Grip, electric, swing, and “best boy”... who are these people and what is it that they do on a TV or film set? In this follow-up to my article Who Does What on the Camera Crew?, I outline the duties of some movie and TV crew positions that are not part of the camera crew but are nonetheless essential to the process of cinematography.
Above Image: Electric adjusting light
These on-set crew positions are given as a general outline, not a complete listing of all existing crew members, and do not include post-production and visual F/X positions.
The best boy works closely with the gaffer (the lighting boss—described in the linked article) and relays their requests to the rest of the electric crew. While not a gender-neutral term, “best boy” is still more commonly used than the alternative “ACLT” (assistant chief lighting tech). Like other key positions, the best boy also handles administrative duties like ordering and returning rented equipment, scheduling repairs, and arranging for additional crew members as needed.
An electric (not called an “electrician” when on set) is responsible for setting up any light fixtures, running electric cable, and providing electric power for use both on-set and by other departments. Electrics will position and adjust the output of on-set light sources like this ARRI 650 Fresnel or CAME-TV 1200W HMI using the fixture itself and any barn doors, scrims, gels, or diffusion like this Rosco Opal placed directly on the light itself. Adjusting the light output at any point away from the unit becomes the purview of the grips.
A “board operator” is a specialized electric who adjusts the lights that are rigged on an overhead grid system, usually found on stages with standing sets for sitcoms or similar shows.
The key grip is the head grip, who, along with the gaffer, can often be found conferring with the DP to discuss lighting and camera positions for a new set or location. They or their “best boy grip” assign duties to their crew and also handle the equipment and administrative duties for their department.
An important factor in getting dynamic shots, a good dolly grip is a virtuoso at adjusting the camera’s position in tandem with the camera operator. Dollies come in slim styles like the Proaim Quad 4 Doorway Dolly or the Matthews Doorway Dolly made to fit through—you guessed it—doorways, larger studio styles from Chapman and Fisher with hydraulic booms, and the hybrid Elemack Spyder. The dolly grip guides these mobile camera platforms using varying speeds, fine movements, and nonverbal communication with the operator to finesse the frame so it matches the shot envisioned by the director and DP. They need to silently adjust side to side, forward and back, and up and down to compensate for actors’ overstepping or falling short of their marks, speeding up or slowing their pace, slouching, etc., all while not running over any actors or crew people.
If you’re working as a grip, you get to build things! Grips devise temporary structures like camera platforms, dolly tracks, car rigs, and large overhead diffusion panels and, of course, provide apple boxes for vertically challenged (short) actors or crew people. The set carpenters and construction grips build more permanent set pieces. Tools of the grip trade used to shape the light hitting your talent or set include stands like this Matthews C+Stand with Grip Arm, the intriguingly named Meat Axe, and other flags, silks, and nets like those found in this Digital Juice Flag Kit. Sundry duties that fall under the grip rubric include crafting plexiglass shields and other safety measures for the camera and crew while filming stunts or shooting from vehicles, setting up rain and sun tents and umbrellas, and doling out sandbags to secure equipment.
A swing is a crew member who works as both a grip and an electric according to need. A swing might be found on a 2nd unit, B camera crew, or other small crew.
Like a dolly grip, a skilled jib or crane operator can craft dramatic moving shots. While jibs and cranes can be used to capture similar sweeping shots, a jib is an arm mounted on a tripod or at the end of a crane while a crane is a more substantial support that can extend telescopically and is usually mounted on a moving platform or vehicle.
A rigging crew can consist of a gaffer, grips, electrics, set dressers, etc. Productions use a rigging crew to get the most work done in the shortest amount of time at a location or sometimes to catch up if a production is running behind schedule. Remember, extra crew people can almost always be hired (budget permitting), but it may be impossible to extend your lead actor’s shooting schedule or rent an in-demand location or stage for the additional days you want.
A rigging crew will fit out a location or stage with the lighting fixtures, flags, diffusion panels, cabling, dolly track, camera platforms, etc., needed so that the shooting crew can step in and get right to work later that day or the next day. Their work can be accomplished prior to the start of principal photography, while the shooting crew is on another location, or overnight as needed.
As you can see from the number of crew positions outlined here and in my first article, it may seem like it takes the efforts of a small army to produce a TV show or feature film. But if you ever observe or work on a professional show, you’ll see that when planned correctly, most productions run like clockwork, even (or perhaps especially) on weekly episodic shoots.
Do you have any questions about these or any other production roles? Let us know in the Comments section, below!