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.