Saturday, July 30, 2011

Suggested Post from a Reader

   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.


  1. Anonymous6:23 AM

    The thing that took me the longest to learn was having my set ears. Now I can be in a conversation with another technician and still be aware of my key, DP, etc.

  2. I'd throw in "Be Courteous" to the list. If you're going to the coolers for a drink ask your colleagues if they'd like you to bring them back some water, especially if it's someone who can't leave the set. If the Gaffer's got a bad knee, offer them an apple box to sit on during takes.

    Also, if you hear the boss call for something, do us all a favor and "copy" it over the walkie. It's frustrating to find three people going for the same thing all because no one bothered to call it.

  3. Both valid points. You'll not only be able to pick your own name out of the general hubbub on set, but your keys name and also the distinctive sounds that certain pieces of equipment make. I can hear the head being put on, or c- stand being loosened and still jump in the middle of a conversation.

  4. Courtesy is almost rule one.
    Another pet peeve I hear all the time is people not calling out that they have something. Thanks AJ

  5. As much as the dolly grip needs the rest of the grip crew, the grip crew needs the dolly grip.
    His are the eyes and ears closest to the camera, and he is able to give the key grip a heads up on what maybe needed by the operator or DP.

  6. Awesome, awesome post, especially as a starting point for new grips. I've had all of those points taught to me, except for 'have confidence'. You would think it goes without saying, but when you're just starting and you're working with people that have been doing it a lot longer, it can be daunting to be extroverted. Though I would add that there should be a sliding scale for said confidence. I would change your quote to "walk on the set like you own your position", even though yours sounds better. If you're gripping, own that shit. Be the best one that they could possibly want. But don't be that over-confident asshole that think he knows how set dressing should be different.

  7. acraw6:06 PM

    Hi D,
    Sorry I haven't been around in a while, but I always enjoy coming back here and seeing what you have to say. I really like this post because there are some things here that are only taught by example rather than being part of the grip curriculum. Politeness, confidence and paying attention (set ears) are qualities that make us all better as grips and make grips overall more respected, but these things don't seem to be important to teach on the set. I remember when I was starting out I had the good fortune to work for a key grip who constantly told me to pay attention and to listen and not talk. Those first few years, I would lay in bed at night trying to go to sleep and hearing his voice saying, "pay attention, pay attention". But I learned what I think is the best lesson for a young grip, to learn who to pay attention to, and then to listen for them always, over and above your iphone or any conversation you might want to have, to be ready no matter what you might want to be doing, to give them what they need.
    I'm glad to see you made it through another season. I often wonder how you manage to do such good work under such tough conditions.

  8. Great to hear from you Acraw. The work generally starts out as good, then slowly degrades to merely competent around the fifth month. Then slides back up the scale to decent towards the end.
    @gripworks- excellent point. We're always there.

    @ emilio- Right. It means more to act as if you belong there rather than the king of the set.

  9. Anonymous4:07 AM

    "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge" - Charles Darwin

    Don't ever forget how it feels to be new. You need to practice for when you join every new crew, when you have others work for you, and someday you'll need to remember the first things to teach the new guy. Not to mention even if you know twenty ways to do it, there's always room for one more. When you get good, try and let your work speak for you. Be a mindreader. People get comfortable in (lighting,camera,grip) routines, and once you learn the routines of others, you gain value. Run your own race. Don't worry about a guy that got a job you didn't, spend your energy getting the next one.

  10. I have to say, being on the production/operations side now but coming from G&E, this post makes me so happy.
    I was just turned on to this site and it's one of the best around. All of these points are great but if I had to choose a few of the most important I would say don't overstep by trying to tell someone else how to rig or level track or being a general no it all. You may have doen it before, but every crew is different...every key is different.Learn and than speak. Also, walkie discipline, this drives me crazy. Now that I deal with the producing core and hang around clients, I can't tell you how many people I've had to hush-up because they walk around with an open channel and no idea we can hear. Get an earbud, learn how to say "Copy" and move on with your day. Save the stories of last nights exploits for the truck during wrap.
    Most important, ask questions, ask questions, ask questions...chances are the crew you're on knows you're fresh meat, they hired you. Spend time with the gear and ask around. We all love to talk shop and are proud of what we do. Oh yeah, and call out 10-1 or ringer or what have you when you run to the head. Nothing worse than looking for someone during adjustments and the newbie is no where to be found with the wedges.

  11. Anonymous1:22 PM

    I feel as the newbie grip that Ed Moore spoke of that I should comment on this post. All the advice in this blog has been worth more than gold to me on my first job in the real world of grippery. So thank you all for that and I have taken on board all of your advice. As you will all know very well, being a trainiee in a crew of people you have never met before is really difficult. Especially when the crew have worked together on the last three series of the programme we are shooting.

    There is only the key grip and myself (trainee grip) in the grip department with a chippy who works closely to help us out. However in this dynamic the key grip with 28 years of experience has very little patience for my lack of experience and errors he probably hasn't made in 27 years.

    I try to be better each day but either receive harsh words or the cold shoulder treatment. Each time I ask questions I am told I should know already and the situation grows worse.

    At this point I have to say a huge thanks to the focus puller of the B Camera unit I am working on. He has enforced my confidence by letting me know when I am doing well, he is patient with me when I am going wrong (even if he has told me once) he has defended me even to the key grip and is there for me in my lowest moments, to tell me that I can't just sit there and sulk after a berating, which makes me get up and fight to do better . Without this man I would be in a no win situation and value him the most on set and attempt to keep B unit running like clock work for him as well as the key grip I aim to turn in my favour.

    Anyways it's rough but everything in this life worth fighting for is. So I turn up early each day and make sure I am the last to leave. I am curteous and polite to everyone. I am first there with water or apple box and even though I only receive communication from the key grip when I make a mistake I simply do not make it again and improve my performance day by day.

    I am now 100% sure that I want to be a grip and love the job and will fight for it. Heres to all you folk before me who have been through all this and made it. I raise my glass to you hopefully on years to come have as amazing advice for the new bloods coming on.

    Thank you all.