Sunday, November 30, 2008


Our friend Sanjay Sami lives in Mumbai, India. As most of you know, the city was a target in the last few days of severe terrorist activity, in which many people lost their lives. We all hope his family and friends are safe. We live in a world of manufactured danger, in other words, we set up an explosion or a situation where people could get hurt and we know the risks going in. Sometimes, the reality of life and real mortality intrudes, and most of us never have to face this. The people of Mumbai are facing it. Please let Sanjay and his family know that we are with him in spirit.
Stay strong my friend.

Darjeeling Limited

Here's a clip from Darjeeling Limited. It's a really nice walk and talk down an impossibly narrow train corridor, executed by our own Sanjay. This is how it's done, gentlemen.
My apologies for making this a link instead of a direct clip. I'm working on it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Around the World Rig This is a link to a commercial that Onno did. It's a really cool "around the world" rig and came off really well. Nice work Onno! The behind- the -scenes video of the rig in action is on the video bar.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Show Off!

In keeping with the spirit of Dollygrippery, here's a chance for some of you to show off a little. If you've done a shot or sequence you're particularly proud of, and can find a clip of it, send it in. I'll put it up on the video bar. Along with the clip, send some background: tools you used, technique, etc. I'm trying to find the long dolly sequence from Darjeeling Limited that Sanjay did but haven't found it yet. Email them to me or give me a link.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Week

Not much going on in America (or at least LA) this week work wise. I just finished a 6 day commercial so now starts the clock ticking while I watch my accounts dwindle and measure it against the time it takes for commercial checks to come in. I'm making my way through the fantastic second season of Battlestar Galactica. Dan, Wick, and Sanjay have some great comments on the previous post about center-column dollies, something we don't work with very much in the US. I used an Elemack years ago. Great for tight spaces but a heavy, unwieldy machine. Europeans seem to never have lost their taste for them, and I honestly don't know much about them.
All of America is Chapman and Fisher land and private party dollies have never really made inroads here (probably due to the quality control Chapman and Fisher are able to exert by only renting) Years ago, Shotmaker made a splash with the "Blue Eagle " dolly (I think that's what it was called) and was promptly sued by Chapman and gave it up. I would like to see what a private company could come up with to give the Big Two a run for their money. As a believer in the free market, competition would only make things better. The beauty of Chapman and Fisher is that if one of their dollies has a problem, they put a guy on a plane or immediately send a new dolly. That's hard for a retail company to beat when you're out in some swamp somewhere. I've told this story before, but when I was doing a job in Mississippi years ago, the boom on my Hybrid just quit on me. I made a call and a technician was there at midnight. He took the dolly apart on the tailgate at lunch, got it going, and was back on a plane the next morning. On Big Fish, they drove a truck 8 hours from Orlando, spent two hours fixing a problem, and drove home. It's this kind of backup that makes their business work so well.
By the way, someone mentioned that Chapman has some new carbon fiber track. Anyone know anything about it?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Recent Movies I've Seen

Let's get one thing out in the open off the bat, I'm pretty forgiving when it comes to movies. The only one I've ever walked out on was the sequel to Dumb and Dumber. I just usually want to like them so much that I'm willing to overlook a lot. I recently saw a couple that really rendered me unable to do that. The first was Quarantine, which I saw in the middle of a weekday (the best time to see a movie in a theater). I really wanted to like this one. I liked Cloverfield, which was shot in the same style. The inhabitants of Quarantine, however are so disconnected from anything resembling reality that they kept me disconnected with them. I should have said that the one thing I can't get over is stupid characters who do stupid things. I'll give you an example which was, for me, the most glaring and representative of stupid characters everywhere. Here's the setup. Oh yeah, I guess I should put up a spoiler warning although this one is so contrived you'll actually see it coming while the previews are on.


The characters are trapped in an apartment building where some unseen pathogen is turning them one by one into ravenous killers. Who they are and why they ended up there is irrelevant because they all deserve to die anyway.
Anyway, the characters have just witnessed a deranged, pale old lady froth at the mouth and go into a frenzy, attacking a fireman and biting him. The fireman then froths at the mouth and tries to attack the others. A classic setup, right? Anyone who's seen Salem's Lot can figure this one out. A little girl who, according to her mother, has just come down with an "illness" which makes her pale and listless, runs amok and heads upstairs into a dark room. A cop finds and approaches her. He turns his flashlight on her. Notices her pale appearance. Notices the froth from her mouth. Notices her deranged behavior. And in an inspired moment, approaches, sticks his hand out, and says,"Come here Honey. We're not going to hurt you." or something to that effect. I don't have to tell you what comes next. But he had it coming.
After this, I was rooting for the unseen pathogen and, since I was the only one in the theater, cheered everytime the body count increased.
It was all handheld, so the dolly work doesn't apply.
The other movie I saw was Alien vs Predator: Requiem. I'll keep this short. Really slick, pretty cinematography. Dolly work was a centerpiece, with a lot of unmotivated booms up and pushes-in. If you shuffled all the scenes up and then strung them together and showed it to an audience, it wouldn't make any less sense than it did when I watched it. An entire platoon (or maybe a brigade) of trained, armed National Guardsmen is wiped out by aliens, yet a few pretty, twentysomething slacker types and a small town cop manage to dispatch them in various awesome ways. The worst thing was the way the hack director shot the Guardsmen slaughter. Aliens appear from seemingly thin air with no strategy or finesse. You can almost hear the Second Unit DP saying, "Let's just get through this montage and go home." There's a wide shot of a soldier with nothing behind him. Cut to a closeup of him looking around as the segmented Alien tail rises behind him. It would have made more sense if they had cut in a shot of James Doohan as Scotty beaming them down. The actual battles between Aliens and Predators were shown in such tight shots that I didn't know whether they were attempting to mate or fight. There's so much shooting, gore, and incomprehensible dialogue coupled with stupid decisions that I lost interest and folded laundry. I don't know who won and don't really care.
Now, two movies I saw recently surprised me with how good they were. The first is The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I hadn't seen it in so long that I never noticed the dolly work, which some unnamed Italian nailed. Really impressive, beautiful sled work.
The other is a mostly forgotten George Clooney vehicle which I've always liked called The Peacemaker. The train sequence at the beginning is a masterstroke of dolly and crane work and editing, with little or no dialogue. It's a beautifully composed scene and the moves are perfect. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Next Generation Kit

With the previous chat on kits I felt I had bring this us: The Kit Rental... seems to be a dying breed. Now, I'm referring to "kits" as opposed to full on packages owned by Key Grips. With budgets getting smaller and producers wanting to squeeze more blood from our bones, I'm seeing a trend where kit rentals are being reduced to nothing.

My job is that of Dolly Grip - not Pencil Pusher. I deal in wedges, track and dollies. Most of my kit is stuff that makes my job easier. Lazers to help with marks, on board monitors to help with actors who can't hit marks, Cardellini Headlocks to help with that last second switch over in heads and speed wheels to help with the crappy track the rental houses have in their inventory.

I know that I'm not going to get rich off this stuff. It berely buys beer for the truck at the end of the week, but it makes my day go smoother. Would production be able to find most of this stuff at a rental house? I doubt it. I've always tried to stay of their toes and that way we're not having to do the "cheaper quote dance".

But now it's getting to the point of where producers don't want to pay focus pullers for their remote focus units (Preston, BFD, etc) - a huge time saver and a big investment. I've been trying to pull the cash together to purchase GI track, and I don't see a return on my investment especially based on the way the economy is going and with the studios producing less and less each year.

A lot of this comes from producers getting boned by guys who showed up with a wrench in their pocket and demanded a kit rental, then forcing production rent other kit related tools and ending up paying twice for the same kit.

How do you get around it?

Saturday, November 15, 2008


If anyone's curious where I live, just look at the news. That fire that's burning north of LA today? That's about 5 to 8 miles south of my house. We're in no danger really, but the power may go out and the interstates are cut off to the south, so there's no way to go any way but north. I hope to be able to get to work on Monday. The smoke looks like a bomb went off.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Location, Location

Yes, I know I'm posting a lot over the last couple of days. Just scroll down and you'll catch up. Please leave any comments you might like to. I just happen to be in between long term employment right now and I have to fill up the time somehow (since I haven't saved up for the hangliding lessons yet) Let's talk about locations and tough conditions. I love 'em. I love being in a mudpit with 400 lbs of steel in a driving rain on 60' of track (ok, "love" is a strong word). I do tend to like rather extreme locations though and I don't really know why. I did a movie a couple of years ago where they played a mountain just outside LA as Afghanistan where two soldiers were marooned in the snow. The special effects dept. snowed in a large chunk of the mountain and a valley also. Rigging grips had built a bridge and a scaffolding to allow access and construction had built a deck bridging between two mountains to even out the canyon floor. They cranked up the ice chipper and spewed frozen goodness for a square mile. We then wrestled a Hybrid and a freaking Phoenix crane, and 50 feet of aluma beams up through the middle of all of it. It was awesome and extremely tiring. Oh yeah, it was all nights too. I like to think that's when we earn our money, doing things most people would balk at, or at least complain a lot. Swamps, caves, mountain forests at night, that gets me fired up because it's a challenge. I would rather do that than do circles on dance floor on stage all day.
Tell me your most extreme location stories,and the crazy things you were asked to do in them.
Mount a Giraffe crane to a deck on the front of a tractor trailer and haul ass down a mountain road with a knife in your teeth so you can cut your safety harness if it all goes terribly wrong? Been there. Bounce around on the open ocean at high speeds balancing on a boat deck in the rain while wrestling a Phoenix arm? Done that. I want to hear about danger. The things you somehow ended up doing and suddenly looked around and asked, "How did I get here? Which way do I jump if it gets out of control?" No matter how much we emphasize safety in this business, we all sooner or later end up in these spots, although now it doesn't happen as much as it used to. So tell us some stories.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

In My Kit

CB suggested a post on the contents of our respective kits. Azurgrip and I have actually covered this before, but it was in the infant stages of this site so it's been a while and I doubt if many of you reached back that far to read it.
I'm not very organized. I'll be the first to say it, and my crew will second it (although I've gotten a lot better). My stuff is pretty spread out over two coasts also. My regular Key Grip lives on the East Coast and only ventures to LA when work demands it. He's doing a show in Atlanta right now which I am sitting out, but he keeps most of my stuff on his 48 footer, which means some other guy is using it right now. My favorite level (decorated over a long night years ago with sharpie leopard spots), my beloved Porta Glides (which I am getting rental for), and my various extra bolts, etc. are all out of reach right now so I'm carrying around a rather incomplete package. But generally, this is what I carry:
A 4' level (I also have a 3' that I really like and have here)
Zep Mold Release spray. I call it "that orange crap" when I call for it. I've been using it as track lube for a few years now ever since Chapman started sending it out with their dollies. I used Pledge for years, and a lot of people still do, but I've found this stuff seems to work a little better. You can reach a saturation point with Pledge where it just builds up and doesn't work sometimes no matter how much you spray, the squeak won't come out.
Assorted Chapman bolts of various lengths and aluminum washers. These come in real handy for any dolly rigs you may have to do.
3/8 camera bolts and washers.
Extra bearings for skates.
Castle nut wrench. I rarely use it but I have one.
Daisy chain and caribeaners.
Tent stakes, chalk with these fancy big wooden chalk holders that lumberjacks use (I'm a lumberjack!)
I think I have some beanbag markers but I can't keep up with them.
A couple of 3 and 5 lb shotbags. These come in handy for counterweighting cameras on the tilt plate or for trim weights on cranes. Sometimes they are good for counterweighting on Hotgears, which everyone seems to want to use instead of a proper remote head nowadays.
Channel locks
Crescent wrench
They're not mine, but I always have some Modern camera support rod rigs (you know, the heads and recievers that fit on the rods.)
Cloth diapers or towels, for when the operator spills his coffee.
Umbrella offset adapter
Cupholder. This one rarely makes an appearance. Generally, if the DP or operator asks if I have one I deny it unless I really like them. It just takes up a seat hole and I'm not running a deli cart.
I usually have some showercaps for the seats, but these may or may not make an appearance, depending on me remembering to ask the Best Boy to pick them up.
30' tape measure. I lose tape measures like they're giving them out by the dozen, so most shows buy me one at the beginning, although I have managed to hold onto this one for a while.
That's pretty much it. Most of it stays in a partitioned crate that is fastened to the top of the wedge-em-up bucket.

As far as what production expects me to bring, I can't say that I've ever been expected to bring anything. A level and a tape measure are the basics and most (or every) Key Grip has those anyway, so even if I didn't bring my stuff, it wouldn't be a big deal. I don't own a headset although I keep a walkie on the dolly.
I have few hard and fast rules, but here are a couple: One seat on the dolly. The really good AC's don't need to ride every shot and in fact rarely will except under special circumstances. If they ask to for a particular shot, I will always help them out, but it rarely comes up. No seat offsets. I hate (I'm using the word hate about a seat offset) seat offsets. They're stupid and needless. I managed to make it many years without ever using one until the show in Boston and a special occasion called for it. It gave me a rash. I don't put any sideboards on until they're needed. I don't automatically put the left one on in the morning. They get in the way, they're a hazard. If they need one, I'll get it. The operator just sitting on the dolly isn't helpless and if he's properly centered on the dolly, he doesn't need it. These are just things I've developed over the years for myself. I'm sure you all have your own little quirks that I would love to hear.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Step Off's and a Good Show.

Thanks for all the suggestions. You gave us enough to keep busy for a little while. Someone suggested a post concerning the Steadicam/crane step off (or on). This is a shot (as Gripworks said somewhere) that can give a Key Grip/Dolly Grip grey hair. It's a shot that a hundred things can go wrong on, all of them leading to an injury or worse and should only be performed under the supervision of an experienced Key, reading about it here won't make you qualified to do it. The basics are: Steadicam starts on a high crane shot, comes down, he steps off and the shot continues on the ground. (or vice-versa) This shot used to be a "how'd they do that?" but has since become a "Why'd they do that?"
The technicals- (for purposes of this we'll just say it's a step off)- Someone has to counterweight the Steadicam when he leaves the crane. This means (at least) two grips have to step onto the platform as soon as it touches down. If you have guys working the bucket to lower the arm, be sure they remember to clear under it after the hand-off. Too many things can go wrong on this shot to have someone standing under the bucket not paying attention.
The Steadicam op needs a platform to stand on as he rides the crane. You have to get a large enough crane to accomodate the weight of the platform. That's why a truck mounted crane such as a Supernova works best for this. Generally, this also allows the Dolly Grip to ride with and safety the op during the shot. If the Dolly Grip rides along add another counterweight guy.
Timing is everything on this one. The grips have to communicate visually during it. The platform touches down, weight is added, it's safe to step off. If possible, it helps to land on a furniture pad.
It's a good idea to make the platform as long as you can get away with to give the operator three or four steps before the step off. This helps eliminate long pauses in the shot as it touches down and also gives the Key Grip a second or two to ascertain that everything is OK before the weight switch out occurs.
I'm sure many of you will have things to add or other ways you like to do it (or I'm sure there's also something I've left out). Leave them in the comments.

In a completely unrelated topic, I've been working my way through the first season (and now the second) of the SciFi Channel's Battlestar Galactica, which enter's it's fourth and final season this January. This is one of the most complex and well-written science fiction shows I've ever seen. It's a shame it's ratings haven't been higher because it really is a fantastic show, and I highly recommend it. Do yourself a favor and rent the first season.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Gimme Something

Allright guys, I'm long overdue for a post but for the life of me can't think of a topic. I don't want this to turn into a "My Thoughts On the Election" or "Why I Like Pie" type columns (there's enough of that on the web already) I just need some dolly oriented ideas to get recharged. If anyone has anything they would like to see talked about here, please give it up because I can't seem to get fired up about anything right now. Anything at all. Heads, cranes, dollies, track, safety, skates, set ettequite, whatever. I need some inspiration or this place is going to get awful boring.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Tagger Added

I'm just playing around with some things today and added "Tagger," which is like a mini message board. Try it out and see how it works.

I am now a domain! Although the old blogspot address will work, you can now reach the page at Hopefully this is the first step in becoming an actual website and not just a blog page.
Also, my old friend David Mclean, a juicer in Atlanta has a new site called "Electricandgrip" at Drop by and help him get started.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Scary Things

In the spirit of Halloween, the Anonymous Production Assistant has tagged me with a Halloween meme of the top ten scary things. Now normally I wouldn't participate in this foolishness, but I'm a sucker for holidays (and scariness).

1. Signs -I love the pacing of this movie
2. The Mothman Prophecies- One of the few movies that genuinely creeped me out past the age of 30.
3. 28 Days Later- Scary, well done
4. The Thing-The one with Kurt Russell, not the other one.
5. Burnt Offerings- An old movie with Karen Black that scared the pants off me as a child.
6. Poltergeist- A classic
7. Jaws- Ditto
8. Blair Witch- Not great but the ending was worth it.
9. Dawn of the Dead- Purists are going to hate me, but the remake with Ving Rames.
10. Motel Hell- A dude in a pig mask? Come on!