GRIP, GAFFERS, & BEST BOYS
I love movies. My beloved and I watch at least two movies a week. We recently watched The Kominsky Method and Mr.Roberts, a movie starring Kevin Kostner playing Kevin Kostner, but using the surname Roberts. As always, I waited for the credits to see the names of the Key Grip, the Gaffer, and the best boy. Christine asked what these folks did on a movie set and I could not give her a coherent answer. This happens a lot when I don’t know what I’m talking about but should.
Grips are technicians critical to the making of a film. They have two primary functions. They support the camera department, particularly if the camera is mounted to a dolly, a crane, or assumes an unusual position such as hanging from a helicopter on one of those James Bond sequences. A dolly grip specializes in operating camera dollies or camera cranes so that mobility is enhanced. Grips work closely with the electrical department to create lighting set-ups for a shot or sequence under the leadership of the Director of Photography.
The key grip is the leader of the grip gang. He supervises the building and maintenance of all the equipment that supports cameras. This includes tripods, dollies, tracks, jibs (a boom type device), cranes, and static rigs. This equipment uses heavy duty parts but is quite delicate. It requires a high level of experience to operate and move. The assemblage of the equipment is based on meticulous specifications for virtually every scene in a movie. These guys push, pull, mount or hang cameras and equipment from a variety of settings including a basic tripod or the mounting of a camera on a 100ft. crane.
Where did the use of the term grip come from? In the 30s-40s, the slang for a tool bag was a grip. But the explanation I like the best is the notion that during the days of the hand-cranked camera, several guys had to hold onto the legs of the tripod to keep the camera steady. The director always wanted the fellows with the “good grip” and it stuck.
A gaffer is the head electrician on a film set. If it has to do with lighting, the gaffer oversees it. The term originally related to the movement of overhead equipment controlling lighting with a gaff, a long pole with a hook on the end. Deep-sea fishermen also use gaffs.
The gaffer must have a mastery over the vast array of lights, lighting equipment and lighting techniques required for a particular film. In turn, this demands a knowledge of the set, script, and the inclinations of the director. The gaffer has the responsibility for making certain that all lighting workers are up to speed on all the changes being made and are working well with other members of the crew. The lighting crew has to be constantly available even if that means working 18-hour days. The gaffer has to make sure the team meshes well by avoiding accidents and short tempers.
Best boys are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the lighting department. Their many responsibilities include the hiring, scheduling, and management of the crew; renting equipment; workplace safety and maintaining discipline within their department; completing time cards and other paperwork; planning and implementing the lighting or rigging of locations, and coordinating with the photography unit. He is the second-in-command to the key grip. On large film crews, the gaffer also has a best boy.
The term “best boy” most likely originated as a term for a master craftsman’s most able apprentice.
The next time you are watching a movie look for the name of the key grip, the gaffer, and best boy. These are the guys that make it happen. It will mollify your need to be totally satisfied with the two hours spent gazing at a screen. Kevin Coster just plays Kevin Costner.