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Job Title: Rigging Gaffer

Job Overview

“The rigging gaffer executes the gaffer's vision,” explains gaffer Jay Kemp. “He'll often go on the preliminary scouting and figure out what the needs are, then plan accordingly. He usually has a truck, a best boy, and crew of people that leapfrog with the shooting crew from location to location. It makes sense economically because the shooting crew can come in, all the power is laid out, and the broad strokes are in place. Then the gaffer and cinematographer can come in, finesse the lighting, and be ready to shoot in much quicker time. The lighting takes longer than probably any other part of the lighting process, so it's important to have a lot of it laid in advance.”

Special Skills

In addition to filmmaking and lighting skills, gaffers must have strong leadership qualities, enabling them to hire, manage, and motivate their department.

Advice for Someone Seeking This Job

Due to the number of productions shooting outside Los Angeles and New York, Kemp feels it is easier to break into the business in markets outside those industry hubs, such as Virginia. “If a film is coming to your area, and you have a little experience, you stand a pretty good chance of getting on it … Kids can come right out of school, or working at a rental house, and hop right onto a major motion picture.” Due to escalating costs, the production budget may only allow the gaffer to bring his best boy, and hire the balance of his crew locally.

“As for getting your first opportunity, I think working at a rental house is not a bad idea … or working with a rigging crew. It tends to be more manual labor, but you get a good behind-the-scenes view. You learn the equipment and the basics of electricity at a slower, non-production pace. I think it's important that guys rig a few times before they actually get thrown on the set, where the pace is much more frantic.

“There are so many avenues for getting lighting work. If there are commercial houses in your area, try them. Do corporate industrial films, whatever you can find to get your hands on equipment.”

What do you like least about your job?

“What I like least is what the job can do to a family. I've been very fortunate that my family understands what I do. The fact that I'll go for six months of working 70 to 90 hours a weeks, and then go for two months and not work. It can be a real emotional and financial roller coaster. But, at this point, I wouldn't have it any other way. It's kind of a love/hate relationship.”Jay Kemp

What do you love most about your job?

Kemp enjoys the fact that his job forces him to adapt to new situations, lighting challenges, and diverse personalities. “It's never stagnant.”Jay Kemp

Professional Profile: Jay Kemp, Gaffer and Rigging Gaffer

There might have been another lawyer in the world if Jay Kemp had not discovered filmmaking. The Virginia native was entrenched in a liberal arts/pre-law curriculum at James Madison University until opting to spend the first semester of his fourth year abroad. “I went to London and studied art, architecture, theater, and history. It opened my eyes to a lot of different possibilities.” Returning to the States, he began looking into other programs at James Madison.

“At the time, they had a quality communications/arts department. One of the directions you could go within that was television and film. I decided to pursue that.” Kemp graduated in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in communications/arts, with an emphasis in film and television. His minor in general social science was the result of all the political science and sociology courses he had taken before changing career paths.

Kemp immediately took a job working in set construction at De Laurentiis Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina, just to get his foot in the industry door. In less than six months he worked on three different films. During that time, he also picked up work on nonunion projects, often in the lighting department. A half-year spent working as a cameraman at a Richmond television station convinced Kemp that this was not a career path he was interested in continuing. Instead he pursued freelance work, serving as a grip, electrician, and dolly grip on commercials and industrials. “Someone recognized I had an aptitude for gripping electric, and that's where I landed.”


* “One of the biggest things that has made me successful are the people that surround me.”Jay Kemp

* “I think it is possible to have a successful career outside of the major markets.”—Jay Kemp

* “Try not to get discouraged, because if you stick it out, things will happen for you.”Jay Kemp

Just a couple years out of college, Kemp was hired as an electrician/lamp operator on the NBC miniseries Gore Vidal's Lincoln. His work on the film impressed gaffer Joey Clayton, who would later hire Kemp for several more television projects.

After being hired in the late 1980s as an electrician on the film Crazy People, Kemp focused primarily on electrician work on features, including True Colors, What About Bob?, Fried Green Tomatoes, Dave, Washington Square, and The Jackal. By the early 1990s, he was working regularly as a best boy electrician or rigging gaffer, on films such as Arlington Road and Trading Mom, followed by Murder at 1600, Hush, Cherry Falls, Along Came a Spider, Hearts in Atlantis, and Gods & Generals. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Kemp was also being hired as a gaffer on features such as First Kid, Blair Witch 2, The Contender, and Mickey, and the television series D.C.

When not working on feature projects, Kemp studies cameras, lenses, and filtration to hone his skills as a director of photography, with plans to shoot small independent projects.

Additional topics

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