True Grip: How to Stand Out on an Independent Film Set

    Are you a grip on an independent film?  It doesn’t matter if it’s a short or a feature film, an original narrative piece or documentary; being a grip is an incredible job that allows you to be creative and active.

    However, like any other role on set, this position doesn’t come without a fight. From one indie grip to another, here are a few tools that can help you prepare for the issues and challenges!

    WARNING! Some western slang has been used in this article. The definitions of these terms and sayings are at the bottom of the page in case you do not know them.

    On an indie film set, a grip should be as determined, creative, perseverant, stubborn and  a team player like Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn and Mattie Ross from True Grit.

    For those who haven’t seen this movie, Mattie Ross, is a 14 year old girl who has lost her father in a gun fight. She seeks out Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn’s, an aged US Marshall to help bring her father’s murderer to justice.

    SHAKE UP CREATIVITY 

    STOP. EVALUATE. GO.

    People forget that being a grip requires a lot of creativity. It’s not only a physical job, but also requires you to use your brain.

    In a crisis, take a moment to stop and think about what the problem is, what needs to be fixed, how you can fix it and what is at your disposal. The fun job of a grip on an independent film set is figuring out how to fix problems with very few options.

    Start simple.

    What’s the problem? The sun? What can I use to block it? A sheet! Get creative, there are many ways of solving problems without expensive equipment.

    BE IN APPLE PIE ORDER 

    STOP. PLAN. ORGANIZE.

    Organize your department and the equipment. Make sure you will have easy access to it and that it’s all in one spot. Once you start shooting, you will have to “pony up”, and there will be no time to waste on searching for a c-stand or c-47. You and others will need to know where your equipment is. If you are filming outside, be sure to keep boxes closed and protected from the elements.

    ANTICIPATE 

    STOP. LISTEN. THINK. DO.

    As a grip, think of all the things that could happen (this will get easier as you “Go through the mill”). Are you filming outside? Bring a tarp, umbrellas, plastic bags, sunscreen, rope in case it starts raining.

    If you are filming inside, protect the area and equipment. Tape down cords, put sandbags on the C-stand in use, etc.

    If you are prepared ahead of time, you will more easily face the unexpected. Anticipate the needs of others. Listen to what people need and run get it.

    BUCKLE TO “RIDE”

    To be a grip, you need to be fit.

    You will be running around getting equipment, climbing up ladders (or trees. I know by experience), building and fixing things. It is important that you be energized and ready to go at the beginning and all through the day. Make sure to rest when there is time and live a healthy lifestyle as much as you can.

    The reality in the film industry is that you might have less sleep than usual, but there are ways to make sure you have a good night sleep. For example, don’t drink alcohol before going to bed, avoid bringing your phone in bed with you, etc. It is easy to eat and drink a lot of soft drinks, energy drinks, fast food and coffee on set.

    Make healthier choices that will give you more energy, but that are also easy to grab and eat on the go.

    Drink a lot of water (with a little bit of lemon) and green tea. Almonds, apples, bananas and dark chocolate are a few examples of healthy food that will give you energy.

    BE SOMEONE TO RIDE THE RIVER WITH

    Be a team player, don’t play the lonesome cowboy.

    Filmmaking is a team effort. As a grip on bigger productions in the independent film industry, you will most likely be working with others to set up, move equipment and to figure out how to solve problems. Find ways to help each other out and work together instead of being in each others way.

    BE GRITTY and DON’T THROW UP THE SPONGE

    STOP. BREATH. START OVER.

    “Being a gritty person means that the one tends to stick to their goals despite numerous issues, problems, setbacks and failures. The person has firmness of mind and unyielding courage.” Quora.com gives us a great definition of being gritty. 

    Don’t let failure stop or slow you down.

    No movie has been completed or successful without the perseverance of those working on it. But it is all worth it (go watch this video).

    Think of it like giving birth. You carry a “child”/idea for 9 months, letting it grow and evolve. Then going through the painful, sometimes long and complicated labour. But once the “baby”/finished product comes, it was all worth it; almost forgetting the pain.

    You get to create. As a grip, you are a solution finder. Be stubborn about your goal. It might not work on the first try. Try something new. Cowboy Up!

    TITLES AND OLD “WESTERN” EXPRESSIONS:

    SHAKE UP: To obtain, get, procure.

    IN APPLE PIE ORDER : in Top shape, perfect order

    PONY UP: Hurry up

    GO THROUGH THE MILL: Gain experience

    SOMEONE TO RIDE THE RIVER WITH : A person to be counted on; reliable; got it where it counts.

    BUCKLE TO: Set about any task with energy and a determination.

    THROW UP/OUT THE SPONGE : To quit, give up, surrender.

    COWBOY UP: Tuff-up, get back on yer horse, don’t back down, don’t give up, and do the best you can with the hand you’re dealt, give it all you’ve got.

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    • Rébecca Alarie is a writer/director/producer with Trois Flèches Productions, an independent film company located in Québec, Canada.

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