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.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Cinegear Atlanta and Fisher's New Stuff

  Cinegear Atlanta is this weekend at Pinewood Studios just south of Atlanta. Although I won't be able to make it this weekend, since I'm working on the lot I did walk over for move-in day and see some old friends and get a preview of things to come. I visited the Chapman booth where Nichole and the team were busy getting everything together. They have some cool stuff to see including the 15' telescoping crane and the new head from Spacecam. Check them out if you head over there this weekend.
  Wick from Fisher had encouraged me to stop in and see Frank and Jimmy in Stage 3. Nichole  from Chapman was actually kind enough to point me in their direction. We all shook hands and they showed me the new Refined Hydraulic Control for the Fisher Tens and Elevens. They've pretty much redone the boom system on their dollies and they let me try it out. It was nice. It was actually better than nice. I was very impressed with the action on these machines. They were responsive and I wasn't searching for the start of the move. The things that I personally always found uncomfortable in the movement were gone. I was especially impressed with the action of the Fisher Eleven, a dolly I have never been a fan of.  Again, the arm was responsive, more powerful and it was easy to change the speed during the move. I'm going to go on a little bit of a tangent here. People often ask me which dolly is better, or which do I prefer: Fisher or Chapman. My answer is, it's a personal choice. When I teach  dolly classes for our union local I tell the class that they have to find the dolly that they are most comfortable using. I happen to be a Chapman user. I've pushed their machines for 25 years and have a relationship with them. By the same token, some of the best dolly grips in the world, guys who are much better than me, use Fisher dollies and swear by them. I've used them myself many times, and have huge respect for the company,  I'm just more comfortable with the Hustler 4. In the beginning it was mostly about the action of the boom. I've always liked the transmission in the dollies I just found the boom control was a challenge for me personally. This changed today. The arm was sweet. Jimmy Fisher also showed me another feature; the variable speed control. You can dial the speed down to a painfully slow creep with the turn of a knob. I think some dolly grips who found the Ten and Eleven challenging will be pleasantly surprised, and much more inclined to use them. Please stop by their booth and introduce yourself and check them out. They are in Stage 3, Booth S131 Thanks to Jimmy, Frank and Joe for the demo this afternoon. If you see them tomorrow tell 'em I sent you.
  You can find out about the expo and register at

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Burt Reynolds

 This is one of those posts that isn't really about camera movement, or even filmmaking. It's about something more important. It's about the way that movies and the people in them shape our view of the world. Now, if you're like me you read that last sentence as, " Blah blah blah, high minded pretentious claptrap blah." But bear with me a minute. I want you to do something. Go to Youtube. Type in Johnny Carson Burt Reynolds, and watch. Watch every video because they are fantastic. You have the opportunity to watch two good friends who genuinely enjoy each other's company age over thirty years. After you've done that, come back and read on.
  I first remember being aware of Burt Reynolds in Deliverance. I was probably around four years old. Yes, my parents took me to Deliverance at four. It was the seventies and they probably thought at that age I really wouldn't remember most of it. They were right. I don't remember much except a lot of paddling. The thing I do remember is this big dark handsome face. Even at that age I recognized him as someone who was in charge. He was my first impression of silver screen cool. He had a bow and arrow and a wetsuit with the arms cutoff and I wanted to be that guy. Over the next few years I saw him again and again . In White Lightning, where Ned Beatty apparently has recovered from his brush with the hillbillies from Deliverance and become a crooked sheriff, Burt fought the law and drove his ass off to deliver quality moonshine and win Bo Hopkins' girlfriend. Ned Beatty was so effective as the evil sheriff that to this day my mother cannot abide him as an actor. In W.W and the Dixie Dancekings, he was a thief with a heart of gold. He laughed loud and drove fast. I still remember a shot where his car splashed water on the lens and how I suddenly realized there was a camera somehow involved in all this mayhem.
  Then comes the mother of them all. I saw Smokey and the Bandit. And life was never the same. I spent my sixth grade year drawing pictures of Kenworth trucks. Quarters were perfect wheel templates. I listened to East Bound and Down  over and over on my little record player. I remember laughing hysterically when Sally Field said, "Holy shit!" The fact that you could put those two words together was an epiphany. That it was shot in Georgia and Alabama gave me a sense of pride. It felt like it belonged to me. I saw Hooper with my twelve-year-old best friend and marveled at the proportions of the girl jumping out of the cake, you know what I'm talking about. I was excited to learn that some of it was shot near my town. In Cannonball Run it seemed  he was just having a little fun with friends like Dom Delouise and Sammy Davis Jr..With a wink at the camera, he let us know that is exactly what he was doing. Most of all, he showed me that as a Southerner he was one of us. When I was a young boy growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, Hollywood seemed a million miles away. Unreachable. You can't get there from here. Burt changed that. He bridged the divide. He had a home in Georgia. He went to college in Florida. He let me know that you could get there from here.
  As I later grew up and joined the Atlanta film industry, for which I was told Burt was almost single-handedly responsible, it seemed almost everyone had a Burt Reynolds story. There was the time he was directing Sharky's Machine and let a down-on-his-luck stuntman do needless retakes so he could earn more money. I met a camera assistant who had worked on Deliverance.  There was the transportation coordinator, JL Parker, a legend in his own right, who was one of his best friends. Burt often stayed at his house and JL's  son who later became a Best Boy I worked with called him "Uncle Burt." He told me a story of going out to LA in the 70's and Burt letting him take his car out for a spin down Laurel Canyon.  We lost JL recently. Like Burt, he, his wife Cindy and the rest of his family are inseparable from the Atlanta film community.  I'm sure the stories are flying up there. Burt and the Atlanta industry were intertwined.  It always seemed like he was just around the next corner, or that I had entered a room he had just left. DammitJust missed him....
   As the years went by, like the rest of us, he he got older. He lost a little of his swagger. He went from being the number one box office draw for much of the 70's to doing direct -to -video action movies like Malone and Rent-A-Cop. He had been injured on a film in the 80's called City Heat with Clint Eastwood and had never really recovered. He spent a lot of time on pain medication. But it was always a sense of comfort to me to know he was in the world. When I thought of him, I imagined him down there at his estate in Jupiter, Florida entertaining famous friends or hosting fancy parties. Then this past week I learned he had left us. My best friend texted me. Then my wife. Both texts were variations on the same sentence, "Burt Reynolds died."  The sense of comfort that he was somewhere in the world has gone.
   I worked with Burt a few years ago. It was a little tv movie, I can't remember the name. He was rather frail by then. His injuries from a million stunts and the accident on City Heat  had worn him down. I have worked with everyone from Al Pacino to Robert DeNiro and never really got star struck, but the day he walked onto set I was mesmerized. There was the guy I saw when I was four! The one with the bow and arrow! He was nice. Cordial. Clearly medicated for whatever pain he was in, but still sharp; giving acting tips to a younger cast member. I meekly said hi and had a picture taken. Like all of us who work in this profession, I tried to be dispassionate, businesslike. As the news of his passing broke a few weeks ago, though, I find myself wishing I had done more to engage with this man I'd known my whole life but had never met. The man I had recognized from my earliest memories, who had always left the room just before I arrived, was finally in the room. I kept my head down, said my starstruck "good mornings" and before I knew it, it was over. He left the room and went back to Jupiter, Florida and I went on to the next job. Dammit. Just missed him.
  Watching the videos of him now in his later years, it's almost like watching two different people, from the self-assured swaggering box-office favorite to the frail older man he became. Watch the videos. Remember him as he was, as he would want you to.

  Keep the hammer down, Bandit. I'll see you soon.

Saturday, August 18, 2018


  I took a day off this week just because I wanted to (something I have never really done in almost thirty years). As I was lying on the couch I decided to watch Casablanca. I had seen it as a teenager and didn't really understand it or appreciate it. I was blown away. Photographically it was gorgeous. The story was funny and moving, and the actors were all great. Of course, being a dolly grip, what really caught my eye was the camera movement. Most dolly moves back in the 40's and 50's were clumsy, shaky affairs used to accentuate a story point. Then MTV spoiled us and we became accustomed to the swooping, gliding camera we see now.  The moves in Casablanca were flawless. Although the name of the dolly grip is probably lost to history (they didn't give us credits back then, and technicians were studio employees assigned to projects by the studio department), the guy was a master. You could see it in the walk-and-talks where the distances, and starts and stops were perfect. There were a couple of sit downs and compound moves that he nailed. And push-ins were rock solid. Now if you watched a movie made today, these things wouldn't even register. Dollies, cranes, and track have become so advanced that it's not as hard as it was to make a steady shot once you've mastered the craft. I was just so impressed that the camera moved as much as it did ( a compliment  to director Michael Curtiz) and that the moves were so flawless that I was really struck by it. You can also see the influence it had visually on a young Steven Spielberg, whose camera is also rarely still. If you have nothing to do on a lazy Sunday, or are a young dolly grip working his way up, check it out. This is how it should be done, and why we do it today.

Saturday, August 11, 2018


  In over ten years that I've been doing this website, I've touched on just about every technical aspect of the craft that applies. I've discussed track laying, dance floor, louma beams, Fisher vs Chapman, Technocranes, camera ops, compound moves, stand-ups, sit-downs, load outs, load ins, safety, handheld, steadicam, timing, wheels, flags, stands, and just about any facet of dolly gripping, and gripping in general that someone in my position may run up against. But it occurs to me that the one thing I may not have covered is attitude. How do you come across to your camera operator and DP? How do the other members of the crew view you?
   Years ago I worked with a DP who was a real.......hard guy to like. I've discussed this before in previous posts, but this DP was just mean. He talked to me like I had never been talked to by a camera man. The guy was a dick, but.... he taught me something. I remember when things got tense for other departments (not mine because he was usually yelling at me) he would say, "Icy calm." And that stuck with me. I still have the occasional nightmare about the guy and, to my shame, got drunk at a major industry event and went looking for him years ago (thank God he wasn't there) but I learned something from him. Icy calm. That's what a dolly grip should project. No drama. Nothing to get excited about. Just icy calm. To this day, when I'm confronted with an impossible shot, one that makes the sweat break out on the forehead of a normal man, I get a little nervous and then I think, "Icy calm." People look for competence. They expect and admire it. They gravitate towards it. Stay calm. Icy calm. As my Dad used to say, "Act like you've been there before."
   And then smile and nod as the camera operator takes all the credit. Congratulations, cog. You've done your job.

Time to mix another one,