What the Heck is a Key Grip & What Do They Do on Set?

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What the Heck is a Key Grip?

As a famous actor once said,

“The film industry brings people together and so does technology – and I see them as similar platforms.”

The production rate of films all around the globe is sky-high, and new ideas are being implemented to old storylines, in order to provide a revamped version of films to people. As an actor, a director, a producer or anyone who is part of a film in the making, you need to make sure that you’re well aware of your responsibility.

A film needs a story in order to take shape – however, it is certainly not possible without a complete film crew. A film crew includes a number of different positions, being controlled by seasoned professionals and people well-versed in that certain niche.

A film crew position which most people are unfamiliar with, yet it plays a key role in the making of a successful film is a ‘Key Grip’. Here is everything you would need to know about a key grip!

Who is a Key Grip?

In the film industry, the key grip refers to a person who works with the Gaffer and the cinematographer in order to supervise all the grip crews, including lighting and rigging, to report the progress of the on-set gearing up to the Director of Photography, commonly known as the DOP. In simpler words, a key grip is a person who is in-charge of a number of different on-set activities, such as lighting and camera movement!

Responsibilities of a Key Grip:

  • The key grip executes the tasks demanded by the cinematographer in terms of lighting and camera movement.
  • The key grip is supposed to run the grip crew, which includes people like a crane operator and rigging grips.
  • Works with the gaffer in order to convert lighting positions into the equipment need and rigging options.
  • Key an eye out for any possible issue, and think of all preventive and precautionary measures to ensure the film-making runs smoothly. Moreover, the key grip is also in-charge of the safety of the crew!

Set of Skills Required:

Problem Solving Instincts:

One of the most important skills a key grip should possess is a set of problem-solving instincts. For example, if there is a lighting failure faced while shooting, the key grip should be fast to react to the situation immediately, and solve the problem – or provide an alternative to it!

Creativity:

In the film industry, regardless which role you are playing in the making of a film, creativity is a must! Moreover, if you’re someone who is in-charge of making the lead actors look good with an exceptional lighting effect or the right camera angle, you need to make sure that you’re creative enough to produce new techniques in order to achieve that.

Technical Knowledge:

As the key grip has to deal with a number of different gadgets over the set, one of the key characteristics a key grip needs to have is the right knowledge about technology. This makes the job easier and allows you to come up with innovative ideas.

Patience:

Patience is the key when it comes to playing a role of a key grip in the making of a successful film. You need to make sure you’re patient enough to work under a DOP and report every progress and the failures to your assigned cinematographer or gaffer at all times.

Strong Communication Skills:

A set of strong communication skills is also one of the most important things you need to have in order to become a successful key grip. This allows you to coordinate with your juniors, as well as your seniors effectively, and makes your job respectively easier.

Key Tools Needed in a Key Grip Job:

One of the most important tools a key grip needs to carry on the set is a C-Wrench. It makes the process of rigging much easier and helps you in carrying out certain tasks much faster than with the traditional methods. A few other tools are:

You’ll also need a measuring tape and a foot level needs to be in the bag at all times if you’re working in a film as a key grip. These tools allow you to carry out your task and do your job in an easier and effective way!

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Tips to Prepare for Meetings:

  • Read the whole script, jot down notes and do not hesitate to highlight any issues or questions you might have regarding the script.
  • Make sure to watch any look references given to you by the cinematographer, or pay attention to the discussion between the director and the cinematographer.
  • Discuss the grip support and the camera movement with the DOP.
  • Make sure to talk about the lighting and the gearing up on the set with the Gaffer or the cinematographer.
  • If there are any extra production meetings being held aside from the daily schedule, make sure to attend them in order to stay on the same page as your other crew members.
  • Ask for any sort of expendables you would need and make sure to work properly on the list of tools and equipment you might need in order to carry out your task effectively.

Difference in Job Role of Key Grips:

In the United States, whoever holds the position of a key grip is responsible for lighting, camera, gearing up the state and a few more tasks. However, in a number of other countries, the key grip does not carry out certain responsibilities.

For example, in the United Kingdom, the grips are a part of the camera group exclusively, while in New Zealand and Australia, the key grip owns the grip equipment, which respectively includes tools such as dollies, cranes, track, insert trailers and camera cars!

The Bottom Line:

The film industry is growing at a neck-break speed and the number of films being produced annually is increasing in the form of heaps and bounds. As soon as the 21st Century mark hit the world, the film industry began to grow in terms of ideas and job roles, and since then, different positions have been created in order to promote employment.

Similarly, a key grip is a position in the film crew, which might not be known by most, but holds foremost significance in a project. Hence, if you’re looking to pursue a career as a key grip, make sure you understand and possess everything mentioned above!


If you liked What the Heck is a Key Grip? take a listen to:
Suki Medencevic ASC & the Art of Cinematography
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