The Key Grip Mystery
300 feet in the air at temperatures below zero, with wind that was unforgiving and ferocious, Key Grip Nabil is having a typical day on a film set. Wearing a warm parka and heavily insulated boots to bare the cold, his job is “to help get the perfect shot”. The camera operator, who apparently has no fear of heights, despite the cries from the other crew members who were getting vertigo and muttering “this is too high”, climbed up the service stairs of Canada’s tallest rollercoaster “The Leviathan”, and Nabil has followed in order to ensure the operator’s and camera’s safety.
In two days’ time, Nabil follows the camera two floors below surface, shooting in a basement of an old abandoned wine cellar near Hamilton, ON.
Meet Nabil Milne. He is a Key Grip, a vital part of a film crew – a job which description perhaps belongs to be the inverted definition of “another day in the office”.
He started working in the industry 8 years ago when he was invited by a friend, who was working both as a grip and in the lighting department, to see what it was like to be on set, and he never looked back.
The job of Key Grip brings on something different every day. You could be called into in any area in and around Toronto, rain or shine, hail or snow.
Surprisingly, many people do not know what exactly is part of the Key Grip’s duty.
We asked a few industry and non-industry people about what is their knowledge of a Key Grip job. The responses varied greatly – not surprisingly, as there seems to be a mystery around who exactly is the Key Grip?
“The head of camera related gear…”
“The person in charge of the lighting and camera equipment.”
“The one who sets up lights, dolly track, flags, etc.”
These were the responses of mostly producers and directors. Then we asked for a comment from Pasha Patriki csc, a prolific Director of Photography (DOP) who works with Nabil quite often. Pasha’s most recent project is Dumb Luck, an independent Canadian short film about an American teenager who wins 3 million dollars in a lottery. Pasha also heads 9 Light Entertainment, a company that is involved in development, financing, production, marketing and sales of internationally acclaimed successful indie feature films.
“If a Gaffer is the cinematographer’s right hand when it comes to lighting, then Grip is the muscles in that arm. A grip is responsible for setting up any lighting equipment that isn’t electrical, as well as any camera support equipment and rigging. Cranes, dolly track, and mounting cameras in the places most of us can’t imagine – all are responsibilities of the Grip. Key Grip is the head of the Grip department, Best Boy Grip is the second in command, and the rest of the team (the size of which varies depending on the production) are simply Grips.”
Then we asked Nabil – the Key Grip himself – what his definition of his job is.
“To remember faithfully how the DP wants his double espresso Americano” – Nabil replied with a smirk. And that says it all about another important quality of any crew member: positive attitude regardless of the surrounding conditions. Taking an opportunity to make a tasteful joke helps keep up the good vibes on set!
What attracted Nabil to working as a grip was the challenges you face daily. It is a very fast paced business and you are consistently problem solving. It is also a collaborative business where you are always meeting new people, making new friends and learning to work in a consistently changing environment.
What inspires Nabil to keep on going to new heights? Storytelling.
Film is all about storytelling, and Nabil loves a good story. For him short films are those perfect moments, the ones we play out in our heads, and longer films are good stories that teach us about humanity.
9 Light Entertainment and Dumb Luck wants to wish Nabil an extra congrats, as he became a father for the first time this August.