As an admirer of Michael Taylor's writing http://hollywoodjuicer.blogspot.com/, I've decided to veer away from technical stuff for a moment and ruminate on where we've come from and where we seem to be going. Like most of you, I started in the film business as a wide-eyed young man who loved movies and wanted to be a part of the whole thing. As a boy growing up in the small town South, Hollywood couldn't have seemed further away, nor a place in it harder to reach. I managed to get a job as a "grip" (note parentheses) on a really, really low budget movie and proceeded to sweat my butt off. As I recall, my rate was 300.00 a week flat out of which I paid my hotel room. We worked roughly 14 hour days. I was sent to my room the second week because I was sick from exhaustion. I had run myself literally to the point where I was nauseous. I remember collapsing in the bathtub of my room that day (before I took a four hour nap and went back) and being the happiest I could remember in my life. I was 19 years old. I was dirty, worn out, broke and elated that I could actually make a living (300.00 a week flat) doing this. The dolly track and dolly (Fisher 10, square track) fascinated me and as I watched our Key/Dolly Grip push and pull it, I knew that's what I would someday do.
Then came the dues paying. C-Clamps were polished. Jockey boxes were cleaned and waterproofed. The c-stand was mastered (about 2 years for that one). I stood out in the rain on glorious 35 degree nights counting sandbags. I was called "30 day wonder," "maggot," "rookie," and the one I hated most for some reason,"kid." As time went by, I managed to slowly climb up the budget ladder from movies that involved reincarnated -Elvis -as- a -serial -killer and teenagers being chased by Death played by Joe Estevez (Martin Sheen's brother!), to an actual tv series. In the Heat of the Night ran for 8 seasons. I was there for roughly 4 and a half. The pay was still crappy (15.00 an hour!) and I shared a run down rat infested house with a juicer from New York, but those were great times. We worked 6 day weeks in Covington, Georgia and I made some of the best friends and best memories I have. I started out on B-camera and did the requisite park and shoot. Then the Dolly Grip had to leave. Thanks to a great DP and Carroll O'Conner ("Give the kid a shot.") I got a chance to push dolly on a network series at the age of 23. I was awful. I mean really bad. But, the actors and DP and Pops (which was what everyone called Mr. O'Conner) knew I was green and I was allowed to screw up. When the show was finally cancelled and everyone went their separate ways, like they tend to do, I was still a really bad Dolly Grip. But I was getting better.
More set gripping followed. The pay got better. Then worse. Then better again and more features popped up. And I got a little better. I was shooting for that point that I knew I would push dolly exclusively and not have to wear that heavy tool belt and shlep sand bags anymore.
Sooner or later, I reached that point. Still learning. Still trying to wring an extra dollar an hour out of people who throw $50,000.00 wrap parties (don't get me wrong, I've been to some fantastic wrap parties and loved every one of them). Though a little more jaded, I still haven't lost my fascination with the way a beautifully executed camera move looks on screen. And I'm still trying to execute one. I still get excited when a DP or director turns to me and asks, "What's the best way to do this?" I still love being part of a crew of talented grips who do the impossible more than once a day and rarely get recognized for it. We watch the outcome of our labor make hundreds of millions of dollars and still get asked, "Do you really need that _________? It costs an extra 20.00 a day."
As grips, most of you have a similar history. You've hung truss, built bridges, silked actors, laid track, stacked sandbags, dodged lightning, and know how to do a million specialized things that most people would drop their jaw at and say, "You can do that?"
Yes we can.