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Virgin Celluloid: Grips, Gaffers and Crafts

What is a grip? Or a gaffer, or a craftsperson?

We’ve perhaps heard these terms tossed around by film folks, but to most of us the vernacular has the ring of the unfamiliar, the esoteric.

Actually, there’s plenty of these folks right here in the Virgin Islands. They are a relatively small community that supplies the nuts and bolts that support the local film industry.

They, by nature, are not a shy lot, and a few of them were happy to share a bit of their knowledge with the Source.

Ken Kline Jr. grew up in a sailing family on St. Thomas, where he found an interest in local film making, incorporating his sailing savvy. Kline’s name pops up frequently when discussing local film history.

So, what are a gaffer and a grip? In short, the gaffer’s primary job is lighting; the grip does everything else.

"We tend to do a little bit of everything," Kline says.

"Camera rigging, mounting a camera on a hillside, let’s say, or situating a camera on a dolly," he says. "Maybe you have a crane underwater, or you want to put a camera on top of a mast. You know, when you see those car chases, and the camera is coming at a weird angle, we are in the car ahead getting that shot."

He pauses. "It’s really all kind of weird stuff we do," he says. "You work on water to put a camera half in, half out of the water, or situate it on a scaffolding rig to shoot off of. I worked with Gail Glanville, who started Sunbow. She apprenticed lots of local people. We used to go down island, really interesting shoots. I’ve worked with different location services, but there’s not enough work to have a full-time income."

Today, Kline manages Compass Point Marina, while still working maybe 50 to 60 days a year on film shoots.

Glanville, a legend in the territory’s early film industry, sold Sunbow Location Services, the location and equipment company she founded, to Agi and Steve Rampino in 1986. They picked up where Glanville left off and have provided professional location services and equipment locally and to the Caribbean for the past 25 years.

The company was created 1980 as a Caribbean-wide location service to answer a cry by the production industry for a professional scouting service and equipment rental company locally owned and operated.

Home-ported on Water Island, the Rampinos provide just about anything a film production company might need, from a 3 a.m. location breakfast at Magens Bay on St. Thomas, to the logistics for a quick Barbados sunrise shot.

Agi Rampino says, "We had to get up at 1:20 a.m. for that one. We were getting a shot of the old-fashioned native women walking with baskets on their heads. We had to get their hair done, and have everything ready for a sunrise shot. And you know that’s a window of just a few minutes."

Rampino moved to St. Thomas from New York where she adapted her many years of location production in the metropolitan area to the quieter and more idyllic Caribbean.

Steve Rampino, a former technical director for FOX TV, and a 100-ton Coast Guard-licensed captain, uses his extensive knowledge of equipment and logistics to smoothly transport Sunbow’s equipment throughout the entire Caribbean Basin.

Agi Rampino is virtually a woman for all seasons. She says, "We have the ability to know right away what a production company needs. Scouting, locations, equipment. I sometimes do the production myself, but I don’t like dealing with the budget. That’s what producers do. Their job is to entertain the clients and approve extra expenses."

She says, "I’ve done a series of four ads for Aruba Tourism, still photos. On those jobs, I produce, do the casting, the art, whatever they need."

Now about the craftsperson vs. a caterer. "Say you have a 3 a.m. shoot at a beach. The craft services guy will be there all day," Rampino says. "He’ll bring a continental breakfast, supply the day’s ice. We always shoot until last light. A caterer, of course will do anything you want, fine dining."

And that’s just what the crew of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn" got. The fifth and final installment of the hugely popular series was shot at Magens Bay last April in less than two days. Randolph Maynard, owner with his wife, Helga, of Amalia Café in Charlotte Amalie, has catered film crews for about 16 years.

"We started in the ‘90s when we had Pita Express," Maynard says. "Working with Deborah and Paul Quade who had Grip Flix, the Rampinos, Todd Hecht. Those people knew our work, and they’d contact us."

Maynard has been around the film industry enough to have witnessed changes. "We used to do lots of commercial shoots, Carnival cruises, fashion shoots," he says. "Then, there was a point in the late ‘90s, early 2000s where the business just died. We’d get bits and pieces, but there was no real activity. It’s picked up again in the last few years."

Maynard says, "We’ve done well. I’ve made money through the industry, taking my staff and serving at midnight sometimes."

He talks about the "Twilight" shoot."We had a huge crew. We were feeding 70 people for dinner, and lunch. We had four or five people on the ground serving the buffet, and a support staff in the kitchen we set up under a tent.

"There’s a ripple effect," Maynard says. "A trickle down right across the surface, and it helps everyone. For instance, Lockhart’s tent company supplied our tents. There was security, and the Port Authority was just amazing. Lots of people were employed. They had a barge in the water for the lighting crew, the grips, sound crew, and the crane operator. It was intense, and these were locals. We all made good money."

And what did they eat?

Maynard isn’t revealing any trade secrets. "We gave them a solid dinner, fish, meat, poultry, grilled vegetables," Maynard says. "For lunch we had wraps and salads. Dinner was after a late night shoot."

Maynard says he would like to see a local agency formed in collaboration with the Tourism Department as a clearinghouse for film jobs.

Before moving to the island, Maynard says he did some film work in the states. "I did craft services," he says. "I hope somehow we can get a portion of craft services here. I’d like to be a member of SAG (Screen Actors Guild). It would give us credibility."

Next and final in series: a look at the operations of the V.I. Film Office.

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