The next time the credits of a movie rolls, sit and wait to give due attention and recognition to one of the most important “stars” of the show—the key grip.
The key grip is responsible for a lot of the movie’s legwork. He is the supervisor of the team that handles moving the lights, dolly tracks, cranes, and large pieces of scenery. As these duties imply, a key grip must have exceptional construction skills and a great deal of physical strength. He often spends many hours on the set, especially for films that involve a lot of camera movement and shifts.
The key grip often coordinates with the movie’s gaffer (who is actually the production team’s head electrician). Together, they sit with the director of photography and location producer to map and plan the production requirements of a particular scene or film site. This involves a close review of both the script and the venue that they plan to use—as they anticipate possible logistical challenges and look for solutions. For example, a key grip will decide whether or not they can place lights on very mountainous terrain, or if they must move to another location.
The key grip must also deal with managerial responsibilities, such as mobilizing a team according to specific general orders: deciding who takes particular assignments, and making a timeline.
Since movie work is contractual, key grips are hired on a per-project basis. Some are picked from a group of grips, others hire a well-known key grip and allow him to pick his team.
The skills of the key grip and his crew are essential to a movie’s success and prevent problems like overextended production times and downtimes.