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.