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

Monday, September 09, 2019

Oliver

  Another post that has nothing to do with pushing dolly or film making. Bear with me.






  My wife, Rebecca, found him tied to a tree in Compton, of all places. Emaciated and clearly miserable and mistreated, he shivered in the rain at the end of a very short rope. Animal control was called and he was taken away. My wife, being my wife, called for four days to keep track of his condition. She called me at work asking if we should take him in. I said no (we already had two dogs in our little LA house and I always said no anyway). She said, "I'm taking him." I said, "Ok." I came home to the most pathetic creature I had ever seen. He was all skin and bones and by that I mean he had no fur and every bone was visible. He didn't look like a dog by any definition you would use. She had set him up in the garage after consulting a vet who said he had the worst case of mange he had ever seen and would probably die within the week. He slept for a week straight.  But under her loving care  he didn't die. His fur grew back and he slowly gained weight. We named him Oliver after another famous orphan, and soon he was member of the family. He was certainly the most neurotic dog I had ever seen. Easily scared after a short lifetime of abuse, he slowly came to trust us, although he was always a little unsure of all this good fortune. His lineage was uncertain. Rebecca said probably Beagle and bird dog and something that crawled out of the woodpile. He liked to bark at the crows, something my wife called, "Going on sky patrol." His bark was a booming, sharp roar that you wouldn't have believed could come from a dog of his medium size. It drove me crazy. He barked to demand his dinner, or attention, or to go out or just for the hell of it as far as I could tell. When we walked him he strutted with a gait that reminded me of that bulldog from the old Warner Brothers cartoons. I always imagined a cigar in his mouth and a bowler pushed forward on his head. He liked beer and many's the time I would get up to get something and come back to find his tongue stuck deep in my bottle. Scotch, ditto. He not only came back from his inauspicious beginnings, he flourished, if a little uneasy that we might turn on him at any time.
   We had to put our Ollie down this morning. Sixteen years of sky patrols, beer drinking, and stress had taken it's toll. While his mind was clear, his eyes had grown cloudy with age and his back end, as happens with so many dogs, had finally given up. A cancer mass had formed on his mouth. Rebecca made the decision last night that it was time. That's the deal we make when we join the pack. So today after a treat of McDonalds egg and cheese biscuits, among many hugs and kisses, he went to sleep on his own bed. He was a good boy.
  So long Oliver. I'm having a beer in your honor. I'm proud to have been in your Pack. We love you.

I'll be back later, busy hoisting a beer for my boy.
D

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

I Need Some Input

  Hi all. I've been asked by my local to teach an advanced dolly class. I guess it's for experienced working dolly grips to sharpen their skills and maybe learn some new ones (me included). I'm just having a little trouble figuring out how to structure it and what to teach. Any ideas? If you guys were taking such a class, what would you want to cover? Help me out here.
D

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Not Today!

  Sorry, no post this weekend most likely. I'm on vacation in the mountains of Tennessee! Get out and enjoy the Labor Day weekend! Think about this crap next week!

D

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.