Alumni Profile • Tim Jipping '91
Filmmaking's jack-of-all-trades

Tim JippingThere's a scene in the 2006 movie World Trade Center where Nicolas Cage has fallen into a hole in the rubble of the collapsed towers. One dim light illuminates him.

"I did that," Tim Jipping '91 tells friends when they see the movie.

"The set was massive and dirty," Jipping explained. "There was no good way to light Nick. So the director of photography had me climb a 15-foot wall to put a light in place that shone on Nick's face and then had me sit up there in a cramped little nook so I could keep adjusting the light as they shot the scene. It took a good four hours."

When the credits roll at the end of the film, there's his name: Timothy Jipping, company grip.

"The grips help everybody," Jipping said. "Anybody on the set can come to us and say, 'This is what I need, help me.' On the spot the brain has to click and figure out what to do, from supplying tape for a costume repair to custom-building a camera platform."

Jipping said that he's become, after 12 years in the business, "a very good carpenter and something of an engineer."

Add to that safety monitor for things small-a bad knot or pipe fitting-and large: "A camera crane can weigh up to two tons," he said. "I have to watch where and how it's hanging and be sure no one is hurt when it moves."

Beyond safety, Jipping has developed a keen eye for the details that matter little in life but can mar a film: a smudge on a window behind an actor, a stray paper clip on the set floor.

Jipping got his start in filmmaking while he was a student on Calvin's Chicago semester. He landed an internship at a production house making industrial videos and TV commercials. After graduation he stayed in the city to learn the business, earn his union card and meet people on film crews. In 2000, one of the key grips he'd worked for got a job in Hollywood and asked Jipping along. He's been working on major motion pictures ever since, including Crash, Batman Begins and Stranger Than Fiction . From November to March he was on the set of Jackie Chan's new movie, Rush Hour 3.

To those envious of his life rubbing shoulders with stars and helping to stage memorable movie scenes, like Chan's sword fight on the girders of the Eiffel Tower, Jipping points out the strains of the job: 15-hour days seven days a week and labor that's physically taxing and sometimes dangerous. In fact, in early April he was struck with 30 sheets of plywood and suffered broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder and a concussion.

There are mental and emotional strains as well. As soon as shooting on a film is finished, he's effectively without a job until he's hired on another film. And, he said, "For a Christian, the industry can be pretty tough. A lot of film people don't believe in anything but themselves and money."

Still, Jipping loves making movies-and making them well. In the past he's found the quality of films with Christian themes "subpar": "Then viewers don't get wrapped up in the story; they don't learn anything new." He sees that changing with productions such as Bridge to Terabithia and the Chronicles of Narnia films. Like World Trade Center, he would be proud to be a part of those movies.

Jipping invites friends old and new to e-mail him at