Friday, August 23, 2019

Impossible Shots

  I am typing to you now from my new laptop, my first new machine in fifteen years. My previous one, an old Hewlitt Packard (the very one I typed the first post for Dollygrippery on in a hotel room in Connecticut) had become just too bogged down with malware and old age to use anymore. The twenty minute bootups, lost data, crashes, bugs, and sixty second battery life had made using it too much of a chore. Which might be one reason for my infrequent posts of the last few years. So today I went out and bought myself a refurbished laptop for $250 and it's like a breath of fresh air to use. I may even publish that Dollygrippery handbook I've been threatening for a few years now.

   I am taking a short vacation after a solid fifteen weeks of work (of which the last two were six-day weeks. The first four weeks was additional photography on a Disney job from last year, followed directly (the next Monday) by  eleven weeks of another installment of a well-known franchise. This one was directed by a very enthusiastic and creative director and shot by a young, very talented DP. Their style was very slick with a lot of dolly and crane work which kept the camera constantly moving and me constantly scratching my head to figure out how to do some challenging moves in some small spaces. It was also, for the most part, a return to the old tried and true "block, light, shoot" method of film making which has sadly fallen by the wayside in many productions today. We blocked it, lit it, and then I figured out (with the much appreciated help of my key grip, a veteran Dolly Grip) how to do a 180 degree floor scraper booming up into an over-the-shoulder in a 13'5" by 7' space. It was great having a challenge but by the last three weeks I was a burnout. It also brought to mind how most of the challenge of this job isn't the moves, it's the setup. I've touched on this many times but once you reach a certain level of proficiency, the actual operation of the move is almost an afterthought. It's figuring out what you need and how to best set up the shot that is where you make your money. And it's still the part of this job that I enjoy the most. Many times the director would be running around with his finder and ask, "Can we get the camera here?" The key grip and I would both answer, "Just show us where you want it and we'll figure out how to get it there." And then we did. Once you reach a point where you've done literally any shot they throw at you (most of them many times) it comes down to figuring out the space you're in. Always remember though: You can't change the laws of physics. Unless you can take a wall out or drastically rearrange the room, sometimes you can only offer a very close compromise. I never say no except in issues of safety, but sometimes I do have to say, " I can't get the camera inside that actual wall unless we cut a hole but I can get it close if we remove the onboard battery."
  Anyway, hopefully since my new laptop will make it easier to post, I'll be around a little more. This ol' page is a little rusty but it's still chugging along. Drop a line and say hi sometime.

Stay safe,
D

Saturday, July 06, 2019

11'9"

    This isn't my waist size, or the distance to the craft service table. It's an example of the dimensions of every room in the set I've been working on. Here's another one: 13'. In actuality, when combined with the title of this post, it's the dimension of one of the main rooms in the set I'm working on. 11'9"x13'. It's a dining room set. The double door leading into it? A little over 9'. Hallways? Something like 5'2". It's maddening. Nothing in this set, a whole house interior, is divisible by 2. Why is this a problem? Well, for the dining room, I know at some point there is going to be a shot circling the dining room table. It always happens. This means I have to lay the entire room. This in turn means that I now have to make custom cuts to fill a room that's 11'9"x 13'. It's maddening, needless work. In 100 years of set building, the word hasn't reached the set designers of the world to make sets divisible by two.
  This is a common problem. Years ago I was doing a tv series. The doors to the sets were a non-standard size. The dollies didn't fit through them. So every morning or every set change, a wall had to be removed just to get the dollies into the set. When confronted with this dilemma, the set designer's response was that he wasn't going to change the look of his sets just so we could get the dollies into them. This half-wit cost us an hour a day for a couple of inches. I finally had drinks with the draftsman and she laughed and said she would take care of it. Problem solved.
  One more story. Years later I was doing a big Tom Cruise movie. The key grip, DP and I went in to look at the sets in preproduction. In the main office set, a room we would be in for weeks, there was a 2" thick rug covering a third of the room with a 1200 lb desk on it. I pointed out to the DP that this might be a problem and he immediately agreed and had the desk moved and the rug taken out. The rug was then painted on the floor. You can't tell the difference! Rugs are the bane of the dolly grip's existence. You may see a piece of them in the master and then never again. They result in extra work for the set dressers or endless building up to match the height for dance floor for me. Every time I walk in a set and see a rug with furniture on it I groan because I know it's likely to never be seen yet cause endless problems. Nobody sees rugs! Stop putting them in sets! Make thresholds easily removable! Now please, don't misunderstand me. I've worked with some of the most talented set designers and art departments in the world. Some truly astounding, jaw dropping sets. But help me help you.
  Anyway, that's my rant for this week and a love letter to the set designers and art directors of the world. If you have a gorgeous set but it's impractical to shoot in, you've failed! Rant over

D

Thursday, April 25, 2019

JL Fisher 2019 Mixer

  The 13th Annual JL Fisher Mixer is coming up! Please make plans to attend, it's always a great time. May 18th, 9AM to 4:30 PM!







Sorry, my computer is acting up. Had to take a picture and post it, but you can see all the info.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Technocranes and Actors

   Here's a topic I really haven't covered because up until recently it hasn't been an issue. Most of the time a Technocrane is used for big sweeping shots over a crowd or big pullbacks or push-ins, never really getting close to actors except maybe just staying on it for closeups or overs because you're already on it. Lately, though, I've been asked to do rather aggressive moves in among the actors in a scene, which can lead to sticky situations.. I covered this to some extent in an earlier post.  The job I'm on now, though is a different animal. It's an action movie which generally means I'm waving the arm around like it's on fire and I'm trying to put it out. Only now, the directors (we have two) and the DP want to do it among and in close proximity to the actors. This makes for some nerve wracking shots. A couple of weeks ago I had a shot with a 45' Technocrane in a van (a VAN) that started with the Oculus pretty much in number one on the call sheet's lap. One thing I've realized is that it's very important for the actors to know what the camera is going to do and exactly where it's going, because often, they don't. In these cases, whenever possible, I try to operate the crane from the head. That way I can keep a close eye one the actors and see if someone is getting into trouble. It's also imperative that you as a crane operator take charge of when and where that crane moves. If you are unsure about an actor's movements or you think  an actor is unsure of what happens next, stop everything. I always make sure that if I'm doing an aggressive move that I take a moment to let the actors know exactly what I'm doing and that I'm keeping an eye on them and will stop the action if I think it is becoming unsafe, Communication with the 1st AD is essential. Don't be afraid to stop the action or ask for a minute if you need to assure someone's safety. Remember, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Leave nothing to chance.

 Stay safe,
D

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Choose Your Weapon

  Sometimes the decision of which camera platform to use is easy. You're given a situation, you weigh the options and the answer is self explanatory. Sometimes it's made for you. The DP says, "Just throw down a stick of track and do it on the dolly." Sometimes, you have to mentally flip a coin (a weighted coin depending on the conditions) and go for it. You can't spend too much time debating it. My dad, who was a bricklayer in his younger years used to have a saying: "Quit figuring and lay block." This means you can pull your ruler out and calculate everything down to the inch for every scenario or you can give it your best guess based on experience and go to work. Anytime I find myself overthinking a shot I'll whisper to myself, "Quit figuring and lay block." Then I just go to work. And it's never not worked out.
  We had a similar situation last week. We had a shot which had several points to hit with about six actors standing on one side of a long table. The DP suggested the Technocrane off the bat. The operator and I both balked at the suggestion because often when you get into more detailed work, a fifty foot camera crane isn't always the best tool to use. We both wanted to put the Oculus on the dolly and go. We debated for a few minutes and mentally flipped a coin. A weighted coin. It was weighted toward the crane because the Oculus needed to be underslung to get out over the table at one point. On the other hand, I knew the way these directors and DP worked, we would end up going somewhere height wise that hadn't been planned on. (Also, we were covered because the crane had been the DP's suggestion). So, we quit figuring and laid block and it worked out to be a great shot.
   I hope everyone has had a good, safe week. We had a moment of silence for Sarah that same day. Be safe out there and don't be afraid to say No if something seems off.

Time for a refill.
D


Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Feb Freeze '19

Quickie update - went to White’s February Freeze and saw the new Panther S-Type dolly. Sebastian from Camadeus was great on showing the capabilities. Unfortunately I didn't get a full hands on.

And caught up with Jesse and Frank from Chapman.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Wakamole

January seems to be the month of convalescing. Thankfully I get to sit out “Snowmaggedon ’19” on my couch sipping champagne and scarfing down  bon bons….

It’s been a while since I’ve contributed here. I feel awful. For those wondering, I’ve been hiding in space. I’ve just finished on two seasons of television on “Start Trek Discovery”. The NDA I had to sign was large enough to stop cars so I had to be ultra careful about what I said and didn’t say. I found any topics I wanted to discuss was directly tied into the show which made it useless.
One thing that became a thing the second season was the use of the stabilized remote head on the dolly. I was left in the room with actors while the operator, focus puller and everyone else was outside. Made for some lonely times. Or spent talking to “oneself” over the head sets. I am looking forward to a season three….

One thing that came up and bit me was sound. No, the boom guy wasn’t rabid. For some time I fought with the floors - the paints used and materials.  With the use of the stab head they didn’t want to give me the time to lay dance floors. So I was stuck between a rock and a hard place with squeaking tires. Baby powder would dry the tires out and become useless over time. I couldn’t use Zep because of the slick mess it left behind. Got to the point that if I ever got a chance to get on track, they’d be so dry that they’d squeak there too.

For a while I’d stay after wrap and pull all the tires, wash them, then re-Zep them to reimpregnate them overnight and reinstall in the morning. Eventually this became too tiresome so I gave up and just covered the tire with an inch of cloth tape. Worked the best but had to be replaced every week or so (or if I ran through a puddle).

I’m seriously considering switching to Fisher next year to see if their tires fair any better. We did put my Hybrid IV through its paces with all sorts of neat builds. Love the strength of that arm. Now if they could only get me a black one…

Big shout outs to James Parsons - B dolly grip, Francois Daignault - A Camera operator and Andrew Stretch - A Camera Focus puller.

I’m off to the White’s February Freeze to meet up with Chapman folks and maybe see this new Panther dolly.