I have a crazy creative process and the following is the VO script for "Grip it Good". There is no shot list per se - because I add and delete based on not just the shots I have - but ones that I can also stay under the radar with. I don't want to jeopardize my ability to share what I know with you while I'm still relevant! These are non profit educational pieces that I want everyone to enjoy and learn from without some huge Fair Use lawsuit.
Grips (US system): indispensable members of a film crew responsible for all means of camera support either static or moving. And in conjunction with the Cinematographer and the Gaffer, they assist in the managing and sculpting of available or generated light. In all matters –grips look after the safety and general welfare of the cast and crew while working on set.
Grips are skilled technicians and draw their experience from many different highly technical vocations. Most grips start out in a completely different line of work. I know former circus riggers, sailors, master carpenters and even a cowboy who have successfully transitioned to the grip department. The knowledge necessary to become a successful grip is diverse and is constantly evolving.
Have you seen an amazing shot in a movie recently? Chances are - the grip department helped make that shot possible. Part mechanic, part engineer - the Key Grip and his crew keep the camera moving and the light under control every day on movie sets all over the world.
The Key Grip is a department head and participates in the preparation phase of production. That’s before principle photography begins. During “Prep” the Key Grip works closely with the Cinematographer and the Gaffer. This is when the script is broken down, locations are scouted, tests are conducted and any special equipment required is either fabricated or arranged for.
The importance of prep cannot be overstated! Every Key Grip I know works hard to design the very best shooting plan possible within this time frame.
Everyone marvels at the beauty of natural light but the problem is - it isn’t guaranteed and it never lasts very long. That’s why most of us prefer the control of shooting on stage rather than battling the sun, the clouds and the wind.
Think of the grip department as the infantry that outflanks the challenges of day exterior conditions. These grips are building a 12X12 frame for a scene on the beach today. This one will be used to bounce light onto the actor. To improve efficiency - it always helps to start with the right camera angle. In most cases you want the sun behind your subject, location permitting. This is called shooting in backlight. Grips have all kinds of cards and fabrics for softening or bouncing light to achieve a balanced exposure. The kind of bounce you choose is based on the needs of the story. Unless it’s cloudy, day exterior bounce fill relies on the sun. The amount of light hitting the subject is determined by the kick angle of the bounce source. I tend to set that level by eye.
Passive Fill is reflected light from any source illuminated by existing ambient conditions. In other words: this source isn’t lit by direct the sun or a lamp. Think of it as accent lighting when just a little bit is needed to enhance an edge or give definition to a reflective surface. The smaller the source the closer it has to be to the subject to be effective.
The lighting in this shot is flat. To add contrast, we create “negative fill” by placing large black flags on one side of the subject. This cuts the ambience and darkens one side of the face giving it shape and character.
The introduction of any kind of fill is a creative choice that is achieved with equipment provided and installed by the grip department.
Occasionally we have to shoot when the sun is directly overhead. To help reduce unflattering top light, the grips will build a frame and tie a silk or some other diffuse fabric to it. If your scene starts out under cloudy conditions and then clears off - the grips will build a large frame and skin it with a heavy diffusion material to create a cloudy feel to maintain lighting continuity throughout the scene.
Grips can also use highly reflective boards to direct sun light where it is desired. Not surprisingly these boards are called reflectors or “shiny boards”. These reflectors have a hard side and a soft side. For a straight dose of sunlight they carry large mirrors. Obviously, you need the sun for these to work and a steady hand on them to prevent the beam from jittering in the wind.
(Kenner finishes off the scene)
GOBO’s (go Betweens) Flags & Nets
Once a light fixture is placed and focused, the grips start the process of sculpting or cutting the beam to achieve the desired look. For this job, they use Gobo’s or nets and flags. Without these tools and their artful application there is no best cinematography award for the boss. To me, shadows tell as much of a story as highlights. Grips create those shadows and textures with the same technology that has been around for decades. Flag setting is intuitive, creative and mechanical.
12/6 Flags and Nets are called “GOBO’S” because they go between the light and the subject to make shadows or texture. Here are the 4 basic gobo’s grips use to sculpt, diffuse or cut light.
With just one light bulb and gobo’s made of materials from the office supply and fabric store, you can test a variety of looks at very little expense.
Take your photography to the next level by adding contrast with flags and nets.
Big set-ups require rigging grips to get the set ready in advance of the shooting crew. Pre-Rigging starts the implementation of the plan created during prep. Today’s work is taking place at Paramount on a soundstage built in 1922.
These rigging grips are preparing for a visual effects shoot. They’ll get most of the big pieces roughed in by the end of the day. Final lighting will occur on the first day of photography.
On a large project rigging grips will be working only a day or two in advance of the main unit. There are additional manpower costs in carrying a rigging crew, but these teams are far cheaper than a full shooting crew doing the same work.
Try to imagine an action movie without camera movement. Grips are probably best known for moving the camera using many different methods: here are a few examples: cranes, dollies, camera cars, cable cam, sliders, radio controlled vehicles and skateboards, etc.
Some grips specialize in rigging cameras to non-movie equipment: cars, motorcycles, ATV’s, helicopters.
It’s hard to predict how we’ll be moving the camera in the future but it all started 110 years ago when Edwin S. Porter needed a shot from a moving train. The men who rigged and safety’d that camera started a trend that would forever change the way movies were photographed. I’m not sure when they started calling these handy guys grips, but grips were on that train in 1903.
I’ve often said that if I wasn’t in camera I would want to be in the grip department. And now you know why.Return to Musings