Sunday, February 24, 2008

Your DP and You

I've been doing some commercial work lately with my feature DP and it's gotten me thinking about the relationship between the Dolly Grip and the DP. Most Dolly Grips have one or two DP's they work with on a regular basis. There's nothing like working with a guy you know well and have mutual respect for. I've been very fortunate to work with some phenomenal cameramen who are also great people who I genuinely enjoy being around. Of course there are sometimes people who you just can't get along with, no matter how hard you try. It may be a personality conflict or maybe you remind them of their brother-in-law, whom they despise. Or they may just be jackasses (you may be a jackass too, but this forum will assume that the Dolly Grip is always right. Dp's have their own sites). As with every business, sometimes not-so-nice people rise to positions of power. In this business, luckily in my experience, they've been few and far between in the DP department. I've only had one cameraman who I just could not please, no matter how I tried. It was probably a political thing more than a personal one, but he made it personal and it turned into a miserable experience. The worst thing was, he was a cameraman whose work I admired. In situations like this, you have two choices: decide to grit your teeth and hang on as long as possible, or decide you don't need the job that bad and life's too short for this crap and walk.
It mostly boils down to two things- trust and respect. My feature DP and I have a great working relationship because he trusts me. He shows me where he wants the camera, what he wants to do with it, and then goes away to light the set, leaving me to figure out the logistics. I never tell him "No, I can't do that." I may tell him, "There's no way to fit the camera in that space and do a move, but what about if we go two inches this way it's almost the same thing." Usually, I just tell him, "We'll figure something out." and he leaves. He doesn't yell, or throw a fit. Our energy is spent on figuring out the shot, rather than finger pointing and hysterics.
The unfortunate thing about this business is, if you work with a new DP on every project, you spend the first few days proving yourself all over again. It's like auditioning constantly. This is where you build your trust. My job is to make the DP and camera operator's job easier. I worry about the million little things they don't have time to worry about so they can concentrate on executing the shot. You have to show them you're looking out for them and deliver. Once they see that you're dedicated, not just some yahoo who got the job because it was his turn to bump up, you become a team. This is where Dolly Grips have gotten a bad rep for so long. It's a high pressure specialization that people end up doing just because they're grips. They don't just pick someone to operate just because they're in the camera local. Operators practice and study and work to become operators. Dolly Grips are the same (or should be). You've got to earn the trust of the DP that you're a pro, who pushes for a living.

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