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If you were the kid who rigged up an elaborate track for your train set or a complex system of ropes and pulleys to open your childhood bedroom door, then becoming a movie set grip may very well be your dream job. Grips are the people responsible for setting up cameras, rigging up dollies on tracks, and generally following the cinematographer's creative vision. While there's no one set path to becoming a movie set grip, a mix of the right mindset, education and experience can help.
What They Do
Grips set up tripods, cranes, dollies, screens and other equipment necessary to get just the right look. They're the ultimate gearheads on a movie set, often with an uncanny ability to find the right clamp, cable, stand or other equipment necessary to get the lighting and the cameras positioned just so. On a busy set, the job requires a strong body for hauling gear in and out, and an ability to think quickly on one's feet and to problem-solve. As with all members of a film crew, the grip should be good at following directions, working as part of a team, and anticipating the director or director of photography's needs.
Training to Pursue
While grips aren't required to have a specific education, there are several ways to hone your skills and to increase your chances of getting hired on a film set. First, you might study film, cinematography, media, or even a more technical discipline such as mechanical engineering or construction -- all which will teach you different elements of the industry. Studying film will help you understand the creative side and the workings of a film set, while studying mechanical engineering could make you a whiz at assembling complex dolly systems or elaborate camera setups. Also look for shorter training programs offered by community colleges or trade schools. The Texas Film Commission, for example, offers a three-day intensive grip workshop designed to introduce newbies to the job.
Naturally, you're also going to need some experience in order to make an impression on the producers hiring for upcoming movies. Like many aspiring film workers, grips often get their start by applying for entry-level jobs as grip assistants, production assistants or other low-level jobs on a film set. If you study film in school, taking part in student productions will help you network and gain experience. Outside of school, working on community TV productions or independent films will help you add something to your resume.
Networking and Finding Jobs
Getting hired is often a matter of who you know. Your experience in student or independent films will help, though you can't limit yourself to only working in movies; also look for jobs -- most often freelance gigs -- on commercial crews or for TV shows. Browse jobs on sites such such as Creative Cow, Variety, Backstage and other industry publications. Also ask for recommendations or a heads up from people with whom you've worked in the past, as that's often the best way to get hired for the next grip gig. Note that living in New York, Los Angeles or even Houston or Chicago will offer the most work in your industry. As you gain experience, you can move up from an assistant position, to the second-in-charge Best Boy, and finally to the Key Grip status, as well as qualifying for union membership that can help you get better pay and more benefits.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.