Saturday, January 04, 2020

Back to Work

  Well, the vacation is over. Monday morning I, along with many of you, will jump back into the grind and will carry on until around April. The job I'm currently on is a new streaming series. Instead of breaking it up into separate episodes as we're shooting, we treat it much like a six month feature. The director and DP are constant. This adds to a certain cohesion that is often compromised in standard series shooting where the DP alternates and the directors are on a revolving door. We know the drill and the fastest way to get things done.
   One of the systems we are using regularly is the Oculus head on the dolly. This works very well for a lot of things, but isn't a universal tool for everything. Wisely, our DP likes to use an arsenal of tools for many situations. We often go from Technocrane, to dolly, to mini Libra underhung on speedrail and carried. They all work really well in specific situations. I really like the Oculus on the dolly. It gives the operator and I a tremendous amount of freedom to find shots as we often make them up on the fly with little rehearsal. While this works well and the Oculus is an amazing head, don't make the mistake of thinking a stabilized head can fix everything. A wavy floor like a linoleum one will still often show up onscreen, especially on a longer lens on a dolly. It's best for high frequency vibrations like a wood floor. If you use it on a very wavy floor, it's best to leave off the vibration isolator. Pneumatic tires also help a lot,  Anyway, that's my 2 cents worth.
  Good luck in the coming year and stay safe out there. Remember, take nothing for granted and if something can go wrong it will.
D

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Happy Holidays!

 I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about (let's be honest I don't know what it was about) I was pretty hammered and woke up the next day and read it, as I do, and it looked like my 9 year old son wrote it after a couple of beers. So I deleted it. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed the disconnect, but nobody said anything so I didn't either. Anyway, I mainly want to say Happy Holidays to my brothers and sisters in the field of camera movement. I'm taking a couple of weeks off from my show and have gained about 8 lbs. I will be back on what I call the "Marvel Diet" on January 6th where I will resume eating cold chicken and soggy vegetables and will quickly lose the weight. This is not a reflection on the caterer at all, who is one of the best, but rather an indictment of the system we use on Marvel jobs to obtain nutrition. I would like to go on record now as saying that I much prefer this system (10 hour days with no lunch break) to the old 14 to 16 hour slog we used to do. Anyway, I hope everyone has a great holiday and a successful new year. For now let's forget about cranes and dollies and actors who never hit their marks and concentrate on family and big dinners and cocktails. All that other crap will come soon enough.
Till then,
Merry Christmas!
D

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Stops and Starts Etc.

  Chocolate Larry left a comment on how to manage stops and starts with an AC and operator aboard. The truth is that ACs just don't ride the dolly anymore (and rarely did even when we shot film). At the end of the day, it's just about control. You have to get a certain amount of mass moving in a controlled manner and also stop that mass. I use my knee a lot to get moving. Plant your foot and bury your knee into the kickpad (on Chapman dollies) or the end of the dolly. It's much easier to control a lot of weight with the bigger muscles of your legs than your arms alone. I use my knee a lot for the initial push off to get it rolling. Your arms are really just dampeners. Use them as an initial stop to start slowing down, but your body is really the brake. Larry also asks about getting marks quickly when already rolling. I'll very often find a reference such as a crack in a sidewalk or a car bumper or even a crosstie on the track as a quick reference mark. Other than that, you need to develop your sense of where the camera should be to make the shot work. That's where experience comes in because in the digital world we often roll on the first take. On the show I'm doing now we don't often even get rehearsals. We literally make up the shots on the fly (and this is a Marvel project). Here is where you need to learn the fundamentals of blocking, how to compose a frame, hold and "over" etc. Anyway, thanks for the comments!
Hope this helps!
D

Friday, October 25, 2019

Congratulations J. Moose Howery!

  The SOC has bestowed it's Moving Camera Platform Lifetime Achievement Award on Jeff "Moose" Howery. Moose is a good friend of mine and I can think of no one who deserves this award more. Just a short list of his credits include : Forrest Gump, Contact, Apocalypto, The Book of Eli, Hidden Figures, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and Venom. He is truly a dolly grip's dolly grip. I recently pushed on a movie he stepped up to key and it was a rare pleasure. Thank you SOC for honoring Moose with this award!

   Other than that, after a glorious seven (7) week vacation that I hate to see come to an end, I am heading back to work and boarding the Marvel train until April. I'll try to make regular posts. If you have anything you'd like to see posted here, drop an email or leave it in the comments!
 

D

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Explanation of Terms

  I have been asked by more than one reader who isn't in the industry what certain terms mean. Here is a handy glossary (not in alphabetical order cause I ain't got time for that):


AD- Assistant Director- The director's right hand person. Does the shooting schedule, calls rolling to roll camera, keeps the set moving by dealing with logistics so the director can concentrate on the actual creative process, deals with extras, keeps the set moving.

DP- Director of photography (also cinematographer). Lights the set. Chooses lenses, shooting stops, etc. Basically responsible for the look of the movie. Head of the camera department, grip, and electric departments.

Dance Floor- A surface laid over an existing floor by the dolly grip when the floor is not smooth enough and the camera moves are not linear in which case track could be used. Usually consists of 3/4" birch or oak plywood covered with a 1/" top of plastic sheets called ABS or Sintra.

PA- Production assistant. Often an entry level job under the AD. "Locks up" roads, streets buildings, etc to keep crew members and non crew members from walking into the shot. Has many other responsibilities such as wrangling extras etc.

Technocrane- A camera crane with an extendable arm. Commonly used lengths are 30 and 50 footers although there are max lengths anywhere from 10' to 100'. Camera is operated remotely by the camera operator. The arm is extended by use of a control commonly referred to as a "pickle." Often the pickle is operated by one person while the arm is swung around by the dolly grip. While Technocranes used to be a specialty item only brought in for particular shots, now they are common and a show will often "carry" one for the run of shooting. Has made use of fixed length cranes very uncommon (anyone want to buy a Giraffe Crane?).

Electrician- In the movie world, electrician refers to Lamp Operator, not a household electrician like you may think. Electricians in movie world are also called sparks, or  juicers. They power the set and set up and operate the lighting instruments under the direction of the Gaffer. 

These are common terms I may use from time to time. If there are any more terms you would like defined please shoot me an email.

D


Monday, October 07, 2019

Actor Safety

  I look at part of my job as keeping the stars of our shots safe from whatever it is I'm doing to achieve them. We use a lot of heavy stuff with sharp corners and also create a lot of trip hazards. I once worked with a DP who refused to allow me to ever lay a dance floor in such a way that an actor could step on or walk on it. This included just laying the room so that they were always on it. I had to make strange cuts and customize each floor which took forever when I could have just laid a pad and kept them on it the whole time.While this is a little extreme, I do try to minimize anything that may possibly break their concentration or cause a hazard while they are trying to do their thing. I'm always looking for anything that I may have done that might injure them. I'll put a tapeball or a duventine pad on sharp dance floor corners or, if they must somehow cross a piece of floor and aren't wearing shoes, I'll make a pad of duventine across the edge so if they do catch it, they won't stub their toe. I always, if there is an opportunity, point out any trip hazards to them.  If possible use floor, planks or an offset so they don't have to cross track.
  My least favorite shot to do is a camera looking straight down on an actor. This one always gives me the willies and I'm always relieved when we get it and move on. You should never have a camera over anyone without a safety. I usually screw a bolt into the plate to stop any danger of the camera sliding off and will attach a daisy chain safety from the camera to the dolly, or run a line to the grid overhead, or even build a goalpost with speedrail over the camera and run a line to that. In addition, if it's a static shot, I'll take out the boom control handle and build up under the arm with apple boxes or a small combo stand. Leave nothing to chance. I've even had actors ask me if the camera is safe and I'll take them through all the precautions we've taken. Incidentally, all this should be done with the stand-ins also. Don't let yourself get bullied into shortcuts by a DP in a hurry or an AD who's trying to stay on schedule. Usually you'll see this shot coming and will be able to have the stuff waiting in the wings to be used. Always be looking for what could go wrong because if it can, it will and your career and more importantly, someone's safety and even life is on the line. If that little voice is speaking to you from the back of your head listen to it.
  Anyway, just a couple of things to keep in mind.
Stay safe,
D


Friday, September 13, 2019

Go The Extra Mile

   I ran into a situation on the last show that retaught me a rule I've always tried to work by: Do what you know is right. We were in a room with carpet and the floor underneath was clearly less than perfect. It was a dance floor shot and I called for the pieces I needed for a standard single layer surface. In the back of my head my spider sense was tingling that I was making a mistake but I brushed it aside and laid the floor. I was in a hurry and wanted to get it done and get the camera up so I'd be ready once we were lit. On the first run through all the marks with just me and the operator, it was clear that I had made a mistake. There were bumps on the joints and the floor was a little wavy so the camera was wobbling from side-to-side and it was completely unusable. The DP and the guys were in the middle of lighting so I had plenty of time still. I told the operator I needed to redo some things. I then went to the key grip and told him I needed to relay the floor. Now my key grip on this job was a veteran dolly grip of forty years. Most of you would recognize his name. He had taken the job as key because the DP, a very talented young up and comer, is the son of a camera man he had pushed for for years. So I went to him and said I needed to lay a double floor (two layers of plywood instead of one, and the tops, screwed together to form a solid base to roll on). He said, "I wanted to suggest it but didn't want to get in your rice bowl."  That's the way he is. He's respectful and trusts his dolly grip to know best. I told him that I had known better but took a shortcut and made a mistake. So, in the middle of lighting, I pulled it all out and relayed a double floor. And it worked perfectly.  Somewhere in the 12 years of posts on this site is the instruction, "Double lay floors on carpet." I still remember typing it many years ago. Everything is shot specific, and an experienced dolly grip knows what he or she can get away with. But I knew better and still took the quick and easy way out against my better judgement. I broke my own rule, And it bit me in the ass (well, almost).
  So here is the gist of this post. Go the extra mile. If your experience is telling you to do a little extra to save yourself grief down the line, listen to it. It's the most important tool in your bag. There are a lot of times that I'll have a shot on a wood floor and the key grip will ask if I just want the tops with no plywood. I almost always say no. I would rather do a little extra work and know it's right rather than do the minimum and then fight a bump or wave in the floor and have to fix it with actors and director waiting around. Do yourself a favor. Go the extra mile. Believe me, there are few things worse than rolling toward a bump that you know is there because you half assed it and wondering if it's going to blow the take. Your work will be much stronger if you can concentrate on the move rather than wondering if that little bump halfway through the move is going to show.
  Anyway, there's a thunderstorm rolling in, I've got a nice glass of wine, and another week off coming up. Life is good.
Stay safe out there,
D