Our friend Ed Moore, a cinematographer in the UK, sent me an email a while back asking if I might do a post as kind of an introduction to the grip world, inspired by a young friend of his who just got his first job as a grip trainee (it's a British thing). I thought a while about it. I've already done a couple of posts basically consisting of just tips (things like, if you bring a single, also bring a double). I've been thinking how I might make this different. Clearly, as Ed points out, the lighting control info would be of little use to a British grip. But I'll try.
The easiest way for me to do this I think is to remember what it was like when I was a green grip and then juxtapose it with what I expect or like to see now out of a someone who's just starting out.
I think rule number one should be never be late. A slot in the grip department, believe it or not, is a coveted commodity. The production only allows you so many and you have to work with what you have. If you're late or don't show up, you're forcing your brothers and sisters to carry that slot and do your work for you. When I started, they used to tell me there was never an excuse for being late. This is a little silly. Real life will intrude sooner or later and you will be late at some point. It's when you make a habit of it that it becomes a problem.
Next, I would say keep the dialogue to a minimum. I haven't worn a radio in years, but the one thing I hear most set grips complain about is that there's always one guy who is constantly chiming in. Don't be that guy. Be silent, keep your eyes open and mouth shut. Of course you should have a little fun. Don't be deadly serious all the time, but know when it's time to work. I used to make a game out of seeing if I could stay a step ahead of the Key Grip by watching what was happening on set and trying to have the next thing he asked for either in my hand, or already going up. That kind of goes along with paying attention which is pretty obvious. Watch what's going on. If you see a weak point (no one's at the carts, the set is low on stands, the DP is lining up a dolly shot and there's no track or wedges etc. close) fill it.
Ask questions. If you don't know how to do something or what something is, ask. If you don't know how to tie a clove hitch, pull one of the fellows aside and ask him to teach you some knots. If you want to learn how to lay dolly track, pull the dolly grip aside when he's not busy and ask him to show you how. We all started out knowing nothing and most of us are more than happy to share what we know now.
Learn the equipment. This is basic. Get a catalogue from Matthews or American or any other manufacturer and study it. Learn the names that go with the equipment.
Set etiquette. Some things are no-no's on set that really don't matter in the real world. Don't yell across the set. Don't throw people under the bus ( in other words, if something is late or holding up production for whatever reason, don't announce to the world which department is responsible). I've done it absent mindedly and then realized what I'd done and gone and apologized to the department. Don't stand in doorways. This one drives me crazy. Don't walk slowly through the set or a corridor leading to the set, taking up the entire walkway. Some people are in a bigger hurry than you and don't want to have to go around you. Always give the right of way to someone who's carrying something if you aren't. Don't run through the set. Running will generally mark you as a newbie. Don't put your eye on the eyepiece of the camera without permission. Some operators are peevish about this and unless they know you really well, they'll call you out. Don't play with the set dressing. I know it's just a pen, but it's also someone's equipment. Put things back where they go. If you borrow something, bring it back. These are the basics. This business works a lot on courtesy. The hours are too long and the work too hard to deal with a jackass.
Have confidence. This is a strange one but it's true. A long time ago a gaffer told me to, "walk on the set like I own it." This little saying has stuck with me for over twenty years and helped me a lot when I was inexperienced and self conscious. If someone didn't think you were good, you wouldn't be there. Act like it.
If you really want to impress, be the first one there and the last to leave (at least while you're still trying to prove yourself). Crews above all want to know that you're someone they can depend on.
I hope these little tips will help. Please feel free to add any that I've forgotten in the comments section.