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Dagg (from the back) guides the camera operator backwards ()

On the Set: Decoding Film Production Jobs

Mar 2, 2006 (Morning Edition)

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thumbnail Gary Dagg, key grip for the film 'Because I Said So', stands next to his ditty cart Sound mixer Dave Parker on the set of  'Freedom Writers'

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Reported by

Susan Stamberg

Behind every director is an army of men and women, marshaling dozens of cables, wires and lights. They work away from the spotlight so when the call for "Action!" comes, the cameras can roll.

In part two of a series on demystifying the movie industry, we zoom in on two of these key offscreen players: the sound mixer and key grip.

At this year's Golden Globe Awards, actor Anthony Hopkins paid tribute to the people behind the scenes as he accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award, praising "the camera people, the sound people, the grips, the electricians, all that bunch of anonymous people, who work harder than anyone."

Sound mixer Dave Parker is one of these anonymous people. He's working on the set of director Richard LaGravenese's Freedom Writers, which is based on the true story about a teacher who inspires students in inner-city Los Angeles.

Filming has taken over a restaurant in San Pedro, Calif., for the day. Parker sits behind a mixing board on one side of the restaurant. He's listening to feeds from two boom microphones hovering over actors Hilary Swank and Scott Glenn. Parker and his crew have one rehearsal to decide where to put their mikes.

To get the cleanest dialogue recording, they make the room as quiet as possible: off goes the air conditioning, kitchen workers are shushed. Later, Parker and his crew will record layers of sound — mumbles from diners, clinking of dishes and other effects. Then it's all mixed, sweetened and otherwise enhanced in post-production.

When asked whether it bothers him that so many people change and add to his work, Parker replies thoughtfully. "When we do our job correctly, it makes everyone else's job much easier," he says. "So no, I don't mind people improving what we do here on set."

Another person who plays an important role on set is the key grip — a phrase that so many see in movie credits but so few understand.

The key grip is responsible for placing the camera wherever it needs to go, explains Julio Macat, director of photography for the film Because I Said So, a comedy directed by Michael Lehmann and starring Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore. The key grip works under the director of photography. "If we need to build a platform, he sets it up for us... anything with having to move the camera," Macat says.

The key grip for Because I said So is 55-year-old Gary Dagg. Dagg is 6 feet 2 inches, with a few comfortable extra pounds. His ditty cart holds power tools, hand tools and C-stands, tall poles that hold equipment and light filters in place.

Dagg is also responsible for safety on the set. In one scene, he helps guide a steadicam operator, who has to walk backwards across a busy street. Dagg places his hands on the camera operator's hips to direct him safely up a curb, in a move that looks like something out of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers routine.

"We have a tremendous legacy since the beginning of film," says Dagg. "Grips used to line up outside the studios with their grip bags. When you consider the pyramids being built, that's what grips do. They take something out of nothing, and they look at an area. And before you know it, there's a way to photograph it."

The late actor George C. Scott once told an interviewer that if he were ever stranded on a desert island there would be three things he'd need to have: food, shelter — and a grip.

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