Thursday, December 25, 2008

Asking For Info

I have a question from tigger on the forum about Chapman Vibration Isolators. Has anyone used the "Small" "medium" or "Large" one?

(the "Small" one is pictured above)

The Medium and Large appear to be for both dollies and underslung on cranes. If any of you guys have used it give us a report and let us know how it did.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

End Of The Year Post

Another year has passed and though I wasn't going to post yet, I'm running on a couple of amaretto and coffees. A storm is brewing outside, and I'm here in Northern California in my Father-in-Law's computer room (what I like to call the "Command Center") It's been a good year for Dollygrippery, but a not so good year for a lot of Dolly Grips in general, what with the Writer's Guild Strike and now the slowdown due to a threatened SAG strike.
Our hits per day have really gone up from a couple of years ago, when , in a boring hotel room in Connecticut, I decided to start a blogsite dedicated to our strange vocation. I'd been on location for weeks in what is arguably the least exciting crossroads in the least exciting part of New England ever settled and just needed something to occupy my mind. So, I sat down and started writing. I had done endless searches on the "Interweb" for anything at all related to our craft and had come up with a few really poorly worded, and a few just flat out wrong, definitions and was determined to start something new. A place where Dolly Grips could log in and pop open a beer and talk some shop. A place where we could help define and quantify the craft we worked so hard to perfect, yet rarely recieved any recognition for. For years I had heard from operators and DP's about how really awful a lot of Dolly Grips were. Guys who were listless, disappeared at every chance, and had no feel for what the camera was seeing. Guys who didn't take the craft seriously, or didn't realize that it was a craft. They just took the spot to get a bump in the rate. And I was tired of getting painted with the same brush every time I worked with someone new. I decided it was time for us to have some sort of community. I was not prepared for the response. I was soon enthusiastically joined by Azurgrip and since then I have met and made friends with Dolly and Camera Grips from all over the world. I've also made friends with other industry bloggers like Michael at Blood, Sweat, and Tedium and the mysterious Script Goddess. A lot of the joy in this has been the realization that we all experience the same things from Saudi Arabia to India. Dolly Grips are a different breed. We love the poetry of a perfect camera move. That thrill that you get when you're able to nail a 5 point dance floor move with two booms and no rehearsals and credit it to experience and hard work because you've put in the time and practice. The symmetry of a precisely recreated dolly move landing on the same word of the same speech of dialogue every time. It's the perfect melding of engineering and artistry. These are things we should get together and talk about. And we should use our time and experience to teach those coming along behind us.
This is starting to sound like a mission statement as delivered by Jerry Maguire, and I don't want to get too self important about it, after all, we're not curing cancer. What we do, though, is a vital part of our industry and it's time we acknowledged that. Camera operators have guilds and Societies, DP's have Associations. Now, we have our own little brotherhood. And I want to extend a welcome to newcomers, and thank those who are regular visitors. Good luck in the new year and thank you for being a part of our little community. Keep it growing.
Happy New Year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Reprint of an Older Post (Because I'm On Vacation)

This is a repost of one I wrote a year or so ago. It's about the one move that scares a lot of new Dolly Grips: The Sit Down or Stand Up. It used to scare the hell out of me, now I love 'em. Just don't take the operator off the eyepiece. Anyway, I'm not writing as much this week because I'm on vacation, so enjoy. I've also added a forum to the right of the posts so try it out.


Stand ups/ Sit downs
This is one shot that scares a lot of newer dolly grips. It's when you raise or lower the camera with an actor as he stands or sits. A lot of the difficulty of this shot depends upon the actor doing it. An actor who has been around and understands and is aware of the camera will know that he shouldn't just leap out of a chair(unless the scene calls for it) or collapse suddenly into a chair. He will also know to avoid double take movements or false starts. The old timers- Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Robert Deniro-(and I've done this shot with all of them) understand this and will ease into a movement making it easy on you. For your part, watch the actor. Do not watch your marks. After doing this shot literally hundreds of times I can tell you that if you watch the actor intently, you will generally hit the mark (or be within an inch of it). Here's the bottom line, generally when you do this shot, one of the main reasons for it is to go upwith the actor so the camera isn't tilting up into lights or equipment. You don't have to nail the mark perfectly and if you have a sense of where it's supposed to stop, you'll generally be very close to it. So WATCH THE ACTOR, not your boom marks. Get the control valve ready so that you only have to crack it to start your movement. Watch how the actor does the movement during rehearsals. Does he lean over and then sit? Does he slide slowly into the chair? or does he suddenly fall into the chair with no warning? Most newer actors will do false starts or sudden movements making it hard to match them. It's because no one has ever taught them how to do it. Be ready for anything (as I say all the time). If an actor does a false movement and you commit, blowing a take, LET IT GO. It's not your fault and the operator knows and was probably caught in the same trap. I once worked with a jackass dp on a show who refused to believe that any fault lay anywhere but with me and the operator. The actress was rocketing out of a chair from 5 feet away and he wouldn't slow her down or change the shot no matter that she was going way faster than the dolly arm could. I had it wide open and it just couldn't keep up, so after 12 takes of this and the dp screaming louder and louder with each blown take, we finally got one that was passable but crappy. All he had to do was widen back a little so that we weren't right on top of her or ask her to take 10% off her move but he found it more constructive to simply scream at the operator and me. (On a happier note, his little tantrum (among others on that show) has since cost him at least one job with the producer who observed this tirade and refused to hire him again tee hee). Anyway, I digress. The main thing I want to get across for this shot is: watch the actors, not your marks
Posted by D at 11:36 AM

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Upcoming Topics

Hi everyone! I've kind of taken a break from really technical things regarding our field recently because I was a little low on material. Si has sent me some great pics of his set up and we'll be covering them in an upcoming post. Since I'm entering TV land, I want to get into more posts about do's and don't's of dance floor, coverage, nailing it with little rehearsal etc. I'm also in the process, with the "B" camera dolly grip, of deciding how to set up our equipment. My "B" guy is usually an "A" guy (he's Michael Mann's Dolly Grip), so I'm getting a lot of input from him and it's nice to have another Dolly Grip to bounce ideas off of. Meanwhile, I'm getting ready to head up to San Francisco for Christmas with the In-Laws and then to the South for a late Christmas with my parents and daughter. Everyone have a safe and happy holiday!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Day Playing

I filled in for CB today on his series. The cast and crew made me very welcome and it was a good day. Thanks to CB for the call. I had forgotten how free form tv is nowadays. There's no long discussion of each shot with a finder etc. This is a gesture, a couple of vague marks and lay a floor from which you pretty much shoot it on the fly. It was fun and helped me get my tv chops back. Everything is overs and dirty singles and split foreground overs and ups and downs on the fly. It was good to get back behind a dolly. CB is a Fisher user and he has the best Fisher arm I've ever had. You can tell he takes time to have it set up right. I'm not ready to give up my Hustler or anything, but it was a sweet arm to use. The B camera Dolly Grip is a guy who has been an "A" guy for years and I have known his name forever but had never met him in person and he was a huge help today, coming in, as I was, not knowing any of the grips or where anything is and he was a pleasure to work with. I did know a few of the AD staff from the movie I did in Boston earlier this year and the operator is an old friend I've done six pictures with so it was like a reunion.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

More Great Work

Before we were thrown off course by the tragic events in Mumbai (See the post "Mumbai"), I had solicited all you Dolly Grips for some clips of work you are particularly proud of. Onno sent me this link to a great clip from a commercial. If whoever did this one is reading, speak up! I remember this one! Really nice dolly, crane, and, I assume, insert car work. Check it out at - When I started this blog I never really thought about how much response I would get from our European brothers, not to mention those in Australia, New Zealand, and India.
This link may be a two-for-one. When I watched it, it was preceded by a trailer from The Day the Earth Stood Still on which our friend Gil, of GI Track, was the Dolly Grip. It has some nice moves in it. So the call still goes out. I haven't heard from my co-administrator Azurgrip or many others of you. Scour Youtube for movies you've done. This is a chance for you to shine a little in front of your peers. If I don't start getting submissions, I'll start putting my own crap up, and nobody wants that.

On the work front, we have a camera test on Friday and start shooting the second week in January. It goes nine months (barring a SAG strike), but I'll see if I can last that long on episodic. It's a vampire show (aren't they all nowadays) so you know what that means.
Good luck everyone and send in those clips. I'm also looking on Youtube myself for movies that those of you I know have done that have really good work in them so don't be surprised if you see familiar (to you) stuff here. Stay safe.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Great Post and My Week of Rigging

Go on over to Blood, Sweat, and Tedium ( and read Michael's great post on his first dolly job (which reminds me a lot of my first dolly job). It will bring a smile to your face and you may laugh out loud. The guy makes me want to be a better writer.
Much like Michael's fish out of water tale of dollies, I spent the week (and will spend the next two) rigging the stage for the series I start in January. This type of thing happens from time to time. The Key Grip, who knows damn well I'm not a rigger, will call me up and offer a couple of weeks of prep work if I have nothing else going on. As we are in the middle of the pre-holiday slow down, I gladly take it, knowing that, for me, rigging means I'll be bolting truss together, looking through crates of ageing steel hardware looking for some species of clamp I haven't seen, much less had occasion to use in over 15 years, and standing on the ground looking up, mouth agape and waiting to tie something on a rope so they can pull it up. Most set grips will tell you that riggers are a different breed. They're mostly tattooed, smoking, and listeners of bands with names like Rancid or Lucifer. When you watch these guys scramble around on the perms, 50 feet over a concrete floor, you gain a lot of respect for them. They are meticulous in their craft. "No, the shackle goes that way." "No, run the span set around that way." "No, the bolt goes down." These are the phrases that are directed at me most days. They are zeroed in on the most minute details of the placement of every piece of rigging they install. They have to be. It only takes one mistake to send thousands of pounds crashing down on someone's head. I always feel kind of awkward around them. Especially when I'm up in the catwalk having instructions barked at me, knowing the 20- something juicers nearby are thinking, "Oh look they're breaking in another rookie."
All of this is magnified by the fact that I hate prep. I also hate wrap. It just seems endless and mind numbing. I'm grateful for the work, but I don't have to like it. The never ending search for a drill bit, or a 9/16ths driver, or waiting for the shipment of foam core to come in so you can finish whatever project you started yesterday and should have finished by now just wears me down. Knowing that sometime this week I will be involved in the skinning of 60 4x4 empty frames doesn't inspire me much. But I am learning a lot of things I had forgotten about the basics of grip stage rigging. I hadn't hung a chain motor in years, so it's good to get requainted with the proper way to do it from someone who knows their stuff. So riggers, I salute you and I can't wait until you show up as a dayplayer.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Little Under the Weather

I'm hacking my way through a cold I caught at the stage I've been working in, so posting is a little slower than usual. I haven't been sick in years but I'm down for a few days. Also, Alabama lost to Florida for the college football SEC Championship so I'm mad about that.

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!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Decisions, Decisions

I just got offered a (very popular) series for next year. Well, sort of. I'll just say my presence was requested by the DP and Key Grip depending on some other factors over which none of us have control. It's a pretty cool show. It's very popular. It'll probably run for years. The Key Grip is one of my oldest friends and I've known the DP for years and have immense respect for him.They're the kind of guys you like going to work with every day. And I kind of want to do it. The main problem? It'll take me out of feature work for 6 months. I'm a feature guy. Oh, I've done the odd series season here and there in between and of course started out on TV, but for the most part I've been a feature guy for the twenty odd years I've been doing this. I like features. They're usually high profile and you're in a different place most days (maybe even a different state or country). Series work tends to be a little more of a grind. It's the old "two days in the stage and four days out" routine that tends to get a little monotonous after a couple of months and after a while the days all run together like the lines on a highway after a 12 hour road trip. I did a season (ok half a season) of a show a few years ago (a show that's still on) and we shot in an FBI office set that I could almost literally use the same marks on for every other episode. After a while, there are only so many ways to shoot on the same set, so I was practically laying track before the shot was even blocked. There's also the inevitable call that I always get when I'm already booked on something. "Hey D, we've got a show. A month in New York and two months in Berlin. Your rate is 2 dollars over scale and they're going to toss in a 250.00 a week box rental." (Like I said, these calls always come when I'm booked, so I never actually DO them.)I've said it for years, "Some Dolly Grips go to Italy, I go to Mississippi." On the other hand, a 6 month run of steady employment would be very nice. It would allow me to do some things I've been putting off (you know, bucket list kinds of things) so, depending on rate etc., I am leaning toward it. Also, when you've been on a show for long time, the cast and crew become like a second family. A sense of comeraderie and pride in your show develops that's pretty cool to be a part of that doesn't generally come with feature work. (Or sometimes it goes the other way and after three months you want to flay everyone you see, but this tends to be on particularly grueling shows involving 14 hour days and a lot of night work). I think the definition of growing up is when you start to do things that are better for your family than for yourself, and that's another reason I'm leaning towards it.
Oh well, so I've got some thinking to do and though I haven't been given a formal invitation yet and the rate is still in question, right now it sounds like a pretty good thing (depending on the rate). I would welcome any input you TV guys have out there. Having not done a full season since, oh 1994, I'm a little removed from that long of a stretch. Especially if you've gone from features to TV. How do you like it? Is it challenging? Do you miss feature world?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Class is Over

I just finished my Advanced Rigging class (2 days, 6 hours each). For those of you not in a West Coast local, a few years back all the studios got together and decided that the techs who worked on their shows needed some kind of official safety training. The result was the safety passport training program. It's a series of classes offered to below-the-line employees that are required within a certain amount of time to remain elegible to work. You get a nifty little "passport" and a new sticker in it for every class you complete. Right off the bat, the grips and electrics had a whole battery of classes they had to finish before a certain date. Things like High Fall Protection and Aerial/Scissor Lift Rigging. Even Script Supervisors and DP's had a series of classes to take. Mostly things like Hazard Communication and General Safety. I actually think that in spirit it's a good idea. In execution, however, it sometimes gets a little dicey. Things taught in one class are refuted in another. Some things they teach you to do are entirely unsuited for the film industry. These classes also led to a large number of sightings of grips and electrics driving condors with a harness on and the basket three feet off the ground. I'll never forget during a condor rigging class, the instructor informed us that no one was ever to be under a condor with a 12x12 frame rigged on it. He then proceeded to show us the proper way to rig a frame horizontally off the basket to be deployed over the set. I asked about the incongruity of this and was told not to ask. The Advanced Rigging Class I finished today, though, was really well taught and I learned way more than I ever wanted to about rigging. We had mathematical formulas for calculating center of gravity and sling angles and wind resistance. I did trigonometry for the first time in years (and was as bad as I remember). I really enjoyed our instructor and came away with a new respect for Key Riggers. Generally, we enter these classes under protest and groan through them as we're taught things we've been doing twenty years. But we also learn the things we've been doing wrong for twenty years, which is a little jarring. Anyway, to recap, the classes are a good idea, just a little disjointed in how they fit together. Maybe this will help get the grips out of the "unskilled labor" category. For those of you who haven't taken the latest one, you have until November 30 and they are filling up.
By the way, Michael over at is running a great series on making a pilot from the ground up. Check it out.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Votes Are In

Results of the crane operation poll are in and I'm happy to see the sightline users won by a heavy margin. This goes along with my opinion I've stated many times- you don't need all the technical crap that so many people use to be an effective dolly grip. It takes your attention away from what's going on in the scene and what the actors are doing. Of course I use monitors on occasion, they're a great tool. But will you be able to hit a spot when the monitor goes out?

I'm Back

I'm back from a long weekend in Lake Tahoe for a birthday party which led directly into two nights on a commercial. (Hi Dino, it was nice to meet you. Welcome).
Someone had asked a while back that I do a post on having cameras directly overhead. This is a great idea for a post especially since I saw it asked just a couple of days ago on some other production related site.
Always safety the camera when it is on a crane. Now, usually the head techs, if you have a Libra or some other such head that comes with a tech, will safety it themselves with a hard mount safety. This is fine and you're covered in this instance. However, always make sure the matte box and any shade or eyebrow type device is safetied. These things are usually the first to go, so just run some bailing wire through them and make sure they stay put. You don't usually have to physically safety the head to the crane. A castle nut with a few taps from a hammer or a wrench on it isn't going anywhere, but always keep your eyes open. In the instances where the head tech doesn't have a safety, or you don't have a head tech, get yourself a daisy chain (long piece of webbing sewn into a line of loops so you can make it any length) and a couple of caribeaners and run a safety from the camera to the head. Each camera is different but they sall generally use support rods for the lenses, have a handle on top, and a few have some 3/8 threaded holes in them for rigging possibilities. If there's a threaded hole in a handle etc. you can screw in a screw eye and safety through that. Generally, Arris and Moviecams tend to have lots of neat little holes to screw in something in to tie off to. If there's not any (Panavision sometimes doesn't give you much to work with), you have to get creative. Usually, I put a choke on the rods as close to the camera body as I can get and run from there to the handle and put a second choke on it and from there to the crane (or head). You have to be careful how you run it to make sure it doesn't interfere with the movement of the head.
When you're not on a crane, sometimes you have to safety a camera that is on a dolly looking straight down over an actor. I usually will safety these too. (I say usually because you have to look at each situation and see what the dangers are) You can drop a line from the perms or grid if you're on stage, or even set up a "goalpost" over the camera with a couple combos and some speedrail and go from that. Like I said, you have to assess the risks for each shot and decide what the dangers are. You don't have to safety the the thing every time it's four feet off the ground, but if it's six or seven, and shooting straight down on an O'Connor, you might need to.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I'm so sorry that you haven't seen me around here in a while. Been spending my nights with zombies (can't say much more than that as the confidentiality forms are longer than the deal memo itself) and have turned into one myself.

Haven't had much to report in the last while either, but something did cross my mind while on set the other night. We here in Toronto have safety bulletins attached to the call sheet whenever doing or using potentially dangerous equipment (IE: stunts, pyro, camera cars, water safety, camera cranes, etc).

These bulletins have been around a while and most shows now don't even include them, merely make note of the bulletin numbers.

So, most crew people are either really tunnel visioned into their own jobs or are really comfortable around big pieces of equipment.

I'm working a 50ft TechnoCrane and cleared enough space around to be able to walk around what was set up.

Why do everyone feel the need to walk under 3000lbs + of metal that could move and crush them at anytime?

Now, I'd be horse if I bothered to scream at all these coworkers (including the producer that's footed the bill for production insurance...) and I don't want to deliberately knock someone unconscious.

This falls a little outside the questioning operators who jumps off cranes. Any experiences? Thoughts? Suggestions?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Running Off The Rails

We've all done it. It's not something to be proud of, but you wear it like a scar or a bad tattoo. It usually starts with a pretty long move, something 30 feet or longer. Thrown in are a few contributing factors; a fast subject like a dog or car, wet grass, an overconfidence in your capabilities. All these factors mix together and kick in to cause what accident investigators call an event cascade. One thing leads to another and suddenly you're hurtling toward the last four feet of track way too fast as you desperately try to find traction on the slippery ground. Your last thought may be, "Oh #$$#!", or "I should have made that 8' a 10'." I'm speaking of course of running off the track.
There are really two ways it happens. Either you just forget where the end is as you're focusing on the action and the back or front just drops off with an unsettling clunk, or, and this is my favorite, you shoot off the end like a rocket sled. I'm usually good for a drop off on pretty rare occasions. I've only done the more spectacular finish once or twice. The one that comes to mind, and I can still see it as if it were yesterday, was on a movie several years ago in Mississippi. We were shooting in a cemetary at night. It had rained all week and the grass was soaked. As I recall, I had a rather swift pullback with Enzo, the Jack Russell Terrier who worked with his brother Moose on Frazier. I had plenty of track and never really gave it a second thought. Man that dog was fast. The start and middle part of the move were great. Then I realized I couldn't stop and 700 lbs of dolly and operator and Panaflex were airborne like they had been shot out of a cannon. I think I got three cusswords out before they even hit the ground. It was an awkward hour or two after that. Luckily, we had set up across the street from a local crack den. It seems that a couple of 18ks in condors,light balloons, and 200 crew members with cameras are an effective deterrent to the drug trade. So the understandably irritated dealers decided to take a couple of shots at us and immediately gave me and everyone else something new to think about. That's the most memorable one for me. Since then, I've really only clunked off the end a couple times. And no, I don't want a cardellini on the end of the track unless it's more than a foot or so off the ground. I did replace a guy one time who ran off the track twice in one day. I think both of his were of the more spectacular version of dismount though. Now that guy might want a cardellini.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Just Added Twitter

I'm just trying it out and it probably won't stay on here. Getting ready for a wrap party.
Dan- I got your email but had my replies returned. I think (from reading the technical mumbojumbo that came back to me, that your inbox is full.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Votes Are In

The polls are closed on the "What Do You Work On" poll. Television and features are tied, with commercials edging them out by one. Music videos, which most of us do every now and then in the down time, attracted one vote. Thanks for participating. It helps me get a picture of who's out there.
My feature goes another 4 days and then it's done. I start a 3 week pilot around mid- October and then I got nothing lined up. I imagine we will soon be entering the Holiday slowdown which usually lasts until February.
I read an interesting news report about a huge motion picture union strike in India. As you probably know, India produces more movies than any other country. Apparently, techs had been working up to 30 hour days in some cases, which has my longest day beat by about 2 hours. Maybe Gripworks can fill us in on the details.
The job I'm on (for the last 3 months) has involved a large amount of Techno work. Weve had the 30' every day as well as appearances by the 15' and the 50'. We noticed early on a propensity the Libra head had to vibrate when at a 45 degree angle from the arm on a scope move. This caused no end of headaches and discussions. The Libra just has a "dead" spot where this phenomenon occurs although it has seemed worse on this job than most. We tried switching out arms and heads but got the same result and according to both head techs, it's just something the Libra folks haven't quite beaten yet. I've used the Libra many times over the years and have never noticed it (other than the normal occasional glitches and buzzes the head goes through every now and then). About a week ago, we switched the arm out again on the 30' and I ended up with one of those tight "frictiony" arms that pans as if the brakes are on. This has always been my complaint about Technos in general is that every one I get seems to have a lot of resistance on the pan, making it hard to finesse a move. The one we started out the show on, though, was sweet. You could pan it with your pinky and it was a pleasure to use. The replacement was crap. Pan it and stop it and it would settle back. Anyway, enough of my complaining. I'm off tonight while they're pre-lighting, so I'll be around.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

For the New Grips

I've been getting a lot of comments and emails from young grips just starting out which I'm kind of surprised about. I haven't seen many young grips starting out in the last few years and wondered if people just weren't going into it anymore. So here are some general tips from my own experience and from working with younger grips:
Ask questions. Don't act like you already know everything because if you're 22, we know you're lying and it just makes us want to screw with you.
Keep your dialogue to a minimum. Chatterboxes just get on our nerves.
Watch and know where your Key is at all times. If you see him or the DP waving their arm in front of a light, get a stand and flag ready to run in. You'll eventually get to a point where you'll know what a light needs when you see it, but not in a year.
Be on time. Better yet, be 30 minutes early.
You'll be the victim of some good natured (and some just nasty) jokes. Laugh louder than anyone. They're testing you.
Setting a flag isn't generally a two man (or three man) job.
Deferred pay is slang for "free." You'll probably do a freebie or two (I did). Treat them as a learning experience and chance to practice. Don't believe that crap about paying you when they make money. They're full of it.
The long, low paying crappy movies you slave on now will make some of the best stories and memories later. It won't last forever and no, there really isn't a difference in how huge movies are run. The pay is better, there are more toys to play with, and you'll rub elbows with bigger names, but the process is the same. It'll just take 4 months instead of 3 weeks. Now is the time to learn, while the stakes are lower. And you won't learn it all in a couple of shows. Gripping involves a lot of things; rigging, lighting, construction, engineering, camera movement, safety, and a little art mixed in. You want to learn as much as you can now so when you're on the 120 million dollar picture with Brad Pitt and Vilmos Zsigmond, you'll know what you're doing. You'll find a niche that suits you. I'm not a rigger. I can bolt truss together and build a car mount but I can't walk on a stage and know where and how the truss goes (well, I could, but just not as well as a Key Rigger.) You might want to be a Key Grip, Dolly Grip, Rigging Grip, Best Boy, or stay a Set Grip. But you'll generally find yourself gravitating to a certain area of expertise.
Join the union. No matter what your politics are, in the US at least, you'll need the turnaround, overtime, and insurance protection they provide. Plus, all the big movies are union. There's nothing wrong with low budget indies if that's your taste, but if you want to do bigger budget work, you'll need to work toward this. I was non-union for a while at the beginning and resisted, but eventually got in and my career got immediately better.
Allright boys and girls, stay at it and drop a line every now and then.

New Video Added...

Orson Welles' Touch of Evil kicks off with a spectacular crane shot lasting over three minutes. It was probably the inspiration for Robert Altman's opening shot in The Player. Watch and learn.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Yeah. I Can Do That.

As an admirer of Michael Taylor's writing, 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.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Straightening the Tires Etc.

One of the comments to the last post of tips (I think it was Southern Grip) mentioned using a 4' level to align your wheels before a dance floor move. This is a great technique that I've somehow forgotten to mention. Every dolly skews around to some extent. It depends on weight distribution, where you are pushing from, and how far your move is. Chapman dollies have friction tabs instead of positive wheel locks like Fishers. You generally keep the lines on the tabs in line with the lines on the wheels from center steer position and they work fine. To get a little more true alignment, however, it's a good idea to use a level (or any straight edge at least 4' long. Put the dolly in center steer locked position, loosen the tabs on one side of the dolly, press your level firmly against the outside flat face of the wheels, lock the tabs when they're aligned and repeat for the other side. You'll find that this does a great job of lining them up and tracking will improve (as much as it's gonna). Always ask for some extra shims for the tabs from Chapman or the rental house too. The tabs tend to loosen up over time and the slightest bump will throw them out of alignment. Removing the top plate of the tabs and shimming them will tighten them up.
I love the "tips" posts just for the fact that they generate so much response. Some agree, and some disagree, but at least everyone talks and we can all learn a few things. If you have any tips that you use, either email them to the address above, or leave them in the comments and I'll post some of them.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

(Advanced) More Tips For New Dolly Grips

Always add at least 4 feet to what you think you need.
If in doubt, on carpet, double lay it,
If your dolly's not working right, call the company. Make them figure it out.
Under 50 mm, you're probably fine. Over 50 mm, use skates.* See the update below.
When in doubt, call for it ( I know the guys are tired. I'm tired too) Don't be afraid to call for what you need. Even at the end of a 16 hour day.
Above all else, make your operator comfortable. It will get you jobs in the future. And it's your job.
Don't be afraid to say "No" if something's dangerous. It's not worth your career or someone's life.
The eyepiece is always on the left. (Most of you know what I mean).
Know your heads (O'Connor etc).
Always mark the front wheel.
Keep the tanks full. Running out of juice before a big move is a novice move. It has happened to all of us, but keep an eye on your pressure.
An O'Connor head is 14" from base to lens. Factor it in.
A monitor will not make you a good Dolly Grip.

*Update- I wrote this when I was primarily using steel track. It's nearly impossible to get decent steel track anymore and when I wrote this it was true (and still is for steel). Generally, any of the aluminum I-beam tracks, GI Track, FilmAir, etc are good enough that you may only rarely have to use skates anymore.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Onno at Solid Grip Systems will have a booth at Cinec in Munich. He'll be showcasing his Trussdolly system as well as some other gadgets he's come up with to make all our working lives more interesting. If you're going, swing by and have a look.
Onno also asked what kinds of things we as Dolly Grips would like to see. If you have any ideas, leave them in the comments.

Udate- I had the link for Cinec here, but it turns out to be a wine forum (I think. It's in German) I'll get the correct one up when I can. You can also find the link to Solid Grip Systems in the "links" section.

Votes Are In

And the Fisher 10 wins by one. It was neck and neck between the Hybrid and Fisher 10 until the end. The Hustler 4 got only 3 votes, and one of those was mine, suggesting that a lot of you just haven't used it yet.
The second unit goes on and we're having a great time. Meanwhile, feature work seems to have slowed to the point where tier 2 crap is all that's shooting. I got called to do a show,(actually a sequel to a movie I did almost nine years ago) and they offered me a dollar an hour less than I made on the original. I appreciated the offer but said no thank you. The price of everything but dolly moves has apparently gone up. By the way, the original made hundreds of millions of dollars.
You know what guys? Sooner or later we just have to say no and make them get what they pay for- a person with experience equal to the price they're offering. Otherwise, it will just keep going down. Then, when they're a week behind and the operator is pulling his hair out, they'll either have to come up with the money or muddle through. I'm sure they'll muddle through, but the point is that they get what they pay for. I got offers earlier this year for two movies where they got what they paid for, and then two weeks into shooting realized that the dolly grip was in over his head. This led to frantic phone calls trying to find a Dolly Grip who could do a compound move. On at least one of them, they weren't able to find anyone because by that time nobody was available. I don't know what happened with the other one.
I understand that paying bills takes precedence, and believe me, I've done more than one ball-buster at a crappy rate just to make the mortgage. But don't take the crappy rate if you don't have to just to keep working. Say, "No thank you, my rate is ______." and sit back and see what happens.
Meanwhile, my job goes to October 6 and then I've got nothing.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Dolly Grip Makes Good

An old friend of mine who was a dolly grip for years is now an author. His new novel Based on the Movie (which I picked up at Borders) is a dolly grip's story.
I worked with Billy Taylor about 17 years ago when I was still a young hammer and he was an experienced Dolly Grip. He is a great guy and has written an interesting and enjoyable novel. It tells the story of Billy Conlon, a Dolly Grip whose wife has just left him for a hot young director. It very funnily chronicles his subsequent drunken binges and dependence on Xanax even as he finds himself having to save the disaster of a movie he's pushing dolly on when the same young director is brought in to finish it. You'll recognize a lot of the situations and appreciate a lot of the predicaments he finds himself in. Check it out.

Don't Forget to Vote

In the "dolly of choice poll", that is. I was curious who likes what, so I added a little poll to the right. I know, the Hybrids and Hustlers are really for two different location situations, but some people just prefer the Hybrid in any situation. So let us know what you like.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Great Post on Hollywood Juicer

Check out this week's post on It concerns the move to renegotiate the IA contract that HBO has been beating the crap out of us with for years. This contract was awarded to HBO when they were starting to do their own original programming and we threw them a bone. Now, they're a powerhouse, yet still working under the same low rent contract. Check out the post and sign the petition to the IA.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Things Are Slow

I'm not sure what's going on in the business right now, but from all I can gather, things are slow in the feature world in LA. Two friends of mine are working in Detroit (the latest winner in the incentives race). Personally, I've been offered, and then lost two shows in the last month when they went away. One was in Atlanta and one was in Detroit. The Detroit one disappeared when the producers apparently didn't turn in their paperwork on time for the incentives and lost them. They then decided to move the show to LA and shoot it as a "tier 3" production (think $19.00 an hour to key) My Key Grip told them they'd be doing it "MOU" (Mit out us). The other one just disintegrated when the director got fired. I'm fortunate enough to be working on one of the two studio features shooting in LA right now. It's a mixed blessing, however, because it's second unit and has quite a few down days while we wait for first unit to finish a particular stage or actor. So, I'm in the midst of an eight day layoff and the phone ain't ringing. Not for features, anyway. Television is going gangbusters though. Those same guys we felt sorry for when all us feature guys were working and they were off, during the writer's strike, are now passing us on their way to work as we walk to the mailbox. It is one of the most fun second units I've ever done though. We've had a Techno almost every day (if not two), and are doing actual scene work as opposed to just inserts of radio knobs or POV's of guns. I've made an uneasy truce with my dolly and am starting to get the feel for it. It had been a good ten years since I'd pushed a Fisher and was not happy at first, but it's getting a little better as I get reaquainted with it. The grips are all top notch and we have a good time. I probably have a better time than they do though as I watch them haul 40x40 greenscreens up to the perms.
I am getting some commercial calls and picked up a few days during this hiatus, but I need a full on first unit feature for about 4 months.
We go until October 6, and then who knows?

I Won the Contest

I won the "Best Wrap Party" story over at Script Goddess ( with my intoxicating tale of a night many years ago when I was much younger and hangovers didn't take three days to recover from. Check out her site and learn about the mysterious world of the Script Supervisor (a Dolly Grip's best friend).

Saturday, August 23, 2008


The new website for Supersliders is up at Check it out!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Quick Reference for Searchers

I can tell what a lot of people are searching for when they find this site from a search engine by checking my stats. To aid some of them and save them some time, read this...

You can't buy a Fisher or Chapman dolly, they are only rented.

There is nothing about Dolly Parton on this site (But maybe there should be).

The link for Doggiecam is to the right in the links section.

There is nothing meaningful about the Wally Dolly on here. I've never used it but it's Australian.

Key Grips on larger budget films make anywhere from 35.00 to 40.00 an hour. (In the US). Email me if you want to know general dolly rates. I'm not going into it here.

There's nothing on here about making dolly track out of PVC or making your own dollies.

I don't bad mouth people or productions on here. If I have a story to tell, I'll generalize it so that you can't tell who it is, but you'll get the point I'm making.

Dolly Grips deliver camera movement in the motion picture industry. We rig cameras on objects and keep camera crews safe.

Deferred Payment is a way to get you to work for free and make the producer feel better. You won't get paid. It's a scam.

There is nothing about moving furniture on this site.

I hope this saves some time for those who accidentally stumble on this page. You are still welcome to look around.
There is another new post below this one. It's two-For-One-Day!

Race Between the States

Hi all. Not much going on here this week. The SAG strike/non strike seems to still have most people in a state of confusion, me included. But work continues and there's no strike as of yet. I was suppose to be off for most of the week, but will be shooting some tests for a couple of days.

I keep hearing that the rest of the year will be busy. Around the country, Shreveport appears to be ramping up. Michigan is busy. And Atlanta, which just passed a hefty tax incentive package is poised to get busy. So continues the neverending race by the states to see who can pass the most giveaways to entice producers to shoot in their state. In a lot of ways, this is a good thing. In many of these states, the local technician pool just can't support two or three productions, so that means a rate and housing/ per diem for the rest of us. I benefitted quite well last year (Connecticut, Shreveport) and this year (Massachusetts) from this situation.What can get comical about this is the insistance by producers that you hire non-existent locals to crew up. We ran into this situation last year in Shreveport. With three other productions going on, the people just weren't there. Yet the producers insisted on hiring locals. Acording to the Best Boy, the conversation went something like this...Producer: "We want you to hire locals." Best Boy: "There aren't any. They are all working." Producer: I know, but we want you to hire locally." Best Boy: Yes, we understand, but there aren't any more." Producer: "Yes, but to maximize our tax breaks, we're going to need you to hire some local technicians." Best Boy: "If they aren't working right now, there's a reason. We can't find any more. There are three other shows right now." Producer: "We need you to hire locals." This supposedly went on for another 20 minutes or so.
Later, when one of the locals we did hire almost got run over by a bus he was lying under and another couldn't figure out how to open the does- all cart (lift the latch), more outside techs were brought in. This is a generalization and the order of events may not be exactly correct, but it all happened.
Here's the thing, I was a local on the East coast for years. I know what it's like and the good ones who are there will be the first to tell you when there aren't any more. I don't know if the local Film Commission is fudging the numbers when they tell the studios about the crew base or what, but many times they arrive in Ball Ground, Georgia or Natchitoches, La thinking the place is crawling with out of work top -of -the- line grips and juicers. And the deals they offer to bring you in are even more hilarious sometimes. Producer: "We'll give you 25.00 and hour and 100.00 a week living allowance. Best Boy: "That's against union rules and we wouldn't work for that anyway." Producer: "OK, how about 200.00 a week box rental and 28.00 an hour and you join the union there (we know a guy) and work as a local?" Best Boy: uhh No. Producer: "I'm sorry, but the prices you are asking are way out of line for _____________." Best Boy: "Well we're not from ____________. We can stay home and make our rate and go home every night."
Producer: "Allright, I'll pay your rate but you have to hire the locals that aren't working on the other four movies here in ______________." Best Boy: "There aren't any locals."
You can imagine the stories we tell.
So wherever you end up this coming year, be safe, have fun, and save your per diem.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Checking In

Still on 2nd Unit although we've shut down for a few days (I guess to let 1st unit catch up-ha ha) We move along pretty fast. Chris, who has written to the site several times, was working on the Sony lot on a commercial and stopped by to say hi, although we only had time to shake hands and say "Hi." It was good to see him. That's one great thing about starting this site is that I've made friends with a lot of Dolly Grips and Grips I otherwise might have never met. Dolly Grips by design rarely work together, but are starting to fraternize more than they used to. It's starting to be seen as more of a specialized craft than just something some guy bumps up to to get the rate, at least in my opinion, and the more we all communicate the better it will get.
I'm using a Fisher 10 on this one and as most of you know I'm not a regular user. The DP chose it before I got there though and I'm stuck with it. Other than his taste in dollies, which I have yet to bring up to him, he's a good guy, though , and I like him a lot. This dolly, though, is going to be the death of me. I had a push in and boom down on a doorknob the other night on a 65mm at about 4 ft to 3 ft with about 2" depth of field and it was a trial to feather the stop on the boom down. I remembered something from my earlier days on the Fisher, however, when someone told me to use the whole forearm rather than the wrist which should dampen it a little. I'm just used to the immediate feedback from the arm on a Hustler/Hybrid that you don't get with the 10.
Chris, it was good to meet you in person. If any other of you are on the lot in the next few weeks, please stop by and say hi.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Rocket Cars and Technocranes

Hey everyone,
Still on 2nd unit. Had a lot of fun tonight with the Griptrix camera car. We mounted a 15' Techno on it and raced down the stage following Tom Hanks. We also had the 50' Techno on a 20' platform swinging around above us, so it was a chaotic day. Herb Ault himself came in and drove the car and it was a pleasure to work with him (for those of you who don't know, Herb is John Toll's Key Grip).
We just got a set of the new Fisher skates delivered. I haven't put a dolly on them yet. I looked at them and just from that I think the wheels are too soft. They are certainly sexy looking, but I don't think they'll withstand a long period of sitting still before flat spots become a problem. I'll let you know after I get a dolly on them. The wheels come with a set of inserts for the 11 (god forbid) and are really nicely machined.
I hope you all are staying busy and safe.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Skate Wheels Etc,

Hi guys,
I'm still on nights so posts are a little skimpy. A discussion was started on skate wheels in the comments of the last post. Continue it here if you like. For newcomers, the older posts tackle everything from dance floor to Lambda Heads so if you're looking for info on these subjects, try the older posts. At some point , I will go in and rename and categorize them better so that it's easier to find a specific topic. The floor's open, I'm going to work so talk about whatever.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

2nd Unit Cont'd....

30' Techno, 50' Techno, 3 cameras, 300 extras. But it went really well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

2nd Unit

I start a second unit tomorrow night on a very large movie. It's with a Key Grip and DP I've never worked with. The Best Boy is an old friend of mine who called me for the gig. Anyway, I always dislike starting from scratch with guys I don't know and who don't know me. The first day is always like an audition. I always fear the infrequent but occasional personality clash (which has actually only really happened once in 20 years, but is always a possibility). A buddy of mine was supposed to push on it but decided he didn't want to be locked in to a 2nd unit for 3 months. I'll take it cause I've got nothing steady until possibly October anyway.
One of the music videos I did about 3 weeks ago is giving us money problems. They only sent half of what they owe and supposedly will send the rest later this week. I smell a rat. What is it with these guys? They made the budget and hired the crew and they decided to shoot a 16 and then a 20 hour day and now they don't have the money (or decency) to pay what they owe? I have never understood this mentality which seems to run rampant in the world of music videos. If we were plumbers and they didn't pay us they would expect to be taken to court (or the parking lot) immediately. But since it's the film business they think we're somehow so priviledged to work on their crap that they can't pay us the full amount even after a month? Gee, I wonder if the director got paid? If you want to hire people for free or only pay half of what you owe, take that crap to craigslist.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

To Connect or Not To Connect

I've been working lately as a third, partly to get a little time away from the sled (and it's fun to set flags, something I had forgotten), and partly just because I'm in between jobs and I still have to make a mortgage payment. During this time, I've had a chance to observe other Dolly Grips at work, something I haven't had a chance to really do in quite a while.
I know a lot of you are of the "don't connect the track until it's level" school and that's cool. Everybody's got their system. After our earlier discussion, I thought I was in the minority because I actually connect it (preboxing is the key) and then level, usually by eye on long runs. A lot of guys still connect it first. I think it's about half and half. It's interesting to see the different ways guys have of laying track. A good friend of mine, who is presently pushing on Terminator 4 has recently gone to the dark side and switched to colored pads rather than wedges. I don't even want to know what he does first as I have disowned him and no longer speak to him (of course, I'm kidding). I'm just afraid he'll bring it up in one of our frequent phone conversations and it will get....awkward.
By the way. If you've been behind the dolly for 10+ years, and you go back to set gripping, it hurts. I'm not 25 anymore. Although I still try to throw a sandbag on my shoulder and grab a Mombo (stupid). My left arm will never be the same.
I remember, when I was a very young and virile grip, being proud of the fact that I could pick up a stack of 10 c-stands and carry it. If I saw someone doing that today I would berate them extensively. This reminds me of a story.......
When I was in high school I worked as a laboror for a brick and block mason. I weighed all of 140lbs soaking wet and got a daily ass kicking. Years later, I was a successful Dolly Grip and during some down time decided it might be fun to go back out on a Saturday and stack some brick. So, I called my old boss (whom I hadn't spoken to in 10 years) and asked him if I could come out and play. Bad move. I soon remembered why I had abandoned a career in the masonry arts. That's a little what I feel like now when I show up with my girly tool belt (yes, as discussed earlier, it's my wife's belt) as a dayplayer and all the regulars are asking, "Who's this guy?" Anyway, I have had the pleasure of watching some really old school Dolly Grips and I'm always up to learn a new trick or two.

PS- I tried carrying ten c-stands and one of the guys, who couldn't have been more than 25, berated me. (There's nothing quite like being yelled at by a 25 year-old who was still trying to get a date to his 6th grade Valentines dance when you were carrying c-stands).

Find a Door and Stand In It

Ever been to Vegas? There is a phenomenon that goes on there that I like to call the "moving block." It consists of crowds of tourists walking slowly through the casinos in throngs that take up the entire walkway as they stare about slackjawed. It is maddening. This phenomenon has a similar effect seen in film companies sometimes. Usually it shows up in one of two groups: extras, or directors and actors (there is a subgroup consisting of hair, makeup, and wardrobe and actors that I'll just assume is part of the larger groups for brevity's sake.) We've all been there. The 1st AD yells "Grip and electric's set!" then instead of actually making this so, the director decides to have a motivation conference with actors in the center of the room. Or, the extras wander aimlessly in clusters of befuddled wonderment at the frantic energy exploding around them. They seem to be deaf to calls of "Move or bleed," "Free dental work," or the ever popular, "Get the ##$& out of the way!" They'll even watch you, dumbstruck as you close in on them with a ten foot steel piece of track, wide eyed, yet unmoving as you approach.
After a couple of minutes (and a close call or two) I go to the 1st AD, who's merrily recounting some bit of tomfoolery with his 2nd and ask him to please remove the unnecessary personnel from the set. This usually works as he suddenly snaps awake and realizes that this is eating into his schedule. Unbelievably, there have been times when even this didn't work, at which point I start proclaiming loudly, "Double time's coming guys, this can take as long as you want it to." When this doesn't work, I simply go to my Key and explain the situation and tell him that I'll be sitting down on set until I have room to work without killing/maiming anyone with a piece of track. He will smile and nod. I'll pick a conspicuous place to sit down and invariably the 1st will spot me and ask if I'm laying track. I'll tell him I'm not doing anything until I have room to do it safely. This has always worked.
To me, apart from a safety issue, it's a matter of respect. When the actors and director are doing their thing I'm quiet, respectful and professional. I give them room to work. We should expect the same from them. Can you imagine who would get the boot if you happened to brain some actor in the head with an 8 footer because they were in your workspace?
Another favorite of mine is when the PA won't let you back on set. They've been told to guard the door and I've just run out to grab something and suddenly there's this 22 year old bruiser bodily stopping me (let me preface this by saying that PA's have a very difficult job and we'll all be working for them one day. I'm not talking about the veterans who are our best friends, but the newbies who haven't taken the time to learn to distinguish between the operator or dolly grip and the wandering extra) I try to explain nicely that I have to actually move the dolly during the shot and this has no effect. Depending on my mood, and what hour we're into, I'll give them a dismissive wave and brush them aside, or yell (I'm not proud of this one, but after 18 hours on day 5 you should know who everyone is).

Anyway, this is one thing that has driven me nuts for years so I thought I'd bring it up.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

ah - here we go...

Hopefully this is readable. You may not want to see the specs as it is a little mind blowing...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

An opportunity.

I've had an exchange of emails with Horst B over at TechnoCrane; he's looking into the future and is looking at the next great crane. They are hoping to start working on the prototype this fall with a roll out some time in late 2009...

The next beast? And I mean beast... the ST100. If I can I figure it out, I'll post the PDF he sent me with the specs they're hoping to deliver.

As it stands... 12' + of rise in the main column. At full stick, the top of the crane is 27' from the ground with a max lens height of 107' (!). Over 80' of travel on the arm alone!

Other than The Jolly Green Giant operating this behemoth, I can't wrap my head around how one would use this crane. What kind of base? You'd almost want to have it truck based (a la Titan).

In my conversations with Horst, he's graciously allowed me to bring the topic here and open it up to discussion. What would you like to see in Techno's next crane. Any suggestions on how to deal with the ST100 from an operator's point of view. Over time we can pull together thoughts and ideas and send them to Horst for review.

Monday, July 07, 2008

New Video

Check out the video called "My Russian Grips." I want to work with these guys. The other one just keeps popping up . It's a bunch of idiots jumping into thorns. I fear for the future of our country. I couldn't get it to go off, so you might as well watch it.

"Crane Operators"

I've noticed an interesting phemomenonon the internet over the last few years. There seems to be a train of thought (mostly among the uneducated on feature film production) that crane operators are a separate entity entirely from Dolly Grips. To demonstrate what I'm talking about, you can go to, type in "dolly grip" and then go to the discussions page. Granted, there are some operators such as "Jimmy Jib" guys who are their own thing. I've seen them on commercials and music videos and it's actually a relief to see them show up sometimes because they do it all themselves and it's a nice break. A jib isn't a crane though. I also noticed on an industry discussion board (mostly frequented by younger types still trying to break in) that another person who said she was a grip wanted to know how to become a crane operator and talked as if it were entirely separate from Dolly Gripping and even the Grip Dept. The only thing I can gather from all this is that these are people in another market than feature or television production (commercials, videos, etc). A lot of this also may have to do with the rise of the Technocrane and the techs who come with it. Some of them are very bad operators, and some are incredibly good. On commercials, a lot of times I, and other Dolly Grips I know will just let the techs do the move if we know them and know they're good. Movies are different, though. On a movie, I already have a relationship with the DP and director that will span a number of weeks or months. I'm familiar with their style and I also want to protect my moves (which sounds kind of strange, but you feature guys know what I mean). I was a little peeved at the Wikipedia page I mentioned before because one of the posts was left by someone who obviously had no concept of a Dolly Grip or the multiple abilities he or she brings to a production, and had apparently never seen one in action. I take pride (as all of you do) in being able to operate many types of platforms and being able to land a crane on a dime consistently. How many of us have "scraped the paint" on a car racing past or experienced that home run feeling when a camera lands at the exact split second on the exact inch of real estate we aimed for.
Dolly Grips and Crane Operators are one in the same.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Off Topic - Gear gone to Heaven

In a time long ago, I was a Key Grip. Pretty much a second rung guy, but still a medium sized fish in a medium sized pond. Out of all the gear I owned, my prized possession was my trailer. A 45ft moving trailer that I lovingly restored, added more belly bins to and was the talk of the town for a number of years. The photo is from the ad from which I found it. It was at the start of the move from rental house owned 5 & 10 ton trucks to personally owned trailers. Personal gear packages where and still are nowhere to be found, as no one has been able to compete with rental house prices & inventory, but trailers were one way one could make some money.

I took out my first loan (even prior to first house purchase) to purchase and outfit this trailer and was able to pay back the loan pretty quickly. That trailer was my workshop & my home away from home with a comfy office and bed for my lunch time naps. I always preferred to have a place to change into rain gear or cold weather gear without having to empty the truck first and maybe even a cold beverage at the end of the day.

As a grip, losing gear is frowned upon. It does happen - loaning your c-wrench to a locations PA to deal with propane heater tanks and never see him or the wrench ever again, or your personally painted pony clips showing up on electrician's belts all over town.

Fast forward a number of years later; the industry has taken a turn & times are tough. I've got a family & home. I'm forced to sell the trailer to a rental house who will give me the best bang for the buck. I keep an ear as to where and what the trailer is doing - it does one feature, then sits for the next year, which is not great for a trailer, so the rental house ditches it from it's inventory. I lost track of the trailer there.

Until over the weekend.

Five years later, I trip across my trailer! It's part of a traveling mall carnival. It's in pretty good shape. I couldn't get right in and see what condition was in, but it seemed to be more than road worthy.

Nice to see it's getting good use and in a "happy" place! My trailer had run off and joined the circus.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

CineGear 2008?

I have yet to come across on the Internet any type of posting relating to the show; either manufacturer's release or visitor's reviews.

Did anyone go this year? And if so, was there anything new to be seen?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Putting Back on the Tool Belt- The Aftermath

It wasn't as bad as it could have been. The best part was, I couldn't find the belt to go with my tool pouch so I found one of my wife's old belts (a rather girly camo number that goes great with designer jeans) and wore that. The first thing I told the Best Boy was, "No, this ain't my sister's belt, it's my wife's."
It was kind of fun to work the set again. It was just plain old nuts and bolts series shooting, like they've done for 50 years. Some other guy was tied to the dolly all night, so I set flags, carried sandbags, built 12x's, and sat by the carts. We started with 5 guys (one of them being a "permit") . But by lunch, two of them disappeared (I don't know where and didn't ask) so me and a buddy pretty much hauled ass after that for the rest of the night. We laid 100' of track and all I did was throw out wedges. That part was strange. The Key said they had more days coming up and to leave my number, but I don't think I want to do that on a regular basis. I'm too damn tired. I'm sick of getting laughed at because of my belt anyway.