Oklahoma-based writer, director, and filmmaker Noble Banks talks with key grip and visual effects key grip Craig “Cowboy” Aines, whose credits include Dr. Dolittle 2 and Happy Gilmore. In this episode, you'll learn about the differences between a Key Grip and a VFX Key Grip, as well as what you'll need to know in order to succeed as a VFX Key Grip.
A Key Grip works with the Gaffer and the Director of Photography to help oversee electric and rigging crews on a set. They’ll work with these teams to execute lighting and camera movements with a variety of equipment. A Visual Effects Key Grip differs from a Key Grip in that they specialize in unique lighting techniques and camera technologies that make those iconic action shots from some of your favorite movies possible.
The VFX Key Grip will be hired by the DP and Gaffer. A lot of prep goes into the shots that a VFX Key Grip will be responsible for on set. In pre-production, they will use storyboards, a previs book, and a previs schedule provided by the Director, 1st AD, and DP to help them plan what equipment, rigging, and lighting will be needed to accomplish the shots for a given production. This prep will include a lot of data calculations to ensure safety on set. Working with their cameraman, they will begin to prep for the rigging and lighting required, using measurements and load calculations where necessary.
During filming, the VFX crew will arrive two hours before the call time to unload and prepare. Usually, they will set up for that day's list of shots on a stage provided by the production. They will first build the camera rig and load the mo-co rig on the stage. Each shot will require a different set of problem-solving skills. The VFX Key Grip will make sure that the crew follows the daily call sheet to keep on track with the shooting schedule. As one part of the crew works on a VFX shot, another part of the crew will prepare lighting for the next shot. Often, they will communicate with the Producers, the 1st AD, and a VFX Supervisor to make sure the VFX unit stays on schedule. The VFX crew does not work with talent or the first unit camera team, they will work at the same time as principal photography but normally on a separate stage.
The VFX Key Grip will incorporate notes from the Director, DP, and Producers as they continue with production.
Quick-thinking: The VFX Key Grip must be a quick thinker and problem solver to help the rigging, lighting, and camera teams problem-solve issues that arise on set.
Being Reliable: It is important to be loyal and reliable as a member of the Grip and Electric team, as the working relationships that you foster on a set will lead to future work in the industry.
Organization: To help manage the VFX crew and keep the shots on schedule for production, the VFX Key Grip must be organized.
Basic math and algebra: A VFX Key Grip works with heavy, expensive equipment that is often rigged high in the air. The ability to understand and compute basic math and load calculations is important for the efficacy and safety of these rigs.
Remaining even-tempered: A VFX key grip needs to be able to adapt to changes on set, which requires patience and a level head.
The VFX Crew
Start out as a PA in the grip and electric department. Gain experience, make connections and work your way up in the department. It is important, especially when you start out in this business, to adopt the attitude of a learner who is able to listen to instructions and work as a team to accomplish any given task.
First Company grips can make around $40 per hour, VFX key grip can expect to make around $55.00 per hour.
For more information on pay for this position and information on how to join a union, visit: https://www.iatse.net/
The VFX uses equipment provided by the production. Cowboy carries 90% of the equipment he needs on his own truck, which is a 70ft grip truck to hold all of the equipment necessary for production.
In cases like this, the production will rent the equipment from a grip who brings his own equipment.
Mo-Co Rig: Refers to "motion control rig."
Storyboards: Graphic representations of how a film will unfold, shot by shot.
Previs: Refers to "previsualization." Modern previs books and previs schedules are built using digital technology that allows a director to plan and create sequences for a film. Previs companies work closely with the Director, VFX Supervisor, and sometimes the Production Designer to build digital sequences that are given to the VFX Key Grip as examples of what a Director would like to see in a shot.
Crane: A crane shot is a shot taken by a camera on a moving crane. Most cranes can hold the camera and the camera operator and some can be moved by remote control. accommodate both the camera and an operator, but some can be moved by remote control.
Sticks: Refers to a tripod on a film set. If you hear "grab the sticks!" Someone is referring to both the legs and head of the tripod.
Learn more about Noble Banks: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm7383003/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
Learn more about Cowboy: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0014671/
Thank you to the Oklahoma Film and Music Office for sponsoring this episode!
Film Crew 101: Certification is an extension of the free Podcast series "Film Crew 101" (available on apple, spotify, and wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts). Each episode pulls back the curtain on all the different roles that go into making a film or TV show from Gaffer's to Best Boy's and First Assistant Director's to Second Second Assistant Director's.
If you have ever dreamt about working in film and television but don’t know where to start, we invite you to get certified with Film Crew 101.