Friday, November 30, 2007

The Take They Use...

...Is not always the best take for you. I recently came across a trailer for a movie I did a while back (the fact that we shot it two years ago and it's coming out in January should tell you something). The first shot in the trailer is a boom down on a cell phone. I remember this shot well. We did it on a Lambda Head so we could get down low on a profile of the phone. We must have done 6 takes on this thing before the operator said it was good. The reason? The shake involved in an offset Lambda on a quick boom down. Anyway, we finally got the shot (I even reviewed it on playback) and it was fine. Then I saw the trailer. Boom down---shaky, shaky. I couldn't believe it. This is an unfortunate occurance in this line of work, however (I'm sure camera operators and ACs deal with it too). Once we do our job, it's out of our hands and sometimes a take is used for reasons of performance, or whatever, that shows our work in a less-than-favorable light. I did a tv series years ago where there was a scene invloving a lot of extras at a party and a long dance floor move. We did a couple of takes and it was fine. Then we did one more and one extra suddenly decided to change his route. You got it, I nailed him. The whole dolly shook and he was fine, but I was sure we would never see this take. A couple of weeks later I caught the episode on tv. Guess which take they used? Yep, out of three good takes, we saw the one with the enormous jarring bump at the end. Another time I was doing this big budget movie and... well let's just say they used the crane shot where the hotgears developed a jarring glitch. It's still there in the DVD (no, I won't say which movie it was). That's why over the years I've learned not to judge AC, operator or dolly work too harshly in the final product. Sometimes, they're looking at other things and I guess they choose the lesser of two evils.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Firsthand Review of GI Track from Azurgrip

GI track is the brain child of a couple of inventive guys in Vancouver - Dillard Brinson and Gil Forrester - a Key and Dolly grip team and veterans in the B.C. area (www.gitrack.com).Taking the I Beam profile of Precision rail and marrying it with the low profile of FilmAir's track and adding PVC capping they've created a incredibly stable platform for any dolly or crane. The extruded design allows for cribbing to placed on the inside of the rails avoiding unwanted wedge kick out by assistants who can't pick up their feet. This allows the user to use less cribbing - at the joints and at the middle points. The only downside to the whole system is weight. If you've been spoiled on FilmAir for years, you'll cringe at the weight of each piece and have to listen to all the complaining from your grip brothers and sisters. I feel that it's the price to pay for such ease of use. Less you worry about the bumps on the rail and being able to concentrate on the shot the better.The PVC capping allows you to offset the track joints. However, with use, the caps will tend to separate (depending on how much weight and how fast the move is) so using Cardellinni clamps at both ends to hold the cap in place works wonders. I must say that even without the clamps I've be able to get away with a gap up to 3/8" (all of course depending on the lens size been used).Another beauty of this track is that everything is replaceable. A cap gets scratched in the truck - pop a new one on. A latch is bent out of shape and can't be used - one bolt and it's replaced (provided you have replacement parts). Even the end cones are replaceable. The dolly grip can tighten any parts that need to be (unlike for example FilmAir, where the piece of track had to be sent back to the rental house / manufacturer just to replace a latch).I've just had the pleasure of being the first grip to use this wonderful track system in my home town. Now, if I can only convince my local rental house to carry it!

Beowulf

I went and saw "Beowulf" today. I don't remember much about the story from reading it in high school (it's not something I use everyday), but it seemed familiar. There was a monster named Grendel; there was a hero named Beowulf; Beowulf ripped the arm off of Grendel. Things I don't remember from high school are a lot of nakedness and sex talk, which in my opinion did not take away from the story (Angelina Jolie). There is also a comely serving wench who I thought could have used a few more closeups, but what do I know about filmaking? I did enjoy it, especially in 3-D, but I couldn't help feeling that I wished it was a straight live action movie. The cg characters (or whatever they are) lose something in the translation although they are modeled directly from the actors who portray them. A lot of nuance is lost from facial expressions and it ends up looking a lot like an extremely well done video game. An old friend of mine, Robert Presley, was the Director of Photography (whatever that entails) and the visuals were amazingly good. I would ask him more about the technical details, but he stopped returning my calls about two years ago (just kidding, Robert, if you're reading this. Call me if you need a Dolly Grip) Anyway, it's not a bad way to spend an afternoon. Those of you out of work might want to check it out and be transported away for a couple of hours.
I was quoted on one of my favorite blogs, seriocity, by that hellcat Kay. I'm very proud that she didn't call me a bad word (namely the one mentioned in my quote).
Next post, Azurgrip has some things to say so all you up and coming Dolly Grips tired of my voice tune in, he's got some good tips.

Monday, November 26, 2007

1:40 AM. I'm a little jittery

Just read some hopeful but cautious news on the strike. Apparantly todays' talks went well and both sides were level headed and ready to deal. Whether this is true or not is anybody's guess, but like most of you, I'm ready for this foolishness to end. It's about time both sides put their differences aside and get these people back to work. To add to my general feeling of unease, I've been watching a show on History Channel about prison gangs. So aside from my worries about my finances, I've got to worry about somehow being railroaded into jail on false charges and getting shanked by the Aryan Brotherhood. Ok, time to change the channel. Anyway, so I'm cautiously optimistic and hopeful that soon...... allright, now there's a show about a group of campers attacked by a family of Sasquatches. Great. If it's not one thing, it's another.

The Mist

I went and saw "The Mist" yesterday and have to admit I really liked it. It was suspenseful and well shot (by the same guys that shoot "The Shield").The ending was shattering and though I won't spoil it, it will screw with you. The interesting thing about it is the conspicuous absence of music except toward the end. It really added to the documentary feel of the whole thing. It turned out to be one of those movies I wish I had worked on. Check it out.
I'd like to throw out a "get well soon" to frequent contributer "Azurgrip" who was injured pushing on one of those large studio blockbusters. It's nothing life threatening or anything, but our backs are our livelihood and to hurt it is always an ordeal. He'll be back behind the dolly in no time.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A New Post From Azurgrip

Dollygrip - Tips & Tricks # 41
Have you laid your track, but don't have enough space the roll on at either end? Couple of options: - Announce a "dolly party!" and get some of your friends to help schlep (watch out for the cribbing!!! Lift your feet!!).- Do the old "lift one end and crab into position (once again - don't trip on the rail!)- Remove a piece of your leveled rail and replace it once your on (admit looks of ' leveling again?'). Here a quick method that was shown to me by a D.P. with much experience (ie - he'd been around) years ago and I love pulling it out of the bag of tricks as it impresses grips (less work but much done) and camera folk (oh, so I don't have to pull the camera! yay!) alike. Lay a piece of 4x4 3/4ply across the rails. Offset to the side with the most room for your dolly. On the opposite side give yourself a couple of inches. Now teeter the board and roll up on it sideways. This should be done slowly and keep a foot on the board touching the ground. Once all the wheels are on the board you can teeter on to the rail and roll off on to the track.A couple of things to watch for: The weight of the dolly will want to push the board away from you and ruin your track leveling job. Also, by keeping your foot on the board while the dolly rolls on to the board will stop the board from popping up and impeding the second side of the dolly from getting on. Watch out for the board sliding out at high speed when you roll the last set of wheels on. This will work with PeeWees, Fishers and Hybrids (it doesn't look like it at first - but remember - you have eight wheels to work with, not just four). Credit where credit is due, the gentleman who showed this to me was DP extraordinare Neil Roach, asc. The trick has since been known as "the Roach Approach". Also ask him about the New York Times!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dolly Moves I Love

The Push In on Brody on the beach in "Jaws"
The crane shot in on the plane on Holly Hunter in "Always"
The push-in on John Wayne as he enters the hospital in "The Searchers"
The push-in on McClean after he shoots Hans in "Die Hard"
The Crane shot over the flowers in the field in "The Color Purple" (done by my friend/sometime boss Wayne Parker)
The move over the black and white tile floor in " Someone to Watch Over Me"
The saluting shot in "Empire of the Sun"
The push -in on Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" ( which was actually an optical effect that Capra did in a printer after he realized he needed it and didn't shoot it)
The shot in "Gone With the Wind" when Scarlett and Rhett are pushing the baby stroller down the sidewalk.
The crane shot in "Gone With the Wind" over all the Confederate wounded
The push-in on the dog as Willie leaves in "My Dog Skip" (I did that one)
The hallway shot in "Poltergeist"
The push-in on Richard Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon in the car as they reach the barricade in "Close Encounters"
The opening shot of "The Player", made on a Titan Crane with precision that boggles the mind
The crane up in "Notting Hill" when they're in the park (yes, I know and my wife makes fun of me but it gets me every time)
You will notice that a lot of these shots were made on Spielberg movies. I don't know, these are just the ones that stand out.
Added: Nov.25 @ 2:00PM- I just read over this that I wrote last night after a couple of cocktails and realized that I REALLY need a hobby.

Where's the Pledge?

I don't know how many times in the last 15 years I've yelled this. Getting the squeak out of the wheels sometimes seems like my main mission in life. Over the years, I've tried everything, mostly under the tutelage of Key Grips who used to be Dolly Grips. Like a Major League pitcher, I've tried water, spit, snot, everything but pee. There's nothing quite like doing the perfect move spoiled only by the mind numbing screech of rubber wheels on the track. For years, every Dolly Grip in the world used Pledge furniture polish to lubricate his wheels. Then came the orange can. I just call it that "orange stuff." Zep Par Mold Release Spray. This stuff will take the squeak out of anything. Chapman started sending it out with all their dollies a couple of years ago and it has changed my working life. I guess the Fisher guys still use Pledge, but I'm not sure. If any are reading this, write in and let me know. Now, when the Pledge shows up, I immediately send it back and say, "Give me the orange stuff." (although, true to the Grip tradition of salty language, I don't call it "stuff") For anyone who has silently winced as they powered through a "Mickey Rooney" as it screeched during an emotional scene, (and I know you all have) I highly recommend it.

Steadicam is Not Faster

Allright? I've said it. Every now and then I do a movie with some elevated music video director who has been given the keys to a feature who uses Steadicam just because he thinks it's "faster." Then begins the wait while the arm is balanced and the assistants twiddle and I could have already laid 40 feet of track and been rehearsing already. I always ask them, "who have you been working with?" I love Steadicam as much as the next guy. It's a great tool that, in the right hands, can do fantastic things. But don't call for it just because you are laboring under the delusion that it's "faster." It just ain't so. You've done too many music videos. A good Dolly Grip and a good crew can generally lay a 50' track on somewhat level ground in 15 minutes or less. About the time it takes to set up the Steadicam for any given shot. I will give you that if it's across ditches or up hills, that the variables change, but it also depends on what kind of look you want. Don't compromise a shot and insult the Dolly Grip just because your last "film" was with a crew of AFI students who took an hour to lay bumpy track. Dolly Grips are pros, speed is the essence of our business. Give us the chance to prove it. (Now that I've said that, lay it fast, boys)

OK, Break's Over...

In a recent post, I talked about how I used Doggiecam to pull off a shot I needed on a commercial. The director wanted to crane down from the rear window on a diagonal line to the front tire and hold on it for several seconds. "No problem," I thought. I figured we would just go car-to-car with a crane arm on an insert car. Then came the catch. They wanted to have the camera mounted on the hero car to maximize the stability with the tire. (For those who don't know, the most stable way to get a car shot is to actually be mounted to the hero car so the vibrations of the road match up with the camera). So we (me and my Best Boy) sat down and started ciphering. What we came up with was a powered slider (like the "over-saver). "Too bad no one has one," I said. "Doggiecam has one," he said. I called them, described the shot, and they said it would be no problem. They came out and after a few hours of rigging, had the thing set up and it worked like a champ. Since this site is mainly concerned with camera movement, I thought a more detailed explanation of this shot was warranted. The shot was as sweet as they come and everyone was happy. This story highlights the problems you often come across when using insert cars and process trailers. No matter how you lock off and support the camera, unless you are actually mounted on the hero car, the vibrations will always be out of synch because the car and camera are separated. This is often fine for a movie or tv show because it adds to the sense of movement and actually driving, but on a commercial, they usually want it as slick and stable as possible.

A Short Break.

I found this site which, refreshingly, has nothing to do with the film business. While Dollygrippery is all about the art of Dollygripping, I just thought we could all use a break. The site is called http://groceteria.com and is all about the history and evolution of the grocery store. It is maintained by a freakishly obsessive man in North Carolina and his site brought back a lot of memories of trips to the grocery store as a child. Don't worry, we will return to fascinating discussions on the fundamental differences between aluminum and steel track shortly. Check it out and enjoy.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's a little late because I was out of town (and actually still am). I would like to say at this time that I'm thankful for all the great grips I've had the pleasure to work with. They're all great people and although 8 months at a stretch will make you temporarily sick of anyone, I love them all and we have had some great times from the swamps of Louisiana to the Hollywood Hills to the streets of New York (yes, you too Anna). Everyone have a great holiday and be safe. (Oh yeah, to my friends in Toronto, have a great day. I'm thinking of you while I'm slamming down pumpkin pie)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Doggiecam....yeah

These guys have come a long way since their weird, cheesy harness (which I've used and actually works well, check out "Road Trip") Their car rigs are awesome. I just used them on a tire commercial and their car rigs are second to none. These guys know their stuff. If you have an impossible car shot, call them. They can figure it out. Visit their site at http://doggiecam.com. Tell them you heard about them here.

Gripping Basics

Someone contacted me recently and suggested I write a post on basic Gripping. Here are some tips:
Righty tighty, lefty loosey
If they ask for a double, bring a single too
When you set a 4x4 outside, use a combo stand
When you set a flag, put the big leg under the weight
When you set diffusion, fill the frame
Put the diffusion at the angle of the light
It will always start raining at wrap
If you tie a 12x12 off to a sandbag cart, turn it sideways to the rag
Gel closest to the light, then diffusion
Bfl (big f#$%^g light), big f#$%g flag
When laying track, level is good, getting the bumps out of the joints is better
Always, ALWAYS bring everything
If you bring a half-apple, also bring two quarters (and maybe a pancake)
Know your knots (clove hitch, bowline, truckers hitch, bohemian lesbian death hitch)
The "board stretcher" does not exist
Neither does the "air hook"
"T-stops" are not in the jockey box (they are usually in the workbox, second drawer down)
If you keep two seats on the dolly, you are a chump
The operator does not always need a sideboard
Seat offsets are for the weak-minded
Always look at the set from where the camera is, it's all that matters
Never fall asleep on an 8-step ladder
Safety everything
As my friend Ted says, never be afraid to break something.
Those are all I can think of for now...oh yeah, Murphy's Law applies more in this business than any other...if it can go wrong, it will. Never take anything for granted.

Why I'm Not a Key Grip

I've been keying this three day commercial this weekend and I've discovered one thing. I'm a Dolly Grip. My hat is off to you guys. I work as a key every now and then. The DP I usually push dolly for calls me when his commercial key is unavailable. He is a twice nominated, one time Academy Award winner. Would you turn him down? I sure can't, but let me tell you, I'm exhausted. I don't know how my key, or any of you do it for months at a time. It's endless phone calls and prepping and planning and changes and I'm worn out....and it's only a three day commercial. I like pushing dolly. I'm good at it. When the day is over, I come home, relax, and sleep well. A Key Grip comes home and wonders if he's ordered enough 12x 12 solids, or if the special car rig he's assured the DP who pays most of his bills will work, will, in fact, work (that's an awkward sentence). I've discovered one thing about Key Gripping..... it's all in the prep. Thank God for my Best Boy, who's actually a great Key Grip, for whom I usually push dolly. He gives truth to the saying,"hire people who are better than you are." I can work a set pretty well, but it's the endless logistics, and changes, and talking to office people who don't understand why you need 20 more sandbags and 2 more guys that makes me realize that pushing dolly is really a great gig. I just wish I could get back to it. Anyone hiring?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Be Back Soon

Sorry for the low number of posts lately. I'm working seven days straight this week and worn out. Be back soon. If I don't see you... Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

They're still going.....

I haven't been able to work up the incentive to write about much else lately except the strike. I've been trying to move into commercial land as much as possible lately and I've been lucky enough to stay very busy so the posts have been a little....anemic. I find the whole thing fascinating and have been voraciously following the comments at http://artfulwriter.com. There was a great war between writers and below the liners a few days ago. I managed to infuriate one so much that he was spitting on his screen. Did I enjoy it? No. I may have even gone too far in baiting a writer who's voluntarily walked out on his job on principle. I just had all I could take of the "Without writers, none of you would have a job" rhetoric, and chose to poke him with a stick until he exploded.
So... I can't think of much to write about with all this chatter going on in the background although I'm open to suggestions. I do have an idea for a post concerning communication problems between director, operators, and Dolly Grips (director wants something, camera operator/ dp wants something else, neither one talks to the other and you're caught in the middle). In absence of information I just do what I want. So that's churning around in my head but hasn't fully formed yet. Any ideas?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Seriocity

I just found a great site by a writer at http://seriocity.blogspot.com. She's a tv writer with hilarious takes on this seasons' shows (fans of "Bionic Woman" beware). She says exactly what she thinks and includes a lot of bad language which is always entertaining. Got a commercial tomorrow so I don't know when I'll post next. Check out the link.

Well, They've Done It Now.

The strike is on. At 9:00 AM the lines go up all over town. Personally, I'm debating whether or not to go walk a picket with them. Unfortunately for the WGA, it's fallen to them to lead the charge on the producers that we're all going to have to join sooner or later. SAG and the DGA are next in line, then I guess IATSE. How the writers fare in all this will indicate how we all will in this fight because it's a fight for new media, and nobody knows how that's going to play out. Keep your fingers crossed and pray for a quick resolution.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Drinks anyone?

So which bar should we hang out in when we're all off?

"La-ser Beams"

To help get my mind off the looming dearth of income, I've decided to type about whatever came to mind first. In this case, the use of lasers for hitting marks. A lot of guys do it, there's nothing wrong with it. Most often you see them for crane shots, and they can be handy. Personally, I tend to be rather low-tech (because I'm a college graduate and can't add fractions). For crane work I like to use line-of-site to find my marks but will occasionally throw down a chalk mark for reference. When I can, on crane shots, I always work the front (camera) end, and have a bucket man for the high part of the shot. Part of the reason for this (even when the bucket is low enough to operate it) is that often there is added movement in the low position and the crane shot morphs into a dolly shot, and I liketo be as close to camera as I can get. I get a line of sight on the mag or lens and some landmark (a tree limb, downspout etc.) When there is no such reference, I'll use a laser to home in on a mark, but I personally dislike doing this because I find myself concentrating more on where the laser is and less on what the actors are doing and it tends to throw off my timing. Azurgrip mentioned this in a post earlier. Sometimes you just have to let go and trust yourself to know when you're there.
Every now and then an AC will attach a laser to the dolly for a particularly difficult focus pull. I always tease them about it as if they don't trust me (because with the laser, EVERYONE can see how far off your mark you are). On track, this is fine. But on dance floor it doesn't work as well because the back end of the dolly tends to shift around during movement and unless the laser is on the same side as the wheel I'm marking, it will be off, even though I'm on my mark with the front wheel. I know, some people are asking, "why don't both of you just go off the laser?" And sometimes I do, but on multi -point dance floor moves, I have to have marks that I can see and sometimes switch wheels for a particular stopping point. Also, lasers tend to get bumped. I should say they always get bumped, throwing off everything if no one notices it. I once worked with a grip who wanted to move up to pushing dolly and he showed me all this stuff he had went out and bought. He had spent hundreds of dollars on lasers, cartellini mounts, monitors, etc. I opened my mouth and then shut it and said, "that's great!" I later replaced him on two jobs because he was always looking at something besides what was happening in front of the camera and couldn't keep his timing. Develop the skills, then get the fancy stuff.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Any Minute Now...

That's how it feels here in Hollywood, as we wait to see what will happen next in the impending writers' strike. Personally, I tend to support the writers. The structure of any given production is so toploaded with producers (one movie I did had 14 (14!), that most of us depend on a trickle down of money to make a living, and I would tend to trust a writer long before I would one of those 14 producers (let me qualify this by saying I have also known, and know, some producers who are genuinely good people and even have one as a pretty good friend). So we wait, nervously checking our bank balances and mentally calculating how much money we need to get us through the holidays and into next year. The Teamsters have given their support and many will refuse to cross a picket line. Trust me, if I had to go to war tomorrow, I would want the Teamsters on my side. I'm also wondering if the IA struck, how many writers would refuse to cross. If we refused to cross their line would they do the same for us? I personally have walked a picket line or two and have watched actors and actresses sail across without a care in the world. I wonder if writers, probably as close to a working stiff as there is above the line, would do the same. Anyway, this is what is rumbling around in my head as I sit here this afternoon on my (hopefully) short vacation. I found a good site to monitor the ongoing events at http://deadlinehollywooddaily.com. It has up to the minute reports as well as postings by writers, agents, producers, and the occasional gaffer. They all seem to yell at each other a lot and it's pretty entertaining (at least as entertaining as "America's Most Smartest Model"http://vh1.com). If that crap is the future of our entertainment industry then we may as well all go on strike.

What's in My Toolbag?

I was recently asked what kinds of things I keep in my kit. Here's the thing, I'm really pretty disorganized. My stuff is stored largely along the "my desk is a mess but don't touch it because I know where everything is" line. Every Dolly Grip has his own little bag of tricks and mine is kept (thrown) in a crate fastened to the top of the wedge bucket. Mostly, it's the standard stuff: extra crescent wrench, large channel locks, shims, a flashing battery powered beacon light (which serves no other purpose except that it's cool and amuses me), a wisk broom, that orange mold-release spray that Chapman sends out which is MUCH better than Pledge for track. There are a few extra things I always take with me though: daisy chain webbing and caribeaners for camera safety when on a crane or tilted straight down over an actor, extra Chapman bolts (the same ones that come in the camera offsets). I find it helpful to always keep a couple of these around for rigging off the dolly or combining offsets etc., extra 3/8 camera bolts, hammer, castle nut wrench, small (2") deep throat c-clamps. You never really know what you're going to need at any given time and sometimes you have to improvise quickly, so I find it helpful to have a variety of the things that seem to pop up most frequently at hand. What's in YOUR bag?