keep things safe or keep people comfortable. Something as simple as offering the DOP an apple box to sit on makes all the difference.
- Are lights spilling everywhere? Keep it clean, use flags and/or black wrap to block and ugly spill that isn’t coming directly from the front of the light. Sometimes this will be called for, but as you gain experience you will know when this is necessary. The key is to watch the light, look at what it does and try to understand what the cinematographer is going for.
- Stand by anything your DOP might like for upcoming shots or relights. It’s simple, be ready!
I hope this post helps all the aspiring Key Grips out there, I know I wish I had a resource like this when I was first starting off. Working as a film technicians is an amazing job, it can be incredibly stressful, but with that stress comes a lot of gratification. Enjoy.