Grip and Gaffer

What do these people do on movie sets?

By Deane Barker

A grip is responsible for setting up the camera equipment, especially when the camera is doing something odd, like traveling on a track or elevating. The “key grip” is – as the name would indicate – the manager of the grips. A “best boy” is the assistant to the key grip.

A gaffer is responsible for lighting the set. They plan the set up and tuning of the lights. Sometimes the gaffer is called the “Chief Lighting Technician.” The gaffer manages a team of electricians.

The gaffer takes direction from the cinematographer – the cinematographer decides how they want the set to look, the gaffer determines what lighting they need to make this happen, the grips then set up all the rigging, and the electrical team hooks up and tunes the lighting.

Why I Looked It Up

In the wake of the Alec Baldwin shooting on a movie set, these terms started to get used a lot, and I finally decided to look them up.

I also remembered this funny Onion article: Movie Studio Blows Whole Budget On Big-Name Gaffer:

Warner Bros. … coaxed Brett Atkins, the film industry’s most legendary gaffer, out of retirement this week at a cost rumored to be in the $50 million range. “Yes, roughly 90 percent of the film’s budget will go to gaffing, but Brett brings a level of lighting expertise and cable-laying innovation that is simply indispensable…”

I remember a great video from Digg showing, step-by-step, how a movie scene would be lit. I can’t find the exact video, but I searched YouTube for “how to light a movie scene” and there are dozens of videos, with titles like:


Added on

I’ve learned that “gaffer” can also be slang for “old man.” In fact, this was the original definition. Back in the 1500s (clearly, long before the advent of film), “gaffer” was a term of respect for an older person.

Some people believe it was a phonetic shorting of the word “godfather.” It eventually came to be used in British English as “foreman,” which is likely how it found its way into its current usage.

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