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.