Which Tools Do You Need to be a Film Grip?

Share

As a grip, it’s your job to handle the lighting and rigging on the set. You’ll set up, take down, move and adjust dollies and cranes and will also be responsible for the non-electrical side of modifying the lighting. A grip’s work is vital to the flow of a production, which is why it’s so important for you to have a full set of tools that can keep you working smoothly, efficiently and safely. 

The following are the basic tools you must have as a grip, and recommendations for additional items you might want to add to your tool set as you work toward becoming a professional grip.

What sort of gloves do I need to work as a grip?

Generally speaking, you’re going to want to have a pair of durable work gloves to protect your hands while adjusting hot lights, building a rig for the camera, or any number of duties that could come your way. Leather work gloves are best, though in some circumstances, like shooting outside in the winter, you might also want to have a pair of fleece gloves or ones made with Thinsulate. Some gloves have flaps on the index finger and thumb that can be flipped back for more tactile interaction with equipment. Such flaps can prove especially useful when shooting in the cold or in the rain. 

It might make sense for you to get a couple pairs of gloves to use for different situations or different seasons. You could even find that you like to wear work gloves to handle equipment but switch to more insulating gloves while waiting for a shot to finish.

What kind of wrenches do grips need most?

A crescent wrench is one of the tools that you’ll use most often on the set, particularly when you’re rigging or setting up lamps. You might also find that a more specialized wrench, a lighting wrench, specifically designed to work with stage lighting, might come in handy. A lighting wrench also looks very professional when attached to your belt. On this note, always make sure that you’ve got your tools—especially your wrench, knife and flashlight—tethered to your tool belt or pouch, to prevent people getting hurt or equipment being damaged by a falling tool.

What is gaffer tape and what kind
do I need?

Yes, it’s called gaffer tape, but as a grip, you should always have some on hand all the same. Gaffer tape comes in a variety of colors, from matte black to fluorescent orange and green-screen green, and in just about anything in between. Matte black is the most common type used and the 2-inch size can be the most useful, so you should pick up at least a couple of these. A light colored, 1-inch roll that you can label easily is also very useful.

Much like duct tape, gaffer tape can be one of those multi-use solutions to dozens of unexpected problems. But it differs in that it’s made of cloth and is much easier to tear with your hand. Along with anchoring cables and cords and keeping a shooting area safe, gaffer tape can also be used to hold a gel in place, to fashion a temporary fix for a piece of equipment, or even to just mark your radio or water bottle. Gaffer tape is easy to remove from a surface without leaving any residue, making it the professional choice for stage blocking or even just to attach a note to a piece of equipment. 

What’s the best kind of knife to use?

A good knife is a vital part of your equipment as a grip. You’ll need a knife to cut things like gels, ropes and plastic ties, so it’s a great idea to have both a regular heavy-duty utility knife as well as a versatile multi-tool. Along with a multi-tool that has a Philips and a flat-head screw driver, you should look for one that has pliers as well as a serrated blade that can cut through a rope. A multi-tool kit like the Porta Brace SK-3 Side Kit can save you some time in a pinch and can often give you extra options when you’re setting up a camera or modifying a light from an awkward position. 

What kind of flashlight works best on set?

If you don’t already own an LED flashlight, you might not yet be familiar with its many benefits. As solid-state lights, LEDs (light emitting diodes) don’t have filaments that can expand, contract and burn out. They can handle being dropped and some models can even withstand being submerged in water. LEDs have very focused, directional light, so the beam goes directly where you aim it—particularly useful when you want a bright light on a troublesome bolt or screw. LED flashlights also get very good battery life and produce an ample amount of light. Even small ones powered by AAA batteries do. Some LED flashlights give you varying degrees of brightness that help extend battery life. Some are designed with rugged housings that hold up well to constant, professional use. But despite these reliability benefits, it’s still a good idea to have at least two in your kit, since you just never know if you might lose one or when the batteries will let you down. 

In addition to a compact, handheld flashlight, you might also want to get a headlamp, or a flashlight model that can clip to a board, baseball cap or that has legs that can be attached to some rigging while you work.  It’s always nice to be able to work with both hands free.

Do I need a tape measure and a level?

As a grip, you’re going to have to become proficient in measuring distances and adjusting lights, stands, diffusers, flags, cameras and other gear in order to get the right look for a scene. Don’t let yourself be stuck asking around for a tape measure. Add one to your kit, and keep it with you so that you can always be ready to measure for perfect lighting.  

Should I get a laser pointer?

A laser pointer can also be very handy while working on the set, especially if you’re working with someone on the other end of the set.  Red laser pointers are better for night shoots and darker indoor areas, while green laser pointers are easy to see in bright rooms or if working outdoors.  

Should I get chalk or permanent markers?

Yes to both. Keep some chalk on hand as well as at least a couple of permanent markers. While you might not be the one updating the chalk clapper, you might still find some situations in which it’s easier to mark a piece of equipment or a container with chalk. Permanent markers are also a must, particularly for labeling gaffer tape, especially the different-colored varieties of tape.

Do I need my own headset?

While even indie productions will provide two-way radios for the crew, it doesn’t hurt to have your own headset that you know is comfortable, reliable and works well for you. Two-way radio headsets come in several different designs, from single-ear, to dual-ear cups to in-ear and over-the-ear pieces. You might also find that you prefer using a headset that features in-line PTT (push-to-talk) as that can make it easier for you to reply when called for on set. 

Do I need a bubble level?

A bubble or torpedo level will definitely make your work easier too, and though you can use an iPhone or Android app for a level, would you really want to risk dropping your phone while working on the set? With practice, you can get great results even from using just a small, magnetic level, and if you want to have something that’s just kind of cool and handy in your kit, you might also want to pick up a hot-shoe level, which photographers often use to line up the horizon for more accurate panoramic shots. 

What other tools should I have in my tool belt or pouch?

Along with the basic tools mentioned above, you should also add a Leatherman or screwdriver with interchangeable tips (at least 4-in-1), an Allen wrench multi-tool, pliers, socket wrench, a good pair of scissors and plenty of clothes pins. Owning some Pony Spring "A" Clamps to help you hold equipment in place is a good idea as well, since clamps are as common as clothes pins. You might also want to pick up a few carabiners to make it easier to clip your tools to your belt.

Is this a comprehensive guide or just an introduction?

This article affords a basic introduction to the tools a working grip requires. It will help you get started, but it is in no way a 100% comprehensive list. In order to ameliorate this guide, we’d love to hear from working grips and film students who know the trade intimately. Feel free to leave any suggestions, critiques or tips you might have on what tools a grip needs to do the job well. We look forward to your thoughts and ideas.

Add new comment

Gaffer tape is around $20 roll
I would like to add coins(penny) on this list for unscrewing plate and attaching to tripod.
Cloth or bandanna for wiping anything off
Different colored Duct Tape- and a sharpie for labeling

Good list. I would also suggest diagonal cutters (dikes), channel lock pliers, and a low-profile 3/16" allen speed wrench (for working with speed rail connectors). I've been berrated on a union set for pulling out multi-tool instead of a "real tool" specific to the task at hand. Traditionally, a grip should also have a hammer (hence the slang term for the job), but you probably don't have to carry one on you, as long as there's at least one among the grip crew or on the truck. And 2" black paper tape is just as useful as gaff tape. You'll tailor your tool set to the types of jobs you're doing - if you're working on a big sound stage or out on a remote location - if you're on a multi-million dollar feature or a microbudget music video - it's something that you try to prepare for and anticipate for any particular job, but experience is the only way to really know what tools you'll need and use most.