The field film, television and video production use the term "key grip" to refer to the head of the grip department. On film sets, grips are the technicians who perform lighting and rigging, but in some parts of the world they may only perform camera rigging and mounting duties. The key grip is the supervisor in charge of directing all of the other grips.
The Grip Hierarchy
The key grip acts as head of the grip department, and often has an assistant: the best boy grip (sometimes called the second company grip). When planning and scheduling equipment rental, the key grip may delegate most or all of this work to the best boy grip. The key grip also has authority over grips who put up and take down sets (construction grips), and dolly grips.
Key grips are responsible for the placement of the camera, regardless of where the setup is going to occur, or if the camera itself will be stationary or moving during a particular shot. They direct the other grips, who usually have more specialized functions. Some key grips double as backup camera crew if they are properly cross-trained. Key grips also assist with lighting set-ups, working alongside the film's electrical department.
Grip Duties In European and Commonwealth Countries
There are subtle differences in key grip duties on European and Commonwealth sets. In Australia, New Zealand, the UK and most parts of Europe, key grips are only in charge of camera set-ups. They do not assist with lighting, as they do in the United States. Key grips also tend to own their own dollies, tracks and cranes, particularly in Australia and New Zealand.
Key Grips and Safety
As head of the grip department, a key grip is charged with directing the other grips in matters regarding safety. If equipment rigs, stands and ladders pose a safety threat to crew members on the set, a key grip can be held personally responsible if injuries occur. In the United States, all grips (including the key grip) on union shoots are prohibited from handling stage lights. The key grip works alongside the gaffer (head of the electrical department) to ensure safe and practical lighting.
Common Grip Tools
Walkie-talkies, tape measures, adjustable wrenches, flashlights, work gloves, electrical tape and x-acto knives are common tools key grips use. This has to do with the predominantly construction-oriented nature of the grip position. These tools come in handy in construction involving scaffolds and overhead rigs, as these are most likely to pose an injury if not properly built and maintained.
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