The Art of Grippage
from the IATSE website:
The old movie set axiom "if no one else will do it, a grip will," is indicative of just how misunderstood (and sometimes maligned) the motion picture studio grip position can be, even among the other craft workers. Far from being a measure of the job's value, the adage is more a testament to how diverse a package of skills the grip brings to the table. A typical work day might find the grip department called upon to use carpentry skills to build a camera platform, lighting knowledge to position "cutters and flags" to shield and/or diminish the density of a gaffer's lighting plan, mechanical knowledge to operate remote control camera crane arms and lifters, and a steady, experienced set of hands to ensure heavy mechanized equipment like camera dollies or car/truck mounts are where they are supposed to be during a DP's shot. Added to that long list of skills the Local 80 worker must possess, would also be food preparation and service duties, as the 350 plus craft service members, of former Local 727, recently merged into Local 80's domain.
-- from an article on the various crafts written by David Geffner (www.iatse.lm.com/backlot.html)
My grip experience:
The two main jobs a grip does on the set is rigging and modulating/shading lights. Rigging can involve a number of activities, from building a grid from which to hang lights to attaching "baby plates" used to attach lighting units to walls and ceilings. Rigging done in advance of film crew arriving is called pre-rigging. A rigging grip is one who specializes in rigging and pre-rigging. Lighting modulation is what I call any lighting control not attached to the light itself. If it's attached to the light (i.e., barndoors), it's the responsibility of the electricians. If it's not, it's the responsibilty of the grip department. Controlling the light may involve blocking spill with flags, cutting the intensity with nets (if a wire scrim is being used to cut the intensity, it's supposedly the electrician's job because it's part of the light unit), and softening the raw light with various forms of diffusion.
It is in the area of lighting control and modulation that grip work is often the most creatively satisfying, IMHO. Beyond a technical understanding of his or her tools and of the properties of light, a good grip has deeper understanding, a grokking if you will, of the qualities of light. What is ironic is that when a grip does his job well, his art is (and should be) unnoticed by the general public.
Exterior Day scenes are often called Grip Days, since usually a single massive nuclear lighting source is used instead of electrically powered lights. Grips use large 12' by 12' and larger silks, nets and reflectors stretched on aluminum frames to modulate and/or bounce the light from this huge source. Grips use smaller (usually 4' by 4') reflectors called shiny boards to redirect this light.