Mr. Movie

What does the key grip do?

Movie making is complicated. That's one reason very few movies get a one or a zero on my rating scale.

It even takes a ton of talent to make a bad movie. That leads me to a suggestion my Uncle Jerry gave me 20 years ago when I first started reviewing film for the Herald.

He's a loyal and avid reader and thought other readers would be interested in an explanation of the job titles listed in movie credits. At the time, I thought it was a great idea. This is the truth. It has come to my mind every time I've watched the credits roll in the last 20 years.

By the way, more often than not, I sit through all of the credits. This is a must for animated features and comedies because sometimes they have terrific outtakes at the end.

It also can be a real chore. As an example, a friend of mine timed the credits for the last Pirates of the Caribbean. He said they lasted 12 minutes before the "surprise" at the end.

Our explanations start with the gaffer. While images come to mind of menacing person holding a spear or a hook, these days the position also is tabbed in the credits as the chief lighting technician.

Those who have done photography or have shot their own home videos know that movie lighting is an art form that requires great skill. Lit badly and every best picture winner you can think of would totally suck.

Other strange-sounding positions are grips, the key grip and the best boy. They do the heavy lifting. Grips move all of the equipment to the set, sets or locations. Once there, they move stuff around a set or set up lights. The best boy is the chief assistant to the key grip who is in charge.

The Foley artist creates sound effects. This is mostly ambient noise for background; things you wouldn't notice but would miss if they weren't there like wind, cars, footsteps, etc. The position is named after Jack Foley who invented the technique in 1927 when movies began to have sound.

A little known and very important job is the script supervisor. Most movies are not shot in sequence. Script supervisors are in charge of continuity and track the filming of all scenes. They know what actors are doing in each scene, what actors belong in the scene, what they should be wearing, and so on.

Here's an example of the complexity of the job and how it can plague even the best directors. Years ago in the Martin Scorsese film Casino, Robert De Niro was smoking during a conversation. In the shots where he faced the camera his cigarette was whole and freshly lit. When his back was to the camera and he was listening to responses from co-star Sharon Stone, it was smoked down to the filter.

This is a subtle mistake that a script supervisor should have caught. You also see continuity problems quite often in car-crash sequences or gun fights.

Some films have lots of producers. Others do not. Some producers may inspire the making of the film. Eventually one of them and the production supervisor will control the creation of the movie from top to bottom. They run the finances, hire and coordinate the staff, actors, director and get the film distributed.

The production manager does the grunt work and keeps the film on schedule and on budget. A unit manager does about the same thing but with the second units that mostly shoot B-roll. Those are the extra shots that help with scene transitions such as people walking, traffic, outdoor shots, etc.

The location manager finds and gets permission to shoot the movie at various locations.

Post-production supervisors take care of the movie after all the shooting is done and coordinate the editing.

The director and the first assistant director and the second assistant director are responsible for shooting the movie.

The cinematographer does the actual shooting and often sets up the shots. Sometimes they are called the director of photography.

Great directors like Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Cecil B. DeMille, Francis Ford Coppola, Alfred Hitchcock and Akira Kurosawa understand or understood how much a great cinematographer means to the success of their movies.

The casting director picks the actors.

The production designer is responsible for the physical appearance of the movie; the sets, lighting, costumes, makeup and so on.

The art director does the detail.

The costume designer does the costumes.

When it's all done and released, I write about it and blithely criticize and rarely praise all of the hard work that went into taking it from a concept to a 35mm or digital print.