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Patrick, who worked his way through the grip and electric department to become key grip, describes his career as “sandbags and steel.” He likes being a key grip and says there is no place higher, other than up in budget. He’s made progress getting experience on films $50-million dollars and above, although he wants to get to a $150M film. It would be more stress, but he’d like to do it. In LA there is a separation between film, TV, and commercial crews. It’s hard to cross over between the fields, because there is a less film, especially in the middle tier.
Patrick has done a range of genres, although he has done quite a bit of comedy. He likes laughter on set.
Working on Location
Due to incentives and lower costs, there is a lot of work in Atlanta now. However, the crews are less experienced than those in LA and NY. While it depends on the location, it can be difficult to work a lot in other places. If the shoot is in Hawaii, his wife will want to visit him. If its Atlanta, she’ll wait until he gets back home. The food is great in Atlanta, the people are nice, and Patrick came across some great workers, but the industry is new. They are filming a lot of big movies there, including The Avengers movies.
Patrick works a lot with foreign directors of photography. He sort of fell into that after getting to work with French cinematographer Eric Gautier on Into the Wild. (The original key grip left the film after being combative with the DP.) Patrick describes him as fantastic, but complicated. But Patrick was willing to work with him to do things the way he wanted.
After that, Patrick started getting more work with international DPs. He then developed a relationship with an Italian crew, who hired him for shoots for the Young Pope and pulled him into the Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren Road Trip film, The Leisure Seeker. Then he ended up getting work with a Korean DP, a German DP, and others.
Patrick’s Italian is very good at least for phrases required on set. He would simply pay attention to certain phrases over time and learn them. When he started working on the first project with the Italian team, he got a visual dictionary of Italian to English. They love that he was willing to try to learn their language and it helped him bond with them. He did same with learning Spanish on a job in Mexico on the film, Club Dread. He scouted the project with a local group of 22 grip and electric without knowing Spanish. He slowly learned relevant words over two months, so his set Spanish is basic but workable.
Patrick’s nickname is “The Snake.” How did he get that name? At some point Patrick noticed in watching movie credits that the longer names would draw your eyes to them. He started making up nicknames make his name longer in the credits. At one point he used the name, Patrick “The Snake” Heffernan. It was totally arbitrary, but for some reason that’s the one that IMDB decided to keep on his listing.
Working on Comedies
Patrick worked on FX comedy show Workaholics, starting midway through second season through the seventh season. It was a fun, light-hearted show. While lots of movie jobs are very stressful, Workaholics was not stressful at all. It was a friendly, family-like environment and the actors and director were all fantastic. But it only shot for 3 months at a time. They just wrapped shooting the final season last fall.
On Being a Key Grip
Although Patrick is a key grip, he does not have to carry tools around anymore. However, people didn’t realize he was the key grip. Patrick started to put a tape measure on his belt, just so people would not think he was part of the camera department.
Patrick loves film sets. He like walking the interaction with the large group of people doing all there very different defined roles. He listens to everything on set. It’s a good social environment and helps to pass the time watching them when you’re on a 13-hour shoot. Part of the job is remembering who’s good and who’s not so good. After working in the industry for a while, you realize it’s a small, tight community.
You never know where you’re going to get your next job. You have to put 110% into every job because people remember and that’s how you get your next job.
How to Get Hired as a Grip
To become a grip it helps to be handy with tools and you need a strong work ethic. You also have to take into account that the hours are long, and it’s difficult to keep up relationships and friendships. The first step to being a grip is find a local production company and start as a PA. You need to be willing to take any job that comes along, whether it’s free, low-paying, or high-paying. You might put in a day working hard for free and then get rewarded with a good paying job. You have to find a production, start working and get out there.
Patrick believes you learn by doing. He knows a lot of DPs out of film school who know lighting by theory. Patrick did not go to film school and just started working on set. He does not need to know visual theory, but he does need to know how to use a C-Stand without looking like a moron.
Work Hours and Safety
Are the hours getting worse? After the death of Sara Jones on a set, safety is getting to be more important. Patrick was on a pilot for Hulu where the first two days were 19 hours. Then on the third day, the executives came back and said there could be no days over 13 hours or they would pull the plug on the whole project. The safety practices are getting better. Is it harder working in LA with all the traffic, even with shorter work-days, he adds.
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Patrick Heffernan on IMDB.
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The Not Just Sunglasses & Autographs podcast is hosted by Tommy Burke, who has been working in TV and film production for more than 25 years as a First Assistant Director. Download the podcast, listen on iTunes, and write a review.