THE BLOG
07/29/2013 11:50 am ET | Updated Sep 28, 2013

All the Doors to Hollywood and How to Open Them -- Grip

What is a Grip? What does a Grip do?

"Grips are sort of like the Sea Bees of the film crew", says Art Bartels, among whose movies are Ocean's Eleven with Matt Damon and Along Came Polly, with Jennifer Aniston and Ben Stiller.

"We're the production's physical support system. If the cameraman says, 'We need a light up there', we figure out a way to hang it. Or if a too-blue sky is the problem, we find out how wide the shot will be, what kind of lens the camera will use, and then tent the appropriate area with black. We help the producer keep within the budget, help the director carry out his or her vision - we have to know photography and light and geography.

We scout locations with the Director, the Producer and the Photographer, and advise them what's possible within the projected budget. 'This location will work, this one won't.' We figure out the geography of a shot, in terms of the light wanted. If morning sun is the aim and we're shooting at midday, we just cover a whole street with silk fabric to soften the light, make it more flattering. And in locations like Hawaii, or Jamaica, we do that a lot! We keep an eye on safety issues, too. The Key Grip - the lead Grip - is the set's safety officer. If the First Assistant Director doesn't spot a particular danger, we point it out."

How big a crew do you generally have?

"It varies with the budget and the nature of the script. The average crew includes the Key Grip - me - the Best Boy, Dolly Grip and four company Grips. The Best Boy directs the others, makes sure all materials are in stock and in place, and handles the office work."

How did you get started?

"I knocked on a lot of doors. I'd worked in a photo lab, processing stills, I'd worked in small theatre, helping with the lighting and set construction - but when a guy walked up my driveway to repossess my car, I thought it was time to make some real money. I was twenty-one or twenty-two years old. I thought I'd combine my photo, theatre, and construction experience and try to break into movies. My first job was in film commercials. Within two years I had a house in Malibu and drove a company car. My first feature film was Four Friends, directed by Arthur Penn."

What do you like about the work?

"Just about everything. I've worked with some impressive people. After we finished shooting Polly, in Hawaii, my wife and I decided to stay on for a week's vacation. When I went to pay the bill -- about three ¬hundred and fifty to four hundred a night -- I was told Ben Stiller had already covered it -- and was handed a note from him thanking me for all my help! You don't forget something like that.

And then there's shooting the breeze with people like Matt Damon, who always wanted to talk baseball, and fascinating people like Jane Fonda and Levon Helm, the drummer from Bob Dylan's band. And remarkable 'Old Hollywood' actors -- like Maureen O'Hara and Anthony Quinn. Their professionalism was amazing. They never left the set because they were so engaged in talking with the crew -- they asked questions, they told us stories, told how things used to be done --.

With the old Westerns, for instance, the roads in places like Monument Valley were too bad to drive in and out of locations each day, so everyone slept there in tents, with one big Club House tent for socializing, and games. O'Hara is 78 years old now, and sits on the set until one a.m., and doesn't look tired, and is still beautiful -- what a woman!"

What else do you enjoy?

"Each movie is sort of a new family. For three or four intense months, we eat together six days a week, sleep in the same hotels, enjoy the same parties, and share the same dramas. And often in great places -- Costa Rica, Hawaii, Jamaica.

And I'm always learning and inventing. For instance -- how to use whatever materials are locally available, how to make bamboo and wire do for wood and nails and plastic supports -- thanks to the locals, who do things like that all the time. I'm never bored -- it's great!"

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