What Does a Key Grip Do?

Even though the popcorn is long gone, you may be the small handful of people who stay behind for the credits. If you are, you may notice that there is always one behind-the-celluloid person called the key grip, who earns his recognition by being indispensable to a film's production.

The key grip as key to production

He is the one with the administrative responsibility of the grips department. Grips are the heavy laborers of every movie or television show. Hired for their strength and practical skills, grips move the lights, scenery, microphones and furniture, lay the dolly tracks for the camera, and erect scaffolding. They are responsible for making sure that everything is where it needs to be to produce the lighting and camera angles used to make movies dramatic and exciting.

The key grip works closely with the cinematographer, the director of photography, the gaffer and the chief electrician to map a plan for the cameras and lights for each scene. Key grips are creative problem solvers as well as heavy lifters. If a scene is particularly complex, they must experiment to get the look and feel needed.

Because of the heavy equipment and overhead rigging, pyrotechnics and complex electronics, key grips also oversee safety for the entire production, including stunts.

The grips department

The key grip oversees the grips department, which includes:

  • Best boy grip: the chief assistant to the key grip
  • Dolly grip: operates the camera dolly, a track used to make the camera move fluidly
  • Construction grips: the heavy lifters who construct scenes, scaffolding and lighting equipment

Other talented people behind the spotlights

  • Lead man: responsible for the set crew
  • Gaffer: manages the electrical department and all the people who run the electrical cables and hang the lights
  • Boom operator: operates a long pole with a microphone that hovers just over the actors and out of view of the cameras
  • Key scenic: oversees the painting department that uses multiple painting techniques to make the sets fit the mood of the film
  • Greensman: makes sure that all plants and flowers are positioned in a scene
  • Foley artist: creates the sound effects
  • Makeup artist: applies makeup to every actor on set, with special-effects makeup artists creating zombies and aliens or making a young actor look older
  • Hair stylist: works closely with the makeup artist; responsible for creating and maintaining the hairstyles required for the film, including wigs
  • Costume designer: person who sketches/designs clothing and costumes
  • Seamstress or wardrobe stylist: turns the designs into reality and alters rented costumes to fit the actors perfectly
  • Buyer: purchases or rents whatever set pieces or furniture is needed for a scene
  • Set dresser: manages and arranges the look of the set. including the pictures on the wall, the curtains, the knick-knacks and any number of other details
  • Armorer: responsible for any firearms used as props in a film

Now that you have a good picture of all the important people behind the camera, maybe the next time you'll stay in your seat until the scene fades to black.

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