Comet Tale Productions is a Boston-based video production house. We hope that through this blog you will learn more about the behind-the-scenes of corporate video.

Friday, August 9, 2013

What the Hell is a Grip?

You’ve seen them in the credits. Your friends who know a thing or two about the industry might like to drop some line about “the grips.” But what is a grip and what do they do? Your typical corporate video probably won’t need a big enough crew to have a dedicated key grip. Instead, the lighting technician or camera operator may be wearing a couple hats and go into grip mode at points during the shoot. Thus, I will seek to inform you about what exactly a grip does and to highlight some key pieces of equipment that might come in handy (plus, it’s always fun to drop stories about “the grips.” Like: that one time the production assistants beat the grips at darts resulting in the grips doing the PAs wrap duties the next day. Or: that one time the grips decided to strip down and jump in the nearby river after wrap and cat call all the local ladies).

The grip department is basically the support for the camera and electrical crews. On a film set camera, grip, and electrics works together in a three-way tango of sorts to set up every shot. While the grips may be the brunt end of a fair amount of jokes, it’s all in good fun. Everyone has immense respect for the grips who not only have to be incredibly strong physically, but also intelligent enough to find creative, secure, and fast solutions to a number of problems (for example: who do you turn to when you need a bootleg flotation device for your camera? the key grip).

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Some of the things grips do on a regular basis is: lay dolly track, operate the dolly, rig the camera in all sorts of crazy places (such as cars, trains, plains, snowmobiles, helicopters, &c.), set up massive stands on which to place lights, use nets/flags/frames to shape light, and much more. Since the grips are concocting all sorts of fun rigs, they use a wide variety of tools and hardware to get the job done. Often it has a colorful name, e.g. mombo combo, Gary Coleman, duckbill, Cardellini, gator clamp, apple box, meat axe. Since there is so much stuff in the grip department’s arsenal, I’ll stick to some of the items that you’re more likely to need on a low to medium budget video.

The c-stand – a key player in the grip arsenal is the century stand (almost always called a c-stand). This stand has 1001 uses from holding nets/flags/&c., to holding a boom pole, to holding some bead board, to holding up some cloth for a backdrop. If you’ve been noticing the pattern, it’s great for holding stuff up.

The sandbag – for every stand, there should be at least one sandbag. Since you’re almost always adding weight to the top of these stands, they become quite top-heavy which of course increases the risk of them falling over. The solution to this: toss a sandbag or two on the base of the stand.

Nets, flags, and silks – these accessories are used by the grips to shape and control the lights set up by the electricians. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes from 18”x24” to 2’x3’ to 4’x4’ and larger. Nets generally have a transparent mesh that cuts down on the overall light output from a given source. Flags (also known as solids and sometimes floppies if they have a portion that flops down) are opaque pieces of heavy cloth that serve to eliminate all light output in a given area from a given source. Silks are translucent and serve primarily to diffuse light, creating a softer beam with less noticeable shadows.

Mafer clamp
Cardellini clamp


Clamps – there are a number of different clamps used in the industry. For now I’ll highlight three of them. The mafer clamp can tighten on to a variety of surfaces and is useful for hanging lights and things from I-beams or those metal grids in the ceiling. A cardellini clamp has a more narrow clamping head and can fit in some places that a mafer clamp can’t. This third clamp has the most names of any piece of equipment I’ve heard of—platypus clamp, quacker clamp, duckbill clamp, bead board holder, &c. This clamp is designed to hold something like bead board where the pressure from the clamp is distributed over a wider area so as not to break the board.

A family of apple boxes
Apple Boxes – apple boxes also have a wide variety of uses. They serve to boost up some shorter sound people so that they can place the boom in ideal position. They can level dolly track on rough terrain. They are often used as seats. They come in four different sizes: full, half, quarter and pancake.

A fischer dolly on track
Dollies and Track – there are a number of different dollies in use in the industry. Two of the major brands are Fischer and Chapman. The dolly is used to mobilize the camera whether it’s a subtle push in or a dramatic tracking sequence. While there are times when certain dollies can have free reign of the floor and move without track, the dolly track (round rail or square) is used to provide a smooth surface for the dolly to operate on. On larger productions there is one grip who is specifically in charge of the dolly (credited as the dolly grip).

This is only a small cross-section of a department that has decades of tinkering experience. The equipment is constantly evolving as grips look for ways to solve problems in simpler, more efficient ways. When it comes to gripology, creativity abounds.

-- by Joseph Baron

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