Film & TV

Film 101: What Is the Grip Department? The Key Grip, Grip Crew, and Best Boy Explained

Written by MasterClass

May 20, 2019 • 2 min read

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Making a single feature film or TV show, whether it is a big budget film shot by a Los Angeles studio or a low budget indie picture, takes hundreds of people to bring to fruition. One lesser-known film-industry team is called the grip crew, who are led by the key grip.

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What Is the Grip Crew?

The grip department is in charge of all rigging behind the scenes. Rigging on film production means any equipment that helps to lift or hoist other equipment—the grip department specializes in camera rigs (to stabilize camera movement and achieve specific camera angles) and lighting rigs (to achieve specific lighting techniques and effects).

The grip crew is led by the key grip and the “best boy,” who is second-in-command.

What Are the Responsibilities of a Key Grip?

The key grip’s job starts long before filming begins, in the preproduction stage. A key grip works with the director of photography to determine the camera set-ups and lighting equipment that are required to bring the film to life. After the equipment is determined, the key grip develops a list of all necessary equipment, assembles their grip crew, and identifies any parts of filming that will require creative rigging solutions.

What Does the Grip Crew Do?

During production, the grip crew supports both the camera and electrical departments.

For the camera department, the grips do the following:

  • Set up any camera equipment and rigs that the camera operator needs (like camera dollies or cranes).
  • Operate camera dollies (grips who do this are called dolly grips) or cranes (grips who do this are called crane operators) during each take.

For the electrical department, the key grip usually coordinates with the gaffer, who is in charge of the electrical department. The grips do the following:

  • Set up any lighting rigs the lighting technicians need
  • Set up and operate any other non-electrical lighting equipment, like diffusing materials or gobos (stencils placed on the lights to control the shape of the lighting)

It’s important to note that grips do not work with the lights themselves, or with other electrical equipment—for union reasons (with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE), that job rests solely with the lighting technicians.

What Kinds of Skills Do You Need to Be a Key Grip?

Key grip jobs are a manager position, so some experience as a grip or on a film set is expected. A degree from a film school isn’t required to become a key grip. The best training is to work your way up the grip department, to learn the skills needed to become a key grip:

  • Technical knowledge. Being a part of the grip department is very technical, and you’ll need to have practical experience with all kinds of grip equipment, like setting up steel cables, taking down cranes, operating pulleys, or mounting cameras to cars.
  • Creative problem-solving. The director and director of photography will usually have very specific requests of their lighting and camera crews. It is up to the key grip to use creative problem-solving with the equipment they have to achieve the desired effects.
  • Communication skills. As a manager, the key grip needs to be patient, precise, and concise when directing their crew members in order to keep the grip department operating smoothly and safely.

Learn more about film crew roles and responsibilities in Jodie Foster’s MasterClass.