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


Monday, October 07, 2019

Actor Safety

  I look at part of my job as keeping the stars of our shots safe from whatever it is I'm doing to achieve them. We use a lot of heavy stuff with sharp corners and also create a lot of trip hazards. I once worked with a DP who refused to allow me to ever lay a dance floor in such a way that an actor could step on or walk on it. This included just laying the room so that they were always on it. I had to make strange cuts and customize each floor which took forever when I could have just laid a pad and kept them on it the whole time.While this is a little extreme, I do try to minimize anything that may possibly break their concentration or cause a hazard while they are trying to do their thing. I'm always looking for anything that I may have done that might injure them. I'll put a tapeball or a duventine pad on sharp dance floor corners or, if they must somehow cross a piece of floor and aren't wearing shoes, I'll make a pad of duventine across the edge so if they do catch it, they won't stub their toe. I always, if there is an opportunity, point out any trip hazards to them.  If possible use floor, planks or an offset so they don't have to cross track.
  My least favorite shot to do is a camera looking straight down on an actor. This one always gives me the willies and I'm always relieved when we get it and move on. You should never have a camera over anyone without a safety. I usually screw a bolt into the plate to stop any danger of the camera sliding off and will attach a daisy chain safety from the camera to the dolly, or run a line to the grid overhead, or even build a goalpost with speedrail over the camera and run a line to that. In addition, if it's a static shot, I'll take out the boom control handle and build up under the arm with apple boxes or a small combo stand. Leave nothing to chance. I've even had actors ask me if the camera is safe and I'll take them through all the precautions we've taken. Incidentally, all this should be done with the stand-ins also. Don't let yourself get bullied into shortcuts by a DP in a hurry or an AD who's trying to stay on schedule. Usually you'll see this shot coming and will be able to have the stuff waiting in the wings to be used. Always be looking for what could go wrong because if it can, it will and your career and more importantly, someone's safety and even life is on the line. If that little voice is speaking to you from the back of your head listen to it.
  Anyway, just a couple of things to keep in mind.
Stay safe,
D


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