Saturday, September 27, 2008

For the New Grips

I've been getting a lot of comments and emails from young grips just starting out which I'm kind of surprised about. I haven't seen many young grips starting out in the last few years and wondered if people just weren't going into it anymore. So here are some general tips from my own experience and from working with younger grips:
Ask questions. Don't act like you already know everything because if you're 22, we know you're lying and it just makes us want to screw with you.
Keep your dialogue to a minimum. Chatterboxes just get on our nerves.
Watch and know where your Key is at all times. If you see him or the DP waving their arm in front of a light, get a stand and flag ready to run in. You'll eventually get to a point where you'll know what a light needs when you see it, but not in a year.
Be on time. Better yet, be 30 minutes early.
You'll be the victim of some good natured (and some just nasty) jokes. Laugh louder than anyone. They're testing you.
Setting a flag isn't generally a two man (or three man) job.
Deferred pay is slang for "free." You'll probably do a freebie or two (I did). Treat them as a learning experience and chance to practice. Don't believe that crap about paying you when they make money. They're full of it.
The long, low paying crappy movies you slave on now will make some of the best stories and memories later. It won't last forever and no, there really isn't a difference in how huge movies are run. The pay is better, there are more toys to play with, and you'll rub elbows with bigger names, but the process is the same. It'll just take 4 months instead of 3 weeks. Now is the time to learn, while the stakes are lower. And you won't learn it all in a couple of shows. Gripping involves a lot of things; rigging, lighting, construction, engineering, camera movement, safety, and a little art mixed in. You want to learn as much as you can now so when you're on the 120 million dollar picture with Brad Pitt and Vilmos Zsigmond, you'll know what you're doing. You'll find a niche that suits you. I'm not a rigger. I can bolt truss together and build a car mount but I can't walk on a stage and know where and how the truss goes (well, I could, but just not as well as a Key Rigger.) You might want to be a Key Grip, Dolly Grip, Rigging Grip, Best Boy, or stay a Set Grip. But you'll generally find yourself gravitating to a certain area of expertise.
Join the union. No matter what your politics are, in the US at least, you'll need the turnaround, overtime, and insurance protection they provide. Plus, all the big movies are union. There's nothing wrong with low budget indies if that's your taste, but if you want to do bigger budget work, you'll need to work toward this. I was non-union for a while at the beginning and resisted, but eventually got in and my career got immediately better.
Allright boys and girls, stay at it and drop a line every now and then.


  1. Anonymous4:34 PM

    How long were you working before you joined the union?

    (if you'd like me to email you with this question instead, just say).


  2. Hey DW,
    I worked about three years before I joined 479 in Atlanta. Suddenly, I got overtime, meal penalties, and per diem. I realized the attraction.

  3. I was walking down the street one day in NY, when a friend drive by. He asked what I was up to on the weekend, I said "wrapping the paperwork from one job and starting the next one"(I was working mostly in production at the time). He said he was going to drive upstate to look at a weekend houser he was thinking of buying. I said "Tell me how that union thing works again". Took another two years, but it was worth it.

  4. Anonymous3:24 AM

    How is joining 479 compared to other grip unions? I'm not too familiar with the procedures/what it's like down south.


  5. It's generally pretty easy depending on how much experience you have. Local 52 in NY is almost impossible and Local 80 is still pretty difficult but not as hard as it used to be. To get into Local 479 (or most of the studio mechanics locals) you need to have a home address there and I think a couple of referrals and a resume with a certain number of credits. It's been a while since I've been familiar with the procedure but that's the gist. It costs a couple hundred to get in and then a 3% assessment of your paychecks as opposed to 80 which is probably close to 4000.00 to get in by now.

  6. Anonymous3:52 PM

    One of my professors told me that when it comes to big productions that dolly grips just do dolly and do not grip as well. Do you prefer gripping and doing dolly or just dolly? Also, is it normal to start in the business as a dolly grip, if you know what you're doing of course, or work you way up from gripping?

  7. Hi Anonymous,
    A Dolly Grip needs to start out as a grip. You have to know how to solve problems and work with your department to do it. You have to know rigging to rig cameras. You have to know lighting and flagging to set lensers and help the operator solve his problems. You have to know safety techniques that you learn as a grip to ensure the safety of your camera guys. You could conceivably just do dolly moves and lay track but you wouldn't be a very effective dolly grip I just push dolly now and that's really all I do, but if I didn't have the background as a grip, I wouldn't be very good at all. It's all connected.

  8. Anonymous, There is an older post entitled "Getting Started" from Oct 8, 2007, which addresses just this subject.