Category Archives: Grip

Electricity 101 for Film & Television Producers

As a Miami gaffer, I thought it might be helpful to teach the basics about electricity as it applies to producers! Filmmakers often need to be a jack-of-all-trades (doesn’t mean they’re the master of none).

Although you’ll have a dedicated electrician to run power to your set, you still need to have the basic knowledge of power distribution, electrical safety and power sources. This helps you coordinate with your Miami gaffer and best boy more effectively to avoid any electrical faux pas on a your film set.  So here’s the electricity 101 for film and television productions.

Power Distribution on Movie Sets

In order to understand power distribution, you should have a clear understanding of voltage, wattage and amperage, and how they relate to each other.

One simple way to understand that is by using the water analogy. Water pipes are analogous to electric circuits. Electricity flows through circuits, just as water flows through pipes. Of course, water and electricity have different characteristics, and so the analogy is not 100% accurate, but it helps you understand the relationship between voltage, wattage, amperage and resistance.

Voltage is basically the difference in energy between two points in an electrical field. If you compare electricity to water, then voltage is comparable to water pressure in a water pipe. The more the voltage, the faster the electric charge flows through a circuit. However, high water pressure doesn’t always mean that a lot of water is flowing through of the pipe. Similarly, high voltage doesn’t necessarily mean high volume of electricity. That brings us to amperage.

Amperage is analogous to the volume of water flowing through a pipe per second. It is basically the measure of how much electrical charge is flowing past a given point in one second. Not to get too scientific but the symbol of voltage is ‘V’, while the symbol of amperage is ‘I’ or ‘A’.

Now if you multiply voltage with amperage, you get power or wattage.

P (wattage) =V (voltage) x I (amperage)

Or I (amperage) = P (wattage)/V (voltage)

Use this formula to calculate how many devices, hair driers, computers, lights printers your Miami gaffer can plug in to a power strip or outlet on the wall or coming out of a portable generator, before you flip the breaker.

How to Avoid Overloading a Power Strip 

Typically, a circuit breaker can handle a maximum 20 Amps of current. And in the U.S., we mostly have 120V circuits. Now if you use the above equation (P = V x I), a typical circuit breaker can withstand maximum 120 x 20 = 2400 watts of power.

That means, you can plug in one 2K (2000 Watts) light or two 1Ks to a 20 Amp circuit. If you plug in one 2K light and one 1K light, the circuit breaker will flip or break.

But for safety reasons, most electricians and gaffers in Miami would recommend using maximum 80% of the breaker rating. So if you plug in one 2K light to a 20 Amp power strip plugged into a wall outlet or portable generator, then you must avoid adding more load or devices to the same circuit.

In order to calculate how much you can safely plug in to a single wall outlet, electricians often use paper Amps.

What is Paper Amps?

Paper Amps is a way of calculating roughly how much you can plug in, before you overload the circuit breaker. The way it works is simple. Take all the wattage of all the lights you’re plugging in to one circuit; add them all together; and then divide them by 100.

Did you notice that we are dividing the total wattage with 100, instead of the typical 120? That’s because we want to keep a little buffer or safety net for poor calculations!

To understand the concept of paper Amps and how it applies in the practical world, let’s take a look at an example. Let’s say you want to plug in one 1K (1000W) and two 650W Fresnel lights to a 20 Amp circuit. Is it possible? Let’s do the math.

(1000W + 650W + 650W)/100 = 2300/100 = 23

So no, you cannot safely connect those three lights to the same circuit because you’ll trip the breaker.

Selecting the Right Extension Cord

On each extension cord, you’ll see ratings in Amps. Let’s say the rating for an extension cord is 15 Amps; and you have 120V circuits, which is everywhere! So if you use the P = V x I formula, the cord is capable of carrying 1800 watts load. But for safety, you should use maximum 80% of the wattage your cord is capable of carrying. In the above example, although the cord is capable of carrying 1800 watts, you need to make sure it is not carrying more than 1440 watts.  These extension cords can get hot and melt!

Apart from Ampere ratings, also consider the length and thickness of an extension cord. It is always safe to use thicker cords when you’re running power from multiple sources to a single location. The thickness of a cord is measured in gauge. The lower the gauge rating, the thicker the cord.

Ideally, your gaffer should use a 12 gauge cord for running up to 2000 Watts of power to your set. If you’re running power from a long distance source, consider using one long extension cord, instead of multiple shorter cords. But one problem with longer extension cords is that they often cause a voltage drop due to wire resistance. You can minimize the voltage drop problem by using thick-gauge extension cords.

Types of Portable Generators

Portable generators [aka geni] come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, with different features to suit different needs. So the first thing to do is define your needs. Is your Miami gaffer planning to use a geni to power sensitive electronic devices, such as, laptops, printers, music systems and fax machines? If yes, then look for a generator capable of reducing voltage fluctuation due to harmonic distortion. A Honda generator is perfect for that! You’ll usually need clean, reliable power on movie sets. To that end, choose the right type of generator for your film production.

There are mainly three types of portable generators available in the market. They are;

  1. Brushless generators – This type of geni typically has up to 23% voltage waveform distortion – not suitable for sensitive electronics and HMI and Kino Flo ballasts in a film production.  Normally you will only find these in 3rd world countries or in the Caribbean.
  2. AVR generators – This type comes with voltage waveform distortion of up to 19.5%. Although they interact well with HMI and Kino Flo ballasts, they are not a safe option for your sophisticated electronic equipment.
  3. Invertor generators – With voltage waveform distortion of less than 2.5%, these generators are perfect for use on film shoots. You can safely use them to power both your HMIs and sensitive electronic devices. Also, they are lightweight and not very loud. Most of them come with an eco-mode to offer you more fuel efficiency. For instance, if you switch to the eco-mode of Honda 2000 Watt Generator, it can run up to 15 hours on a single tank of gas.

Some other important considerations when choosing a generator for your film or television productions include your total wattage requirements, whether it has both an electric and a pull start option, and whether it comes with wheels.

So there you go, with this info in hand, your Miami gaffer will be proud!

What’s in Your Grip Truck? A Guide to Equipment and Loading

grip truck rental

They are the essential building blocks for a great lighting package. Grip trucks not only get your gear from here to there, but they also keep your production running smoothly and on schedule. Like most lighting rental companies, Dave’s Grip & Lighting rents grip trucks as well. In fact, we believe we’re South Florida’s most experienced and professional grip truck rental company!

A guide to grip truck rental

Whether you’re new to the job or are a seasoned veteran working with outside vendors like production rental houses, understanding the equipment that’s in your grip truck and how to properly handle it is a must. It also ensures you get the right sized truck with the equipment you need based on the type and size of your project.

We have a variety of grip trucks including 10-ton 5-ton, 3-ton, and 1-ton van packages. Your grip truck rental comes with or without a driver, and is pre-loaded with a variety of lighting, grip, and miscellaneous gear. Customization is always an option.

1-ton cargo van

This is not your standard minivan or sprinter! Sprinter trucks are typically used for small stage work, run-and-gun shoots, and independent narrative films, our 1-ton cargo van is a video producer’s dream. It’s perfect for small commercials, easy to park, and filled with must-have gear like C-stands, scrims, flags, clips, clamps, and more. This van is ready to go at a moment’s notice for your next production!

3-ton grip truck

Ideal for webisode’s, corporate videos, industrials, and smaller commercials and indie features, a 3-ton grip truck rental also has plenty of interior space for add-ons. It moves quick, handles nicely and, thanks to a highly functional shelving and cart layout, loading and unloading is super fast. Small enough to fit nicely on jobs that require more than our 1-ton van package can offer, it comes equipped with a big selection of stands, apple boxes, blankets, clamps, silks, frames, expendables, and a whole lot more. It also includes c-stand, cable, sandbag, header, and flag/net carts.

5-ton grip truck

Looking for a grip truck rental that adds some lights?  Our 5-ton package has a little of everything and a lot more than other production equipment rental companies offer in Miami.  A full-feature truck, it can haul twice the weight of a 3-ton. It has frames of every size, two stand carts, a full complement of c-stands, as per use HMI’s, LED lights, Arri Sky panels S60 and 11 ARRI tungsten lamps, as well as ETC Source Four 26 Degree 750w light for long throws. And there’s an abundance of expendables.

For larger productions, we also offer a 10-ton package that’s designed and built with a bigger crew in mind.

Depending on the package size you rent, consider scheduling a full or half prep day for one or 2 people. Have a newbie on the crew? Let them tag along so they can familiarize themselves with the gear and truck.

The art of loading a grip truck

Loading a small to medium sized grip truck doesn’t take more than an hour—if it’s done right. Of course, the time will vary depending on the size of your crew and how involved the shoot is. No matter what budget or size, there’s a two-point system for loading a grip truck that always works well.

Once wrap is called, assign grips to specific jobs. One or two may be tasked with wrapping cable, another to taking down lights and bringing them to the truck. Make sure light stands are all placed in the same area and make separate piles for cables, sand bags, and so on. And have two or more people on the truck handed the gear from outside in an assembly line fashion. This ensures all the gear ends up in its proper place.

At the grip truck rental house

Here are a few tips for dealing with a grip truck rental house on the day of pickup and during production.

  • Before you pull out of the lot, make a final count to ensure all of the gear you ordered is on board..
  • Keep the truck tidy at all times so gear is easily and quickly accessible.
  • Place ladders, frames, etc. in overhead storage if provided.
  • Keep carts organized and put on the brakes.
  • Tie everything down!
  • Communicate clearly when using the truck’s lift gate.

Every production is challenging. But having an experienced partner like Dave’s Grip & Lighting to help with your grip truck rental is one of the smartest pre-production moves you can make. And if we don’t offer what you need in-house? We’ll help you find it! Our wide range of services includes a fleet of grip trucks that add enormous value to your production while protecting your bottom line. To learn more about all the grip and lighting services we offer, call us today at 305.409.0009, or contact us online.

NAB 2019 is shaping up nicely for lighting and grip rental

Who’s going to NAB2019 from the Miami grip truck crowd? Give a shout out if any of my Miami lighting and grip brothers and sisters are attending. Not to mention any crew new to the business, and seasoned veterans.  Stay tuned here on my blog and Facebook page about unique opportunities to interact with people, and new lighting equipment at NAB 2019. I’ll be chatting up all the lighting and grip reps on the floor. Here’s a look at some of the lights I’ve written about at previous NAB’s.

Also, hoping to get out into the desert as usual for my annual sunrise hike:  Red Rocks Vegas.   Everybody’s invited!

And, check out this: The Hollywood Reporter Cinematographer’s Roundtable. It’s a great chat with an amazing collection of top DP’s who’ve lensed some of the most impactful movies of 2018.

What’s in that Grip Truck & When and Why do you Need one?

grip truck rental

Grip trucks are a well-stocked wonderland of just about every large tool and small gadgets you need to tackle a variety of on-set tasks and technical needs. They aren’t prohibitively expensive, even for budget-conscious shoots.  When you have your grip truck rental on set, the production magically seems to go faster, smoother and with less stress on the crew.

Working grips will tell you that the most important features are the truck layout and the quantity and quality of the carts. They highly value being able to quickly see what they need instead of having to dig for it.

Most professional rental houses offer 3, 5, and 10-ton versions of grip truck rentals as well as a 1-ton van package for smaller shoots. What’s inside? Here’s a walkthrough of a basic 5-ton grip truck package from Dave’s Grip & Lighting.

Stands

Priceless assets on any set, from preemies to low boys, there’s a stand for every job and you’ll need plenty. In a standard package you get 86 in total, including C-Stands, Beefy Babies, Combos and Low Boy Combos, Hi-Hi Rollers, Mombo Combos, Crank-O-Vators, and Mini Preemie stands. C-Stands, of course, are a filmmaking staple. Grips use them constantly.

Stand Accessories

Stands are true workhorses that you can use any number of applications. Gobo arms and knuckles provide options for hanging lights, draping drop cloths, positioning flags, or gripping and supporting just about anything on set. The 4.5” knuckles known as Lollipops set the standard for on-set safety. You can use them to secure overhead frames or larger flags.

Offset arms add that little extra bit of extension and removable turtle bases make getting low-to-the-ground shots super easy. A Platypus clamp is useful for securing bead board. Baby and Junior headers let you mount multiple light fixtures or accessories onto a single stand.

Apple boxes

Every set needs them and there are unlimited uses and advantages to having them. Full, half, quarter, and eighth (pancake) apple boxes are great for propping, standing, sitting, or leveling. Use them to build a table or nail wall plates to them to hold low-angle lighting fixtures.

Sandbags and furniture pads

There’s nothing high-tech about sandbags yet they’re an ever-essential tool. Aside from holding down light stands, you can use them for securing set walls. Convenient handles make it easy to hang them on hooks or risers.

Furniture pads, also known as sound blankets, can be used for everything from protecting equipment during transport to blocking light and wrapping large set pieces.

Clamps and clips

Clamps can be one of a grip’s best friends. They come in various sizes and shapes and you can use them in variety of ways. C-clamps are a classic hardware tool, but the ones used on set have spuds welded to the back for mounting them to C-stands. They also utilize u-shaped plates so you can attach the clamp to just about any surface. A Cardellini clamp has two angled jaws that you can tighten onto any round or flat surface. A Mafer clamp (super clamp) is designed to firmly bite down on pipes and poles. They are great for mounting lights in tight or awkward positions.

Grip clips are designed for one-handed operation and are perfect for holding reflectors, securing backdrops, and many other jobs where a strong clamp is required.

Lights and accessories

Arri Skypanels, Skypanels, Skypanels. This innovative light seems to be on every grip truck these days.  Consuming a modest amount of power and not creating much heat, it is punchy, soft and bicolor. This light does it all!

The ARRI Fresnel series, including the 300w, the 650w tweenie, the 1000w T1, and 2000w T2 are ideal anywhere compact and lightweight tungsten Fresnel spotlights are needed. They’re particularly handy in small studio settings where you might have a grid height problem. The ARRILITE 1000w and 2000w focus flood open face are designed to fill large areas. They are also great key lights for interview packages.

The ETC Source Four is a 750w fixture with a long throw. It’s generally found on stages, but it also works well in the field. You can manipulate it to cast a range of lighting effects.

An Ultrabounce 8×8, 12×12 or 20×20, provides a nice even bounce without any hot spots, while Grifflon features a tough, shiny dual surface with solid black on white side and bright white on the other. Flags and scrims include single net, double net, and poly silk, with a variety of frames supplied.

Production supplies, expendables, and everything else

Director’s chairs, different height step ladders, road cones, tarps, pop-up tents, plastic stacking chairs, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, and more. They’re all needed at some point on just about any production (except the fire extinguisher, we hope).

You also get common tools like a hammer, staple gun, shovel, rake, broom, and sledge hammer. As well as sawhorses and staples, nails, and screws in your grip truck rental. And no grip truck’s complete without some WD-40 and gaff tape.

In addition to a header cart, there are 2 C-stand carts, as well as cable & sandbag and flag & net carts. Black wrap, duvetyne, rubber mats, and clear Visqueen for weather protection of gear or as a floor covering are standard gear, as are foam core, bead board, and a selection of show cards.

All grip truck rentals come with or without a driver and we’re happy to help you crew your job with local, proven professionals. Contact us today to learn more or to reserve one of our grip truck rentals for your next South Florida shoot!

Lighting Techniques That Make Your Footage Look Cinematic

Dave’s Grip & Lighting on the job lighting a corporate interview

If you’re into filmmaking, or looking for a gaffer in Miami, like us to help you out, you’d probably agree that lighting skills are an essential tool in every filmmaker’s tool box. One size does not fit all in the lighting world and the last thing you want is for your cinematic scene to look like broadcast news. And, you probably also want to know how to do it yourself! 

DIY baby!

While everyone uses lighting in filmmaking, many don’t know how to use the available tool effectively. Our goal is to shed some light on the basics of interview lighting and lighting actors. Whether you’re a film school student or an indie filmmaker, here are some basic lighting techniques that we’ve been using for years that’ll help your footage look more cinematic:

Three-point lighting

Before you can play with light in filmmaking, you need to understand basic three-point lighting. It’s standard to illuminate a scene from three separate positions, with three different lights – key light, fill light and backlight. Each light serves a different purpose in your overall lighting scheme. Let’s take a close look at each of them.

Key light – The primary light source in a scene and often the strongest one is called the Key light. This light helps to effectively expose the main subjects in a scene. Typically, you set the key light on one side of the subject roughly around 45 degrees above them, so that their other side gets a contrasting shadow.  This could be an Arri Sky Panel. Kinoflo 4 foot 4 bank. Arri 650 Fresnel with a Chimera.  Litemate 4. Astra 1×1 Bicolor LED.  Kinoflo Diva. 

Fill light – As the term suggests, the fill light helps fill the shadows on your subject created by the key light. That’s precisely why a gaffer in Miami like me would always recommend placing the fill light on the opposite side of the key light. Fill light is usually softer than the key light, but you can vary its softness depending on the mood and feel of your scene. To that end, you may can use a reflector as your fill light source. Astra 1×1 Bicolor LED soft. Litemate 4 dimmed.  Arri 300 Fresnel with a Chimera.  Kinoflo Diva.

Back light – The purpose of back light is to separate the subject from the background. This light usually shines above and behind a subject. Gaffers in Miami often direct the light on an actor’s shoulder to create an light contour that creates separation and gives the an edge to the subjects body.  This could be a Joker 200.  Arri 650 Fresnel.

Four-point lighting

This technique adds a fourth light, commonly known as a background light, to the typical three-point lighting setup. That way, you can add more depth to your scene. When I work as a gaffer in Miami I will often position the fourth light behind my subject  low and on the floor on a pigeon plate screwed to a pancake apple box and direct it to the background. You can also use the background light to kill the shadows cast by your foreground objects or subjects. Often you are lighting a backdrop or wall behind the subject.

Butterfly or Paramount lighting

A lighting concept borrowed from studio portrait photography, butterfly lighting is a way of illuminating an actor’s face with the key light thrown directly at them from the front and above. As a result, the key light creates a hard shadow under the actor’s nose or chin. Often, the shadow would look like a butterfly, hence the name butterfly lighting. You’ll see a massive use of this lighting technique in old Hollywood movies by Paramount Pictures, which is why it is also called Paramount lighting.

If you want to soften the harsh butterfly-like shadows, you can use a reflector to bounce back some fill light from front and below onto the subject’s face. This will also help kill any shadows under the subject’s eyes and make the eyes appear to glow.

Rembrandt lighting (one of my favs)

Pioneered by the famous Dutch painter Rembrandt, this lighting technique uses a single light source, AKA the Key light. The light illuminates one side of the subject’s face, while also creating a triangle of light on the other side. This type of lighting looks natural and helps add definition to the subject’s face.

If you’re not sure how to execute this lighting setup in your film set, consider hiring an experienced gaffer in Miami. Usually, you should place the key light on the side of the face that is farthest from camera, with its height raised at around a 45-degree angle. Now you simply need to fine-tune the light’s positioning until it forms a triangle of light on the shadow part of the face. If you want, you can use a reflector as your fill light.

Loop lighting

Here’s one similarity between loop lighting and butterfly lighting. Both of them create a shadow under the subject’s nose. But the shadow from loop lighting typically extends toward on the subject’s cheek, as opposed to appearing right under the nose.

Loop lighting got its name from the fact that the shadow created by it looks like a loop. You can create either a small or a long loop depending on your scene and creative preferences. This lighting setup requires positioning the Key light on one side of the subject’s face at around 30-45 degrees above eye level. You can also use fill light to soften the harsh shadows created by the primary source light.

Split lighting

If you want to add a sense of drama to your scene or want to make your character look menacing, consider using split lighting. This lighting technique, as the term suggests, splits the subject’s face into two equal halves. To achieve split lighting, a gaffer in Miami would often place the key light 90 degrees offset from the actor, so that only one half of the face gets lit. You can also use flags and barn doors to make sure the other half of the actor’s face is in complete shadow.

With these basic film lighting techniques, you can now start experimenting with them in your filmmaking. These methods can be blended.  Practice using a combination of these techniques on your productions to make your film look cinematic and not like news!

My Gratitude for Being a Gaffer in Miami

As I reflect on this past year’s work as a gaffer in Miami with my amazing clients and talented colleagues, I feel truly blessed and fortunate.  A 9 to 5 desk job never worked for me. 

Working as a gaffer in Miami is hard work with many challenges, but I happily take them on. Although 4:30 AM call times can be brutal, getting to watch the sunrise on Fort Lauderdale Beach makes an early call totally worth it. Yes, 20 hour days lighting music videos for new young artists can be exhausting, but they’re all part of the fun. And, call me crazy, but I seriously enjoy loading grip trucks on Sunday mornings with my grip and electric team.  Even building a 20 x 20 frame to punch a 12K light through in 15 knot wind over a $100K car though stressful can be part of the fun of being a gaffer in Miami, and for that I am grateful.

At the end of the day, this film business is not about the content or the toys, it’s about the people. With that in mind, a big thanks to my people: clients, my team of grips, best boys, key grips, riggers, Assistant directors, directors of photography, and cameraman in Miami, for making 2018 a great year for filmmaking! 

This year in gratitude for my loyal customers, we’ve donated to the World Wildlife Fund, WWF, honoring filmmaker Rob Stewart’s lifework Sharkwater Extinction, Sharkwater Extinction.

I know that 2019 is also going to be about the people. That’s why you’ll catch me at my 4:30 AM call, whether it’s Miami Beach, Key Biscayne or any other South Florida location!

We’re Upsizing our Grip and Lighting Rental Miami

We recently purchased LIT Miami’s extensive grip and lighting rental Miami inventory.  When our friends at LIT Miami opted out of the grip and lighting rental business in Miami  — trust me, I have weeks like that — they offered it up to us.  Their gear was in excellent condition, so we made a deal.

 

We acquired every possible grip and lighting product: hampers, cable distro, lights, HMI’s, C-stands, apple boxes, rags, grip, light stands of all types, sandbags, Cardellini clamps, pipe hangers, cones, and dimmers, all for rent! The grip and lighting rental equipment is used but in fantastic shape for gear that rented frequently.

Dave's Grip & Lighting cones rental Miami

We bought Matthews and American grip gear purchased by LIT only six years ago. Now we’re using the new inventory to provide our clients with more flexibility in their film equipment gear needs. We’re doing this by expanding drop-off and pick up windows, giving filmmakers weekend lighting rentals deals, and a la carte rentals.

Dave's Grip & Lighting distro cables rental MiamiAdditionally, renting gear to multiple bigger productions will now be a snap. As we sub-rent less, we can pass those savings on to our customers. For example, we now have over 40 Apple Box families. Plus, we now also have large quantities of specialty rags, i.e. 12 X 12 Gold and Silver Lame; 100’s of Mafer clamps, Cardellini clamps, specialty grip gear, car mounts, etc.

Do you need to rent grip and lighting in Miami? Dave’s Grip and Lighting has never been more equipped than now to provide you with excellent grip and lighting rental Miami deals.

So you Want to Be a Grip or Gaffer in Miami?

Maybe you’re reading this article because you want to become a grip or gaffer in Miami.

Well, then I’m going to break it down for you without a bunch of BS.  I’ve been a gaffer in Miami since the ’90s, and I’ve learned a thing or two. I’m not trying to sound like your father, but consider going to college to get a “real job.” Don’t get me wrong, my career as a gaffer in Miami has never had a dull moment, and is extremely rewarding. But I firmly believe that you must earn a degree before becoming a capital “R” real grip or gaffer in Miami.

Could a 4-year college education “make or break” your grip or gaffer career?

Hear me out on this. Some of the best gaffers and Key grips I know are highly educated. Their education shows in many ways.  They’re able to manage time, lead teams, problem solve and think strategically. Plus they can communicate on the set with highly intelligent producers and directors.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to attend a traditional 4-year college.  A degree at an accredited community college, art or film school will most likely support you in your efforts to achieve all of the above. Or, even a degree in a seemingly unrelated field like Business could help your efforts to become a grip or gaffer in Miami.  Your advanced education – at least an Associate’s — will show up and show off.

What’s the downside to becoming a Grip or Gaffer in Miami?

Here’s some of the harsh reality: there’s a lot of uncertainty as a freelance grip or gaffer in the film business. Some years you work a lot. Other years you don’t. One year you may work on back-to-back feature films as a gaffer, and you’re rolling in the money. Then, the next year you’re a gaffer on commercials and barely work 60 days the entire year, plus you can never make dinner plans on the days you’re on a film set.  My buddy Jim Pescrille, a highly successful gaffer in Miami agrees: “Pursuing a career as a gaffer/ electrician in the film business is not for the faint of heart. There are ups and downs; too much work and exhaustion or no work and worry. Over the years I’ve learned to save as much money as possible because you never know if the lean days are coming.”

In my experience, you never know what time you’re going to get home from your freelance commercial, feature film, TV series or corporate industrial. Production may have booked you on set for a 10-hour day, and then all of a sudden you’re there for 24 hours or more. You cannot say, “Hey, I have to jump. I have dinner plans tonight.” Nope, they own you. Consequently, you may have a very rough time planning your life.

The blurry life of a grip or gaffer in Miami

Living on sets as a grip or gaffer freelancer can be wildly frustrating. You’re afraid to take a vacation because you’re paranoid that a call will come in for that next big job that’ll get your bills paid. I have seen many a marriage suffer or end up in divorce because of the strains a film and television business job put on the relationship.

There’s an old joke an Art Director friend used to tell: Q. “What’s the difference between a film and TV crew member, and a circus carney?” A. “The quality of their teeth!” Film and television crew can be transient, traveling across the US [and world] to work a film job, just like circus workers. Plus, you can imagine, working as a grip and gaffer is extremely hard on your body. IMHO you need a degree so that you have a backup plan/career for when you grow older or become work disabled. Teaching is a fantastic retirement exit strategy for a grip or gaffer. But you must have a bachelor’s degree to ensure that this will happen. Or, someday you may want to start a grip and lighting business. Again, a degree in business would be invaluable. Owning your own business may be the only way you make over $160,000 a year as a grip or gaffer in Miami.

Career paths for a grip or gaffer

That said, there are several career paths you can follow to obtain the position of Key grip or gaffer in Miami on a film set. The track with the most merit is starting in the production department working a minimum of 4 years as a film and television PA (production assistant).

Production assistant to grip or gaffer

Stay with me here. Working in a production office as a PA is a crucial experience that will serve you well once you start working in the grip and lighting department.

First, you will know how to relate to producers. Second, you will be fluent in production language. Production has its unique terms with its names and phrases. This language takes at least two years to learn — if you’re paying attention! Pescrille also offers a great tip, “I’ve always thought the best path for Grip & Electric is through a lighting rental shop. There, you learn nomenclature, and you can get your hands on the gear.” Funny thing is I can always pick out a crew who didn’t start as a PA. They don’t know where to get answers to issues or questions that arise and have no idea if a situation or circumstance is urgent or not. Finally, learning the paperwork that keeps productions running on time and budget is extremely important. If you put your time into working as a PA, you’ll earn the respect of your peers for a lifetime.

But if you want to become a production savant then work as a PA for a minimum of 4 years. You’ll be genuinely versed in the art of production, and you’ll know your way around a film set like the back of your hand.

Camera department to grip or gaffer

After your basic film instruction as a PA, work for at least a year or two in the camera department, and with the art department.  If you’ve trained in 2 or 3 departments, you’ll be practically indispensable, and you’ll always be able to find a job on a film set anywhere in the world. Trust me; you’ll burn out if you work in any one department for too long.

Switching from lighting to camera department is unusual but a perfectly natural experience. I’ll warn you though; haters will question if you can work both in lighting and grip and then in the camera department. But it is possible. Few do it, more should. Let me ask you this: what makes more sense than knowing how to light and work as a gaffer and then become a camera assistant and later on become a director of photography? Shane Hurlbut, ASC, did it.  So did Jon Engstrom, Director of Photography, owner of Scheimpflug. Pescrille agrees, “In my experience cinematographers have often come up through the camera department and I find them to be excellent at their jobs.”

My bottom line for becoming a gaffer or grip in Miami is this: patience is a virtue, and it’s most critical when climbing the ladder on film and video sets.

Top Ten Ways to Climb the Production Ladder as a Gaffer or Key Grip

  1. Get your bachelor’s degree
  2. Be fun to be around and polite
  3. Being “on time” is 30 minutes before you’re supposed to be there
  4. Always have a reliable car and come prepared with your kit and tools.
  5. Start at the bottom as a PA. For four years learn to do everyone’s job on set.
  6. Work for at least a year in the camera department
  7. Know electricity as well or better than a professional electrician
  8. Know the above average basics of structural engineering
  9. Read American Cinematographer cover to cover every month
  10. Act and live like a “lifelong learner,” always learning, improving and honing your craft.

 

 

You Gotta Love this Grip Facebook page!

Any grip in Miami would salivate over the stunning grip rigs on this Grip’s Facebook page: car rigs, helicopter rigs, Polaris rigs and all in between.  These creations by grips are jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring. Some of these grip concoctions are seriously a work of art. Check it out!

Grip in Miami?

Working as a Grip in Miami, we’ve often seen creative camera movements like these. But as productions get smaller, the grip craft is in decline. Grips like my buddy Charlie McGowan are becoming a rarity. Charlie is one of the top 3 grips in Miami. There used to be many more grips in Miami with way above average talent. Call me if you need a grip in Miami, I will introduce to one of my guys.

What’s a Grip?

Let’s look at the history of the craft.  In the United States, grips are movie technicians in the art of filmmaking. Grips head their own department on a film set and are under the command of the Key Grip, the head of the department. Grips have two roles: 1) They work intimately with the camera team to provide camera support, particularly when the camera is fixed to a dolly, crane, or in an unusual position, for example on the hood of a car. Grips often specialize in operating dollies or cranes. 2) They work closely with the electricians to light scenes, shape light, diffuse light and work directly under the head of the grip and lighting department otherwise known as the Director of Photography.

Grip’s duties are to construct and keep working the apparatus that supports cameras. Support equipment, includes tripods, dollies, tracks, jibs, cranes, and stationary rigs built of highly engineered heavy duty parts that require a high level of experience to operate. Grips, particularly Key Grips must have the patience of a saint to always be at the Director and DP’s side.  Camera is often a high-stress environment. An excellent key grip must have the people skills to diffuse stressful situations with producers, actors and crew. They can never be afraid to “step up” and call a scene unsafe and then speak up to stop filming and make the set safe. Simple environmental occurrences like wind and rain can cause injury and sometimes death on film sets. Being a great diplomat separates the good from the great key grips.

Where does the Grip name come from?

The name grip came from the circus. Vaudville is where it all began. As early as 1940 the name perhaps originated from film technicians gripping or carrying tool bags. Hand crank cameras that were bulky and heavy required big men to grip the camera tripod from below and keep it steady. “Keep a good grip on the camera and tripod,” was the mantra heard in the early days before proper camera rigging, heads and support were later developed.

As time marches on, cameras move more, requiring highly complex rigs that are extremely expensive, wholly customized and handmade. And they’re becoming more sophisticated as camera support technology comes of age. Work with drones and helicopters is now common and the key grip’s duties have rapidly expanded. Often this work is hazardous. Safety is a significant consideration for grips in Miami, and our guys here have a stellar record of no one getting hurt. Cameras hanging from cables off of helicopters are just one example. See Klaus Obermeyer (Klaus Cam). With that said, check out this link to a very simple rig with ropes as camera support.

 

The Art of Grip

While the art of gripping becomes more sophisticated, 2×4’s and nails, sandbags, speed rail, c-clamps, and hammers are still used extensively to get scenes shot safely. A good grip in Miami can tie a wide range of knots, rig ratchet straps as wells as a tailor creates a three-piece suit, and can defy gravity with their knowledge of camera support.

In my humble estimation, it takes 4 to 8 years of apprenticeship to master the art of advanced gripping. With 3 years minimum to become a basic grip.  One critical attribute of a professional grip is that they take safety seriously and head off unsafe issues on a film set before bad things happen. Hopefully mentoring young grip talent will continue in the US.  Some people tell me that the art continues in Europe and that it takes much longer in some areas there to become the head of the department aka the “Key Grip.”

Grips in general belong under the labor Union IATSE [International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees]. But we have both IATSE and non-union guys on my Miami grip trucks.

Amazing Beauty Shots with this Mega Ring Light

Beauty Ring Light Rental MiamiThis mega ring light rental illuminates so well it can take 20 years off of any face and produce a gorgeous ring reflection in the eye. It sets up quick and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to rent!   Plus, it’s so simple to use. My 10 year old uses this light to shoot photos of her friends.

Simple to use, simple to rent

Stick your camera in the center of the ring light and shoot to your hearts content.  It’s fully dimmable so you have great control over the light that it casts . Just add a little CTO to warm up the light. This sturdy unit is made of metal and is ultra durable.

You can get our mega ring light rental and pick it up in a small van.  You’ll want two Matthews beefy baby stands, two Maffer or Cardellini grip clamps, two sand bags, a stinger or two with your ring light rental and you’re good to go!   Note that It doesn’t come in a case, but if needed we can make a huge box out of plywood for shipment.   Heads up:  we have only mega ring light rental, so supply is limited.

Invented for those up close and personal shots

Believe it or not, a dentist Lester A. Dine invented the ring light in 1952 for dental photography.  Ring lights come in continuous versions and flash versions and are often used in portrait and macro photography. Ring lights  provide ultra even illumination by casting very few shadows. The downside is they have to be close to the subject. However, the bright illumination of our mega ring light rental allows you to back the light off and get a great result.  I’d say every Director of Photography and photographer needs to be skilled at using these wonderful instruments.

p.s. Remind me to shoot a great portrait of my lovely wife once this light comes back from its current rental.

Love the Arri M18 on my Grip Truck Miami!

Dave's Grip & Lighting Arri M18 Grip Truck in MiamiThe amazing Arri M18.  Our go-to “big, but not too big” HMI light. We love this light. So punchy! We have two at all times on my grip truck Miami.

 

 

 

The Arri M18 is always on our Grip Truck Miami

If it’s just me and my grip truck in Miami — I can do a lot with a little in a hurry. “Git’er done” –the shot that is– with this M18 when the sun is not out on a cloudy day.  It’s a game changer. I like to call it a “save the daylight light”.

Need a bunch of daylight in a hurry? Then this is the one to choose. Folks come from the North East and all of a sudden the Florida sun disappears? What? The Arri M18 light is a godsend on my grip truck Miami.

What sets the Arri M18 apart?

Dave's Grip & Lighting Arri M18 Grip Truck in Miami

Some Film Lighting Lore

People have short memories.  I remember not so long ago, struggling with large tungsten lights while shooting in houses and office buildings.  The level of effort that was required to tie into a breaker panel — making the home owner and business owner very nervous as we took off the breaker panel and exposed all of the building’s wires, lugging large banded 25 ft. cables to then have to run from the panel to the set with distro boxes — was a major pain in the you-know-what!

I’ve always loved technology and these wonderful lights from Arri are truly to be grateful for on every shoot. You can strike this light off any standard plug in any building and almost any house. But I always keep a 1200 watt bulb on my grip truck Miami just in case we’re shooting in an older house that has 15 amp circuits. This light matches daylight to a “T”.

We keep shipping cases for the Arri M18 back at the shop so we can ship via air cargo to do island work, etc.

 

 

 

 

New Production Lighting Gear At NAB

What’s New With Production Lighting?

NAB 2017 in Las Vegas this year was all about soft light for production lighting.   While tungston fresnels are far from dead as they continue to rent with surprisingly regularity, these soft lights are gaining massive popularity on video sets for their fast and flexible capabilities.

Kino Flow Caleb 250 Production Lighting
Kino Flow Celeb 250

Kinoflo rental has been one of my top 3 rental requests for my grip trucks for what seems like forever in Miami. Kinoflo has upgraded their select line of celeb 250’s and 450’s that now have more control and flexibility.  You can dial in a wide color pallet of not only tungston and daylight but full RGB as well.  On location, you can match old green fluorescents and sodium vapor, with the controls on this light.  Much more flexibility and portability is now built in.   The new select Freestyle line comes apart and is modular, allowing you the ability to get the light into tight spaces, cable to it or combine these units to create a bigger light source. Kinoflo has the reputation for un-matched build quality and customer support.  Certainly one of my favorite lighting manufactures for video production lighting.   

We will have these Kino Flos in our rental inventory very soon!!

Cineo's new Quantum C80 production lighting
Cineo’s new Quantum C80.

Cineo has a wonderful new light called the Quantum C80.  It is a large light source for production on location and studio lighting. Dimensions are 4 feet by 2 feet.  The output is 50 thousand lumens of full gamut light.  This is a fantastic large soft source that is easily managed by 1 person.  This instrument has the capability of full RGB and has 4 channels of DMX.  No cooling fans make this light fantastic for sets where dialog is being recorded.  Cineo’s award-winning white light quality is second to none. The character of this light is truly, truly remarkable.  The way that it wraps and influences skin tones is nothing short of breath taking.

We are thinking seriously of adding the Cineo to our video production lighting rental inventory. Let us know if you would like to rent it!

LED Lighting

Led lighting has come a long way over the past 7 years. 

I rent Led lighting to my customers on just about every production I work as Gaffer on these days.   Ease of use is a big factor. I reach for the Astra-Lite Panels the most.  Battery powered, lightweight, nimble,  variable color temperature option on the fly and extremely powerful.  Astra light panels are quick and effective. The power consumption on LED lighting is amazing.  Color rendering used to be an issue but no more in my opinion!  You literally can shoot at night in the street with only 4 anton bauer batteries for 3 to 6 hours dependent on the brightness setting. 

Astra Lite Panels

Astra Lite Panels- LED Lighting
Astra Lite Panels- LED Lighting

“This compact 2-light kit has everything you need to light on-camera stand ups or a small location. The included
battery adapter plates make these kits a great mobile lighting solution. Both the Astra 1×1 Bi-Color panels provide soft, full spectrum illumination.”

The Advantage of LED Lighting

The big advantage of LEDs is that they tend to stay relatively cool and are super energy efficient. The light also takes Chimera diffusers or modifiers (still photographers language)  which soften, wrap and broaden the LED light.  You can mount these lights on the hood of a car on a bicycle or hold it in your hand and aim it at your subject.  If you are a 1 man crew the Astra Light panel is the hot ticket!  The Astra light panel is powerful enough to use on Miami beach to fill your subject or act as an eye light on a corporate interview shoots.  In Fort Lauderdale, LEDs are quickly replacing fluorescents as well in commercial applications.

The rental price for LED lighting is a great bang for your buck. Call Daves Grip and Lighting today for a great price on LED lighting rental.

An amazing day at Matthews studio equipment

Thought I would share an amazing day at Matthews studio equipment.  I primarily use Matthews studio equipment grip gear on my grip trucks! Matthews has been building some of the best grip gear for the past 42 years.  A family run business Tyler Phillips and his Dad Ed Phillips of Matthews studio equipment are good people.  They now are in a new facility that has made the operation more efficient yielding faster turn around times for faster fulfillment.

The quality of Matthews studio equipment gear is nothing short of amazing.  Largely made by hand the tolerances and precision are impressive!  Their gear lasts forever opposed to the crap that comes from Asia.   During my visit, they treated me like royalty!

While digital cinema cameras have changed dramatically almost every 3 years, grip gear has not changed much over the years.

Matthews studio equipment grip gear is the best in the business
Desk made from dolly parts

Matthews studio equipment grip gear is the best in the business
Matthews studio equipment show room

Matthews studio equipment grip gear is the best in the business
A gaggle of duck bills

Matthews studio equipment is truly one of the top innovators in the film and television business.   The quality of the metal must be top grade as we work in the salt water a bunch here in Miami.  Lives depend on the quality of the grip gear as lights and rigging seem to be frequently over people’s heads.  Safety First!

Matthews studio equipment is also making some top notch cinema sliders these days. I have a couple of their Matthews studio equipment mini slider stands, they are a life saver!! The mini slider stands are purpose but for cine sliders, we no engirt have to mess around with low combo stands!!    I also have my eye on their new duty dolly.  I will be taking a close look at this dolly at the upcoming NAB.  We also stock Matthews studio equipment car mount systems.  We have a variety of gear to rig a camera on a car, motorcycle, baby stroller, you name it!!!

Check it Out Film Buffs! Old Tungsten Lights at Mole and B&H Photo!

As a film lighting history guy, I was interested in tungsten lights from Mole Richardson Company.  When we traveled to Los Angeles recently, I checked out their set lights on display.  Some date back to 1930.

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According to their Wikipedia page, “Mole-Richardson invented the Fresnel Solar Spot unit in 1935, adapting the fresnel lighthouse lens for use in motion pictures. It won the first of four technical Academy Awards the company has earned.[2]”

img_5437Tungsten lights at Mole tungsten lights at Mole

Their Wikipedia page continues,  “Mole-Richardson is considered by many to be the staple of motion picture and television lighting in the movie industry today, setting the standard for tungsten fresnel fixtures. However, they do also manufacture HMI day-light lighting units. Their lighting is generally recognized by their maroon coloring and ‘MR’ logos.”

Mole-Richardson nameMole Richardson logo img_5431 img_5427

And then to my surprise, when I traveled to B&H Photo Video Pro Audio  in NYC we saw some iconic  Mole-Richardson Company 4K ZIP lights  for sale.

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Enjoy this walk down the memory lane of Tungsten lighting.

TBT: Master Lighting Class by ASC Cinegear 2013

cinegear-2013-master-lighting-class-at-mole-richardson-stage by ASC Alan Caso
Alan Caso, ASC at Mole Richardson Stage, CInegear 2013

#TBT Los Angeles #Cinegear 2013. Found this photo while going through my files. We participated in a master lighting class at Mole-Richardson Stage taught by ASC Cinematographers — Ron Garcia, ASC, the late Haskell Wexler, ASC and Alan Caso, ASC. They made it look so easy. So much respect for these gentlemen!

These incredibly talented cinematographers shared their knowledge and enthusiasm, demonstrated lighting techniques and problem solving skills. It was great to see these ASC guys work their magic and we learned a thing or two!