"Dolly grip" is another one of those movie job titles that tends to elicit titters from the few people who watch the credits until the bitter end. It's kind of a silly name -- and just in case you think there's a group of grown men who get paid to wander movie sets while clutching dolls, let us set you straight. Dolly grip is probably one of the most physically and mentally demanding film jobs out there.
The dolly grip's sole focus is ... wait for it ... the dolly. And what is a dolly, you ask? It's a 500-pound (227-kilogram) wheeled contraption mounted with a camera that slides around on a track, allowing the camera to capture a moving shot. The dolly grip builds the track, mounts the camera and then physically moves the dolly (and the camera operator and assistant sitting on the dolly) during the actual shot. Most dolly shots are so smooth, you probably don't even notice them half the time. This is because the dolly grip is doing a good job.
Being a dolly grip is obviously a very physical job, but it's also incredibly complex. The camera operator and his or her assistant are responsible for the focus, pan and tilt of the camera, but the dolly grip is in charge of all the physical movement. Because that movement could be vastly different for every scene, the dolly grip is constantly securing cameras, building and disassembling the track and moving equipment. The dolly grip, cameraman and assistant have to be a tight team, instantly adapting to each new camera setup.
The dolly grip always has to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Everything else could be perfect -- lighting, sound, actors in their places -- but if the dolly slides past its mark, it's all for naught. They say the best dolly grips are the ones who have "good touch." They can react on the fly to unexpected changes and difficult situations, always in the right place at the right time.
Even if a scene doesn't call for a dolly, the dolly grip is still on the job, as the safety spotter for the camera operator. Dolly grips can also earn extra money during a shoot if they rent out their own equipment. An experienced dolly grip will usually own about 100 feet (30 meters) of track, tools, ropes, harnesses and plenty of skateboard wheels.
All dolly grips learn the ropes as unspecialized grips, and sometimes as production assistants, before working their way into the dolly position. Many dolly grips eventually make the move up to key grip, but a lot of them stay put. Dolly grips can make about $35,000 for a 12-week shoot, about the same pay grade as a best boy (the second-in-command to the key grip) [source: Dzyak]. They usually get tapped for a new job from a best boy they've worked with before, so a good attitude and pleasant demeanor tend to come in handy just as much as "good touch" does.
- Dzyak, Brian. "What I Really Want to Do On Set in Hollywood." Random House, 2010. (July 25, 2014) http://books.google.com/books?id=ZWY6Ej4fO1QC&pg=PA185&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Film Connection. "Life as a Grip." (July 25, 2014) http://www.filmconnection.com/reference-library/film-entrepreneurs/life-as-a-grip-aug-2011/
- Herman, Judith B. "11 Strange Movie Job Titles – Explained!" Mental Floss, May 16, 2013. (July 25, 2014) http://mentalfloss.com/article/50626/11-strange-movie-job-titles%E2%80%94explained
- Media College. "Dolly Shot." (July 26, 2014) http://www.mediacollege.com/video/shots/dolly.html
- "Roney, Maya. "Hollywood Hard Hats." Forbes, March 2, 2006. (July 25, 2014) http://www.forbes.com/2006/03/02/hollywood-jobs-guide_cx_mr_0302moviejobs.html