What is a Key Grip?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A key grip is actually the chief supervisor of a union crew responsible for moving lights, dolly tracks, cranes and scenery. While grips are primarily hired for their physical strength and construction skills, a key grip also has some administrative responsibilities.

The key grip works closely with the head electrician on a set.
The key grip works closely with the head electrician on a set.

This person works very closely with the head electrician, known in the movie business as a gaffer. As part of a pre-production movie crew, the key grip, gaffer, director of photography and a location producer will discuss the logistics of a specific filming site. All of these people must understand the needs of the script and have an understanding of how difficult a particular location shot might be.

On many film sets, the cameras work on a system of tracks that are called dollies.
On many film sets, the cameras work on a system of tracks that are called dollies.

The key grip must determine if lights can be rigged up safely on a mountainous set, for example. Cameras often work on a system of tracks called dollies. It is the work of grips, working under the supervision of a key grip, to install these tracks and remove them after the shots. Even if the film is shot on a set inside a studio, grips must move walls and lights to accommodate cameras and dollies.

Because the position of grip is almost entirely unionized, breaking into the ranks is difficult without connections. An entry-level grip can make 25 to 35 US dollars an hour, but may only work two days a week. Those two days can last 18 hours or more, however, and overtime wages are substantial. Experienced grips with good work practices can be promoted to the position of 'grip boss'. The grip boss works closely with the key grip in order to translate general orders into specific job assignments.

Most film work is contractual, so any qualified grip may be hired as a key grip for the duration of the production. Quite often the production company will hire a respected and experienced key grip and then allow him or her to handpick a crew. A film construction crew which works well together can help a director meet his own production schedule with minimal downtime.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


fuc my key grip you useless commie cunt


I was assigned this duty as work study while attending Gonzaga University in the early 90's. It was not until just now I was able to put the name "grip" to it. Thanks so much for "my" update.


I don't know much about film making but have attended Julliard University of Arts and have learned a lot about grip and set design and wood, mostly constructing. It is fun and a good school with hands on a lot. Mostly I learn how to write good scripts and wire the lights, too.


Really if you want a degree it would be a film production degree in general. The construction stuff you could learn from live theater or on a real construction site. You could work for free on some independent films or befriend some union people. For camera you could check out workshops; there is some short theme stuff at Maine Media College and there is some video production stuff at Austin School of Film. Your options are endless.


@ Rhapsody: If you want to learn how to do various jobs that film crews tackle, then I suggest attending a film school. Some people say you can learn it on your own, but it's a little hard to learn most of this stuff without learning by hands-on.

Right now I'm attending Full Sail University and I spend a lot of time working with the equipment. Full Sail doesn't spend most of their time in books -- they get their hands on it. That's the best way for you to learn.

If you can't go with Full Sail, then you could always look around for other places, but best thing would be to find a somewhat "known" and respected film school. Hope this helps.


Scad - savannah college of art and design, be sure to take hofstein.


This is funny I found this article, I have been helping my friends with a pilot for a tv series with set building out of the kindness of my heart. They also asked me to be a "grip" when it's time to shoot and I said "sure" without really even knowing what a grip was! Who needs a membership to a gym anyway!! thanks!!!


What sort of degree would one get in order to be best prepared for the technical -grip, builder, camera- part of the "behind the scenes" movie jobs? What colleges would be best to attend?

I have done live theater for some time and it has mostly been props and Assistant Stage Management positions, however I am also interested in working behind the scenes for the movies. Such as sound, lights, scenes, props, editing, and filming.

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