The Life of a Grip

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By Leah Finnegan

The set of Martin Scorcese's new film in Park Slope. (Finnegan/Brooklyn Ink)
The set of Martin Scorcese's new film in Park Slope. (Finnegan/Brooklyn Ink)

Film grips have a universal, if unofficial, uniform: Layers of hardy, drab clothing in shades of black, brown and gray. Denim is acceptable. Shoes must be rubber-soled. Hoods recommended (in canvas a plus).

A group so dressed swarms the corner of Lincoln Place and 8th Avenue one recent raw morning, eating fried chicken sandwiches and breakfast burritos stuffed with unusually yellow eggs. They sport fleece jackets and baseball caps decorated with the badges of past projects, “Nurse Jackie” and “Law and Order” among them.

Lights the size of oil drums illuminate the exterior of the Montauk Club. Inside, Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt are holed up rehearsing for “Boardwalk Empire,” a Martin Scorcese-directed HBO series about Prohibition-era gangsters in Atlantic City. Crew members ferry piles of tweed vests and blazers into the building. An antique car sits on the street in front of the craft services truck, in which a lone cook putters.

The grips plod around the building. There’s gear to be rolled places, about seven semi-trucks full of it. Thick, grey industrial carts brim with monitors, cords, cord guards, lights, scaffolding, tripods, rods of various heights and tape in every color of the fluorescent rainbow. The stairs at the front entrance of the Montauk Club are far too steep to navigate such cargo, so the grips must chaffeur the cumbersome carts up Lincoln Place to the back door. One by one they exhale and push, leaning forward so their chests are parallel to the ground. They create a logjam at the rear entrance: its hairline walkway cannot accommodate them all. A line of carts begins to snake around the block, each with its respective grip on guard. The grips are always working, even when they’re not. Their belts drip with appendages: pliers, clothespins, monitors that cackle indecipherable commands.

It begins to rain. Middle school students on lunch break walk by, hands in bags of Doritos. More engaged passersby inquire as to what’s going on. Is it a movie? Who’s in it? What’s it for? The show’s not set to debut next year, a grip tells them, straightening his posture slightly. The gawkers nod. They photograph the prop car, which looks especially conspicuous among all the semi trucks, and continue on their way. The grip re-assumes his position, leaning on the Montauk Club’s ornate fence. The day has barely begun.

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