KEY GRIP, SECOND UNIT, USA
MATRIX: How does a Grip generally spend their day?
DAVE: On Second Unit for THE MATRIX sequels, the main requirements for the Grip Department are basically doing camera rigs on all the different vehicles: the cars, buses and the trucks. We rig the camera so we can safely secure it so they can safely do live stunts, driving in and out. We’ve been rigging equipment on the motorcycles as well, securing the camera and making it safe. We also control the light out there when they’re lighting the set. The Electricians might put up some lights, but we control the lights, as far as using different types of flags etc. to control the light and make cuts on it. When we’re outside we work with the sunlight too: we can either take away the sun by diffusing it, or we have different types of reflector boards we can use to add light.
MATRIX: What is the shot you’re working on now?
DAVE: We’ve rigged a couple of cameras up in the Condor [crane], they’re about 50 feet up in the air. We had to secure the cameras and safety them off so, basically, we’re looking straight down at the explosions that are going off right now. We’ve put up some lexan as safety glass, or hard plastic if you want to call it, and we’ve also got a type of material called refisel we’ve used for fire proofing the cameras too, so they don’t get scorched or burned or anything like that.
MATRIX: How early did you start the set up today?
DAVE: It really didn’t take that long, it’s a matter of all departments working together to put the shots together. For us it took about half an hour to get the cameras rigged, it’s a matter of working with the Effects Department, the Camera Department, and also deciding exactly what type of shots we need. We have a bunch of different elements [explosions] we’re using for this rig, some are forty feet in the air and some are as high as fifty feet. It’s interesting, we have to deal with the wind out here today, we’re trying to play with the wind like a golfer would play with the wind.
MATRIX: Do you know what this shot is being used for?
DAVE: This particular shot is when the twins’ car explodes and the twins are shot up out of their vehicle after it has turned over and exploded. I know that some of the other elements will be used in other parts of the movie, but I’m not exactly sure where those will be used.
MATRIX: How much work did you do on the freeway?
DAVE: We spent about 6 to 7 weeks on the freeway; we put a lot of miles in, a lot of frequent flyer miles, so we know that freeway pretty well.
MATRIX: Were there any particular challenges?
DAVE: With some of the rigs we built, we had to make sure they weren’t too high – we had an over pass that was 21 and a half feet high – to make sure they were able to clear that. We also used the Technocrane a lot on the insert car, and there were a lot of different heights we were shooting for plate shots. There were times when we had to bring the crane arm down to clear the freeway and then send it back up to its height again so we could finish doing the shot, and obviously they were going to be cutting in and out in vehicles.
For us, it’s always making sure the rigs are safe and secure, they’re going to stay fastened to the car, and the camera is going to get the shot without shaking. Every day out here has been a challenge, in our department at least. It’s been a lot of fun actually, we’ve had a good group of people to work with. Our Director [David Ellis] and our DP have been great people to work with too, everybody has had a good time, and that’s what it’s all about.
MATRIX: What kind of relationship does the Key Grip have with the Director of Photography and the Director?
DAVE: Basically, we decide the shots we’re going to do and we get the heights and roughly where they want to be. Of course we also have to have flexibility when we build our rigs, to be able to move the camera around if it’s not quite where we thought it should be when it comes to shoot. We try to make all the rigs adjustable to go up and down or in and out, or whatever we need to do to get the shot we want. Kim [Marks], the [Second Unit] DP, and I have known each other for twenty years, we started at ILM [Industrial Light and Magic] together. David Ellis, our Director, is just a great guy, he knows what he wants. The great thing is every body is working together here, it’s not like it’s one person doing the whole job, everybody is working together to make a product come together, that’s what has been really enjoyable about this whole job.
MATRIX: As the Key Grip, do you come with your own crew?
DAVE: You start off working at the bottom of the Grip Department and you work your way up to become Key Grip. Most of the guys working with me on this project I’ve known for a while, some of the guys for as long as 18 to 20 years, whereas some of the guys I’ve only known for a few years. We have a pretty good core group of guys who work together, and we work together quite a bit.
MATRIX: How did you get into the work you’re doing?
DAVE: I started doing this as a summer job when I was in college, and that was it. I got hooked after doing it for two summers, and I’ve been doing it now for 24 years. I have no regrets, I enjoy what I do, I meet a lot of people, go to a lot of wonderful places, and it’s always something new and different we do each and every day. Different challenges are brought our way and we have to figure out how to put the puzzle together at times. You’re given the answer, but you have to put the factors together to come up with the answer to make it work.
MATRIX: So, in most cases you wouldn’t have done a particular rig before, but you’ve kind of done it before.
DAVE: Right, a lot of our work is very similar, it’s just different facets. Working on this freeway there have been a lot of different vehicles, we have to decide how to rig each shot and make sure there’s plenty of steel involved so you can secure things to it. Like I said, that’s one of the biggest challenges we have, the constant unknown every day of what exactly we’re going to be doing, and figuring out how to do it, and making it work.
MATRIX: What other films have you worked on?
DAVE: I’ve worked on quite a few. I worked on Return of the Jedi, I worked on The Right Stuff, Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom, ET, and Poltergeist. We did Sweet November with Keanu Reeves, Basic Instinct, Tucker, Nine Months, and Mrs. Doubtfire are just some of them.
MATRIX: How was it working at Industrial Light and Magic?
DAVE: When I was working at ILM (Kim and I actually started working there about the same time, that was in 1981) it was a small shop back then, it was a little Ma and Pa place. Everything was all new and beginning, and we all were trying things, a lot of research and development. You’d try something, and if it didn’t work you’d try something else. Compared to twenty years later, what we did back then was very archaic in the way we did things, but at the time we were on top of the world, as far as the things we were doing in the early eighties. Back then too, every day was a new adventure and brought new challenges.
MATRIX: Return of the Jedi was a big film in it’s day; how have things changed in the last twenty years?
DAVE: Obviously, the effects. Computer graphics weren’t even around twenty years ago and everything was pretty much stop motion or motion control, things took forever to get done. They’d be done, but now they have so much more latitude with what they can do with film as far as post-production and computer graphics. For its time, Return of the Jedi was on top of the world, but compared to today’s standards it’s far behind. We had a great time working on it, I think we spent about ten months working on it at ILM, we did some fun stuff, we were always trying something different and doing something new, which is what makes this job so interesting. Not everybody knows exactly how something is going to work, you have to do research and development on it to make it work.
MATRIX: Have you been a Grip all that time?
DAVE: Yes, I started out working as a Grip, then worked as a Dolly Grip, and I’ve been working as a Key Grip pretty much for the last 15 years.
In what ways does a Grip’s job differ from that of a Dolly Grip?
A Dolly Grip has a lot of responsibility, as far as working with the Camera Operator, moving the camera around to get to the precise marks to make the shot work. This is difficult, especially when you’re working with actors, they’re trying to hit a mark, you’re trying to hit a mark, and the assistant has to pull focus to have focus there for the actor. The Dolly Grip has a key job as far as paying attention, making his move, and trying to hit a precise mark at the same time to choreograph it. He’s kind of a choreographer in a sense.
MATRIX: From entry Grip up to Key Grip, how many steps would there be?
DAVE: When you establish yourself as a good set Grip, you then might be asked to be a Best Boy Grip, or maybe on some smaller budget films you might be asked to be a Dolly Grip to give you a chance to do it – that’s kind of a stepping stone. I did Best Boy for a little while, but I kind of went from Grip to Dolly Grip to Key Grip. So much of it is paying attention and being focused on what is going on in the set and what people are doing. When you get a chance to be hands-on and learn that dolly, it’s a good opportunity to do it.
MATRIX: You’ve worked on a lot of films; do THE MATRIX sequels seem to be setting a precedent, pushing the envelope?
DAVE: Considering what we’ve been doing, there will a lot of post-production, doing all the morphing etc. with the Agents, so that will be very interesting. But as far as the car sequence, it’s a huge chase scene which encompasses a freeway, and that will be exciting to see, with cars rolling and flipping and things like that. As far as what’s happening with First Unit, seeing as I haven’t been involved, I can’t give you much of an opinion on that. The sets have been elaborate, they’re huge sets, they’re some of the biggest sets I’ve ever seen. This freeway is the biggest set I’ve ever seen, it’s probably the biggest one that’s ever been built, I think.
MATRIX: What was your reaction when you first saw the freeway?
DAVE: Wow, this is impressive! Especially seeing the over pass and the on-ramps and off-ramps, it looks like a regular freeway out there. If somebody had have dropped you in there, you would have thought you were somewhere in northern California on a freeway – without traffic, that’s a rarity.
MATRIX: Thanks Dave.
Interview by REDPILL