Beauty and the Beast
  Sunday   September 7, 1997




The Usual Suspects

I caught the last half of one of my favorite movies tonight: Terminator. Linda Hamilton's in it, so I thought I'd indulge in a little shameless name-dropping and tell you about the time I worked with her.

First, though, the why and how of it. For the past three years or so I've worked as a grip in the film industry. On this occasion I was brought in as a "day player" on a show Linda was doing, a TV movie called "A Mother's Prayer" that I've never seen surface anywhere.

I suppose I should first answer the standard question when people learn what I do: What's a grip? The joke answer: Heavy man moving stupid equipment. The real answer is longer and a little complicated. Three of the departments on every movie are grips, electricians, and camera. The camera crew, obviously, operates the camera, while the electricians run power and light the scenes. The grips work closely with both of them.

What we do for lighting is shape it. We adjust the color temperature of the light by using gels and a variety of translucent fabrics mounted on frames, and we throw solid and patterned shadows with flags, "cukes," tree branches and anything not nailed down. We also provide fill light by using everything from a simple chunk of styrofoam ("beadboard") to 4 foot square reflector boards to 20' X 20' sheets of fabric on a frame to... Let's just say we have a lot of equipment for this, some of it getting very large and dangerous on windy days. We also put lights in odd places, either by screwing a plate for it to a ceiling, wall or whatever's handy, or hoisting them high into the air on a Condor (a vehicle with an extending arm -- a cherry-picker).

On the camera side, we make it move. Anytime you see a shot where the camera is moving, a grip is involved in making it happen. We lay track and push the dolly, build and operate cranes, tie down and hang onto the cameraman in helicopter shots, build crash boxes for tricky stunt shots, etc.

We also play a major role in set safety. One of the biggest parts of our job is humping 40-pound sandbags to hell and gone so they can be placed on the legs of the stands holding lights and grip equipment so that nothing falls over and brains someone. We also "safety" lights flying overhead by tying them off to something secure so they don't fall and, again, brain someone. You can see, perhaps, why it's a good idea to stay on a grip's good side.

So that's what we do. The next question is always "What's a best boy?" The grip/electric hierarchy works like this: the grunts who run around doing most of the physical work are grips and electricians. Next up the ladder is the best boy grip/best boy electric who, while occasionally a woman despite the male title, supervises the gruntwork, handles all the paperwork, coordinates the receipt and return of equipment and does the hiring of dayplayers (people who are brought in for just a few days of work). Top dogs are the Key Grip for grips and the Gaffer on the electric side. They are always on the set (instead of being off at the grip truck), working hand-in-hand with the director of photography and giving orders to the best boys, who pass them on to the grips and electrics.

Okay, now that we've got that out of the way, on with the story. I'd been brought in as a dayplayer grip for the last shooting day of the show. I was coming in to work with a group of people who'd been working together for a month, so I was obviously the new guy. I'd been on the clock for maybe fifteen minutes and was humping a load of c-stands (used to hold flags in place) up from the grip truck when I met Linda on her way to her trailer. We were on a narrow pathway and someone was going to have to step aside...

Slight digression on set etiquette: "The talent" is pretty much always deferred to by everyone. If they say it's hot, it's hot, even in the snow. If they say they need a minute, they get a minute, even if we're racing the sun. If you're on a narrow path, the talent doesn't step aside, no matter how heavy a load the other person may be carrying. That's just the way it is. Stars are used to this treatment, come to expect it, and get pissy when they don't get it. It goes to their head, and usually swells it to epic proportions. And talk to one of the grunts? Forget about it. Ask me about my Bruce Dern story from the same show sometime. I was sorely tempted not to safety the light I rigged over his head for a shot later that day.

So Linda and I met up on the narrow trail...and she stepped aside. And as I passed, she said "Hi, glad to have you on board." I almost dropped the load I was carrying. It wasn't just that she had stepped aside and actually spoken to me, no. She had recognized that I was new -- which meant she was aware of the other crew, too. I was impressed and flabbergasted, all at the same time. (And the fact that I've had a crush on ever since Terminator had nothing to do with it, thankyewverymuch.) I babbled something along the lines of "Bwu muhaha dugango" and continued up the trail.

She was the same way for the rest of the day. Respectful of the crew, friendly, treating everyone as though they mattered. She was a real person. At the wrap party that night she kept scoring points. Most stars only make a token appearance at the wrap party and hang out with the other stars and director and producers when they do. Not Linda, she hung out with everybody. I even got to talk to her for a few minutes and managed not to make a complete ass of myself. I'm gushing, I know, but she really impressed me with what a nice person she is. If didn't have a thing for her before that day, I sure did afterward.

So that's my Linda Hamilton story. Yes, you can touch me.





Copyright 1997
Chuck Atkins