Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Building the Perfect Dolly

With so many different types of dollies to choose from for theatrical/episodic work, it's inevitable that Dolly Grips will align themselves with their favorites. The perfect one, I think, would have features of all of them. How many times have I wished for a Fisher 10 brake on a Hybrid or Peewee. My shoes all have holes worn in the tops from flipping off the brakes. I also like the sound a Fisher 10 brake makes when you disengage it. It means it's time to get down to business: Quiet please! Settle....aaannd roll camera...........Kerchink! I love that sound but I've always had a flair for the dramatic. A few years ago, I took to twirling the lifting handles on my Hybrid, after picking it up and setting it down on track, and slamming them in the receivers like a cowboy twirling two six shooters. I'm such a loser sometimes, I'm really trying to suppress the urge to do that. Azurgrip recently asked about the Hybrid with roundy that has been making the rumor circuit for a while now. I had a Chapman rep dash those hopes for the immediate future though. "They think people who use the Hustler 4 will abandon it and go back to the Hybrid." Which makes sense I guess depending on how you look at it. Personally, I think I would probably make the same choices I do now when selecting a dolly for a particular job.
Hybrid= tough locations, Westerns, Civil War movies etc.
Hustler 4= Mostly stage work, streets, As Good as it Gets type stuff.
Only now I would have the option of roundy everywhere I went.
As much as I love the Hustler, it's a monster. It's heavy. But it's still the dolly I want for stage etc. because it's just more versatile under certain conditions.
A friend of mine, a longtime Chapman user, just told me that he decided to go with the Fisher 10 for a huge movie he's about to start in Shreveport because it's lighter, and his show is some kind of historical epic in a sandpit, Garden of Eden type setting. It makes sense.
I wish Fisher would come out with some new modifications on the 10 however. I know if you request it, you can get the old lever type boom controls. If they would modify one to get rid of that spring mechanism in the control, that you could request, more of us would use 10's for certain situations. Lose the bogie wheels also. Nobody uses square track anymore unless they're doing a music video and even then they don't like it. The freaking things are always dropping down and it drives me crazy. I do like the Fisher's new(ish) system for going to low mode. There's nothing like switching over on a Hybrid while everyone watches the endless parade of wrenches being passed around. The Hustler's system is also good, but you have to hit it just right, and support this huge chunk of aluminum while you screw it in.
Fisher 11's, we've been there already.
Peewee 4's I like, but a 3 is just as good. I also don't like the extended boom handle on the 4's. I usually ask for a handle from a 3 because you can't pull the handle out without turning the steering column- it's so long it hits. I had my fill of this on a movie last year when I needed to pull the boom handle while I was on track (I don't remember why) and had a problem getting it out and the arm sprang up and made Tom Cruise almost jump out of his skin (not to mention the operator).
The Peewee 4 low mode is a design nightmare. Most operators hate it because it's just not beefy enough. I usually request an old style "L" plate low mode because it's so much stronger, even though it get's the camera further away from the dolly on the 4.
Friction tabs on the wheels are also a pain. If they had a positive locking system like the 10, life would be easier for Chapman users. I've even had to carve shims out of blackwrap to tighten them up when they are just too loose. The Hustler 4 is particularly viscious in this regard. Re aligning the wheels involves opening the back hatches, getting the little tool out, opening the front hatches, prying up the tabs with the tool while squinting into a dark hole, aligning the wheels and pushing the tabs (two to a wheel) back down (not easy with the little tool in a tight space). Hint: forget the tool and hammer them down with a lifting handle (I didn't say that).
Anyway, we all have our favorites, and mine is still Chapman. I remember one time, Hector, who left Chapman a couple of years ago (we miss him), flew in to backwoods Mississippi and took my Hybrid apart on the tailgate at lunch, fixed a boom problem, and was back on a plane before wrap. That's service.


Azurgrip said...

I guess this what I was getting at when I asked the question "Is there anything new?".

Due to my height, I have to order "tall" steering bars for both Hybrid and PW 3s to avoid back pain. Now I need a boom control to go along.

I had the pleasure of working in Rio before Xmas where they still use Fisher square track. The local rental house had to subrent Matthews Star track.

Azurgrip said...

Did anyone use Dennis Fraser's Fraser dolly?

D said...

I have heard of it but never used it. I'll see what I can dig up.

Azurgrip said...

Hard to come by. Hasn't been in production since the first run of which only a handfull where made. I think they were produced in cooperation with the Grip House in England which was bought up by Panavision in the late 90 / early 2000. I had the pleasure of meeting Dennis' partner.

Azurgrip said...

Whatever happened to the Chapman half -breed chassis half Western dolly / half Hybrid arm? How's that for all terrain?

Onno Perdijk said...

What about the Panther (classic / evolution) or MovieTech's Magnum?
Any opinion on them? (carefull: I own an Evolution and I just love it!)

tigger said...

i've never used the fraser dolly but i do remember it's very heavy.

i spoke to dennis about it years ago when i was just starting out, i think he said he was never too happy with the result.

incidentally i had the fortune of working with dennis and his son kevin a couple of times, amazing guys, real passion for film making, I'm still grateful for the advise and experience they gave me!

Dan said...

As a European/German Grip I have to use Magnums most of the time (I like Magnums better than panthers because of the 2 Part carrying, and them being heavier).

But its always a relief when an operator is willing to work on a Chapman/Fisher Dolly. I think the German Dollies are good for some shots but 50% of the shots you end up just to high and are forced to put a Swanneck in, wich makes it a pain to operate the camera (strangely most operators don't like that setup but are still not tortured enough to give an american dolly a try).

I just finished a TV-Movie with a Fisher 11 and we did 95percent of the shots with the standard setup.
The only important thing for euro style shooting (bowlmount) is to get the unnecessary Levelhead of the dolly. Just replace the whole leveling part with a billet aluminum plate and a euro boss on it.

Greetz Dan

Si Hawkins said...

Hi there,
I am a New Zealand Key/Dolly Grip.I own a Hybrid III and for me it is a fantastic dolly, strong , reliable and capable of many different configurations. I am currently shooting a Disney show called 'Legend of the Seeker', on this we put the Hybrid through the toughest of enviroments, rain,sand,mud and forests. It takes a beating and comes back for more. I am pleased to have found this site and get great pleasure in reading comments from other like-minded passionate Dolly Grips.

D said...

Hi Si, Welcome. How did you end up owning a Hybrid? I've heard of other people (always in Europe) owning them too and just curious. I agree about the Hybrid. It's a workhorse and my favorite location dolly by far. Glad you found us. Please speak up anytime.

Si said...

I had been using leased Hybrids through the 'Dolly Shop' in NZ for many years, understanding at the time you could not purchase one. 4 years ago i started my own Grip Company gotta Truck and asked Chapman if they would consider selling to me, mentioning I'd probably have to go Fisher if they didn't. They agreed and I became the first in New Zealand to own one. Sweet. I also own the first GF8 extension crane (Grip factory Munich)in New Zealand too. A very versatile crane and easily transportable.

D said...

Greta for you, Si! I wish we could own them here. I suspected that they would sell in another country, but wasn't sure. Thanks for commenting.

Si said...


Anyone know of any links to sites selling Grip equipment in LA. I'm looking for a 2 or 3 Axis second hand remote head.

cheers Si.

the bones said...

does any one have an opinion on the Italian made cinetech dolly {the falcon in particular} i am thinking of buying one.
if anyone owns one, some pros and cons would be really helpfull
the bones

Aaron said...

Hi folks..I am speculatively looking to purchase either a Panther Foxy Pro crane or GFM GF8. They are both similar price spec etc.. Any opinions folks .? Aaron @cameracranescotland..

Aaron said...

Hi folks..I am speculatively looking to purchase either a Panther Foxy Pro crane or GFM GF8. They are both similar price spec etc.. Any opinions folks .? Aaron @cameracranescotland..

Anonymous said...

I used to use frasier dollies about 15 years ago . The control for the boom was sticky or touchy . I found that when it was really important if I rode the dolly and put the control in booth of my hands I could get it to be pretty smooth . I liked the ability to rotate the arm base in the chassis . Also the ability to remove the arm from the base was a nice option in tight areas where you still want to make a vertical move . All in all it had some issues and was never really accepted . I liked some of the options dennis came up with but in the end there wasn't enough support for it . I did really like their medium radius on their curved track . I have never been able to find it anywhere else . It was great having a option in between the mathews sizes .