Grips on the Runway: Important + Nochalant = AWESOME

IMG_0972.JPGGay Street here in West Chester is being used as a stand-in for Kalamazoo, Michigan during shooting of Marley & Me starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. It comes out after Christmas, and the Kalamazoo scenes are snowy, so the crew is busy taping white Tyvek to all the sidewalks and laying white batting on all the shop awnings. It’s a night shoot, I think; they’re installing extra bulbs on one side of all the streetlights. Giant cables are lining the curbs, and big white camera cubes are parked up and down the street.

I only worked in TV movies for a couple of years (and then, only a couple of days a week), but I learned a couple of things:
Crew tribes: Grips are NOT the same as electrics are NOT the same as riggers. They get REALLY ticked off if you mix them up. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten which is which. There are a number of subtle cues you can go by, like the grips all have cut-open tennis balls on their belt to keep their keys quiet, and riggers have lots of clothespins (also called C47s) clipped to their baggy pants. Plus, one of those groups plays a LOT of hacky-sack, and the others would not be caught DEAD playing hacky-sack. However, since I’ve forgotten, I’ll show my ignorance and call every one “Grips”

Hierarchy of the walkie-talkie: People with shoulder-mounted walkie-talkie microphones are higher on the food chain that people with belt-mounted walkie-talkies. Any higher than that, and you do NOT carry a walkie-talkie, but instead have a canvas chair with your name on it.

Electrics and their Outdoor Clothes
Outdoor Gear: Finally and MOST IMPORTANT, when the weather is bad, crew members appear to be wearing cast-off odds and ends of outdoor gear collected from the nearest army-navy store. NOTHING COULD POSSIBLY BE FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH. Grips spend all day outside, and if the weather gets bad, there’s noplace to go and change (trailers are for stars only). But you absolutely no NOT want a brand-new five-hundred dollar Gore-tex shell. No, no no — then you could be mistaken for a production assistant, or a junior producer, or another lowlife pencil-pusher. No, you must wear a SIX-hundred-dollar Gore-tex shell, but it must LOOK like a thirteen-dollar poncho from Wal-Mart. Or you must get a SEVEN-hundred-dollar Gore-tex shell, but carefully break it in in the early mornings and on weekends when NOBODY IS WATCHING YOU so that it will finally be ready to wear among your crew members.

Check out these fellows in the picture at right. The fellow oh-so-artfully leaning on the balcony of his lighting crane is wearing a pretty standard, well-broken in foul-weather jacket. But he’s at least in his forties and still in the business, so he has nothing he has to prove. It’s a solid choice. The follow in the orange jacket has a gunslinger thing going on with his fashionable orange jacket. Nice work — not too fey or expensive, but definitely badass. Now: let me draw your attention to the guy at the right. You can’t see it, but he is wearing a bright red one-piece bibbed number very similar to an Aerostich suit. It’s zipped open to the crotch, though, and covered up with a Lesser Jacket. HE doesn’t want you to notice that his job is SO PRECISE AND EXACTING AND IMPORTANT that should it rain, his foul-weather gear must allow him to stay EXACTLY WHERE HE IS for hours at a time without moving a muscle. Is he a focus puller? The primary camera operator? The MASTER EXPLODER?

If I sound jealous, I freely and cheerfully admit it’s because I am. I absolutely LOVE jobs where you get to act important and unimportant at the same time. Of course, I never think that I’m getting away with it, so my schtick is always layered with too much self-consciousness, but, you know, that’s MY cross to bear. These fellows are having a great time with their carefully handpicked gear and their nonchalant expressions, and I wish them luck. Good luck getting the shot, fellers!

PS. THe guy at the bottom left may actually be in a thirteen-dollar Wal-Mart jacket. Either that, or he’s a Zen Master of gear selection.

UPDATE: Okay, this is seriously awesome. At about 5:30, they had started spraying… something all over the street. It’s not actual snow — it doesn’t melt, and there are big bales of something in the truck getting spread around. Gay street looks like Neverland now, where parts of it are all four seasons at once. Man, now I’m really jealous — these guys aren’t just protected from the elements in their outdoor gear, they’re controlling the elements.



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