Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Specialization (or Specialisation, for our British friends)

   Today's motion picture industry is light-years different from even 10 years ago.  It doesn't take a genius to see that. With the advent of streaming in addition to the other outlets (Theatrical, cable, and network), up until 2020 or so, there was more work than there were technicians. I turned down as many jobs as I took. There just weren't enough days in a year to do it all. As a result the industry took in a huge influx of people. Suddenly it wasn't that hard to get started and work almost constantly, even if you hadn't developed the skills you would normally need to be successful. Then, with the collapse of the streaming bubble, corporate mergers, strikes, and pandemics, the industry ground to a halt. People with only two or three years of experience found themselves suddenly out off work. For a long time. This would be a normal correction except for the previously mentioned factors. The business has always gone through periodic purges. Work is cyclical and if you want to survive you put aside money for the lean times. Those that don't, that become heady with being in their twenties and making thousands per week, fall by the wayside.The veterans of the business know this and plan accordingly. This time is a little different. Even the old-timers suddenly found themselves unemployed for months on end. As work is slowly beginning to crank back up (notwithstanding the Teamster contract talks) I decided to speak up on a couple of things.

  It's not enough to just show up anymore. If you really want to continue in the business you have to be exceptional. For Dolly Grips, this means, if you are still developing your chops, you have to practice. There are a lot of dollies sitting around rental houses gathering dust. It's a prime opportunity to get some practice in. Most rental houses are happy to let you come in and play around (at least they were when I was starting out). Call them. Ask for a couple of hours to go in and mess around with a dolly. Claim a space, put some marks down, and do some compound moves. Get a friend and a chair and practice stand-ups and sit-downs. The moves seem daunting at first. With practice and experience (a lot of it) you will reach the point where the setup of a shot, or finding the best most efficient way to do it is the most challenging part. The moves, you'll just walk up and do. Take some classes from your union local if they are offering them. I teach a   couple a year and sometimes the majority of students aren't even Dolly Grips. To succeed in this field you have to specialize. That means you aren't a best boy one show and a Dolly Grip the next and a rigging grip on another. Specialization is something I've harped on for years and you'll probably find another post on it somewhere in the archives.  Work towards it. Become a master of your craft. Any decent set grip can lay track and go from one to two. It's the Dolly Grips who can effortlessly do a six point move with two booms and land it by the second take who will be in demand. Anyway, I'll step down off the soapbox. I hope everyone is hanging in there.

The Captain has Spoken,


Saturday, April 06, 2024

One Fire At A Time

   I have a philosophy called "One fire at a time." It started with doing dance floor moves. Basically, it states that when faced with a seemingly insurmountable set of problems, you don't look at the whole daunting pile at once. You break it down into a set of smaller problems to be solved in sequence. A dance floor shot with multiple floor and boom marks can be terrifying to a new dolly grip. But if you don't think of the whole, and separate it into individual moves based on actor movements, it becomes much less daunting. Once you have put down marks and get into the actual execution of the shot, you just think of it as separate dolly moves based largely on actor movement. He moves to there, you look and see where your previous mark is, and it makes sense. After a couple of run throughs, it starts to become clear. This mindset has helped me get through a lot of complicated shots, and a lot of life problems that seemed huge upon first look, but when broken down, become manageable. Put out one fire at a time. Believe me it will make a huge difference in how you not only approach complicated shots at work, but complicated problems in life.

The Captain has spoken

Have a good one.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Next Dolly Grip Q&A.


Here is the link and times for the next Dolly Grip Q&A. Please join us!

Topic: Darryl Humber/Matt Moriarty, Dolly Grip Q&A

Time: Oct 3, 2023 01:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada) 4PM Eastern.

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Monday, July 31, 2023

I've Got Nothing Better To Do

 Hi all! I see we are all back in the same boat we were in three years ago or so. Once again, we were told to go home in the middle of a job, uncertain and a little anxious about what the future holds. I'm trying to figure out ways in which whatever skills I have translate to the real world and so far all I can come up with is one of those people who shop and deliver groceries. I may not be good at much but I can drive the shit out of a shopping cart. In the meantime, we do have some things coming up. We are going to start up our Dolly Grip Q&A zoom meetings again soon, so be on the lookout for the first one. We are in the process of lining up guests, so if there is anyone in particular you would like to see, shoot me an email. I had a fairly busy year up until the recent shutdown. I spent most of my time on the 45' Scorpio crane, except for the couple of times I was on a 50' Techno. Going from the smooth as butter Scorpio to a rather aged Technocrane is quite a change. Those older cranes just don't stop and start as smoothly as the Scorpio.I don't think I've been on a Supertechno that was under 20 years old in a while and forgot how much of a monster they can be to get moving or finesse a slow correction up or down. The bearings tend to break loose all of a sudden which makes a small correction at full stick a little tricky. Add a rain cover to that and now you're doing it partially blind. Once the rain cover gets put on, I'm constantly switching sides of the bucket, sometimes mid-shot just so I can keep my eyes on the head.

  I did do an actual film job shot with a Panaflex for a week, filling in for a friend. It was amazing the difference in set discipline that automatically seems to come with just shooting film. The rhythm of the set that we all remember was back and I wasn't constantly clearing people away from the crane. There weren't people standing in front of the lens scrolling their phones as is unfortunately the case these days. I asked the operator if he had noticed the difference and he said, "Absolutely."  It would be nice if we could get back to that.

Anyway, that's all I have for now. I hope to get back to posting more often now. Stay tuned.


Friday, January 27, 2023

Time flies when you're having fun!

No, we're not dead.

Has it been over a year already? What’s changed? Nothing. If anything things may have gotten worse. Long hours, nights, Fraturdays… the list goes on. Coming out of the world wide lock down it was as if a gun had gone off. Studios and streaming services needed new content as we had binged watched EVERYTHING. And what? Now? A writer’s strike? Who’da thunk…

Long and short of it. Please be careful and look out for yourself. If not for you, but for your loved ones that want you around to tell them how you did that amazing shot you’re forcing them to watch.

Thank you to the American Cinematographer Magazine’s Jay Holben for his “Shot Craft” article on “The Dolly Grip’ in the February ’23 issue of the magazine. Tip of the hat to Ralph Scherer for being featured.

Speaking of featured - a big congratulations to our own Darryl Humber for being the Society of Operating Camera People’s “Dolly Grip of the Year”! If you have to opportunity to go to the awards dinner in Los Angeles in February please stand and give him a huge cheer from all of us.

That is all - be seeing you!

 (anyone know how to delete all the spam comments on Blogger?)

Friday, December 03, 2021

Dance Floor Revisit

   Something that happened earlier this week put me in mind of a post. I'm sure most of you who still pay attention have noticed that posts are few and far between these days.  Honestly,  it's hard to come up with anything new after almost fifteen years of  Dollygrippery. Every now and then, though, something happens that gives me an idea. 

  A lot of the movie I'm doing now takes place on an enormous interior mansion set. The rooms are huge, the hallways are huge, and as a result, we do a lot of the shooting on this set with a 23' Scorpio Crane. It's a no brainer really. I can put the camera anywhere, and I don't have to lay a lot of track etc. This all worked out fine until one day last week when we devised a big master with several actors on the Techno, and the Techno wouldn't boot up. Time for Plan B. We threw the Matrix head on the dolly and basically did a huge dance floor shot. This of course entailed going somewhat old school and getting floor marks as well as several boom marks.  It occurred to me as we were setting it up that twenty or so years ago I would have been sweating bullets as more and more camera positions were added. I think I ended up with six floor marks and three boom marks, As it was, it was no sweat and I have one thing to thank for it: television. Around fifteen years ago I did three seasons on a very popular HBO series. And it was brutal. I had already been a dolly grip for ten years or so and had some fairly big features under my belt so I was decent. This show however showed me how unprepared I was. Every shot was a dance floor. We even did them outside. And I never rested. I would basically lay half the room, shoot it out and lay the other half for the reverse. It was the most intense training I could ask for. I was exhausted,  I got to the point that I could generally get 90% in the first take and nail it by the second. I didn't have a choice, We moved fast and things had to be figured out and corrected on the fly. This brings me to my point. For a Dolly Grip there is no better training than a dolly intensive tv series. You have to move fast, be accurate, and get it with minimal rehearsal. You learn to break the dance floor moves into chunks, because trying to think of it all in one will scare the hell out of you. The next thing that was hammered home was to let the actors tell you where the moves are. I don't mean to ask them, I mean that if you understand the blocking, their movements will remind you where you next mark is. Some of the best dolly grips in the world work in television and I was reminded of that last week. So if you are a young up and comer, don't be so fired up to get to feature world. Take a few years in television to learn your craft, After that, everything is easy.

till next time,


Saturday, March 06, 2021

Greatest Hits

I'm gonna set the stage now. I'm doing a technocrane shot. We're on a Scorpio 45' with a Matrix head. The shot is, an actor runs out of a gymnasium into a lobby. He slides to the ground as we push in on a ground scraper to meet him. He jumps up and we rise with him. He runs right, around a corner. I match him on the crane. Round the corner, push at full speed over his left shoulder and WHAM! You know those clocks they have in some high schools? The ones that stick out 90 degrees from the wall? I obliterated one of those with a $100,000.00 head, The arm rang like a bell and my immediate reaction over the headset was, "Ohh s&%t!" The funny thing is, I had joked with the special effects coordinator before we even did the shot that I would knock it right off the wall. Anyway, this put me in mind of a post...

  If you do this job long enough, you're going to hit something. In 30 years in this business, I have never hit a person but I have had about four major hits on a technocrane. They are as follows:

4. The afore mentioned clock obliteration,

3. Football movie. The shot is a quick screamer on a 50' Supertechno from full height to ground level. I bounced the head off the turf like a rubber ball.

2.Very popular cop franchise reboot. I hit a light fixture so hard the grid shook,

1, On very successful car franchise, I slammed a head into a helicopter on a gimble. This one bears some explaining. I was swooping around a gimbled copter on a 50' Technocrane. The DP asked if I could take the camera lower. I'm already stretched out as high as I can go on the bucket. I then had a foolish thought. I thought that if I could let go of the back of the arm for a second and grab it closer to the column that I could get the camera lower, and thus become a hero in my DP's eyes. Big mistake. I lose the arm completely, and it now starts slowly swaying toward the bucking helicopter (because it absolutely wouldn't go the other way) and I start yelling to Mike, the pickle op that  I've lost control of the arm as I watch it bounce off the helicopter.

  The  point of all this is, if you do this long enough, you will make mistakes. Our job is such that we are entrusted with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and then asked to narrowly miss destroying it. Sometimes you just lose. Let it go. Don't dwell on it. This is the hardest thing for me. I hate, HATE making mistakes. I hate blowing takes and I always feel like I'm letting my DP down. Let that go. When I hit that clock my DP laughed and said, "You almost made it!" He loved that I was trying to give him what he wanted. The truth is, sometimes we just lose. That's the truth. Every NFL quarterback throws an interception and he just has to let it go for the next play.

Let it go.