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Getting a Grip on Film Production in New England - Spring 2003

Getting a Grip on Film Production in New England
Karen Dicey '91 lights up the stars in regional filmmaking

Have you watched the credits roll by at the end of the movie and wondered what a "gaffer" is? What a "dolly grip" does and how you get to be "best boy"? Karen Dicey '91 of Exeter, N.H., can tell you. As a veteran of each of these roles in film production companies, she offers the following definitions:

Gaffer: chief lighting technician, works in conjunction with the director of photography to determine lighting for shots, then conveys information to electrics, key grip, and grips
Electrics/Electricians: work with all lighting instruments and power distribution
Grips: work in concert with electrics to alter the lighting, whether by intensity, color, patterns, etc. Grips also build things and mount cameras to cars and dollies
Key grip: head of the grip department
Best boy grip: second in command in the grip/electric departments. Also responsible for equipment inventory, time cards, etc.
Dolly grip: pushes the dolly and makes smooth moving shots (what I eventually want to do)

Karen Dicey photo by Brian WilderSince 1998, Karen has worked in New England as a film production freelancer. She has done sound and camera work and was wardrobe assistant on an independent film when the grip/electric crew adopted her.

"Since discovering I want to be a grip, I've worked as best boy grip on Lightning: Fire from the Sky, starring John Schneider and Stacy Keach; as an electrician on American Gun, starring the late James Coburn; and on Trapped:Buried Alive, starring Jack Wagner and Gabrielle Carteris," she says."These films were all made in Vermont with Edgewood Studios. I also worked on commercials for the Vermont Lottery and on a low-budget film in Rhode Island with seven other KSC grads." If those films don't sound familiar, she also worked on The Perfect Storm. "I organized the 500 extras in the church scene at the end," she explains.

Being a grip quoteKaren has run a video camera at a remarkable gamut of events from MixFest 2000, starring Barenaked Ladies, the Goo Goo Dolls, and the Go-Gos, to live cardiac catheterization surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She has shot Bill Cosby Live at UNH and even filmed meals – lunch with Lily Tomlin and dinner with the king and queen of Jordan.

"Strangely enough, despite my career choice, I took only one film class at KSC," Karen says. "It was Carol Beck's Film Production I, where we scripted, shot, and edited Super 8 films. I absolutely loved the class. Being a journalism major and theatre minor, most of my schedule consisted of news reporting and behind-the-scenes theatrical pursuits. Rose Kundanis's TV news courses helped me get an idea of screen direction, composition, and editing – all of which are a part of filmmaking as well as newscasts."

Karen with James Coburn Karen began post-KSC life as a copyeditor for Rockingham County Newspapers from 1991 to 1993, then served as continuity coordinator at N.H. Public Television for five years. In 1997, she studied the filmmaking process from start to finish at International Film and Television workshops in Rockport, Maine.

A member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, she is enrolled with an agency in Boston called Central Booking. But most of her assignments come from word-of-mouth and former clients. Typically, she works about four weeks on a film. "Sometimes I've been called in for specific days when they're looking for a dolly grip, for example," she says.

What does she like best about her job? Apart from working with big stars, she cites the unusual places you find yourself.

"My favorites have been the Olympic ski jump towers at Lake Placid; laying track and doing dolly moves just feet from the incoming tide at Nubble Light, Maine; working in the wintertime at Castle in the Clouds; at the top of Killington Karen at Killingtonin Vermont and Whiteface in upstate New York. Being a grip is like working with a giant Tinkertoy set every day. It's a lot of creative problem-solving, using equipment with funny names like onkibonks, C-47s, and cookies."

Has her occupation changed the way she views films? "Definitely, and that has its pros and cons," she says. "I'm able to look at a film and consider how the lighting effects were accomplished, or be impressed by a complicated dolly move. Then again, sometimes I can't get beyond knowing about the 'movie magic' and get into the film. From my perspective, a film is really, really good if I can forget about everything but the story line."

So, what are her favorites? "I'm a hopeless romantic," she admits, listing When Harry Met Sally, Cinema Paradiso, The Spitfire Grill, and Roman Holiday. "I'd love the opportunity to work with Rob Reiner and Ron Howard, both directors I admire."

Julia Roberts favoritesKaren's recent projects include Frozen Impact, shot in central Vermont, again with Edgewood Studios. "I was second unit key grip and we filmed a lot of stunts, rock climbing, and special effects sequences," she says. That was followed by a romantic comedy filmed in Rhode Island.

Despite working primarily in New England, Karen does get to meet some pretty big names. In fact, she worked last year on Mona Lisa Smile, on location at Wellesley College, with one of the biggest names ever – Academy Award-winner Julia Roberts. "She was really sweet and down-to-earth," says Karen. "I usually work as a grip (in the lighting department), but thanks to my day with Craft Service (making coffee, setting out snacks), I got to meet Julia. By the way, we had her favorite snacks on hand: Red Delicious apples, chunky peanut butter, and chocolate chip cookies."

Now the next time you watch the credits roll by at the end of a movie, you can turn to your neighbor and say, knowingly, "The key grip did a great job." And check those credits closely. You may have gone to school with the best boy.

Barbara A. Hall '89 is Class Notes Editor of  Keene State Today.
Photo by Brian Wilder