Saturday, September 29, 2007

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 ( 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.


gilthethrill said...

Hello. My name is Gil. I stumbled onto your blog and found it quite interesting.
I am one of the inventors of GI track and would like to tell you how it came to be. I was dealing with the same frustrations you were having with other manufactures track that was available from the rental houses.
Approximately 8 years ago Dillard (other inventor) and I were looking to replace our Matthews Tulip Crane track. We were hearing complaints from camera operators about bumps at the joins in the track. A repetition of up and down movement in the horizon was seen
through the lens when traveling down the track. We decided it was time to replace the
track and began to search.

The track needed to be 1M width so our options at the time were Matthews, FilmAir
and Precision Track. We asked the other techs in town which track worked best for
them. We found that each manufactured track had pros and cons with the design and
the way it was engineered.

Matthews steel tube track, less expensive yet durable, was welded. Welding
steel distorts the steel tube riding surface. Also, the rails contacted the ground
surface only where the cross members were attached to the track at every 2 feet.
A heavy crane would deflect at the unsupported distances of the riding surface.
This is where we were hearing the complaints I mentioned earlier.

Precision track and FilmAir design used an I-beam. The rails of the track
contacted the ground surface supporting the entire length of the track and no welds.
This was an improvement to the previous dolly track however the feedback was
that Precision track was too heavy and not durable. The riding surface of the rails
and the ends of the track where it joins together would damage easily. You really
had to baby the stuff. Rental houses hated having to buy it because it was so
expensive and lots of L&D.

FilmAir was the favorite after Precision. A great design. Every grip in town loved
the fact that it was light but hated the fact that you had to support it at every one foot
interval to stop deflection. Rental houses had problems with L&D as well. Could not
handle the abuse of everyday filming. Star track was similar in design to Matthews steel track but now made of aluminum. It was not durable enough and the teflon coating on the rails squeeked like hell.

Dillard and I did not like any of the track that was available to us at the time and
decided to fabricate our own design. We did not set out to sell it. We wanted to
make six or so sections from a simple 3” T aluminum stock and schedule 80 1” aluminum
pipe, get some PVC from the plumbing store and fix our problem. Our decision to
manufacture the track came about after hearing from grips…..that our superior design
offered everything that the other track out there was missing. We offered free test rentals
to productions and all of the grips were extremely impressed with our track.

I guess the fact is that Dillard and I had a great advantage in designing our track.
We were able to benefit from using the pros of the other track designs and engineering
and improving on all the cons. In Vancouver Canada GI track is the favorite. If you go to
the rental houses it’s never on the shelf. All out on whatever is filming. Paramount
Production Support has over seventy 8’ sections of GI track and plan to replace all of
their other older track with ours. L&D is almost zilch. The great thing about the PVC
cap is that the track riding surface can be inexpensively replaced after time and it’s
like having brand new track. Kind of designed after the way we all skin the dance floor. There are no latches in the way. Most of our design
features are simply improvements to scissored track.

Boy my fingers are sore. Just thought you might find this interesting.

We have some track in LA if you want to see some and try it out. I can arrange this for you or anyone else for that matter.

Take care,

Anonymous said...

I have some Star Track. It's heavy, the corners are sharp, and the rails are black, which is just lovely when it's been sitting in the sun for hours.

Anonymous said...

I've been using PVC sleeves for long lens shots on round track since hearing about them from a guy who worked on Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor" back in '87 - nice to hear that they're now available commercially.

Sleeves can be made by taking 20' lengths of schedule 20 PVC pipe (the thin stuff), carefully cutting off the bell ends and ripping a slot in the PVC slightly wider then the dolly track's tread supports - this allows the PVC to snap snugly onto the round track - the joints between the 20' PVC sleeves can be dressed with emery cloth or even glued if necessary.