The key grip is responsible for everything the camera ‘grips’ onto. Such as tripods, dolly tracks, and car rigs. It’s their job to make sure that the DOP can get the shot they want.
During prep, the key grip attends location recces and makes technical plans to shoot the film. They are in their own department but work very closely with the camera team. Most of all, the grip is a skilled technician responsible for all camera support and safety.
On this page, you can find a complete key grip job description. We’ll also discuss the job role skills, education, pay, and work route options.
What is a Key Grip?
During filming, the key grip helps the DOP achieve their shots. They work with a grip team to hire, plan and set up all equipment the camera attaches to. It’s an important job role that requires various technical skills and extensive equipment knowledge.
On shooting days, the key grip is one of the first on set to set up the equipment. They watch the director’s rehearsal and provide advice on how to shoot the scene. If the grip finds any health and safety issues, they report immediately to the 1st AD and fix it.
What Does a Key Grip Do?
The key grip is a highly skilled technical film crew role. However, the job role can change depending on your country and budget. For example, the grip can aid with lighting and general stagehand work in the US. In contrast, the grip does not touch any lighting equipment on UK sets.
Regardless of set type, the key grip in film always provides camera support equipment and guidance for the DOP. The camera support equipment is everything a camera attaches onto, from tripods to dollies, tracks, and cranes.
For example, if you want to mount a camera on a helicopter. The grip will source the equipment, mount it and check that it is safe to use.
Like all crew roles, the key grip is a self-employed freelancer, which means working project to project on short-term contracts. The work will also be physically demanding and require extended work hours.
Key Grip Job Description
The key grip begins work in early pre-production. Firstly, the grip reads the script, creates a script breakdown, and has many meetings with the director of photography. Then they attend location recces and come up with ideas on how to shoot the film.
It’s their job to hire the grip team and all grip equipment. To do this, they must follow a budget laid out by the producer. During filming, they are always on set watching the action, building equipment, and coming up with solutions to problems.
To begin with, the line producer or DOP hires the key grip. Their first duty is to complete a script breakdown and discuss camera movement with the DOP. Then they attend various technical location scouts.
The grip is also responsible for hiring equipment and organizing how to transport it to the set. On large film sets, the key grip employs a team of assistants for the grip department. Lastly, they must do all of this within the film’s budget set out by the producer.
- Script breakdown and meets the DOP
- Attends location scouting
- Determines what equipment to rent
- Orders and transports equipment
- Hires the key grip department and manages the budget
The key grip is always on set during filming, helping the DOP. To begin with, they watch the director’s scene blocking and set up equipment for each shoot. The grip works with a lot of heavy and expensive equipment. So, they are responsible for film set equipment and general safety. Also, a key grip can cut a shot if they think it’s potentially dangerous.
- Watch blocking and set up equipment per scene
- Work closely with the DOP and plan shots
- Help pack up equipment at the end of each shooting day
- Responsible for equipment and general safety on set
Education and Skills
The key grip is the head of the grip department. You don’t need a formal education to work as a grip, but a traineeship will help. Also, to work as a grip, you need to learn a variety of skills such as carpentry, rigging, and an extensive knowledge of equipment.
It’s common to start as a grip trainee or grip assistant. On large sets, teams of grips help transport, lift and look after equipment. Plus, producers will ask you back on more projects if you are enthusiastic about the work.
Above all, key grips are problem solvers and team players. They work closely with the DOP and give clear instructions to their team. It would help if you also built up your physical strength and stamina to lift heavy equipment. You might also want to gain a health and safety certificate.
- Knowledge of camera support gear
- Organization and planning
- Teamwork and communication
- Physical strength and stamina
- Film health and safety trained
Key Grip Career Route
The key grip works throughout film and TV. The typical career path is to start at the bottom of the ladder and work up to high job roles. To begin with, the entry-level job roles in the grip department are grip trainee and grip assistant. In addition, you can also find an apprenticeship or trainee placement.
Another career route is to work on low-budget films and work up to higher budgets. However, you must still learn professional practice and follow health and safety guidelines. Making your own films can also provide you with basic filmmaking knowledge at the start of your career.
Key Grip Salary
The day rate of all film industry crew members depends on the project type and budget. So, you will get less pay for a low-budget indie film than for a high-end TV project. If you look at our production crew rates you can see how they change depending on budget and job role. Of course, your pay will also take into account your personal experience.
In the Hollywood Reporter 2017 crew survey, key grips made an average of $131,068 per year working on studio films. For low-budget films, they make anywhere from $41,000 to $59,0000. The IATSE recommends a minimum of $433 per day of work. However, you can still ask for more based on the job and experience.
At the start of your career, you can find entry-level jobs on film job sites. The entry-level job roles are grip trainee, grip assistant, or production assistant. You might also find work placements as a trainee or shadowing a professional key grip.
Another route is to start working on low-budget film sets within the role. That way, you can learn the job role through hands on practice and work up to higher budgets. Even so, you must learn all elements of the job role, including equipment knowledge and safety training.
|US 🇺🇸||UK 🇬🇧|
|Entertainment Careers||Grips Branch|
|Entertainment Careers advertises jobs in the film and TV industry across the US. It specializes in work for production companies in the Los Angeles region. Their website makes it easy to narrow down your search by job type, experience level, media sector and location.||Grips Branch is a union for grips that follows guidelines carried out by BECTU. Members receive training, advice, and you can ask questions on the forum. It doesn’t specifically advertise work but is great place to start if you are interested in the grip department.|
To sum up, the key grip is a technical and physically demanding job role on a film set. To do well in this role, you will need to learn a variety of skills, including rigging and problem solving. It is also a role that requires strong teamwork and communication.
This career is a great match for people that want a physical job role. There is a lot to learn, and you need to keep up with new equipment and filmmaking techniques. Luckily, this role is in demand in the film industry, so if you have talent, you will find plenty of work.