Grips build platforms, set up rigging and the equipment that shapes and diffuses lighting, mount cameras onto cars and cranes onto buildings, and schlep 35-pound sandbags known as ballbusters. Twelve-hour days are considered short, and injuries are inevitable. The women I interviewed have cracked their kneecaps, fractured their feet, torn their rotator cuffs, developed early arthritis and wrenched their backs.
But gripping also offers a solid, middle-class life. Depending on the city and the frequency of work, grips can earn salaries in the low six figures, with key grips potentially earning more than double that, especially if they have their own gear and trucks to rent out.
Besides being overwhelmingly male, the profession is often handed down through families, and there are third- and fourth-generation grips, or “hammers,” as they are known in the business.
The women I spoke with said many of their male colleagues were supportive, while others heckled them or worse. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” said Melanie A. Ragone, whose credits include “The Walking Dead” and “Love, Simon.” But, she added, the job was also deeply rewarding, because it involves behind-the-scenes problem solving. “It sounds kind of corny,” she said, “but grips are the unsung heroes on set.”
Here they explain more about the job and what it’s like to be one of the few women doing it:
Dubbe knows exactly one female key grip in Hollywood: herself. She is sure others are out there, she just hasn’t met them yet. Dubbe grew up building forts and later found herself drawn to jobs not traditionally occupied by women: logging, construction. She majored in printmaking and painting at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and got her start in gripping after assisting the photographer Eddie Adams.