Approximately eight years ago, Maja Jensen moved to London from a little village in Denmark. It is on a drizzling Saturday morning in London that I meet Maja at a coffeeshop inside a central, hip photography gallery. My voice memo is on. Coffees are ready. She’s going to tell me about her job working as a Grip.
F: You are in London, because?
MJ: Never been a fan of Denmark, which is why I am here. I was born in a tiny little village and just wanted to have a new experience and live somewhere else, so I decided to move to London.
F: What is your background?
MJ: I came to London eight years ago to study a BA and then went on to do my MA afterwards. After completing the MA in Filmmaking I started with the idea that I wanted to be an editor, but soon realised that computers and me don’t really mix, because my idea of problem solving is putting a hand through a computer screen! I could not agree with you more on that one, I’m afraid! Lol! I tried the usual route of directing and producing, and I graduated as a producer. I was pretty much the only one in my cohort who knew how to put together budgets, schedules, and deal with the production side of things, so I produced a few projects.
F: How did you decide that you wanted to be a Grip?
MJ: I worked as a Grip on a classmate’s graduation film, and at our film school we had a Fischer 9 Dolly. It’s a monster. It’s huge. It’s heavy. It’s extremely sturdy. And using that is when I started thinking “hey, this is kinda fun!” As I started helping out more of my classmates on their shoots, I realised that I was actually enjoying it. It just clicked. It was fun. Students at film school always have difficulties in finding grips, as there is always a limited budget and not much camera movement. However, as other classmates started finding out that I could track and jib at the same time (without the camera flying off!!), people started asking me to come back and grip for their projects more.
F: Where did you go to next?
MJ: I contacted Grip Branch just at the right time, because they were looking for applicants for their trainee scheme. I applied and I was lucky enough to attend a seminar, and consequently got selected to attend a workshop. I was one of the lucky few that got through. I then spent six months in various rental houses across London, getting to understand the business, the work, and learn more about cranes, dollies, remote heads and other equipment. I have been on set ever since.
F: What is the role of a Grip?
MJ: Grips are responsible for setting up and manoeuvring the camera support equipment. They must prepare where the camera movements are needed, while bearing in mind the preparations for the next set-up for the subsequent shot. This all has to be achieved and prepared keeping in mind health and safety.
F: What is it that you like about your job?
MJ: The short version is we get to play with all the cool equipment. There is such amazing equipment like telescopic cranes, which can expand up to 75 ft. But it is not just about the equipment, it’s a way of making film. Camera movement or lack of camera movement can aid in storytelling and make the story better (or worse in some cases). The physical camera movement (or lack of camera movement) builds the film. It is very rewarding and exciting. And I like the physicality of the job. The long version is that, no days are the same. Every shoot is so different. That’s the sort of the stuff that makes it amazing. Obviously the Grip recces the locations ahead of the shoot and gets a general idea, but trainees arrive on the day and unload the equipment and we have no idea what is planned. Sometimes you have to think quickly on your feet because maybe sometimes we don’t have all the equipment for that shoot, so the grip department needs to come up with fast solutions on the spot.
F: Are there many female Grips?
MJ: To the best of my knowledge, there are four female grips, one grip trainee (myself) and one female crane and one head tech trainee.
F: Have you faced any obstacles within the industry, because you were a female Grip?
MJ: On the contrary. In the film industry generally, I have never been treated differently and never had any obstacles there. There are a lot of women working on set nowadays, which is great. People know me because I am a female grip trainee, and because I was “unusual.” I got a fair bit of work because of that, because it is such a rarity. It has benefited me in some way. On set generally everyone is really helpful. I think maybe sometimes they might go easy on me, because I am a woman, compared to my male counterpart, but I cannot be certain of this. Everyone really does want to help and maybe sometimes they help too much.
F: It must be a very physically demanding job.
MJ: Yes. This is a very physical job and I have to last a long time without injuries, so sometimes I do say “yes” if they offer help, so I don’t have to carry it! (cheeky laugh). The Grip community is very supportive and feels like a family.
F: Was the trainee scheme difficult?
MJ: We did healthy & safety tests. A lot of common sense knowledge really. The Grip department is mainly about health and safety and they want to make sure we know a general knowledge on how to stay safe and stable. The workshop was a one day training in a studio, where they showed us some equipment, how to track, how to lay a rail, jibbing, and many other things. We were then interviewed at the end of the day, asking us why we wanted to be a grip. And then it was more about your passion for the job and if you actually knew what you were going into. And after the workshop? I worked for four weeks in six different rental houses across London. From Alpha Grip, Chapman, Panavision, MovieTech and many others.
F: Do you do any physical activity to help you stay fit your job?
MJ: I do weightlifting. Being a Grip is very physical job and your body has to be strong and prepared for that. And as a female, you also have to prove yourself a little bit more. “I can do this”. I was once working on a job and I was carrying this heavy piece of kit up the stairs and one of the other grips was looking at me like “wow, you can carry that!”. It’s about staying strong and healthy and looking after your body and training is an important part of the job.
F: Would you like to see more women in grip?
MJ: We could always use more grips, generally. But yes, women in grip would be great. As long as they are passionate about gripping and willing to put in the work, I do not see why not.
F: Any piece of advice for future female grips?
MJ: Just get in there. Don’t think about it. Just do it, but do it the right way. The Grip Department is quite tight, a lot of family in the business. If you contact Grip Branch and you are really passionate about it, they are generally always very happy to help. Make sure you know about health and safety basics. Also, be prepared that it is a long process and you have to put in the time and dedication.