Saturday, April 05, 2014

Fisher Open House

  It's that time of year again. Every year JL Fisher hosts an open house at their facility at 1000 W Isabel St in Burbank. It's a great time to meet with old friends and make new ones over barbeque and beer (Beer!). It's one of the few days that is set aside for Dolly Grips alone. They put on a great event and really pull out all the stops. Please try to attend this year. It's on May 17th from 9AM until 4PM. You won't regret it. Tell Frank I said Hi!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014


  Thank you to all who have sent their slates in to Slates for Sarah. You are now part of an industry-wide movement that has covered the globe in just a few days. Together, we can ensure that Sarah's death wasn't in vain. Let's keep it going.

  I attended a Celebration of Sarah's Life last Sunday, organized by Local 600. The room was packed. Grips, Camera people, electricians, and others from all departments of the industry, along with her family, there to pay their respects. The love for her was palpable.The sense of togetherness and resolve in the room was something I have never seen in my twenty-five years in the film industry.  Slate  pictures continue to pour in from around the world. We all stand together and say, "Never forget, never again." If you wish to be a part of this, please visit and take the pledge. They aren't going to look out for us. We have to look out for each other.

  While you're at it, visit my friends at Stop and Care.

  I will return with another post shortly. I'm working long days and with everything going on it didn't seem right to return to business as usual. Thanks again.

We miss you, Sarah.....

Friday, February 21, 2014


  As most of you have heard by now, a young member of the Atlanta film community, 27 year-old Sarah Jones was killed yesterday when a train struck her while she was working on a film called Midnight Rider.
  Unfortunately, I didn't know Sarah as well as I could have. I seem to be saying this a lot lately  about those taken too young. She came in often as an additional second AC on several jobs I was working on. I would say "Hi," she would say "Hi" back and we would each head toward our respective labors. I can distinctly remember two things, which aren't much, but are all I have: I remember meeting her, and I remember the bacon. We were on a darkened stage when we met, and I noticed the new girl with a large toolbelt. I walked up (apparently I was in a rare social mood), stuck out my hand and introduced myself. She said, "Hi I'm Sarah." She was friendly, and full of the promise we all had at that age, starting an adventure that she expected never to end. Then there was the bacon thing which I noticed but never asked about. She had a shirt that said Bacon is nature's candy or something along those lines. I thought it was funny as I have often called barbecued ribs nature's candy, which they are. Then on the last job we were on together I noticed that she had a sticker on her toolbelt that also mentioned bacon with a picture of two pigs. That's it. That's all I have. One thing that is apparent over the last two days, though, is the love that the Atlanta film community has for her. Our hearts are broken.

  I don't know all the details of what happened, and try to reserve judgement until the facts are in. I do know that, according to the lead detective on the investigation, the company did not have permission to be on the tracks. I have done countless train shoots. I've rigged cameras on trains, done dolly shots next to the tracks, crane shots of approaching trains and pushed Peewees down the aisles of passenger cars. I do know one thing, you never shoot on a live track without a representative of the train company there. You don't approach the tracks or a train unless they know you are there and you have permission to do it. These situations are tightly controlled. And I suspect one other thing. No one said "No." In this business, we are put in a lot of dangerous situations. A certain amount of risk comes with the job. We regularly shoot in caves, mines, boats, high speed cars, helicopters, and any other dangerous situation a writer can dream up. In these situations we trust that the groundwork has been laid, discussions have been had and meetings held by the higher ups who we often call "the adults" or the "grownups." We call them that for a reason. We count on them to worry about the details of making us safe while we focus on making the movie. All we ask is that if we are put in a situation, that we know the risks. ALL of them. And sometimes, someone has to say "No." As a Dolly Grip, the safety of the immediate camera crew on any given shot is my responsibility. I've earned that through experience, as has my Key Grip. No one said "No" for this girl and those injured in this senseless tragedy. Instead, corners were cut and permissions were broken and a 27 year-old girl who just wanted to do a good job was put in a position from which there was no escape. To get a freaking shot. And that's why we are here, guys:  To say "No" for those who don't know they can. As a forty something Dolly Grip who's been around the block a few times, I would have said, Hell no to being on that trestle on a live track without a rep or permission. As a twenty-something young grip with something to prove and trying to make an impression on "The Adults," however, you can bet your ass I would have moved the camera up there myself and stood by it to yank it out of the way if a train came. It's up to us not to let the creative minds override common sense just to get a cool shot. It's up to us to look out for each other and for those who haven't been around as long. To say "No" for them. Because often they don't know they can. When the time came, no one said "No," for her.  Now, all that's left is an endless sadness and anger, and lawsuits, and finger-pointing and we are still without a friend and co-worker who was doing what she was told, trusting the adults that it was OK.

 To a young lady with a bright future cut short, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't make it a point to get to know you. I thought I had more time. I'm sorry that no one was there to look out for you. I'm sorry for your parents. I can't imagine losing a child, especially to something as ultimately meaningless and stupid as a movie. I'm sorry for my colleagues who were lucky enough to know you better than I did. I wish you could see how much they loved you. I'm sorry for all that was taken from you because no one said, "No." You deserved better. From all of us.

PS: For those of you who knew and loved her, please leave any good memories you have here in the comments. I didn't take the time when she was here, but I can do it now.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

If You Can't See The Camera, Yaddah, Yaddah, Yaddah

  Dolly Grips spend an inordinate amount of time correcting mistakes. Most of these mistakes involve foreground actors blocking the other actors in their scenes by missing marks, or leaning. Now, I love actors, in general, don't get me wrong. But it seems that no one is teaching these younger ones the mechanics of clearing yourself for camera. I even heard one argue with the DP that he wasn't going to stand where he was supposed to. "Then you won't be in the shot," said the cameraman who is forever one of my heroes. Now most of the time, it's just an innocent mistake. I know it's difficult to emote or remember your lines while also hitting a mark. It's also difficult to swing around a fifty-foot steel arm that keeps changing lengths inside a freaking building full of classic cars and not hit one, miss all the actors, and still hit your marks. It's like, what you get paid for. Rule one for aspiring actors: If you can't see the camera, it can't see you. Don't worry, if you don't grasp this rule, I'll fix it for you. Or, you could take the time to develop camera awareness and be a brilliant technician as well as actor. There are a few who are veterans at this. Almost all of the old-schoolers from the studios were taught this early on. The younger ones are mostly taught how to be "angsty" (or angry, sometimes I don't know). I'm going to drop some names now of actors who make my job so much easier and excel at it.

Keanu Reeves- Yes, that one. This guy is the most brilliant, believe it or not, at clearing himself for camera and taking stage direction. Between takes, he's not in his trailer with some young extra, he's off to the side practicing handling his props. If a foreground actor blocks him, no sweat. He just leans out without taking his eyes off the other actor.

Denzel Washington- Horror stories aside, when I worked with him he was a gem. He took the time to communicate to me and the operator what he was going to do and always gave a clue when it would happen. Love the guy.

Tom Hanks- An actor's actor. Knows what's happening and why and where the camera is.

Stephen Moyer- The guy just gets it. He is not just an actor in front of the camera, he's a collaborator and knows how it's done. He doesn't flop into chairs or bound out of them like he's been shocked. He actually gives you a chance.

  What brought this on was a guest actress on a series I'm presently doing. Blonde, beautiful, and seemingly sweet, she proceeded to chew up the set like she was the only one in the scene. Always to one side of her mark (remarkably, always the side that blocked number one on the call sheet), she was so uncannily adept at blocking the other actors (she once blocked two of them at once) that the camera department and I soon came to the conclusion that she had to be doing it on purpose. She once walked out of a shot towards camera and managed to tilt her head at just the right moment and at such an unnatural angle that it obliterated everyone but her. At one point, after gamely trying to clear the other actors, the operator took his eye off the eyepiece and looked at me. I raised my hands, locked the brake and took a step back. I told him I was done. I can't take the dolly practically out of the room to clear her. The director gave up and we went into tighter coverage with her offscreen next to camera.

  Anyway, I don't want my actor friends to get upset at me. I do respect you. Just please learn to be aware of the camera. I know it can be done and while I can't do what you do, please help me help you.

PS- Michael Taylor over at Blood, Sweat, and Tedium has a great guest post up. Check it out!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Scraping The Paint

  Years ago I was doing a crane shot on a big studio movie (one of my first). It involved a couple of stunt drivers screaming around a corner as the camera swung in over the roofs of the cars. It was a fast move, with a big time director and I was a little nervous. The director and DP asked me to get as low to the roof of the car as I safely could. We did a take and I was probably four of five feet over the car. The DP asked me if I could get lower. I looked at my Key Grip. He gave me a half-smile and said, "Scrape the paint." I've been scraping it ever since.

  Now first, let's talk about safety. You should never, NEVER do something you think you can't do safely, it doesn't matter who asks you to do it. Remember Twilight Zone-The Movie? Yeah, that's what can happen. Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Know what stands to be lost. Is it just a camera and a head, or a life?  If my Key Grip hadn't had faith in me, he would have vetoed it immediately (and he has vetoed a few shots since then that I thought I could do). If I thought I couldn't do it with an acceptable amount of risk, I wouldn't have done it. Now before everyone gets all bent out of shape, most of what we do on a film set involves a certain amount of risk. We blow up cars, flip cars toward camera, work with helicopters, mount cranes on camera cars and go careening down the interstate. Most of these things involve a tremendous amount of risk. Here is where knowing your capabilities come in. I knew I could get that camera within a few inches of the roof of that car. As it turned out, I literally scraped the paint. Just grazed it and my key grip, who was backing me up on the arm laughed his ass off. But, I knew I could safely do it. You have to be careful in these situations, though, to have someone up the chain to keep you in check,
   Here is where your technique in crane operation comes in. To operate a crane successfully, you have to have  a great grasp of spacial relationships. Keep your eyes glued to the lowest point on the head. Know what will happen if something goes wrong or the head actually comes in contact with the object, and know what your first reaction will be, Which way will the arm go? Is anyone else in danger if it gets away from you? What's the worst case scenario? Have a plan in your head.
  If you're doing a shot where the only casualty will be the camera and head, and they keep asking you to get closer, then it's on them if it gets damaged. I did a lot of Technocrane work at the end of last year that involved getting the camera in on a car mounted on an autobase. An auto base is a large hydraulically charged pedestal that a car is mounted on. It can turn the car in any direction vertically or horizontally. I had a great time getting within inches of the windshield doing pushes and whips from the driver's side window to the passenger's side. I also knew no one would get hurt and that I had a certain amount of leeway because the DP wanted me to get as close as I could. Afterward, he said I was "crazy." But I knew my limitations and aside from one scrape of the head on the bumper, it all came out fine. You also have to have a great relationship with your pickle operator. It's a circle of trust. I count on him a lot to know where I'm going next and to yank me out of any hairy situations I get into. I've had the same guys from Cinemoves on every movie for years now, and we fall right into it. We've pulled off some freaky shots over the years and I'll always give them credit first for keeping me honest.
  I should say here that none of this should be attempted until you have gained a LOT of experience with crane arms, both fixed and extendable, and of course I'm only speaking of remotely operated cameras here. Each arm length and size has it's own mass and weight issues to consider and you have to know what you can and can't do. But, it's one on my favorite jobs to have on a crane arm. It's where we earn our money.
Be Safe.

PS- Here is a great short film about the Grip Department by Mark Vargo, ASC. Share it with your friends.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

End Of Year Roundup

  Happy New Year! I hope everyone's holidays were relaxing and fun. Every new year I do a "What I Learned post. Here's this one....

What I Learned 2013:

Cherish your friends and coworkers. I lost two people I knew this year. One I knew strictly from work, and the other from home. Both were taken before their time and both hurt. As the pastor of my church growing up used to say, "We are all only one heartbeat away from eternity."

 Bob, I wish we had more trips to the gun range and the Vietnamese restaurant. You were a good dude. Don't worry, Lilly is in good hands (she's snoozing in my lap as I write this).You had a hard road. Rest my friend.

Paul, I didn't know you well but if the measure of a man is the love he leaves behind, you were a mountain. We all miss you.

Don't be so rigid. If you read through my posts from the early years of this site, you'll see a lot of rules about dolly riding assistants etc. Learn to bend. I did and it was fine. Jules, you are allright.

Trust your instincts, and don't think too much. It helped me get the camera another inch closer to the car. Scrape the paint.

You have to spend money to make money. Even if you don't make money, it's only money.

Don't be such a crabby-ass all the time. Life is fun. It's a gift. Appreciate every moment.

I don't have to be right all the time.

Demand the best out of your dolly vendor. (I knew this already but it's been reiterated).

Sometimes, I'll blow a take on purpose to make a point. (I don't know where that came from but it sounds good).

If a stranger needs a hand and you can do it, do it. The returns on that investment can be enormous. But even if they're not, you have the satisfaction of helping another. (Thanks Billy O).

Take some time off. It's OK.

Be patient with your children. Even when you want to strangle them.

Pet the dog.

The whole thing is a big, messy rollercoaster ride. Your moves should be perfect, the rest doesn't have to be.

Listen to more music.


That is all.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

End of Show Roundup

I usually save this post for the end of a movie. My last movie didn't really end. It will be finished at some point. Whether or not I and my colleagues will be involved is another matter. We all have bills to pay and mouths to feed and must move on, though I'm sure all of us would like to be a part of it. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

   This job involved a lot of crane work. Spread out over two units. First unit alone had a 50', a 30', a 35-45 Moviebird, and a 15' Technocrane at any given time. We also had a 30' and 72' Hydrascope that came in and out periodically. I'll have more on the type of work I was doing in my future post, Scraping the Paint. As always, our regular crane and head techs from Cinemoves, Mike Howell and Sean Fossen did stellar work as well as Jeff Curtis making an appearance from time to time. Mr Rivenbark was on another job, but Sean does top-notch work and I'm always glad to see him. Trust between a pickle operator and a crane arm operator is paramount, especially in a job like this one, and Mr. Howell has never let me do anything stupid. Chris and David, and James from Chapman also came in and did great work with the Hydrascopes. Thanks guys.
   Dolly-wise, I had a Hustler 4, a Peewee 3, and several Hybrids that came in and out as extra dollies and splinter unit dollies. We also used a Fisher 23 and a 21 for several shots. Thanks to Christine, Isabel, Fabien and Shafi at Chapman for their remarkable service. Thanks to a wonderful cast and crew. Hope to see you all again.

  I have picked up a second unit on another show that will take me up to Christmas, so at least I'll be busy.