Sunday, January 06, 2008

Reprint of an Older Post (just for fun)

From Oct 8, 2007:

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.


Anonymous said...


I agree that the path to dollygrippery which you describe is the one most often followed.
When people ask me how one becomes a dolly grip, I tell them that there are two basic ways: the one which you describe, and a variation on the way I became a dolly grip.

About 21 years ago, I was very green and getting accasional day-calls as a lamp op, when the dolly grip of the show I was on left to key another show. It was busy and the hall was out of dolly grips, out of experienced grips, and even out of permitees. The key of our show was at his wits end and was asking everyone on the show whether they had ever pushed dolly. I assume that I was one of the last ones to be asked and when he did, I said that I had, but only on a few student projects. He then asked if I would like to finish the show, about three weeks work. I was stunned and, nervously stalling for time, I asked him what he was going to do if I said no. He looked around, saw a guy walking his dog, and said that if I said no, then he would ask him. He was serious; he was desperate. I told him that I would do the job.

Now, believe me, I was terrible! I soon realized that my lack of set experience in general and grip experience in particular was as bad as my lack of buggy skills. However, soon after that, I was offered another low budget show on 'A' dolly. Then, after a few more dolly jobs, I began to take calls only as a set grip to get the experience I so obviously needed. After a couple of years, I went back to taking dolly calls.

So, what I end up telling people is that I wouldn't recommend doing it the way I did. It's very important to have good set experience first and then either start on 'B' dolly, as you illustrate or, to get more pertinent experience faster, get an 'A' gig on a show that really
needs you, ie: one that has major financial concerns like a super-low-money indie or a no-money student film. As long as the camera operator and the key grip have some experience, you'll learn way faster than on 'B'. After a few of these, you won't be able to graduate directly up to the big budget 'A' ranks but you'll be much further along than twice as many days on 'B' dolly in the big budget world.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I've actually seen an experienced stand-by carpenter become a great dollyman and I know of another carp who wants to be. I take my hat off to anybody who has the balls and tenacity to be lousy at such a high pressure position long enough to actually become good at it.

There are never enough good dolly operators around and I don't want to discourage anybody.

It's a rare enough talent already.


D said...

Wow, great comments! I especially like the statement about guys having the tenacity to be lousy at a high pressure job. Very true. It can be rattling to say the least when you know you are the weak link in the chain. I've been there.
Thanks for the great story.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite lines (especially when I mess up):

"I'll endeavour to suck less!"

D said...

Yes, always. I have actually added that one (or a version of it) to the "Tips for New Dolly Grips). Thanks