Friday, February 07, 2020

Communication Is The Key

  I've done a lot of wire work with a Technocrane. It seems every job I do now involves at least one sequence where I'm swooping a camera around an actor or stunt person on a wire. Needless to say this can get a little hairy and requires intense focus. It also requires that you as the crane operator know where the actor is going and that the stunt guys in turn know where you are taking the camera. Now a lot of work of this kind involves a fair amount of "making it up as you go" or "rocking and rolling" as we used to call it. So while you may not be able to say exactly where the camera will be at a given point during the shot, you can agree on parameters. Look at the set. See where the wires are and any movement they may be doing. I always talk to the stunt coordinator and see where I can't go. I've been in so many freelance situations where there was a miscommunication from the 1st AD or operator that I always go right to the source and find out exactly what that actor or stuntman is doing. They will appreciate it and see that you are actually looking out for their people. Also, forget the monitor. In these situations you can't afford to take your eyes off the head. Having a pickle operator you trust is priceless.  Mine have saved me from more than one unfortunate incident. Call out your moves on the headset. I'm always saying, "Swinging right," or "left and down," etc. I had an incident a while back where we had an actor travelling toward camera on a wire. We were in a hurry and losing the light and it was getting a little chaotic. The operator thought we were going to push in at the actor to simulate movement. With no rehearsal, the AD yelled. "Roll camera!" As we were about to go I saw that the stunt guys thought they were supposed to move the actor to camera. I stopped everything, went to video village and informed them that I wasn't going until I knew exactly what the stunt guys and I were doing. The DP agreed and I went out to the wire guys for a consult. Once we all knew what was happening, we rolled again and continued with the shot. Everything happened so fast, everyone thought everyone else knew the plan. In these situations, you have to step up and call a halt until everyone is up to speed. That Techno arm doesn't stop on a dime so you have to know what everyone else involved in the shot is doing and vice versa. This kind of situation can happen to anyone. The wire guys and AD department were all world class but mistakes can happen when the sun is going down and the yelling starts.
   This advice actually goes for any stunt. If they are flipping a car, go to the stunt coordinator and get approval for any camera positions.  If it's an explosion, go to the effects coordinator and find out the minimum safe distance for camera. If it's a gunshot, talk to the armorer. Communication saves lives.
    In any case, it's been a long week. Everyone stay safe. They ARE out to get you. Not really but act as if they are. It only takes once.

D


D

Sunday, January 19, 2020

1917

  I had looked forward to this movie for a while. The first world war is the war that we hear the least about. Even though it was known as the War To End All Wars. Early on, I had heard that it was a "one shot movie" in the style of Rope. This, along with the subject matter, had me intrigued to see how and what they did. I was not disappointed. As an aside, the press keeps mentioning the "one shot" aspect as if it's a gimmick or a fancy Hollywood trick like 3D or Glorious Smell-O-Vision (look it up) meant to put asses in seats. This isn't that. It's really the best way to tell this story. It's immersive and visceral. The camera never leaves the protagonists and you as the viewer are taken along (whether you want to go or not) for the ride. Camera movement almost becomes a character in itself in this picture. In a lot of ways it's like being on the first hill of a rollercoaster. You're slowly clanking and lurching toward the top and you know that a big drop is coming followed by a bumpy ride. Under the sure hand of the legendary Roger Deakins and Key Grip Gary Hymns and his crew, the camera movement is nothing less than spectacular. The only problem I had was that the whole time I was watching it, some part of my mind was constantly shuffling through camera platforms; "OK, that's a Stabileye on speedrail, that's a crane, that's a steadicam." Joe Blow from Minnesota won't have that problem though. Go see it. Whether or not you think the subject matter was treated the way it should have been, it is a technical marvel. If you want to know how it's done, here's your answer.
  8 Am call tomorrow. Blah,
D

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