Whether you want to work your way up to the position of best boy grip or you just want to know what a best boy grip is, you’ve come to the right place. The role is an integral part of the production process. And despite its ancient, exclusionary title, anybody, regardless of their gender identity, can do the job.
The best boy grip is the right hand of the key grip and runs the daily operation of the grip team, including managing all of the other grips. This group is responsible for setting up the camera equipment and rigs—such as dollies and cranes—that the camera operator needs. They also operate this equipment during shooting.
While the key grip works closely with the director of photography during production, the best boy grip keep the team organized and on task, hires personnel, assigns roles, delineates working hours, handles paperwork, keeps track of inventory, orders and returns equipment and gears, makes sure that loading trucks are organized, and serves as the point person between the department and production office.
As for that title, it is not actually meant to be gendered. The name comes from the early days of cinema, when the head of the grip or electrical team needed an extra body and would ask for their “best boy.” There is also a best boy electric.
The best boy grip reports to and works closely with the key grip, while also managing the grips within the department (set, construction, dolly grips, crane operators, and so forth). On smaller sets or productions with tighter budgets, all of this work is usually done by a lone key grip or a person who acts as a grip-gaffer hybrid.
Once the key grip has figured out the logistics of what the DP wants for every shot, they relay that information to the best boy grip, who directs the department. The best boy grip also makes sure the rig for the next shot is ready to go by the time the director calls “cut.”
Salary depends on experience and working conditions (including budget, location, hours of work, and union status). According to Careers in Film, the average salary of a best boy who works regularly is between $50,000 and $100,000 a year.
Like most crew jobs, your hourly wage depends on whether you are part of a union. As a member of IATSE Local 728—the union dedicated to lighting in Hollywood—the minimum hourly rate as a best boy is $44.97.
Best boy grips should have significant mechanical and electrical knowledge; strong managerial, organizational, and problem-solving skills; major physical and mental endurance; the ability to work long, fluctuating hours; a keen eye for detail; and a genuine passion and eagerness. While a degree isn’t necessary, a background in carpentry, physics, mechanics, or filmmaking is usually preferred.
Many best boy grips start out as production assistants or low on the totem pole in the grip department, working the positions they’ll later supervise. After a few years of hard work, production experience, and networking, grips can gradually rise to best boy positions. It’s common for best boys to continue advancing to the key grip position.
In the simplest sense, the best boy grip is the assistant to the key grip; the key grip is the head grip. “Best boy” is actually production shorthand for “assistant,” and there are usually two on set in different departments. The best boy who assists the gaffer is called the best boy electric.
The key grip is in charge of the entire grip department. They take direction directly from the DP, who has received guidance from the director. The key grip oversees the building and rigging process on set. In addition to the work itself, the key grip needs to be a strong leader, as the entire department is going to be looking to them and following their lead.
As a department head, the key grip is also onboarded to the production before the best boy grip. They receive the script very early on and are involved in preproduction camera meetings. They may also be involved in shot storyboarding and ideation before production, depending on whether the project includes technically complex scenes.
The best boy grip, on the other hand, isn’t involved in preproduction. But their responsibilities can also span budgeting, scheduling, hiring, loading and unloading equipment, monitoring department safety, and other clerical duties.
Not every best boy grip has the desire to move up the hierarchy and become a key grip—and that’s completely fine. But if you are interested in that trajectory, good news: Key grips almost always start out as best boys, and the track is a pretty straightforward one. You really just have to gain experience on multiple sets as a best boy and keep working until a production deems your experience worthy of key grip status.
Key grips also often have the goal of moving up in the crew hierarchy from there, too, especially to the cinematography department. In fact, some of the best DPs get their start as best boy grips, then key grips. After all, what better way is there to appreciate what you’re asking of your crew than to have been part of the crew yourself?