Monday, December 31, 2007

1:00 pm and All is Well

Boy the posts are flying now. Mainly because there's little or no work going on. I have little else to do once the dogs have been walked and the laundry done. As I was sitting here, I got to thinking about a phrase that sums up a lot of our job- "They don't know what we do." This goes for the public at large, not a small number of film students, producers, directors, and even, sadly, a DP or two.
I was doing a movie awhile back, not a huge budget, but it was a studio picture that ended up doing inexplicably decent business. We had done the master and were moving into closeups and I threw down a sheet of plywood to hold the coverage. The DP, straight from music video world on his first big break, asked the operator and myself why I was doing it. The operator, an old NY veteran, said, "to hold the overs." The DP looked perplexed and nodded and walked away. After the first take, in which the actors were everywhere but on their marks, the DP walked up to the operator and said, "Great job, I don't know how you made the shot work, but it did." The operator said, "D did it." The DP looked confused and said, "D was doing that?" The operator looked at me and I just looked back at him and shrugged and thought, "He doesn't know what I do." I was amazed. This studio hired a guy on a 15 million dollar picture and he doesn't know what a Dolly Grip does.
How many times have you done a particularly technical shot- one that involves several stops,turns, booms, and even a slide into home finish after ducking under the camera - only to have the director walk up to the operator, look at him with admiration, slap him on the back and say, "Wow, great job!" and walk away? They don't know what we do.
That's what this site is for. Not to make sure we get more backslaps, but to distribute info, and let us laugh a little at all the things that we share on film sets all over the world. Dolly Grips, unfortunately, are one of those positions where you don't work with others in your position very often. But, since starting this site I've met a Dolly Grip from Toronto, one from Vancouver, and several from the US. They've all shared tips and opinions about equipment, as well as questions from those just starting out. Thanks guys.



Sunday, December 30, 2007

Talk About The Hustler 4

All this dolly talk and Drld's comment about not having much time with the Hustler gave me the idea to write a little column/review of it. Anybody can go to the website and download the specs but here is a Dolly Grip's perspective..

First are the pros:

The sideboard system is the best I've seen on any dolly. It's also the heaviest- with good reason. It is a sliding system. Loosening a knob under the sideboard allows you to slide it all the way forward, or back. There is also a reciever for a seat at the front of the board. Now having the dolly on the "dumb" side is not as big a deal. The front board also extends and has seat receivers. The boards are so heavy because of the reinforcement and the extra mechanism for sliding.
The arm has a 750 lb capacity. A jib arm can be mounted directly on it, and it can still boom up and down. On a show a couple of years ago, I mounted a 4' ubangi, and two 12" risers, had the operator stand on the ubangi and boomed up and pushed in up a staircase rail. I wouldn't have tried it on a Hybrid but the Hustler 4 didn't even blink.
6 lifts to a charge.
The improved arm is pretty rigid.
Every Hustler I've gotten has a pristine arm. The movement and the actuation has been perfect. I don't know if this is because the 4's have lower mileage because they're relatively new or what, but they've been great.
The low mode (starship Enterprise) is excellent, with footpegs. The leveling head can be removed and a seat attached in it's place.
It's extremely stable.
It has roundy-round.
Cons:
It's a heavy sunofagun at 465lbs. (This is also a plus in other ways).
The sideboards are very heavy, and grab it wrong and you could lose a fingernail.
I'm not a fan of the brake. It's engaged by pushing it down and pushing in a button on the side. It's sometimes hard to engage and if not engaged properly, can pop out during a take with a loud noise.
Low ground clearance. This ain't the dolly you want in a swamp, or the mountains.

Overall, though, it's my favorite. I still use Hybrids for rough locations, but in a studio, or on asphalt you can't beat it.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

New Link

I recently added a link for Solid Grip Systems, a grip company in The Netherlands. It is a company owned by Key Grip Onno Perdijk and they manufacture some beautiful tracking rigs. The Truss Track looks especially interesting. Give them a look at http://solidgripsystems.eu/, and tell 'em I sent you.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Great Dolly Controversy of 2007

I frequent another site from time to time where various grips, electrics, videographers, and DPs (and a lot of students) discuss various things, mostly equipment related. A while back I stated a rather strong opinion of the Fisher 11. A DP was questioning why his guys liked the Peewee and complained when he made them use the Fisher 11. I rather smarmily (I think I had had a couple of beers . Don't do this and then go on that site) stated that the Fisher 11 wasn't a great dolly and that's probably why his guys disliked it. We traded some back and forth posts, and were quite friendly. A couple of months later, someone dug up this post by me and defended the 11. I (again unwisely after a few) wrote a scathing reply which I then toned way down because I tend to go way over the top and look like a pompous ass. His arguments for it held no more weight than that Fisher had been in business for 50 years, and still made dollies so the 11 must be good. Buy that logic, the Ford Pinto was a great car. Let me say now that I think Fisher is a great company. The Fisher 10 changed the way movies are made. I started out on a Fisher 9 and then a 10. It's just not my dolly of choice. Some guys can play it like a violin and nail it every time. I can't. The boom control is beyond my ability, or desire, to master and be comfortable with (although with time I'm sure I could). The Fisher 23 is the finest jib arm for feature film making in the world. If they sold them I would buy one tomorrow. I just don't share the same view of the 11. I think it's a crappy dolly. Rick Kangrga, a very good Dolly Grip once told me that being able to use both Fisher and Chapman would make me a better Dolly Grip and I believe him. I'm just lazy and set in my ways. Most feature films that carry a Fisher 10 for their large dolly carry a Peewee for their small one. I think there is a reason for this. I think the 11 may be fine for commercials, videos etc, but just doesn't work well for the rigors of features. I don't like the arm speed once you get a real camera and head on it, the marking device on every one I've ever used sticks, they tend to tip easier, and don't even try to ubangi sideways without a lot of counterweight, and doing a boom is out of the question. Those of you who like and use the 11, write in. Am I wrong? If so, tell me. What's your preference?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Repeats

I was absently watching a movie called "Freedomland" this evening as we readied for Christmas dinner. I don't know much about the movie, apparently it didn't do very well. What I did notice was the camera movement. Every shot was a move which led into another shot which was also a move. The Dolly Grip, Matt Blades, who is out of NY, did a great job of keeping the movement consistent with each preceding shot. Now, these shots may have been done hours or even days apart. This is something you will run into, remembering the speed of a shot you may have done earlier in the day, or even days ago and matching it. In time, it becomes something you can develop and it helps to know the context of the shot-i.e.- what's going on in the scene and how it connects to the shot you're doing. Being consistent with speed is something you will have to learn if you are going to be a Dolly Grip. Some people-most of them not Dolly Grips- will tell you to count or some other such system for repeating. For me, this is a bunch of hooey, it just doesn't work. At some point you will just remember the feeling that a certain shot had and you will be able to repeat it. If you have to, reread the dialogue or watch video playback if it was a shot from a while back. Once you regain the idea of the shot, you'll know when you have the correct speed just by how it feels. How were your steps? Did you land on a certain word in the dialogue? If you are a wheel watcher, you should be able to tell your speed by watching the wheels. The important thing is- don't overthink it. Go with your instincts and you will usually be right on.

Some Thoughts on Car Mounts

Car mounts are fun. It's one of those times where the Grips really show their worth. As a Dolly Grip, car mounts are a part of your job. Unfortunately, I rarely get to build them because they are often pre rigged by the Best Boy and the Key and they are so much fun that I don't get in on them very much. I can do it, I've done them for years but there are guys who are just whizzes at them. A name that comes to mind is Keith Bunting, who is a Dolly Grip in NY. I worked with him years ago and he was a genius at car mounts. The guys I work with, the Key and the Best Boy are also first rate car riggers. I always try to get in on them but I have to "Get back on set and listen up!" Process trailers are a different story since they often involve dolly track. Keep this in mind when the heavy breathers are asking which is better, mount or process trailer,- the shot is more stable when rigged directly from the hero car. Unless you're doing dolly moves, etc., a mount will give you a more stable shot because the mount and thus the camera will become part of the car, where the process trailer is introducing a separate vibration into the mix. I got to thinking about this because someone on another site asked me if using foam rubber or some such material would help dampen a car mount shot. I answered no for just the reason above. A mount should be as tight and rigid as possible because in effect you are making it part of the hero car. When shooting from another platform, then you would need as much dampening under the camera as possible to cancel out the vibration from the shooting platform. That's why on car mounts you do the whole arm -to- baby pin- triangulation- mag clamp dance, to get it as rigid as possible. Most Grips use speedrail mounts these days. You rarely ever see the old Matthews pre-fab hostess trays or hood mounts anymore. You can just do more with speedrail and the options are endless. My Key Grip uses all 1-1/2'' pipe where most guys use 1-1/4". It's just that much sturdier but can cause some frantic moments when trying to adapt with some other guys (insert car driver, rigging key) system. Panavision used to have this thing called an Autobase for car mounts that had a mag clamp that screwed into a base that the camera sat on. You don't see them much anymore (like the Weaver-Steadman), because it's just easier and more versatile to design your own stuff out of arms and rail. Somewhere, there's a warehouse full of Weaver-Steadmans and Autobases. Anyway, that's my Holiday wine fueled post on car mounts. Happy Holidays everyone.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Ground Breaking Paper on Castle Nuts

Castle nuts are a pain. I often joke with the 1st AC as I'm tightening one that "this is the hardest part of my job." A gentleman recently emailed me looking for info on castle nut wrenches. What are they? Where can I find one? etc. Castle nut wrenches are simply a wrench which uses leverage to loosen or tighten castle nuts (which are forever loosening up on their own when you don't want them to, and won't come loose when you need them to). The wrenches are a handle of about 8" with a castle nut sized ring on one end. The ring has holes around it's circumference which fit the "nubs" on the castle nut and allow you to easily tighten it. Chapman started sending them out with their dollies a couple of years ago. The catch- those wrenches don't fit all castle nuts and don't fit Fisher type castle nuts at all. I usually use the handle part as a lever to loosen the nuts and never even attempt to use the ring part. You can also use your dolly wrench, a crescent wrench, a lifting handle, or anything else that you can fit between two nubs to use as a lever. Although it is discouraged, we've all also given up and started using the lifting bar as a "pool cue" and striking the nubs in a fit of rage to loosen the nut. The guys who come out with the remote heads often have a really cool universal wrench that fits everything. Instead of a bunch of holes, it had a series of cutout "teeth" on the inner circumference of the ring that fits everything. They will often tell you where to get one if you ask. We had one tech acquire one for us that we use on our crane.
Long have I pondered on this fascinating subject and for me, the answer seems to be using the dolly wrench as a lever. I've done it so much that for me it is now just the quickest way to do it.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Note to First Time Visitors...

The count of first time visitors is spiking lately. Just to fill you in: Most of the older posts are technical; dance floor, overs, set up, tips etc. If you're interested in that kind of thing, go to the older posts. This site is primarily the views of myself, a Dolly Grip in Hollywood, and Azurgrip, a Dolly Grip in Toronto. Most of the newer posts are just anecdotes about life behind the dolly. We will eventually get back to the more technical stuff, I just haven't been in the mood lately. Please write in with any criticisms, comments, tips of your own, etc. Together, Azurgrip and myself add up to about 40 years of Dollying. If we don't have the answer to your questions, someone we know does. I don't claim to be the best in the world, but I am good friends with guys who I consider to be the best. I pushed on a commercial today with the Dolly Grip from "Batman", Ed Wood", "Edward Scissorhands", and the Dolly Grip from "The Player", "Short Cuts", and the ever popular "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." You can imagine the amount of dialogue. I thought the Key was going to have to fire us. Everyone has a different way of doing things, so please, share yours. I'm always up to learn something new. Pushing dolly is like no other job in the world. Professional full timers are a pretty small group, so let's all communicate and raise the level of respect for our profession. Till next time, Happy Holidays.

Still More Signs...

I am getting some hilarious responses to the last post both by email and in the comments. Here are some more. Feel free to add your own in the comments. The first one is courtesy of Ted:

The rigging gaffer tells the UPM to "Get his d%^k out of his boyfriends a%& and get down to set.

The camera operator walks into set on day 40, sees the DP lowering a backlight down to the frameline and says, "I just can't do this today." And goes home.

The Dolly Grip, trying to be helpful, says to the DP, "Don't worry Sir, I understand and I'll fix it." The response? "That'll be enough of the dialogue back, Mate." (Some of you know who this is).


Day 1, Dolly Grip tells Key Grip he's wrong.

Day 20, Key Grip tells DP he's an amateur.

Day 38, Camera Operator tells DP he's an a#$#%^e who doesn't know what he's doing.

Dolly Grip happens upon the DP explaining the concept of eyelines to the freaking Director and can't decide which is the bigger moron.

Best Boy refuses alcohol on set because "One of us has to stay sober." The next day, Best Boy is offered the position of Key Grip.

Seen at 7:00 AM, grips at grip truck turning up Budweisers like there's no tomorrow.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Signs that the Wheels are Coming Off the Cart:

You spend your overtime shooting closeups of the producers girlfriend....who's playing a waitress.

The UPM comes to the best boy a few weeks into shooting and says, "You can't have any more blackwrap."

The call sheet says, "Day 70 out of 45."

You go into triple time shooting inserts.

You see the gaffer and the dp discussing a lighting set up. Suddenly the gaffer turns to the dp and says, "Did you just call me retarded?"

The UPM comes to the Key Grip and questions the amount of dance floor on the truck because, "There isn't any dancing in this movie."

The camera operator tells the Dolly Grip he feels a bump and the Dolly Grip smacks him in the back of the head and says, "Did you feel that?" There is soon a new face behind the dolly.

Doughnuts at Craft Service are cut into bite size pieces to save money.


More to come later....

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I Am Legend

I went and saw "I Am Legend" this morning. It was awesome. Director Francis Lawrence did a great job of permeating it with a sense of dread. Visually it was top notch especially the scenes of an empty, abandoned New York. The Dolly Grip was Keith Bunting, who also did "The Brave One" and again, the moves were dead on. I didn't particularly like the handheld work which seemed to take me out of the story rather than enhance it, and I didn't think some of it was particularly well done (on purpose I suspect; ala "NYPD Blue") I know Francis. I did a movie with him before this and I know he is extremely particular about framing. He is obsessed with "nodality," or lining up shots symmetrically with the architecture. I was measuring rooms and hallways on every shot to find the exact center to place the camera, and he could always tell when I cheated. He also never stops moving the camera. We had this thing we called the "Lawrence Lock-Off. This was when he set up a static shot, but then called for a little push in at the last second. But back to "I Am Legend," the only other quibble I have with the picture is the CGI creature effects, not very effective. This is a common problem with CGI mixed with live action. The CGI always ends up looking like a video game when placed against a live person (at least when the CGI characters are vaguely human.) Will Smith was great and pulled off being the only character onscreen for 3/4 of the picture. I recommend it.

Crane Ops

I (we) haven't talked much here about Crane Operating. It's a big subject full of all kinds of safety considerations and I just haven't been able to bring myself to start it. I was browsing through Wikipedia (80% accuracy rate!) and checked out the Dolly Grip page mainly out of boredom. It was actually pretty cool and generally accurate. I then went to the "discussions" page and found a lot of talk about crane operators being separate from the Dolly Grip. One guy said that when he "dayplays" cranes, he "puts" the Dolly Grip on the base while he operates the arm. He must work with some nice Dolly Grips. Union rules place crane operation under the Grip Dept. The A Dolly Grip is also the Crane Operator. The tech who shows up with the crane, if he is in the union, may then help out but he doesn't just jump on the arm and start lining up shots. The Key Grip likes to have someone he knows and trusts on the arm. Cranes are dangerous toys. You want someone you work with every day on one. For years, when you wanted a huge sweeping crane shot, a Titan or SuperNova showed up. Big, truck mounted rideable cranes that came from Chapman with a driver who set it up, got it workable, and then took a nap in the cab while the Dolly and Key Grips worked out the shot. I had the advantage early on of having two Key Grips who had been Chapman Titan Crane drivers for 20 years, and they taught me a lot. Nowadays, cranes are portable arms that the Key often owns himself and use a remote head instead of being ridden. Technocranes show up with a tech who will help you as much or as little as you wish. These guys are generally great operators who will run the "pickle" or the arm if you want, or both at the same time (which takes a lot of practice) Rick Kangraga, who was a great Dolly Grip ("Master and Commander") is now a Techno tech who does both. But they usually leave it up to the Dolly Grip unless he is a little green. But back to "normal" cranes, I generally operate mine from the front, as close to camera as possible and have a "bucket man" to operate the high work. I do the catches and send offs and any movement close to the ground, but this is really a matter of preference. When on track, there is no "lay of the land." Crane track should always be level. When filled in, don't just do the crossties like dolly track. Fill in between them also. The Key I work with has double reinforced apple boxes for crane work. Always do more than you think you need. Never leave anything to chance when using a crane because if one starts going somewhere it shouldn't, it's a dangerous as well as expensive (and highly visible) proposition. I'll post more on this later, but reading the Wikipedia entry made me realize how little people really know about crane ettiquite.
P.S.- I filed this post from the perspective of a union member, though non-union shoots (which I did for many years) have the same general guidelines.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Speed wheels?

What manufacture of speed wheels (dolly channels?) do you own / prefer to use? Also what density of wheel?

The Great Debaters

Went to a screening at Sony of The Great Debaters and I must say I was pleased. It's a very enjoyable movie (although the print we saw wasn't a release print so there were some iffy moments, color shifts, etc.). It was a well put together movie, beautifully shot by Philippe Rousselot (yes, I am biased but it really was good!) I recommend it. Tools used- Hybrid 3, Superpeewee 3, Phoenix Crane, Technocrane 30'.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Busy, busy

I very recently booked some commercial days, so I won't be posting as frequently until the Holidays. Did a golf club commercial today. Froze my $%# off. But it went very smoothly. Tools: Hustler 4, Aerocrane Jib.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Trailer Talk

I love movie trailers. They can make a total peice of crap look appetizing. I will always arrive in time to watch them (hopefully waiting until something I worked on shows up). I recently had a happy session of trailer watching interrupted by this National Guard spot they're running now. It is a slow-motion extravaganza of marching boots and even Colonial soldiers racing across battlefields and clearing out houses of terrorist vermin set to the strains of a particularly awful 3-Doors -Down song. This thing is terrible. It looks like it was directed by Leni Reifenstahl. It is such a laughable, heavy handed piece of propaganda that it looks like one of those spoof recruiting ads from "Starship Troopers." I don't know why this thing bothered me so much except that it was so badly done, and I think our armed forces deserve better. People in the audience were actually laughing at it. Not exactly the effect I think they were going for.
As far as dollies go, I'm sure they had one. It was probably a Panther.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Write us!

I haven't had much time to post lately, but Azurgrip has gamely filled in the spaces recently. His last post asked some questions I have also been thinking about. The rumors about the Hybrid with roundy have been around a while. In speaking with a rep a few weeks ago, I learned that, while Chapman has been bouncing the idea around a while, they are not at present seriously working on it yet. The thinking is that the serious Hybrid fans would abandon the Hustler and go back to it. Which kind of makes sense. I am a huge fan of the Hybrid. It's a workhorse. The dolly you want in sticky location situations such as woods, swamps, mountains, etc. You can't kill them. The Hustler, I like for mostly interior, stage environments where the low ground clearance isn't a hindrance. The Hustler truly is the Mercedes of dollies where the Hybrid is more like the dependable 4x4 Ford truck. It'll never fail you. I think it's a matter of tailoring the tool to your needs. With that said. Do you agree/disagree? What are your thoughts? Let us know

Monday, December 03, 2007

Is there anything new?

Was wondering to myself - "what's new in gripology?" just to broaden the topic a little. There hasn't been much change in the new technology front for some time - I had to remind my wife that the sandbag has been around since those guys built the pyramids.... Curious minds want to know.

- When will Chapman release the new Hybrid (with roundy round steering)?
- Will Chapman build more HydraScopes and let them leave LA?
- Will Modern Studio Equipment ever ship an order on time? (Or update their website - which ever comes first...)
- Will Backstage Studio Equipment ever update their website?
- Does Chapman / Fisher have anything new in the works?

Thoughts?

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Take They Use...

...Is not always the best take for you. I recently came across a trailer for a movie I did a while back (the fact that we shot it two years ago and it's coming out in January should tell you something). The first shot in the trailer is a boom down on a cell phone. I remember this shot well. We did it on a Lambda Head so we could get down low on a profile of the phone. We must have done 6 takes on this thing before the operator said it was good. The reason? The shake involved in an offset Lambda on a quick boom down. Anyway, we finally got the shot (I even reviewed it on playback) and it was fine. Then I saw the trailer. Boom down---shaky, shaky. I couldn't believe it. This is an unfortunate occurance in this line of work, however (I'm sure camera operators and ACs deal with it too). Once we do our job, it's out of our hands and sometimes a take is used for reasons of performance, or whatever, that shows our work in a less-than-favorable light. I did a tv series years ago where there was a scene invloving a lot of extras at a party and a long dance floor move. We did a couple of takes and it was fine. Then we did one more and one extra suddenly decided to change his route. You got it, I nailed him. The whole dolly shook and he was fine, but I was sure we would never see this take. A couple of weeks later I caught the episode on tv. Guess which take they used? Yep, out of three good takes, we saw the one with the enormous jarring bump at the end. Another time I was doing this big budget movie and... well let's just say they used the crane shot where the hotgears developed a jarring glitch. It's still there in the DVD (no, I won't say which movie it was). That's why over the years I've learned not to judge AC, operator or dolly work too harshly in the final product. Sometimes, they're looking at other things and I guess they choose the lesser of two evils.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Firsthand Review of GI Track from Azurgrip

GI track is the brain child of a couple of inventive guys in Vancouver - Dillard Brinson and Gil Forrester - a Key and Dolly grip team and veterans in the B.C. area (www.gitrack.com).Taking the I Beam profile of Precision rail and marrying it with the low profile of FilmAir's track and adding PVC capping they've created a incredibly stable platform for any dolly or crane. The extruded design allows for cribbing to placed on the inside of the rails avoiding unwanted wedge kick out by assistants who can't pick up their feet. This allows the user to use less cribbing - at the joints and at the middle points. The only downside to the whole system is weight. If you've been spoiled on FilmAir for years, you'll cringe at the weight of each piece and have to listen to all the complaining from your grip brothers and sisters. I feel that it's the price to pay for such ease of use. Less you worry about the bumps on the rail and being able to concentrate on the shot the better.The PVC capping allows you to offset the track joints. However, with use, the caps will tend to separate (depending on how much weight and how fast the move is) so using Cardellinni clamps at both ends to hold the cap in place works wonders. I must say that even without the clamps I've be able to get away with a gap up to 3/8" (all of course depending on the lens size been used).Another beauty of this track is that everything is replaceable. A cap gets scratched in the truck - pop a new one on. A latch is bent out of shape and can't be used - one bolt and it's replaced (provided you have replacement parts). Even the end cones are replaceable. The dolly grip can tighten any parts that need to be (unlike for example FilmAir, where the piece of track had to be sent back to the rental house / manufacturer just to replace a latch).I've just had the pleasure of being the first grip to use this wonderful track system in my home town. Now, if I can only convince my local rental house to carry it!

Beowulf

I went and saw "Beowulf" today. I don't remember much about the story from reading it in high school (it's not something I use everyday), but it seemed familiar. There was a monster named Grendel; there was a hero named Beowulf; Beowulf ripped the arm off of Grendel. Things I don't remember from high school are a lot of nakedness and sex talk, which in my opinion did not take away from the story (Angelina Jolie). There is also a comely serving wench who I thought could have used a few more closeups, but what do I know about filmaking? I did enjoy it, especially in 3-D, but I couldn't help feeling that I wished it was a straight live action movie. The cg characters (or whatever they are) lose something in the translation although they are modeled directly from the actors who portray them. A lot of nuance is lost from facial expressions and it ends up looking a lot like an extremely well done video game. An old friend of mine, Robert Presley, was the Director of Photography (whatever that entails) and the visuals were amazingly good. I would ask him more about the technical details, but he stopped returning my calls about two years ago (just kidding, Robert, if you're reading this. Call me if you need a Dolly Grip) Anyway, it's not a bad way to spend an afternoon. Those of you out of work might want to check it out and be transported away for a couple of hours.
I was quoted on one of my favorite blogs, seriocity, by that hellcat Kay. I'm very proud that she didn't call me a bad word (namely the one mentioned in my quote).
Next post, Azurgrip has some things to say so all you up and coming Dolly Grips tired of my voice tune in, he's got some good tips.

Monday, November 26, 2007

1:40 AM. I'm a little jittery

Just read some hopeful but cautious news on the strike. Apparantly todays' talks went well and both sides were level headed and ready to deal. Whether this is true or not is anybody's guess, but like most of you, I'm ready for this foolishness to end. It's about time both sides put their differences aside and get these people back to work. To add to my general feeling of unease, I've been watching a show on History Channel about prison gangs. So aside from my worries about my finances, I've got to worry about somehow being railroaded into jail on false charges and getting shanked by the Aryan Brotherhood. Ok, time to change the channel. Anyway, so I'm cautiously optimistic and hopeful that soon...... allright, now there's a show about a group of campers attacked by a family of Sasquatches. Great. If it's not one thing, it's another.

The Mist

I went and saw "The Mist" yesterday and have to admit I really liked it. It was suspenseful and well shot (by the same guys that shoot "The Shield").The ending was shattering and though I won't spoil it, it will screw with you. The interesting thing about it is the conspicuous absence of music except toward the end. It really added to the documentary feel of the whole thing. It turned out to be one of those movies I wish I had worked on. Check it out.
I'd like to throw out a "get well soon" to frequent contributer "Azurgrip" who was injured pushing on one of those large studio blockbusters. It's nothing life threatening or anything, but our backs are our livelihood and to hurt it is always an ordeal. He'll be back behind the dolly in no time.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A New Post From Azurgrip

Dollygrip - Tips & Tricks # 41
Have you laid your track, but don't have enough space the roll on at either end? Couple of options: - Announce a "dolly party!" and get some of your friends to help schlep (watch out for the cribbing!!! Lift your feet!!).- Do the old "lift one end and crab into position (once again - don't trip on the rail!)- Remove a piece of your leveled rail and replace it once your on (admit looks of ' leveling again?'). Here a quick method that was shown to me by a D.P. with much experience (ie - he'd been around) years ago and I love pulling it out of the bag of tricks as it impresses grips (less work but much done) and camera folk (oh, so I don't have to pull the camera! yay!) alike. Lay a piece of 4x4 3/4ply across the rails. Offset to the side with the most room for your dolly. On the opposite side give yourself a couple of inches. Now teeter the board and roll up on it sideways. This should be done slowly and keep a foot on the board touching the ground. Once all the wheels are on the board you can teeter on to the rail and roll off on to the track.A couple of things to watch for: The weight of the dolly will want to push the board away from you and ruin your track leveling job. Also, by keeping your foot on the board while the dolly rolls on to the board will stop the board from popping up and impeding the second side of the dolly from getting on. Watch out for the board sliding out at high speed when you roll the last set of wheels on. This will work with PeeWees, Fishers and Hybrids (it doesn't look like it at first - but remember - you have eight wheels to work with, not just four). Credit where credit is due, the gentleman who showed this to me was DP extraordinare Neil Roach, asc. The trick has since been known as "the Roach Approach". Also ask him about the New York Times!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dolly Moves I Love

The Push In on Brody on the beach in "Jaws"
The crane shot in on the plane on Holly Hunter in "Always"
The push-in on John Wayne as he enters the hospital in "The Searchers"
The push-in on McClean after he shoots Hans in "Die Hard"
The Crane shot over the flowers in the field in "The Color Purple" (done by my friend/sometime boss Wayne Parker)
The move over the black and white tile floor in " Someone to Watch Over Me"
The saluting shot in "Empire of the Sun"
The push -in on Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" ( which was actually an optical effect that Capra did in a printer after he realized he needed it and didn't shoot it)
The shot in "Gone With the Wind" when Scarlett and Rhett are pushing the baby stroller down the sidewalk.
The crane shot in "Gone With the Wind" over all the Confederate wounded
The push-in on the dog as Willie leaves in "My Dog Skip" (I did that one)
The hallway shot in "Poltergeist"
The push-in on Richard Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon in the car as they reach the barricade in "Close Encounters"
The opening shot of "The Player", made on a Titan Crane with precision that boggles the mind
The crane up in "Notting Hill" when they're in the park (yes, I know and my wife makes fun of me but it gets me every time)
You will notice that a lot of these shots were made on Spielberg movies. I don't know, these are just the ones that stand out.
Added: Nov.25 @ 2:00PM- I just read over this that I wrote last night after a couple of cocktails and realized that I REALLY need a hobby.

Where's the Pledge?

I don't know how many times in the last 15 years I've yelled this. Getting the squeak out of the wheels sometimes seems like my main mission in life. Over the years, I've tried everything, mostly under the tutelage of Key Grips who used to be Dolly Grips. Like a Major League pitcher, I've tried water, spit, snot, everything but pee. There's nothing quite like doing the perfect move spoiled only by the mind numbing screech of rubber wheels on the track. For years, every Dolly Grip in the world used Pledge furniture polish to lubricate his wheels. Then came the orange can. I just call it that "orange stuff." Zep Par Mold Release Spray. This stuff will take the squeak out of anything. Chapman started sending it out with all their dollies a couple of years ago and it has changed my working life. I guess the Fisher guys still use Pledge, but I'm not sure. If any are reading this, write in and let me know. Now, when the Pledge shows up, I immediately send it back and say, "Give me the orange stuff." (although, true to the Grip tradition of salty language, I don't call it "stuff") For anyone who has silently winced as they powered through a "Mickey Rooney" as it screeched during an emotional scene, (and I know you all have) I highly recommend it.

Steadicam is Not Faster

Allright? I've said it. Every now and then I do a movie with some elevated music video director who has been given the keys to a feature who uses Steadicam just because he thinks it's "faster." Then begins the wait while the arm is balanced and the assistants twiddle and I could have already laid 40 feet of track and been rehearsing already. I always ask them, "who have you been working with?" I love Steadicam as much as the next guy. It's a great tool that, in the right hands, can do fantastic things. But don't call for it just because you are laboring under the delusion that it's "faster." It just ain't so. You've done too many music videos. A good Dolly Grip and a good crew can generally lay a 50' track on somewhat level ground in 15 minutes or less. About the time it takes to set up the Steadicam for any given shot. I will give you that if it's across ditches or up hills, that the variables change, but it also depends on what kind of look you want. Don't compromise a shot and insult the Dolly Grip just because your last "film" was with a crew of AFI students who took an hour to lay bumpy track. Dolly Grips are pros, speed is the essence of our business. Give us the chance to prove it. (Now that I've said that, lay it fast, boys)

OK, Break's Over...

In a recent post, I talked about how I used Doggiecam to pull off a shot I needed on a commercial. The director wanted to crane down from the rear window on a diagonal line to the front tire and hold on it for several seconds. "No problem," I thought. I figured we would just go car-to-car with a crane arm on an insert car. Then came the catch. They wanted to have the camera mounted on the hero car to maximize the stability with the tire. (For those who don't know, the most stable way to get a car shot is to actually be mounted to the hero car so the vibrations of the road match up with the camera). So we (me and my Best Boy) sat down and started ciphering. What we came up with was a powered slider (like the "over-saver). "Too bad no one has one," I said. "Doggiecam has one," he said. I called them, described the shot, and they said it would be no problem. They came out and after a few hours of rigging, had the thing set up and it worked like a champ. Since this site is mainly concerned with camera movement, I thought a more detailed explanation of this shot was warranted. The shot was as sweet as they come and everyone was happy. This story highlights the problems you often come across when using insert cars and process trailers. No matter how you lock off and support the camera, unless you are actually mounted on the hero car, the vibrations will always be out of synch because the car and camera are separated. This is often fine for a movie or tv show because it adds to the sense of movement and actually driving, but on a commercial, they usually want it as slick and stable as possible.

A Short Break.

I found this site which, refreshingly, has nothing to do with the film business. While Dollygrippery is all about the art of Dollygripping, I just thought we could all use a break. The site is called http://groceteria.com and is all about the history and evolution of the grocery store. It is maintained by a freakishly obsessive man in North Carolina and his site brought back a lot of memories of trips to the grocery store as a child. Don't worry, we will return to fascinating discussions on the fundamental differences between aluminum and steel track shortly. Check it out and enjoy.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's a little late because I was out of town (and actually still am). I would like to say at this time that I'm thankful for all the great grips I've had the pleasure to work with. They're all great people and although 8 months at a stretch will make you temporarily sick of anyone, I love them all and we have had some great times from the swamps of Louisiana to the Hollywood Hills to the streets of New York (yes, you too Anna). Everyone have a great holiday and be safe. (Oh yeah, to my friends in Toronto, have a great day. I'm thinking of you while I'm slamming down pumpkin pie)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Doggiecam....yeah

These guys have come a long way since their weird, cheesy harness (which I've used and actually works well, check out "Road Trip") Their car rigs are awesome. I just used them on a tire commercial and their car rigs are second to none. These guys know their stuff. If you have an impossible car shot, call them. They can figure it out. Visit their site at http://doggiecam.com. Tell them you heard about them here.

Gripping Basics

Someone contacted me recently and suggested I write a post on basic Gripping. Here are some tips:
Righty tighty, lefty loosey
If they ask for a double, bring a single too
When you set a 4x4 outside, use a combo stand
When you set a flag, put the big leg under the weight
When you set diffusion, fill the frame
Put the diffusion at the angle of the light
It will always start raining at wrap
If you tie a 12x12 off to a sandbag cart, turn it sideways to the rag
Gel closest to the light, then diffusion
Bfl (big f#$%^g light), big f#$%g flag
When laying track, level is good, getting the bumps out of the joints is better
Always, ALWAYS bring everything
If you bring a half-apple, also bring two quarters (and maybe a pancake)
Know your knots (clove hitch, bowline, truckers hitch, bohemian lesbian death hitch)
The "board stretcher" does not exist
Neither does the "air hook"
"T-stops" are not in the jockey box (they are usually in the workbox, second drawer down)
If you keep two seats on the dolly, you are a chump
The operator does not always need a sideboard
Seat offsets are for the weak-minded
Always look at the set from where the camera is, it's all that matters
Never fall asleep on an 8-step ladder
Safety everything
As my friend Ted says, never be afraid to break something.
Those are all I can think of for now...oh yeah, Murphy's Law applies more in this business than any other...if it can go wrong, it will. Never take anything for granted.

Why I'm Not a Key Grip

I've been keying this three day commercial this weekend and I've discovered one thing. I'm a Dolly Grip. My hat is off to you guys. I work as a key every now and then. The DP I usually push dolly for calls me when his commercial key is unavailable. He is a twice nominated, one time Academy Award winner. Would you turn him down? I sure can't, but let me tell you, I'm exhausted. I don't know how my key, or any of you do it for months at a time. It's endless phone calls and prepping and planning and changes and I'm worn out....and it's only a three day commercial. I like pushing dolly. I'm good at it. When the day is over, I come home, relax, and sleep well. A Key Grip comes home and wonders if he's ordered enough 12x 12 solids, or if the special car rig he's assured the DP who pays most of his bills will work, will, in fact, work (that's an awkward sentence). I've discovered one thing about Key Gripping..... it's all in the prep. Thank God for my Best Boy, who's actually a great Key Grip, for whom I usually push dolly. He gives truth to the saying,"hire people who are better than you are." I can work a set pretty well, but it's the endless logistics, and changes, and talking to office people who don't understand why you need 20 more sandbags and 2 more guys that makes me realize that pushing dolly is really a great gig. I just wish I could get back to it. Anyone hiring?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Be Back Soon

Sorry for the low number of posts lately. I'm working seven days straight this week and worn out. Be back soon. If I don't see you... Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

They're still going.....

I haven't been able to work up the incentive to write about much else lately except the strike. I've been trying to move into commercial land as much as possible lately and I've been lucky enough to stay very busy so the posts have been a little....anemic. I find the whole thing fascinating and have been voraciously following the comments at http://artfulwriter.com. There was a great war between writers and below the liners a few days ago. I managed to infuriate one so much that he was spitting on his screen. Did I enjoy it? No. I may have even gone too far in baiting a writer who's voluntarily walked out on his job on principle. I just had all I could take of the "Without writers, none of you would have a job" rhetoric, and chose to poke him with a stick until he exploded.
So... I can't think of much to write about with all this chatter going on in the background although I'm open to suggestions. I do have an idea for a post concerning communication problems between director, operators, and Dolly Grips (director wants something, camera operator/ dp wants something else, neither one talks to the other and you're caught in the middle). In absence of information I just do what I want. So that's churning around in my head but hasn't fully formed yet. Any ideas?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Seriocity

I just found a great site by a writer at http://seriocity.blogspot.com. She's a tv writer with hilarious takes on this seasons' shows (fans of "Bionic Woman" beware). She says exactly what she thinks and includes a lot of bad language which is always entertaining. Got a commercial tomorrow so I don't know when I'll post next. Check out the link.

Well, They've Done It Now.

The strike is on. At 9:00 AM the lines go up all over town. Personally, I'm debating whether or not to go walk a picket with them. Unfortunately for the WGA, it's fallen to them to lead the charge on the producers that we're all going to have to join sooner or later. SAG and the DGA are next in line, then I guess IATSE. How the writers fare in all this will indicate how we all will in this fight because it's a fight for new media, and nobody knows how that's going to play out. Keep your fingers crossed and pray for a quick resolution.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Drinks anyone?

So which bar should we hang out in when we're all off?

"La-ser Beams"

To help get my mind off the looming dearth of income, I've decided to type about whatever came to mind first. In this case, the use of lasers for hitting marks. A lot of guys do it, there's nothing wrong with it. Most often you see them for crane shots, and they can be handy. Personally, I tend to be rather low-tech (because I'm a college graduate and can't add fractions). For crane work I like to use line-of-site to find my marks but will occasionally throw down a chalk mark for reference. When I can, on crane shots, I always work the front (camera) end, and have a bucket man for the high part of the shot. Part of the reason for this (even when the bucket is low enough to operate it) is that often there is added movement in the low position and the crane shot morphs into a dolly shot, and I liketo be as close to camera as I can get. I get a line of sight on the mag or lens and some landmark (a tree limb, downspout etc.) When there is no such reference, I'll use a laser to home in on a mark, but I personally dislike doing this because I find myself concentrating more on where the laser is and less on what the actors are doing and it tends to throw off my timing. Azurgrip mentioned this in a post earlier. Sometimes you just have to let go and trust yourself to know when you're there.
Every now and then an AC will attach a laser to the dolly for a particularly difficult focus pull. I always tease them about it as if they don't trust me (because with the laser, EVERYONE can see how far off your mark you are). On track, this is fine. But on dance floor it doesn't work as well because the back end of the dolly tends to shift around during movement and unless the laser is on the same side as the wheel I'm marking, it will be off, even though I'm on my mark with the front wheel. I know, some people are asking, "why don't both of you just go off the laser?" And sometimes I do, but on multi -point dance floor moves, I have to have marks that I can see and sometimes switch wheels for a particular stopping point. Also, lasers tend to get bumped. I should say they always get bumped, throwing off everything if no one notices it. I once worked with a grip who wanted to move up to pushing dolly and he showed me all this stuff he had went out and bought. He had spent hundreds of dollars on lasers, cartellini mounts, monitors, etc. I opened my mouth and then shut it and said, "that's great!" I later replaced him on two jobs because he was always looking at something besides what was happening in front of the camera and couldn't keep his timing. Develop the skills, then get the fancy stuff.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Any Minute Now...

That's how it feels here in Hollywood, as we wait to see what will happen next in the impending writers' strike. Personally, I tend to support the writers. The structure of any given production is so toploaded with producers (one movie I did had 14 (14!), that most of us depend on a trickle down of money to make a living, and I would tend to trust a writer long before I would one of those 14 producers (let me qualify this by saying I have also known, and know, some producers who are genuinely good people and even have one as a pretty good friend). So we wait, nervously checking our bank balances and mentally calculating how much money we need to get us through the holidays and into next year. The Teamsters have given their support and many will refuse to cross a picket line. Trust me, if I had to go to war tomorrow, I would want the Teamsters on my side. I'm also wondering if the IA struck, how many writers would refuse to cross. If we refused to cross their line would they do the same for us? I personally have walked a picket line or two and have watched actors and actresses sail across without a care in the world. I wonder if writers, probably as close to a working stiff as there is above the line, would do the same. Anyway, this is what is rumbling around in my head as I sit here this afternoon on my (hopefully) short vacation. I found a good site to monitor the ongoing events at http://deadlinehollywooddaily.com. It has up to the minute reports as well as postings by writers, agents, producers, and the occasional gaffer. They all seem to yell at each other a lot and it's pretty entertaining (at least as entertaining as "America's Most Smartest Model"http://vh1.com). If that crap is the future of our entertainment industry then we may as well all go on strike.

What's in My Toolbag?

I was recently asked what kinds of things I keep in my kit. Here's the thing, I'm really pretty disorganized. My stuff is stored largely along the "my desk is a mess but don't touch it because I know where everything is" line. Every Dolly Grip has his own little bag of tricks and mine is kept (thrown) in a crate fastened to the top of the wedge bucket. Mostly, it's the standard stuff: extra crescent wrench, large channel locks, shims, a flashing battery powered beacon light (which serves no other purpose except that it's cool and amuses me), a wisk broom, that orange mold-release spray that Chapman sends out which is MUCH better than Pledge for track. There are a few extra things I always take with me though: daisy chain webbing and caribeaners for camera safety when on a crane or tilted straight down over an actor, extra Chapman bolts (the same ones that come in the camera offsets). I find it helpful to always keep a couple of these around for rigging off the dolly or combining offsets etc., extra 3/8 camera bolts, hammer, castle nut wrench, small (2") deep throat c-clamps. You never really know what you're going to need at any given time and sometimes you have to improvise quickly, so I find it helpful to have a variety of the things that seem to pop up most frequently at hand. What's in YOUR bag?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Me and D

I'm told that yours' truly is inside last weeks' "Hollywood Reporter" in a picture with Denzel Washington. I haven't seen it yet so I don't know if I look like a dork or what, but generally in these things, I tend to have something in my nose or I'm caught in one of those "between expression" awkward faces that Chuck Woolery made famous on "Love Connection." I can't wait.

Latest Links

I've got two really great links to check out. disgruntledcrew.blogspot.com, is a hilarious look at replies made to Craigslist trolls for free crew. You can cut the sarcasm with a knife. http://hollywoodjuicer.blogspot.com is a blog written by a hardworking juicer (electrician) with the soul of a poet. He gives a seldom-seen look at those of us toiling below the line with the polish of a Mike Hammer novel. Check it out

Friday, October 26, 2007

That's a Wrap!

My job in New York finally wrapped so I'm headed home after a few days in New England with the wife. It was a pretty grueling show, not necessarily because of the work, which was pretty straightforward, but because of the ego of our fearless leader and communication breakdowns between production and crew.. Anytime you see a 48 year old man throw a tantrum worthy of an eight year old, you know it's going to be a long one (think David O. Russell minus about 2). Anyway, we made it out alive and I'm ready for the next one (after a few days off) I'll get back to posting some more technical stuff later. Keep those ideas/ questions coming.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

1/2 a Steadicam Operator

This week I did a lot of work with the Garfield mount. The Garfield is a mount that allows the Steadicam to mount directly to the levelling head of the dolly, which results in you providing the movement while the operator rides and does what he does. There are a few applications where this is a great tool. In our case, it was a shot involving pulling (meaning the camera is facing an actor and moving backwards with him as hewalks/runs, while the Steadicam operator is facing forward) an actor at high speed through several aisles in a warehouse making several dogleg turns. The operator wanted to "Don Juan" (meaning when a Steadicam operator runs forward in front of an actor with the camera facing behind him) but there were several turns and a reverse direction that made this difficult. I suggested the Garfield and as the Hustler has roundy round for the dogleg turns, it worked like a champ. The camera operator was also able to achieve that mid-low height that is hard to get on a Steadicam. We also used it later in a large open warehouse space for a confrontation involving three actors. This was fun because as a dolly grip you have a little freedom to play and improvise. If you see an opportunity for an over or a cool foreground piece to dolly past you can slide over and take it without worrying about bumps on the floor. Like any tool, it can be overused and I have worked with Steadicam operators in the past who used it just because they didn't want to walk. I always ask them for half their rate in these cases but usually only earn for myself a nasty look. You do have to be careful with your stops and starts with this configuration so you don't sling the Steadicam arm around too much making it hard to control. So remember this as an option when the need arises.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Kingdom

Went and saw "The Kingdom" last weekend and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Jamie Fox was great and even Jason Bateman (whose presence I somehow expected to take me out of the film) did a fine job. The photography by Mauro Fiore was stark and realistic and fantastic. It was mostly handheld so dolly work was minimal, but John Mang (who works for Spielberg a lot) always nails it. Mitch Dubin, the operator, as always, did a great job. All in all it was well worth my 9.00 bucks.
D

More to Come...

I've had a very busy couple of days and I'm pretty beat. I'll be back when I get some time. Azurgrip, thanks for the post. Come back anytime.
D

Monday, October 15, 2007

To Monitor or Not to Monitor

Now there's several schools of thought on the subject. Old schoolers will swear up and down that the only way to "keep an over" is by jamming your head up against the camera. Now this is mighty inconvenient. And asking the focus puller to "share" the onboard monitor is another pain in the butt.
I'm a convert. Let me share this by telling I started pushing dolly before video assist was the norm. Back when directors stood by the camera and they trusted operators (there's a great story from an SOC member about the use of video assist-I'll have to find that). Oh yeah and I was using Elemack (Spyders and Crickets)-easier to get everyone around the camera, but a pain to operate.
I've had to follow along with technology.As the cameras went digital, so did I. I found that I couldn't keep an over while crossing a courtroom on a long HD lens. Marks, hand signals and lasers are only so much help. I've found that if I'm able to see what the operator sees, then I''ll do a better job.
Too many times now-especially in episodic where there's not enough time for blocking, nevermind a rehearsal (first you hearse, then you rehearse...) they ask a lot. Now with a rehearsal it's easy for me to bang on all the time. We (when I say "we" I mean the operator, the focus puller and myself) are all in sync and there's no perplexed faces at the end of the take.
There's many ways to go if you want to take on the monitor. Something as simple as a Casio that's picked up off EBay, or as expensive as TransVideo LCDs and Anton Bauer batteries. Happy to discuss any options
Overkeeper? I AM the overkeeper!

Posted by Azurgrip

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Don't Overthink It

If you've ever experienced the exquisite terror of forgetting which way to turn the valve handle to go up or down during a take you know exactly what I'm talking about. I've even chosen poorly (hey, I had a 50/50 chance) and gone up when I should have gone down, earning that special "what the hell is going on back there?" look from my operator. It came from having too much time before my part of the shot started and thinking too much. In this is a lesson I have to teach myself at least once a show- don't think too much. Dolly moves are about zen. They're more feeling than nuts and bolts. A lot of the posts on this blog are about the technical stuff....ball bearings and bailing wire. This stuff is mainly what you have to know to set up a shot. Once the technical stuff is out of the way, you have to let your artistic side take over a little bit. Some people say it's one of those "either you have it or you don't" things and that may be true to a certain extent. You have to just know where the camera should be to see what it needs to, and then put it there; hopefully in a smooth and graceful manner without running off the track. A lot of it can probably be developed over time and some may just "get it" immediately. But if you try to think about it too much, your moves will be very mechanical. I did this once early in my career and had a director tell me my move had all the grace of a "truck pulling out of a parking lot." So relax. Use the force. If you know it then you know it so trust your talent. If you make a mistake, let it go. Just like a professional quarterback who throws a bad pass and gets intercepted, you will make some doozies, and then have to forget them to nail the next take. Over the years I've: run off the track, hit the boom handle with my knee and shoved the mag into a door frame, gone up when I should have gone down, gone left when I should have gone right, hit extras with the dolly, hit directors with the dolly,hit the DP with the dolly, and too many other mistakes to count, and they still call me to work. Let it go. Don't think too much until it's time to think.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Writer's Strike

The Dolly Grip on "Ugly Betty" called me today to see what was going on. Since I've been in Connecticut I have no idea. He said that the rumor is around town (LA) that the writers are going to strike at the end of Oct. These things are a normal part of the cycle of the movie business. Someone is always striking (except the IA, who just keep giving in) and we have to deal with it. Here's the thing, I totally agree with the writers. They should get paid for every medium that their work appears on. The film business makes billions (BILLIONS!) and they should be compensated every time one of their works is shown. Part of me says, "hell yeah, stick it to 'em." The other part of me says, "Wait a minute, we all have mortgages and children to support and we have no say in this." It's a scary time, especially when studios are actually conglomerates who answer to stockholders of which many of us are. As below-the-liners, we see literally millions of dollars thrown around in a way that most people never imagine. Believe me, I don't begrudge one dollar that anyone makes in a free market society, but it's hard to sympethize with an industry that makes billions (BILLIONS!) and begrudges you an extra $1.00 an hour. I didn't mean to turn this into a political statement but this does have an impact on our lives and I'm interested to hear what all of you have to say on the subject.

Monday, October 08, 2007

More About GI Track

I would like to thank David Erlichman in Toronto for giving me the heads up on the new GI track described in an earlier post. David has been very supportive of this blog and I'll have to talk him into guest posting sometime. Gil, from GI Track, recently contacted me and offered to let me try it out when I get back to LA. I'll give a review afterwards but it won't be until sometime in November (unless I get that job in South Carolina). If it's as good as I've heard ,I expect it to be a smooth ride. Anyway, you'll hear it first here. Thanks to Gil also and everyone at gitrack.com.

Getting Started

I recently was asked how to become a Dolly Grip. Since the only experience I have to draw from is mine, I will use that as a model. One answer, "B" Camera. Once you have been a set grip for a while, you will probably be asked to push B camera sooner or later. The important part of this statement is, "once you have been a set grip for a while." It's very important to put your time in in this area. Learn lighting, learn rigging, learn when to keep your mouth shut. We all put our time in, and there are no shortcuts. Gripping is like no other job in the world so it takes a while to learn all these things. These things are like the core curriculum you learn in college before you get to start concentrating on your major. You can't learn this stuff in six months either. Knowing how and where to set a flag will serve you as a dolly grip, as will knowing the fundamentals of set rigging. It will also give you the confidence to take charge when it's needed. The best dolly grips I know are also the best set grips I know and any one of them could key a movie tomorrow if they needed to. When you get a chance to push B camera, use that opportunity. B camera tends to involve a lot of "park and shoot" along with the rare boom or adjustment. Use this to learn what the dolly can and can't do. Watch your operator and learn lenses. Ask the A Dolly Grip questions. Help him/her lay track. Learn heights and when you need a low mode or a Lambda head. I was very lucky in that when I made the transition from B camera to A camera, I was on a series that I had been on for several seasons and I was allowed to make mistakes (and I was awful). The cast and crew by this time were like family and were all on my side. This ain't always the case, so practice. When you have free time (lunch, down time) practice doing compound moves. See if you can hit a mark with the chassis and boom at the same time smoothly. Do it over and over until it's effortless. You'll know when you're ready. Sooner or later, the A Dolly Grip will need a day off or will lay out all night and call in with the gin flu. You're up. If you've put the time in, you will have more confidence and you will nail it. People will notice that you stepped up and delivered and sooner or later you'll get a call. I know I sound all serious and make it sound like rocket surgery but there really is a lot to learn if you want to be effective. Apart from all the areas I've covered in other posts (heads, cranes, lenses, movement, surfaces, technique, dollies, eyelines, wheels, blah, blah blah), grips have to know engineering concepts, lighting, hundreds of pieces of equipment, problem solving, how to drive a condor, knots, and on and on. The more of these you know, the better you'll be.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Hydrascope

I'm curious if anyone out there has used the (relatively) new Hydrascope extendable crane from Chapman. I haven't yet, although I have gone by Chapman and looked at it. If it works as well as it looks, it has to be one sweet arm and should give the Technocrane some serious competition. One interesting note: the guys at Chapman told me that they submerged one in a swimming pool for several hours, moving it underwater and it worked like a champ. Anyone used one? David? Anyone?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Some Thoughts on Cranes

Cranes are one of the fun parts of the job. Pulling off an awesome, complicated crane shot is one of the joys of life. There are many kinds of camera cranes available today, from the old Chapman stage cranes (Zeuss, Nike) to the 50' Techno. Each works better for some applications than the other. Not so long ago, when you had a big sweeping crane shot to pull off, you got a Titan or a Supernova. Now, with the proliferation of remote heads, few people ride the crane anymore, so lighter, more versatile portable cranes have become the norm. A lot of it is up to the personal preferences of the grips as to which one is best. Personally, I like the Phoenix. It goes together quick and easy and can be built to anywhere from around 12' to around 40' (I don't have the specs in front of me but they can be found at http://www.movietech.com/) You also don't need tools to snap it together and it is a solid arm. One of my favorite arms is the Fisher 23 jib. Again, it goes together quick and easy which is the name of the game in portable cranes. It is a jib, for smaller applications and interiors mainly, but it is a sweet arm (specs @ http://www.jlfisher.com/) The trend now seems to be using Hotgears on cranes which is mainly a moneysaving measure. This drives me nuts. Although they work great in some applications, they are limited. They don't always work well when underhung and something always seems to go wrong (a lot of assistants will tell you that they aren't supposed to be underhung at all and Panavision discourages it) The fact is, it can be done, I've done it a hundred times, always under protest, but a true remote head always works better, epecially a gyro head for longer arms. The Hotgears do work fine mounted upright, but sometimes you get high frequency chatter (vibration during the move) with them. If it's a wide sweeping shot on a 35 mil they're great. On an intricate shot on a 75, I always push for the Libra Head, although I (almost) always get overruled. The Giraffe was the flavor of the month in portable cranes for a while and it was very popular until the Phoenix overtook it and now, although you do still see them, people don't use them as much. The arm, built in South Africa, is a good one, but does have it's flaws. While very light, it is a little more time consuming to build because a ratchet is needed to screw in the captured allen bolts. The lightness of the sections also make it a little less solid. In riding mode, the turret platform is a nightmare (they may have improved this by now, I don't know) and tends to dip towards whichever side of it the operator is on. If you're considering it, don't let me scare you away. It is a good arm, and a lot of people still use it all the time, it's just, in my opinion, there are better options. Let me finish this post up by saying that all of this is based on my experience. Some guys may disagree with some of this so let me hear from you.
I'll write more on this subject in a later post, but now my flight's boarding so catch you later.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Push or Pull?

I get asked this question a lot concerning lateral (parallel to the action) moves and here's my answer: it depends on what is easiest on the operator. Generally, always keep the dolly chassis on the (camera) left. Why? Because that's where the eyepiece is. Keep the camera operator on the dolly as much as possible. An operator walking is a pain in the ass for him and you both. He unconsciously surges, you're trying to drag him down the track and watch the action and him at the same time to make sure he's safe. It's unneeded drama. Just keep him on the dolly. Whether you are pushing or pulling generally doesn't matter in your operation of the move, unless it's a particularly fast move, etc, so don't worry about yourself, worry about your operator. Personally, I rarely push from behind the dolly anyway. I push from the side so I can get my eyes as close to camera as possible in order to have the same perspective. Take note of what the shot is and where the camera is pointed for the majority of the shot and plan accordingly. If you need to, sit on the seat or stand on the sideboard, look through the eyepiece and do a test operation yourself. If you can do it, your operator can do it. This is one of the cardinal rules of pushing dolly-Keep the dolly under the operator.
Now, having said that, there are some lock- off situations where you can't put the dolly on the left. I'm talking about when an off camera actor is on or entering from camera left. This is one of those situations when your knowledge of eyelines comes into play. If you do a closeup and you know from previous shots that the off -camera actor is camera left, you should put the chassis on the right (or straight behind the lens) to give him room to do his thing. It's all about being aware of what's going on shotwise. You have to think like a camera operator. Learn as much as you can about eyelines, cutting, what's going to be used and what isn't, and blocking and pay attention. Then, you'll often know where the camera's going before anyone else does.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Hard Hitting Expose' on Sideboards

This may seem like a boring post and I'm sure it is because I'm bored already but it's important to me so there it is. Some Dolly Grips, mainly new ones, tend to immediately surround the dolly in any accessory they think the operator might need as soon as it's landed. They'll throw two sideboards a seat off set and a front board on and then try to roll the thing around busting shins and breaking furniture as they go. Forget that crap. You don't need it for every shot. If the operator needs a sideboard because he's doing a walk around, then fine, of course go get one. But generally operators are pretty agile and sometimes this stuff just gets in everyones' way. Or if an operator asks for something, you should of course put it on. Part of your job is to make it possible for him to do his job as safely as possible. But don't get overzealous and just throw that crap on because you think he might need it. As for seat offsets, for some reason I hate these things and have made it my mission to do as many movies as possible without using them. I'm up in the double digits at this point and have convinced myself that they're all but useless. Of course it also depends on your operator. If you get one that thinks he needs to ride the arm for every shot then you'll probably end up using one. Don't feel bad if you do. I'm sure this is just a pet peeve of mine and I'm the only one it bothers.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

consistency

This is the one that may take time to develop. It's repeating a move exactly on every take. This mainly comes into play when timing a move to dialogue. The director may want you to leave on a certain word and land on a certain word of an actors speech. First, get a set of sides. You should get one every morning anyway as a matter of course. If you have any doubts about when an actor speaks or moves, remember ,the script supervisor is your friend. Ask them. After that, it's all about watching and listening. You will generally need do the move at least once to time it out to the dialogue. Then you know by what part of the speech you land if you need to go slightly slower or faster. Sometimes, you can just feel at what point you should land and this will often turn out to be right. Sometimes the director will have a different part of the dialogue in mind and he/she will give you a different word to land on. Once you've seen it and gotten an idea of your proper speed, you should be able to nail it every time. I generally know where I should be at the halfway point of a speech and then I can guage how I'm doing and may have to add a half percent of speed or take some off. If you see that you are going to land slightly early, fudge it in the feathering. Generally no one will know but you. If there's no dialogue, you just have to go by instinct. A good dolly grip can repeat a speed almost exactly every time, once he chooses a speed. I often zone in on a wheel and stare at it as it turns. I can match the speed of the move by remembering how fast the wheel was turning before. It's all in a feeling and is developed over time. I once repeated a 40 foot effects plate shot, matching to the live action I did just before it and at the end was a half second off. This isn't to blow my own horn, any good full time dolly grip could have done it (and some may not have missed it by a half second), but it's to show you what I mean by consistency. You will eventually get to the point where you know what the director wants before he tells you. If you weren't a fan of movies, you probably wouldn't be in this job, so take what you know from a lifetime of movie watching and use it, something probably no other occupation can do. You eventually will develop a feel for dialogue and camera moves that is second nature and will know what to do before you are told. THAT"S a dolly grip.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Laying Circle Track

This one scares more people than anything I think. I get more calls asking for advice on this one than any other. The reason is, no matter how perfectly you lay it, it always dips and raises as you go around it. My advice, treat it like you would straight track. Find the highest point and go around till one rail is level, then come up to it. Realize that you will never get it to the point where it stays down and perfectly level (also, there's usually not time) . It's the nature of the beast. If you're on it, you are probably on a fairly wide lens anyway so you have some leeway. Don't overthink it. If you spend all your time trying to get it perfect you will literally never be ready to say "bring me a head." If it moves a little, it's no big deal. It's honestly never been an issue on any job I've done. Some people get a long 2x4 and go across it to level it and this is fine I'm sure. Everyone has their own way of doing it and no one is sure their way is the best. Again, don't over think it. We actually fabricated a 6' diameter circle track for one movie and while tight, it worked like a charm. If you have to, add some sandbags to the inside of the dolly for counterweight.

New Links

Mr Erlichman has made me realize that I'm way behind on adding links to my page by sending me a bunch. These are for various companies in the industry that you may find helpful/ interesting. Someday when I get time, I will make this into an actual website with pictures and everything and then all of us sled dogs can join together in a band of brotherhood and form an association like the SOC, or ASC and have these little initials behind our credits and demand extravagantly high salaries and have banquets. Till then, keep the letters, tips, and encouragement coming. Thanks Dave, good stuff.

Which Wheels?

A lot of times I get asked, as I change out dolly wheels, how I know which wheels to use (for some reason this question particularly fascinates extras). For years, I've always put the pneumatics on at the beginning of a show and left them on for the entire run (on Hybrids and Peewees). They work on track just as well and also are generally preferred for dance floor work. Lately, especially with the advent of medium soft wheels from Chapman, I've begun to rethink my approach. I've noticed that the medium softs seem to work just as well on dance floor and don't have the shimmy that air filled tires sometimes have. Air tires will also shimmy and rock on skateboard wheels sometimes and this makes me nutso. Pneumatics do roll easier over rough terrain, gravel, cables etc. So it's kind of a damned if you do proposition. Also, the Peewee won't steer with the pneumatics on and the outriggers closed up. Generally on a Hustler, you replace all the outside tires with pneumatics and to go on track you put the dolly in crab and turn the wheels 180 degrees to expose the track wheels. This is still probably the best set-up for the Hustler because I don't think the design of the track wheels lends itself to dance floor work very well. Really, it's up to you and what you're happy with. By the way, the "soft compound tires" are a nightmare. If you're in one interior location for the whole show, they are probably fine, but they do get chewed up very easily and aren't suitable for exterior work. A DP once made me use them on a tv movie and I told him I wouldn't have time to change them between every location and they would end up buying them, but we did it anyway and at the end of the job I returned a set of ground up hamburger. Oh well, I'm just a dumb ole Dolly Grip, what do I know?

Wa11y Dolly

Some of you have arrived here by looking on Google for "Wally Dolly." That's a different kind of Wally Dolly than the one I'm talking about. I'll save you some time and tell you now that while this is a site about professional Dolly Gripping, there's nothing about the actual product Wally Dolly on this site.


That's what a cameraman I worked for a few years ago called the dolly when it was on skates. The whole phenomenon of skateboard wheels is kind of strange when you think about it. You take a precision piece of machinery made to roll on track, and put it on another set of wheels to roll on the same track. But they do help. Sometimes a lot. I think it all has to do with the quality of track available nowadays. I may be wrong about this, but it started when DGs wanted to use a Fisher (which uses square track, a really bad idea) on round track. The easiest solution was to put the thing on skateboard wheels, specially modified to fit the track. Then, someone noticed that the more wheels you add, the smoother the ride. Thus, a new industry is born.
Skateboard wheels do traditionally have a flaw, though. They flatten. The longer they sit in one place with the dolly on them, they develop flat spots and you have to roll them out just before shooting. This can be a problem with long takes with dialogue. We've all heard the claims of this company or that saying that they've developed the perfect formula for wheels that don't flatten, yet are soft enough to be effective. Guess what? They flatten. The good folks at Porta-Jib found a way around this. They put wheels of slightly different diameters on their skates and Bam! No flat spots. Last night, I had a Fisher 23 jib sit in my Porta-Glide wheels over lunchtime, something I would never do unless there was no way around it. It was a good 45 minutes for upwards of 2500lbs to be sitting there. I walked in after lunch and went right to work rehearsing and they rolled as smoothly as if I had just put them on. At $1400.00 a set you can't beat them. Visit them http://portajib.com/ and check them out. Look for the Porta-Glide section.

Track Talk

A new buddy of mine, David Erlichman, who's a Dolly Grip in Toronto sent along a quick enthusiastic thumbs up for the new GI track system (http://www.gitrack.com). This system uses a pvc cap to cover the rails, ensuring a great ride. I had heard about this system from someone and hadn't thought much about it again until David shot me an email saying how much he liked it. I am anxious to give it a shot if I can get ahold of some in the States. It sounds like a great concept. David's pushing "a" camera on "The Incredible Hulk". Wish him luck.
I am presently using American steel track on the movie I'm doing and it's going fine (although other Dolly Grips give me shit about it). It belongs to my Key Grip and I've been rolling on it a while so it's been well taken care of, but it's gotten to the point where it isn't as good for long lens work (especially without the skates). And of course there is the old problem of people walking on the crossties and bowing them down. Precision track gives a smoother ride overall but it does require inserting more wedges (esp. for longer lenses) because it flexes under the weight of the dolly. I pretty much stick a wedge every couple of feet when I use this stuff and it gives a beautiful ride without the skates if it's been taken care of. I somehow ended up with a batch of (brand new) Matthews steel track a few years ago on a pilot I was doing in North Carolina and I may as well have been riding on a dirt road. Every piece was bowed so that the entire run had to be laid in an arc to smooth the joints. Out goes the level. When I called the rental house to complain, their response was, "but it's brand new, it's never even been used." they then (unbelievably) asked "How heavy is your operator?" at this point I realized that they would be no help at all so I had them come and pick up the entire order and switch it out and the older track they delivered was fine. I haven't used Matthews track since so I don't know if it was just a bad batch or what but I think whoever picked it out, or recieved it at the rental house never checked it, so they just paid for a crappy batch of track. Anyway, I've been waiting for the "next big thing" in dolly track (I know, I need a hobby) and the GI Track sounds like it.
I saw this Star Track that Chapman came out with a few years ago advertised and wanted to check it out, then I never heard anything else about it. Last year when I was loading out of Chapman LA for a show, I saw why. Off to the side in the warehouse, I saw a big dusty pile of it, apparantly having laid there for a few years. I don't know if anyone ever used it or what the story was, but it really must have sucked. Anyway, I'm putting myself to sleep. All of you have a nice day off and we'll give 'em hell on Monday.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Blocking a Scene

I remember when I first started pushing dolly, I was unsure about what exactly to do as a scene was being blocked. So I will take you through a typical scene on, say a tv series. First, usually a private rehearsal. This is when you get coffee, talk about what you did last night, or make sure all your stuff is where it should be. Next, rehearsal for keys. This is when you make your appearance on set. Usually, though not always, the DP will have a finder with the lens of choice and will pick camera positions as the actors run through their dialogue and movements. Follow him around and put a tape mark where he marks a position. While you are doing this, watch the actors and see where they go. Once the rehearsal is complete, you now know what you have to make happen. Are the dolly moves in a straight line? (track, unless actors are walking where it will go, then it's usually dance floor). If it is several moves not in a straight line, then it is dance floor anyway, unless the floor is suitable to move on. Find out what lens is being used. If it's tight (usually over a 50mm), lay something even if the floor seems smooth. Keep in mind when using dance floor that the marks are lens marks and you have to allow for roughly four feet for the dolly (on the left if you're crabbing so the operator can ride). The whole time this is going on your mind is racing, calculating how the dolly will be oriented to make the shot operateable (is that a word?) for the operator. Don't worry about how you will operate the dolly. I pride myself in doing whatever it takes to make a shot work. I've crawled on the ground, draped in duventyne (to hide a reflection of myself) while steering the dolly and booming up at the same time. Figure it out for the operator first, then do what you have to to work around him. Watch the dp closely during the blocking rehearsal. Is he lower than low mode will get you? Then you will need an offset and the Lambda head. Factor this in to your surface requirements. You must be constantly calculating how you will make the shot work. Unless I know something's absolutely impossible (usually requiring a crane arm) I almost always say it can be done and then immediately start formulating a plan to do it. When in doubt, involve your key grip. The two of you can usually figure it out, no matter how impossible it may seem at first glance. You may have to ask the dp to compromise a little. Will he give up 2 feet at one end to make the end of the shot work? If one part is more critical than the other, fudge a little bit to make the whole shot work. Sometimes physics and the set just require it. Then, once you have a plan, lay whatever surface you've chosen and get the dolly and camera ready. One final rehearsal, and you're ready. On a tv show you may only get one rehearsal and a couple of takes, so you have to nail it. TV is the best proving ground for dolly grips for just this reason. You have to think fast and solve problems and it has to work the first time. This will make it all second nature when you get that 100 million dollar feature.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Prepping a Dolly

Checking out a dolly can be a little intimidating as a rookie. You always think that the guys in the loading dock know more than you and that they think you are an idiot. (on a side note, this column is written from a Chapman enthusiasts point of view. Fisher users will have to go elsewhere to get their own info). First, which dolly are you getting? A Hybrid?, Peewee? Hustler? It all depends on the locations and the demands you'll put on it. Check the arm. Be sure to put around 50lbs of weight on the arm before trying it out. Most rental houses have this close at hand. I know Chapman in LA keeps plates close for weight. Now, activate the arm. How much play is there until the arm starts to move? This is really a matter of personal preference. Does it activate smoothly like butter or is there too much resistance? How about speed? Is it fast enough to keep up with a stand up or sit down? I generally ask the techs to "goose"the valves for a little more speed than the factory standard 6 seconds. I actually have a tech (James out of Austin) that I pester endlessly with questions, and/or demands, who always sets them up perfectly for my taste. I generally like a single detente (a detente is the neutral "stop" position you can feel between up and down) with very little play until the arm activates. It should have a smooth feather in and out and not feel "chunky" as my friend Brooksie calls it. Once the arm is signed off, check the brakes. Make sure both work properly and stay down when you push them. Next, wheel tabs. Make sure they are tight and require two hands to pull them up. Otherwise, the wheels will come out of alignment every time you hit a bump. As far as the Hustler 4 (the Mercedes of dollies) goes, every one I've ever gotten has pristine arm movement. Brakes are a non-issue since they finally borrowed from Fisher and got a real brake. Next, check out your accessories and make sure they are all there. If you're getting track, look down each piece and check for crowns, dips, bows, doglegs and pieces that look like they were dragged behind a stakebed. Don't let the rental house guys rush you. You will be using this equipment for a while and be depending on it. Shortcuts you take now will haunt you later. Trust me on this. Oh yeah, always take the biggest camera offset they have. The big 4 footer with the holes in it. This is always handy and I use it on every show.

The English System

I recently recieved an email from a British DP (whose work I really like) and this got me thinking about the British system of filmaking as opposed to the American system. I realize (or realise) that grips in Britain are mainly camera grips with the juicers actually handling the flagging chores that we all spent years learning how to do. I have always thought of myself as a camera grip, borrowing from the British tradition. I set up the sticks, carry handheld cameras, and (when the assistants aren't freaked out by it) will carry the camera anywhere it needs to go. Americans are really not used to this but once they experience it, they generally like it. I would appreciate it if any British dolly grips reading this would email me or comment on their experiences. What exactly are your duties? What do you experience in a given shooting day? How can you trust a lowly juicer to flag a light? (they're lucky if they can find their way to work in the morning). Also, I would like information on surfaces. Do you lay dance floor the same? Track? What dollies are used most frequently in the UK. (I should mention here that I'm a shameless Anglophile and fascinated by the British in general. I even listen to your talk shows online). So send an email or leave something in the comments section. Cheerio!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Guiding Steadicam

It's your job to guide (or steer) the steadicam operator through difficult shots. I've worked with the best, and the not-so-good. Generally, you put two fingers under the vest in his/her back and gently guide them back. I also often put a gentle pressure on the opposite hip of the direction I want them to go. When they reach the end, give them a sharp tap on the lower back. Some operators want to be touched very little, some want you to basically carry them through the shot. On all of them, unless asked not to, I will at least put a gentle pressure on their lower back for psychological reassurance. You are responsible, as the "A" dolly grip on the show, for their safety. If something goes wrong, and they are in any kind of danger, stop the shot. The same goes for working on the dolly. Don't forget that your job is the safety of the operator. If they are in any kind of danger, speak up. Stop the shot until the situation is rectified. I'll write a column later on gunshots and car work, but most of this is common sense. When an operator has his eye, or attention focused in the lens or on a monitor, they depend on you to watch out for them. Don't be intimidated into letting a shot go on because you're afraid of blowing a take. While it sounds a little strange, a bond of trust is formed between you and the operator and they need to know that you are looking out for them. The same goes for handheld, which I addressed in an earlier column.

Know Your Heads

This means know what the various camera heads are capable of and what works best for each shot. some examples: a straight down overhead shot-the o'connor is the optimum head for this. Also realize that when it tilts down, it also throws the camera out another 6 inches or so which comes in handy when calculating what equipment (camera offset?) you need to do a shot.
Ultra low shot- Lambda or if you go old school, Weaver Steadman. Realize that the good people at Lambda-for whatever reason-decided to put a 3 inch knob on the bottom of the head which compromises your height. Replace it. Long lens tracking shot- the wheels, my old favorite. The operator can subtly correct any variances in the track on a 300mm with a geared head. Knowing these things will help you immediately know what needs to be done when a shot is presented to you and the operator says, "what's the best way to do this?"

Answers to more questions I was asked...

1. For small dollies I prefer the Super Peewee 3 or 4. It's stable and versatile. This is just a preference but I (and most dg's I know)prefer it over the Fisher 11 for feature work. The Fisher tends to not be as stable especially with a heavier operator and the arm doesn't respond as well and tends to rush on the downs because of camera weight.
2. When you prepare to do a compound move, find the spot on the valve handle where the movement starts and back off just enough to stop movement. Lock it where it is with a finger on the steering column. When you start your move, crack it open and let her go. This way you always know where you are in the arm and can start your arm move immediately. On a side note, this doesn't work with a Fisher because of the spring action in the valve handle. On a Fisher, you just have to get used to the arm and where it starts.
3. When checking for flares, get in front of the camera on the opposite side of where the offending light is coming from (so you don't block it with your head) and look at the lens element or filter. You will see the offending light reflected there and get a better idea of where it is. To flag it, I generally get somewhere around 1/3 to half the distance to the light from camera. This way, if it's a backlight, you don't have to worry as much about accidentally flagging the actors out of it. Be aware if you're using 2 cameras not to get in the other camera's shot.
4. Most guys are now using precision track which is aluminum track with a "beam" built into the bottom of it for support. This track gives an exceptional ride but is fairly fragile and I've seen the way it's often treated (especially by pa's on commercials). You also will need to use more wedges than normal because it flexes more with the weight of the dolly and can be death on an especially tight shot. I love the stuff, but still tend to use good old fashioned steel track (partially for financial reasons).

Stand ups/ Sit downs

This is one shot that scares a lot of newer dolly grips. It's when you raise or lower the camera with an actor as he stands or sits. A lot of the difficulty of this shot depends upon the actor doing it. An actor who has been around and understands and is aware of the camera will know that he shouldn't just leap out of a chair(unless the scene calls for it) or collapse suddenly into a chair. He will also know to avoid double take movements or false starts. The old timers- Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Robert Deniro-(and I've done this shot with all of them) understand this and will ease into a movement making it easy on you. For your part, watch the actor. Do not watch your marks. After doing this shot literally hundreds of times I can tell you that if you watch the actor intently, you will generally hit the mark (or be within an inch of it). Here's the bottom line, generally when you do this shot, one of the main reasons for it is to go upwith the actor so the camera isn't tilting up into lights or equipment. You don't have to nail the mark perfectly and if you have a sense of where it's supposed to stop, you'll generally be very close to it. So WATCH THE ACTOR, not your boom marks. Get the control valve ready so that you only have to crack it to start your movement. Watch how the actor does the movement during rehearsals. Does he lean over and then sit? Does he slide slowly into the chair? or does he suddenly fall into the chair with no warning? Most newer actors will do false starts or sudden movements making it hard to match them. It's because no one has ever taught them how to do it. Be ready for anything (as I say all the time). If an actor does a false movement and you commit, blowing a take, LET IT GO. It's not your fault and the operator knows and was probably caught in the same trap. I once worked with a jackass dp on a show who refused to believe that any fault lay anywhere but with me and the operator. The actress was rocketing out of a chair from 5 feet away and he wouldn't slow her down or change the shot no matter that she was going way faster than the dolly arm could. I had it wide open and it just couldn't keep up, so after 12 takes of this and the dp screaming louder and louder with each blown take, we finally got one that was passable but crappy. All he had to do was widen back a little so that we weren't right on top of her or ask her to take 10% off her move but he found it more constructive to simply scream at the operator and me. (On a happier note, his little tantrum (among others on that show) has since cost him at least one job with the producer who observed this tirade and refused to hire him again tee hee). Anyway, I digress. The main thing I want to get across for this shot is: watch the actors, not your marks

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Holding Overs

While this title may seem a little strange it simply refers to holding an over the shoulder shot. As a dolly grip, it is your job to make sure the actor facing camera in an over the shoulder isn't blocked by the actor facing him. This is where you will develop and use your knowledge of composition. Every camera operator and DP has a different preference for this. The DP I am currently working with likes a little more space between the two actors than most, however, not allowing too little of the foreground actor to be seen. You don't want him right on the frameline. Generally, this results in my dividing the frame roughly into thirds, with the foreground actor on, say, the left third (or right, depending on which shoulder you're over), the space between them filling the middle third, and the actor facing camera taking up the remaining third. (Acually, the actor facing should take up a little more than a third because he/she is the focus of the shot, but this is a rough estimate). On the other hand, other dps I've worked with like tight overs, with very little space between the actors. You hold the overs by turning your wheels on a plane parallel to the actors and moving the dolly subtly during the shot if the foreground actor's movements cause him to block the other actor, or ruin the composition. Of course, you generally need a monitor to do this. I (and a lot of other guys) did this for years before onboard monitors were available by getting right behind the camera and doing the best we could. Also, look for signals from your operator during the shot. They may give you a signal for right, left, or up or down. Anamorphic lenses are a little more difficult if you aren't used to them. The frame is so wide, most dp's like to let the actors "play the frame" or have movement in the frame as long as they don't block. I did two anamorphic movies in the last year and it took some getting used to. Some people like the "over saver", a sliding plate that mounts on the dolly and allows the operator to adjust himself. While these have their place and I like to get a break, I generally dislike using them. They are a pain in the ass and I'm quite capable of doing it myself once I know what the dp likes. Watch the monitor as the operator lines up the shot. Learn and remember the relationship between the actors (or stand ins) that he likes and simply hold that composition wherever the actors go. Don't over do it though. Let them play the frame a little as long as they aren't blocked. Be ready for anything and adjust. If the shot goes on longer than you expected, and an actor leaves, or goes somewhere you didn't expect, go wherever you need to to get a good composition for the operator. This is where your creativity comes in and can be one of the most fun parts of pushing dolly. This is one of the times when it's on you and you can really prove yourself to a dp or operator. Also, and I've said this before, know your eyelines. Knowing where an actor should be looking in a scene is crucial to doing your job. Right-to-left, left-to-right, learn these terms and what they mean. Pay attention during the master and remember where each actor should be looking. This can get confusing so if you don't understand, ask the operator. It takes awhile but will become second nature in time. This seems like a lot of useless information but it will help IMMENSELY in your work. I could try to explain it here but would fail miserably and would only end up confusing both of us. Make it your business to know where each actor is moving, where the camera is, and when actors move during a certain part of the dialogue. Remember these relationships because it will help you know what is coming up.