Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A British Grip Talks about the British System.

One of our readers, Ian Mussel, is a British Key/Dolly Grip. After several years in England, he now works in the Middle East.
I asked him to tell us how he got started and some ways the British system differs from the U.S.

I started out in the British industry completely by accident, I was looking for building or
mechanical work both of which I had experience in. I was introduced to a great guy called Andy Young who "needed a hand with a crane"
I was very grateful for the days work, not knowing what I was letting myself in for. The job turned out to be a Giraffe on the hairpin of a race track for the world touring car championship! I remember thinking wow this has got to be the best way in the world to earn a living! Incidentally I still feel the same way now!
So from there I went onto a tv drama with the same guy as trainee and got some great experience which led me to become a crane and remote head tech at Panavision. So my foot was in the door of the big budget features world where I met, in my opinion, one of the greatest grips in the uk, Vic Hammond. After a while he offered me the position of 'b' camera grip on a movie he was doing, I was terrified, a real baptism of fire! I got through it though all be it with a lot of help from Vic. I went on to grip a much smaller movie on my own and the rest I guess is history!

Here are some questions:
D- A British Key Grip I used to work for, named Chunky, told me once about prospective dolly grips being put in a room and practicing circles with dollies all day. Did you do this?
I've heard a lot about chunky from the guys i trained with but never heard of rooms full of potential grips dollying round in circles! (might not be a bad idea though!)

D- Do ac's operate the boom?
it is traditional for 2nd ac's to operate the boom in the u.k, i personally don't like this method and normally dolly and boom myself, i do however always do my best to train 2nd ac's to boom as many other grips insist they do it.

D- What dollies do you use there? Which do you like?
i always try and use the hustler 4 regardless of how challenging the location (see american cinematographer 12/07) if its a real problem then i use the peewee 3+, i find the hustler to be amazingly stable and very quick and easy to make comfortable for the operator.

D- What exactly do British camera grips do? Do you protect the lens from flares?
british camera grips are responsible almost solely for camera support equipment, if there is a flare then the lighting department fix it or occasionally the camera crew depending on who you’re working with. we tend to have far less grips on set than the electrical department the general rule is one grip per camera.

D- I know you work in the Middle East now. How much work is there? What kind?
the work in the middle east is surprisingly plentiful i think more so than anywhere else in the world mostly because there are only 4 or 5 of us keys here! we don’t get any work from tv and very few feature films, but last year i did over 70 commercials! the majority being high end car commercials.

I'd like to thank Ian for his interesting answers. I hope you like them.


Anonymous said...

So in the Middle East do you guys work on the British system or the American system?

Also, what does a Key Grip do in the British system?

Who is in charge of men and equipment?

Someone else booms?!?!?


Zach said...

D, thank you for this posting...I just read an article, I don't remember if it was in the ASC Magazine for SOC, but it featured a Key Grip in Dubai named Ian Mussel.

I am currently scheduled to go to Saudi Arabia as an AC/Rigger and am wondering what to expect as far as experienced crew...We have been promised people that know what they're doing, but our DP, is a little leery. I'm wondering, Ian, if you're reading this, is there any truth to this promise? Or will it basically be a four man crew with ten people watching?


D said...

I will email Ian and tell him about your comments so he may get back to one of us sooner. Thanks for the link from your site, I'll reciprocate.

Azurgrip said...

Thanks Ian! I look forward to reading more of your adventures!

I wonder if Chunky Huse still has his resume carved in stone...

D said...

Chunky's great. I used to call him "The Old Captain" because he reminded me of an old British sea captain (and tended to dress like one). I think he's still working. His former dolly grip, "Leftright", is a friend who I speak with often.

Anonymous said...

the middle east tends to work the south african system, which is part american, part english.
we have keys, dolly grips, grips etc. the grips department is not responsible for light control, we only get involved in lighting if lamps have to go anywhere but on a stand or for securing / rigging frames / fabrics.

the term "key grip" in the u.k is a relatively new term which is mostly used on the bigger jobs where the titles of best boy and dolly grip have also started to be used, in this case the department is run the same as the u.s system excluding the responsibility of light control. because we don't have responsibility for flags, gel, scrims etc we don't normally use the term key on smaller jobs because the grips department is much smaller than you would have and it's possible on a lot of jobs for one guy to cover the jobs of key, best boy and dolly grips.

saudi - as far as i know they have some experienced t.v studio crews but these guys are employed by the t.v stations and will probably not be available to you.
whenever we shoot in saudi we take all our crew from dubai and just get unskilled labour locally.
a quick warning, they run 110v and 220v in most buildings so take a meter and check all power sources before you plug in!

hope this info is of some help / interest to you guys!

ian mussell.