How To Become a Best Boy
What Does a Best Boy Do?
The Best Boy implements the creative decisions of the Key Grip with the rest of the crew. The Key Grip is responsible for the creative side of shaping light, so they need to be on set, near the Director of Photography.
Yohan Herman, a veteran Best Boy and Key Grip who has worked on various features, music videos and commercials says, “The Best Boy Grip needs to anticipate what the Key Grip is going to ask to use. On large crews, a good Best Boy Grip will run the company grips and delegate the workload, essentially, divide the labor so everyone is working on specific jobs and the Key Grip can focus. Some tasks require experience, others are good for teaching more inexperienced Grips.”
It’s a Best Boy Grip’s job to know the strengths and weaknesses of the entire Grip Department. That way he or she can get what the Key Grip needs to be done as efficiently as possible while developing the crew.
Regarding equipment, the Best Boy Grip must know where and what is available to use for lighting or rigging purposes at all times. If an item is needed, the Best Boy Grip should know if it’s on the truck or being used on another lighting set up. It can be very easy to lose gear if it’s scattered about.
They will also put in gear orders and take note if anything is broken. Coordinating gear, people, and paperwork can easily make this one of the most demanding jobs on set.
A lot of people start out in different spots in a Grip Department. It depends on luck and personal connections, but pretty much everyone starts at the very bottom, working on student films.
Herman advises, “I never recommend working for free, but it’s sort of built into the industry. If an opportunity is paid or not, they are all valuable, regardless if it’s a poorly run set. Entry-level positions on passion projects and student films are inherently going to have challenges.
“There’s not a lot of money, which can cause logistical problems, and a lot of inexperienced people, who make mistakes and are learning, too. It’s necessary to go through these trials and gain practical experience. You yourself won’t be very experienced when you start.”
See all of the mistakes made on set and learn from them. Getting better as a Grip will allow a faster promotion to a Best Boy Grip by a Key Grip and lead to being trusted with larger productions.
Education & Training
There are a couple of approaches to becoming a Best Boy Grip.
Herman says, “I think that a college education isn’t a necessity in the Grip world, but it can help. The most usable courses would be in visual media, as well as in math and physics. The classes don’t need to be too high of a level, nothing beyond calculus or physics, but a fundamental understanding will help a person in rigging. A lot of the concepts like objects, masses, ratios, and fulcrums are used every day by Grips.”
The difference between a good Grip and a great Grip is a great Grip also knows the reasoning, not just the method. The visual media side is important because sometimes the Best Boy Grip will be asked to fill in for the Key Grip.
What Skills Do You Need?
Herman states, “The number one priority for me when hiring someone is figuring out if they are teachable and understand the chain of command. It can be terrible to have someone who questions everything their boss does. There will be space for trust to be built, so opinions can be stated, but people should be focused on their job.” If people are constantly making suggestions, it can very easily become a power struggle.
When it comes to practical skills, an understanding of physics and a mechanical aptitude is crucial. It’s also important to have a good physical work ethic because working in the Grip Department is a physically demanding job. There is a lot of mental endurance required for a twelve-hour day of hard labor. A person should take care of their body, even between jobs, by eating healthy and staying fit. Otherwise, this will be a miserable profession.
“The most important quality a Best Boy Grip needs to have for success is the aptitude to learn how to communicate and manage people. This will allow them to make the department run smoother and the life of the Key Grip easier,” says Herman.
“The other thing, whether natural or learned, is an attention to detail. They need to have a tendency toward organization. There may be hundreds of pieces of equipment. All which cost money, all of which reflect poorly on the department if lost or broken,” he adds.
Someone who has a natural inclination to keep detailed records, who can manage people and has a strong work ethic, will be an ideal candidate for a Best Boy Grip.
When somebody sets out to work in the Grip Department, their schedule is at the mercy of the jobs offered to them for the first few years. Jobs can be on any date, at day or night. Herman advises, “It’s beneficial to take every opportunity because it maximizes a person’s experience and their professional network. Having a larger network will give them more control over their lives in the future.”
So, in the beginning, it’s usually feast or famine where a person can end up working thirteen out of fifteen days. Life will be nothing but work, and then weeks off, with no promise of future employment. After a few more years, when a person gets established, they’ll run their finances a little differently, usually saving two to three months’ worth of expenses, in case a dry spell comes along, and keep in contact with people who’ve hired them in the past.
After a few more years, if someone needs time off, then they can turn down some work. It’s a necessity to enjoy life, but in the first few years, there will be no time to rest. That early work ethic is an investment in future stability.
The Best Boy Grip works in the Grip Department under the Key Grip, managing the company Grips. It is an on set job so they do interact with everyone but the departments they collaborate with the most closely are the Electric Department and the Camera Department.
Most people start out at the bottom in the Grip Department, as a company Grip. If they’re good at their job, then they’ll be offered to do incrementally bigger projects. After a little while, they might get asked to be the Best Boy Grip on student films, which will be a step down in size of project, but a step up in responsibility.
After doing a few of those, then they’ll move up to a student film with a budget. This step ladder of responsibility vs. budget continues as a person’s career develops. Almost every Grip who has been in the business has been a Key Grip on some type of project, even though they may only work as a Company Grip or Best Boy Grip.
Herman adds, “I Key Grip most of the time, but I will also Best Boy Grip for other Key Grips and vice versa. On each set, the roles are clearly defined, but when it becomes a career, that isn’t always the case.”
How Much Does a Best Boy make?
The average annual salary for a Best Boy is approximately $83,900. The salary range for Best Boys runs from $79,000 to $93,000.
Los Angeles minimum wage is $150 or $160 per day, for twelve hours. People offer less for student films and no-budget passion projects. If someone needs experience, free labor can be an okay thing.
Herman explains how he got his start, saying, “I volunteered at a sound stage and that’s how I met a few people. I was able to be around sets and around the industry. It cost me money to drive down to where it was, but that’s how I learned. People there were willing to teach me. I considered that an investment. So, expect to start out rough.
“It helped a lot to save money for expenses so I could afford to take low wage and no pay jobs. It took me about eight months to get enough work to pay my bills. Each year, assuming you do a good job and don’t burn bridges, the natural progression will be to get entrusted with bigger budgets, which means more money.
“In my second or third year, I made $200 to $300 per day. And now in my fourth and fifth year, the day rates are around $400. But it varies. Music videos pay around the $300 to $350 range, while commercials are higher, like $450 to $550. A lot of indie features can’t pay very much. I still do those, which are around $200 per day.”
Work and pay do progressively get better each year for most people, as long as they don’t shoot themselves in the foot and burn bridges.
Unions, Groups & Associations
“Unfortunately, there aren’t any good online resources or professional organizations,” says Herman. The union only offers classes for union members. Interested people could check out the website to see how much work they will have to do to join and investigate various film-related Facebook groups for work.
Remember, most of the job is learned through practical experience, so the best thing a person can do is to get on set.
- Contact as many Grips, Best Boy Grips, and Key Grips as possible. Buy them coffee and have a conversation.
- Be very frank and honest about skill sets and don’t oversell when applying for a job.
- Be teachable. People are willing to take someone under their wing, but not if that person believes they know everything.
- Move to a city where lots of film production takes place.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Pride gets in the way of people reaching their potential. They are not humble enough to work on what they think are lowly projects, which results in them not getting the experience they need to improve. Then they’ll step into a situation where it’s demanded and [they’ll] be overwhelmed.
“Working in the Grip Department is based on practical experience. Everything that I learned was from someone else. The best thing I could do was to be teachable. You will have a multitude of teachers. Discern which ones are good teachers and which are lesser teachers, but everyone can teach you something. Never be too good for a job, or to learn something new.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“I think the biggest mistake people make is having too much of an ego. A lot of kids come out of college thinking that they’re a lot, and that’s their biggest weakness. Most people coming out of film school think they know Grip work because their Professors told them so, but they don’t have any practical experience. Their career is just beginning and by trying to show how much they know they’ll be losing opportunities to learn. Be humble.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What is the department’s culture that a person is stepping into?
“Each department has a little bit of a different culture. I try and fight against the Grip culture because it’s rough and crude. Grips can have rough edges and be misogynistic but I try to change that.
“Also, at the higher levels, a lot of that bad behavior is not tolerated as much. I try to hire people who are respectful and I’m hoping the Grip industry changes. By understanding a professional culture, a person can prepare themselves for the challenges ahead that may be more social than career-related.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“What other advice do you have?
“Learn to work well with other departments. A lot of times, certain departments will be just kind of insular and not willing to help others. They cultivate an air of superiority which holds the project back and makes everyone’s lives more difficult. It’s very useful to be able to work with a larger team.
“The Grip Department is composed of a few individuals and the whole crew is made up of a few departments. They must work together the same way individuals do. A lot of people overlook that fact.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Yohan Herman is a Key Grip and Best Boy Grip based in Los Angeles, California. He has worked on multiple commercials, music videos, and narrative work. Some of his credits include Cuck, Blackmark, All out Dysfunktion!, The Boatman and Out of Ashes.