Unusual Occupation Names in Film Production – Gaffer, Grip, and Best Boy

Introduction

Three unusual occupation names in filmdom are the Gaffer, Grip, and Best Boy. They happen to be associated with two different departments, the Electrical Department and the Grip Department. In fact, there are two “best boys”, one for each of the two departments. The members of both departments work together to make the magic happen on set, but the Grip Department is limited to non-electrical needs. A grip may have to set up a camera, but an electrician has to power that camera.

Light
(photo from Premium Beat via FM Grip and Lighting)

Electrical Department

The Electrical Department is in charge of all electrical needs on set. This includes lighting for filming, as well as electricity for offices, trailers, etc.

The Gaffer is the head of the Electrical Department. One possible origin of the term “gaffer” relates to the moving of overhead equipment to control lighting levels using a gaff, which is a pole with a hook on one end. The Gaffer works with the Director of Photography to ensure the lighting achieves the desired effect in a scene, albeit the look for a certain time of day, or to give the illusion of movement, such as for a subway car. This is known as “lighting design”.  The Gaffer is in charge of all electrical needs on set.

The Best Boy (Electric) is second to the Gaffer, in charge of day-to-day operations, managing sources of electricity (such as an electric truck), and managing and scheduling the electricians and lighting technicians. The Gaffer stays with the Director of Photographer on set, and the Best Boy is in charge of everything else. The origin of the term “best boy” is unclear. One possibility is that in the early days of film, the Gaffer asked the Key Grip to borrow his best boy.

The Electrical Lighting Technician is responsible for getting power to the set. Not just for electricity used for lights and filming, but for trailers, offices, etc.

The Generator Operator is in charge of power for location shots, where a generator is required.

The Lighting Board Operator is used on sets where lights need adjustment and dimming.

Key Grip Robert Adams
Key Grip Robert Adams on set of “Wild Safari” (photo from Premium Beat via Fernbank Museum of Natural History)

Grip Department

The Grip Department supports all non-electrical needs on set, most notably lighting and rigging). They set up gear for the camera, such as vehicle mounts, tripods, dollies, and cranes.   The dolly is a vehicle with a camera mount; the vehicle runs on dolly tracks, allowing for smooth camera movement during a scene where the characters are walking, for example.

The Key Grip is head of the Grip Department. They work with the Director of Photography, in conjunction with the Gaffer (see above), to achieve the correct lighting and blocking for shots. Blocking a scene ensures the actors and cameras are at the right place at the right time.

The Best Boy (Grip) is the chief assistant to the Key Grip. They maintain the grip truck, and manages and schedules all other grips.

Grips are the expert camera and lighting rigging technicians, working the non-electrical aspects.   They set up tripods, cranes, dollies, etc. They control camera movement and focuses lights. A special Grip is called the Dolly Grip, who, as the name implies, lays the dolly track and pushes and pulls the dolly to position it during filming.

Conclusion

I learn a lot just by preparing these posts on the technical aspects of production.  The separation of duties between the Electrical Department and Grip Department is strictly enforced.  Now I have a better understanding as I watch credits at the end of a film.

Please provide feedback or questions in the Comments.  I would really enjoy hearing from you.

Additional Information

Premium Beat

Wikipedia:    Grip    Gaffer    Best Boy

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