You can become a key grip by developing carpentry and mechanic skills, obtaining a job in the entertainment industry, and working a number of years in the grip department. A key grip does behind the scenes work on entertainment productions, such as movies, television shows, theater productions, and concerts. He is in charge of the grip department and supervises a team of grips and best boys. Jobs in the entertainment industry are typically few in quantity but in high demand, so a career in the industry as a key grip requires a certain amount of persistence and ingenuity.
Key grips start out as grips or best boys in the grip department of a production. Unlike a regular job, each entertainment vehicle, such as a movie or television show, operates like a self-contained business. This means that grips are not employed by a single entity and then assigned to different work locations. A grip applies to work on a specific production, and when that production wraps, he has to apply for a position on another. To become a key grip, you will have to continually apply for work on productions, seeking to increase the quality of assignments while gaining experience and moving up in the ranks.
There is no minimum educational requirement to become a key grip, although having a high school diploma is advisable as with any job. Key grips are craftsmen and inventors who manage the camera and lighting equipment for a production. A grip is responsible for moving, placing, and modifying the camera cars, cranes, tracks, dollies, set walls, lights, tripods, microphones, rigging, and scaffolding. Functional skills are the most important attribute for the job, such as in carpentry, electrical, mechanical, and rigging. Any formal training or certification you can acquire in those areas will help your candidacy.
The grip position is also a part of the curriculum in most film schools. Another way to gain the technical skills to become a key grip is to enroll in an undergraduate film or film trade school. The position is mostly dependent upon direct experience, so the most practical way to proceed is to apply to work on small, independent productions with an eye towards working your way up.
There is no one way to guarantee employment as a grip and eventual advancement to key grip, particularly since every production is a clean slate that you have to apply for from scratch. Certain standard places to look for employment exist, such as by contacting the film commissions in various jurisdictions to see when productions are scheduled for filming and monitoring the entertainment trade publications. Once you are eligible for the union, you may find some help advancing your career from within those ranks. Networking will be the single most important factor in your ability to find work as a grip and to eventually become a key grip.