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


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.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Requested post: What Do You Use For Dance Floor?

  I put in a call for suggestions for posts on our Facebook page (I just got in from work and am two drinks in and too tired right now to do a whole link thing. Look up dollygrippery on FB) One of the requests was for what materials are used for dance floor by different Dolly Grips. First, I'll go into a little history. When I started, we used birch plywood and luan (yes, luan as a top layer). We would lay it out and screw it to the plywood with one inch screws. As you can imagine, it cracked and popped and didn't work well at all but it was what we had. Later on, someone discovered plastic polymer sheets as a topper over the birch (birch is the ubiquitous plywood used in dance floor. It's all I remember as a young set grip). These sheets were the game changer. They were flexible and quiet, and durable. Now there are two types of plastic toppers used: ABS and Sintra.  We use 1/4". Which one you use is really up to you. I've used both, and really don't see(or care) about the advantages of one over the other. It's a plastic sheet. ABS is more rigid and sometimes has a pebbled surface on one side. Sintra is more flexible which makes it easier to get into small spaces. I tend to use Sintra more mainly because that  is what my best boy orders and I don't really care as long as it's square and the edges are smooth. I tend to not be too picky about which material I use. They both have their strengths.
  The bottom layer is a little trickier. For years, as I mentioned before, birch was the go-to choice for plywood. It's straight and smooth and relatively light. Everyone used it for years. Then it all fell apart (literally) I noticed it around 2006 when I did a movie in New England. After about two weeks, the birch we had started bowing. Then it started falling apart. It was later explained to me that most birch found in the US was low quality Chinese made birch. So we began the search for a better plywood. What we found was Baltic Birch.  Plywood from The Motherland. Heavy as hell but it kept it's shape and worked well. Later on and for the last few years, I've used Red Oak. On the show I'm on now, though, we were assured that the birch was American and not likely to fall apart like my last experience. So far that seems to be the case three weeks in. Anyway, there's my short answer to the question. Thanks for asking!


For those of my friends not in the business, a "dance floor" is merely a slang term for a plywood surface laid on an existing floor to give a smooth camera move in more than one direction, unlike track.

Friday, January 18, 2019

True Detective: Season 3

  There was a moment in watching the first episode of the third season of True Detective when I knew we were in good hands. The lead actor is looking into a closet and the camera moves left to right. He stands up a little too tall and we lose his eyes in the top of the door frame. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking, " Boom down, boom down," and then as if by magic, the camera gracefully lowers in a diagonal until the actor's eyes are fully visible. Now it's entirely possible that the operator was frantically reaching back and signalling a vigorous thumbs down, but I don't think so. I think it was a dolly grip putting the camera where it should be to make the shot work (which is our job. Welcome to Dollygrippery).
  The first season of True Detective was the ultimate slow burn. As I watched it I was constantly filled with a sense of dread. Camera movement was a huge part of this. The thing was filled with slow pushes and unmotivated wraparounds that heightened the intensity the way good camera movement should. And who can forget that spectacular endless Steadicam shot by my friend (and current camera operator) Chris McGuire. Then came the second season. Bleahh.
   That's all I have to say about that.
   The third season reintroduces the sense of dread that made the first season so watchable. Everyone is a suspect. You get the feeling that things are happening under the surface. The story moves along slowly, propelled with beautiful unmotivated pushes and lateral moves. The photography and compositions are gorgeous and add to the feeling that something really awful is about to happen. The camera rarely stops and, under the skilled hand of dolly grips Tommy Ruffner and Dustin VonLossberg, brings back that slow burn I've been waiting for since season one.
   Nice work!
Time for a refill!

Monday, January 07, 2019

Laid Up

  I had a minor surgical procedure done. Most of you men can guess what it was but it left me couchbound for a day or two. During that time I had an opportunity to read some twitter and came across a well known actor who had congratulated a director, DP, and operator for a movie they had done. In my normal defensive asshole fashion I asked what about the dolly grip, who made the shots possible  and am waiting for my response. This is the kind of thing I've been railing about for years now. We are one third of any shot that happens, yet get one third of the money (thank you local 80) I'll let you know when I receive a response. I will also write a year in review post when my "surgical area" stops hurting,
  Till then, the doctor says there is no restriction on cocktails. Lucky me.
Take nothing less than you are worth
Learn your craft.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Congratulations John Mang!

  Dollygrippery would like to congratulate John "Mango" Mang for his reception of the 2018 SOC Lifetime Achievement Award for Motion Picture Camera Platform Operator (OK, Dolly Grip) Mango has been moving cameras for years for Steven Spielberg on Lincoln and Munich, as well as War of the Worlds. Although I don't know him personally, we do know a lot of the same people. Congratulations, Mango for a well deserved honor. You make us all look good!

Saturday, December 01, 2018

The Right Tool For The Job

  Earlier this year I was called in to do "additional photography" on a movie that had shot here earlier. Now, this was a very big movie. Fine. I went in and it all went well. Until one day when it was decided that the 50' Technocrane we were using wasn't big enough to do one shot they wanted. OK, they brought in a 75'. Now I'll say right off the bat that I hate these cranes. Once you get over 50' it becomes impossible to control these monsters. So, here we are. We are on a set built outside with the 75' on a platform for a rather easy pullback with two characters through the set. We get that and move on. At this point, it gets hairy. Now they want to do some rather intricate moves around the characters as they talk and go into a quick pullback to the edge of the set which involves a swing and a pickle. As an added bonus, the DP has boxed in the set with 20' by 30' bounces leaving me a 20' hole to work through. From 50' away. It did not go well. I ended up (after almost hitting one actor and brushing the other with the camera and taking out a 20' by 30' frame) hanging on to the front of the arm and basically getting dragged around by the pickle guy. This is after I spat into my headset, "I'm not doing this. I'm done."  This often happens when these oversized cranes show up. They get the big shot it was brought in for, and then since it's there, they want to do detailed work with it. It doesn't work. You can't swoop a 75' arm from a wide shot into an over the shoulder and circle around and do a bunch of fancy stuff that should be done on a dolly. So the end result is I look like a jackass. It's happened twice to me now on rather high profile pictures and so I'm putting out a heads-up. When this thing shows up, it's for a certain shot. Don't let the powers that be suck you into an unwinnable situation. Hold your ground and explain that this is the wrong tool for detailed work. I got embarrassed, It won't happen again.