Tonight, film industry professionals and aspiring film studies students will have a brief entrée into a secret world inside a world: the life of a movie grip.
Film Chattanooga, an initiative of the Chattanooga Film Society, hosts one of its quarterly meetings at the downtown Chattanooga YMCA at 6:30 p.m.
The seminar, titled Gripology 101, is slated to focus on the who, what, where and why of the grip and electrical departments on a film set.
“What we want people to get out of the seminar is what the departments do on the set,” said Dave Porfiri, one of the founders of Film Chattanooga. “We also want to add some clarity so that when they’re watching the end credits [of a film], they know what a ‘best boy’ is and why there is not industry terms for ‘best girl.'”
Two local veterans of the lighting industry—Glenn Stegall and Michael Esaparam—will lead the seminar. The two collaborate to run Esaparam’s company, Department Blue, which offers state-of-the-art equipment rentals and on-site assistance. Both have resumes stacked with experience in concert and event lighting and film and TV work.
Traditionally, the skills of these professionals were not widely known, not even taught in formal settings. The know-how was simply passed down from generation to generation before about 10 years ago, when the duties and techniques of the grip world began to appear in industry books.
Film schools still do not typically offer courses in the trade, as the equipment necessary to realistically train students is often too expensive for an academic program.
“If you really look [for the information], you can find it,” Stegall said. “There are a few books, but they mostly describe the equipment. A lot of [the skill] is more intuitive in a sense that it’s about really knowing the gear you have and seeing the situation and then making the decision of how to get it done.”
Since this discipline is best demonstrated in a more hands-on approach, Stegall and Esaparam plan to bring the goods, so to speak. The two will roll a rip gear in on a cart and meticulously explain the various components of the intricate piece of equipment, simultaneously sharing how professionals on a set would use the hardware to achieve the desired effect—what the audience is seeing on the screen.
Gripology 101 and its sister seminars, as well as the initiative's other events—like its happy hour gatherings—are geared to up the ante on the number and quality of opportunities available to professionals currently working in the Chattanooga area or students in the budding and established film programs at local colleges and universities.
And the competition is close and steep: Porfiri explained that Atlanta, a quick two-hour drive away, is actually the third-largest film and TV production center in the country.
With those resources in such close proximity, Film Chattanooga is working to ensure the Scenic City’s film community isn’t overlooked when movies like "Water for Elephants" and "42," which did use local talent, come to town.
“One of the goals [of Film Chattanooga] is to raise the bar for the film and TV professionals in Chattanooga,” Porfiri said. “When films do come to Chattanooga, if they hire even a few local professionals instead of bringing all of the crew, that’s a victory for us.”