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' offset, and two 12" risers, had the operator stand on the offset 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.
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, and tell 'em I sent you.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


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?