What you do in the job?
Grips' responsibility is to build and maintain all the equipment that supports cameras. This equipment, which includes tripods, dollies, tracks, jibs, cranes, and static rigs, is constructed of delicate yet heavy duty parts requiring a high level of experience to operate and move. Every scene in a feature film is shot using one or more cameras, each mounted on highly complex, extremely expensive, heavy-duty equipment. Grips assemble this equipment according to meticulous specifications and push, pull, mount or hang it from a variety of settings. The equipment can be as basic as a tripod standing on a studio floor, to hazardous operations such as mounting a camera on a 100 ft crane, or hanging it from a helicopter swooping above a mountain range.
Good Grips perform a crucial role in ensuring that the artifice of film is maintained, and that camera moves are as seamless as possible. Grips are usually requested by the DoP or the Camera Operator. Although the work is physically demanding and the hours are long, the work can be very rewarding. Many Grips work on both commercials and features.
What is the job?
Grips work closely with the Director, Director of Photography (DoP) and the Camera Operator to ensure that all positioning or movement of cameras is achievable. Grips are usually responsible for pushing the Dolly (the wheeled platform which carries the camera and the Camera Operator) and must create smooth movements that do not distract from the onscreen action. On large projects with multiple cameras, the Key Grip is responsible for the main camera (camera A), with other Grips providing additional camera support.
Grips begin work in the later stages of preproduction, when they join all other Heads of Department to carry out a technical recce. If particular challenges are identified, Grips work with specialist companies to devise tailor-made pieces of equipment to facilitate difficult camera manoeuvres which are sometimes performed on location in extreme terrain and/or severe weather. During shooting days, Grips and their team (which may include other Grips, a Remote Head technician, a Crane Operator, tracking car drivers, and all construction standbys) arrive on set early, unload all the equipment, and ensure that everything is prepared for the day's filming. After the Director has rehearsed the actors, all the shots are choreographed, using stand-ins (the line-up), and Grips subsequently set-up any required equipment. Whenever a crane is used, a minimum of two Grips are always employed, collaborating closely with the Crane Operator about mounting and moving the camera. Grips should be ready as soon as the camera starts to roll, and they must anticipate all the camera moves, whilst also keeping in mind the preparations required for the next camera set-up. At the end of each day's shooting, Grips oversee the packing up of all camera-support equipment.
What qualities are required?
Fitness, co-ordination and strength. A good understanding of the film making process, good people skills, patience and attention to detail.
Grips must have excellent up-to-date knowledge of all camera-support equipment. They should be enthusiastic about mechanics and assembling equipment, and have a passion for finding creative solutions to technical problems.
Key Skills include:
good leadership skills;
initiative and the ability to respond quickly to different situations;
ability to help realise a Director/DoP's artistic vision in practical terms;
ability to collaborate and to work as part of a team;
diplomacy and sensitivity when working with artists and other crew;
a high level of physical stamina and strength;
since a Camera Grip has to lift and pull heavy equipment, they need a thorough knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures.
How you start and where you can go with it?
Various routes, but often you'll remain a grip.
Most Grips working in the British film industry have served their apprenticeship working for one of the large equipment houses (such as Panavision or ARRI), or started their career driving a camera car, and progressed to becoming a Grip. Hands-on experience, and learning how all camera-support equipment works, is the most usual route to this role.