Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Moving the Dolly (or start later, go slower, land sooner)

Now I'm really bored so I'm going to write a column on dolly moves. Essentially, there are 2 kinds of moves: motivated and unmotivated. The motivated ones are also what I call "practical moves." They are committed to aid in the blocking of a scene, generally to cover an actor on the move or make his action visible to the audience. An example would be that an actor rises from a chair and crosses a room to look out a window and the dolly rises with him and parallels him to the window. The other kind of move is what I call an "aesthetic move." These are generally unmotivated and are there to highlight tension etc. or just to look pretty. An example of this would be the "Spielberg push-in" like the one on Brody on the beach in "Jaws" or the push-in on John Wayne in "The Searchers" when he enters the insane asylum. It could also be a slow crawl along a mantle filled with pictures. Spielberg perfected the tension filled push-in to a science. They are smooth as silk and usually make a lump come up in your throat. One of my favorite examples of the push-in, however, is in "Die Hard" by director John Mctiernan. It's on McLean after he shoots Hans. What makes it special is the raggedness of it. It's bumpy but that actually adds to it. I always wondered if this was on purpose until I did 2nd unit dolly on a McTiernan movie and he specified that he wanted a particular move done on the floor so it would be ragged. This is genius (to me anyway) It blew my mind. It's almosta precursor to the shaky camera technique so prevalent in the 90's and most recently in "The Bourne Ultimatum."
On a side note, which head the operator is using does have an effect on how you do your moves. If he's on a fluid head, ease into your move (if it's a fast one) more than you think you need to because the fluid head is harder to control. The inertia of the move will make the head tip up or down at the start, ruining the shot. The same goes for the stop at the end. The geared head doesn't have this problem as much because of the indirect relationship between the operator and the head. I'm not going to bore you with talk about "feathering" (a word I've grown to hate) because that's pretty intuitive.
The thing to remember on a practical move is: watch the actor(s). A lot of dolly grips (rookie one's I mean) get caught up in watching their marks. This is death to a dolly grip. Another place where mistakes ar made is in the monitor. I've been asked more than once by a DP,"You don't use a monitor do you?" This is because the last guy he had did every move with his head buried in his personal monitor and missed something he should have caught. I generally only use monitors for holding over-the-shoulders. Although I do refer to them at other times too. They are only a tool. Don't get dependent on them. Learn how to do moves without them and then you can use them regularly. I know guys that use them all the time but they are all veteran dolly grips who learned how to do it without them and know when and how to use them. This of course is just my opinion, but I believe pretty strongly in it. Wubba Wubba, doodle doodle dee.

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