Friday, January 30, 2009

And the TV Award Goes To....

I've noticed some really nice work on tv lately. My tops for dolly work so far are...
Every shot is a dolly shot and they are all really fluid and even. A lot of the work on this show is unmotivated aesthetic movement. Knowing how a TV schedule works, I give this guy respect just for the sheer volume of set up and consistency he must deal with every day, and the ability to really pull a nice move out of every shot.
CSI:MIAMI: Really inventive work. All steady and nicely executed. A lot of pull out and boom up from under glass table type work. The kind of slick novelty shot type work that takes a pro to pull off on a TV schedule. Unless they're averaging 12 takes to a shot, this guy knows what he's doing.
LEVERAGE: The pilot was feature level work. Usually the subsequent episodes are more tightly scheduled and thus less inventive. I'm waiting to see how it pans out.
Now, with the constant reruns on A&E and TNT etc, I don't know which season some of these were (except for the new Leverage) so I may be looking at older shows.
None of these shows is the one I'm doing, and I don't personally know any of the guys doing them. (That was my little disclaimer) but it is dolly work that I have noticed as being really nicely done.
TV shows are a different breed than features. There's a lot more improvisation involved and a different director every week means you don't really get into a groove tha same as you do on a feature. You are also expected to nail it after one rehearsal and a take or two. This is part of the reason I like TV so much. It makes you a better dolly grip. You have one chance at set up and it better work. So, nice work guys. Keep it up.
On the other hand.. I've also seen some bad to awful work. "Steppy" shots. Shots that surge or stall. Compound moves that top off or bottom out in the last part of the move. Keeping in mind the tendency of editors to somehow use the one shot you don't want them to, I've looked for consistently bad work. No, I'm not going to mention the shows. We don't do that here. But they are out there. Come on boys, tighten up.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Another Creep

In keeping with the "Creep" theme: A little sideline story.

A slow creep is sometime referred to as "A Mickey Rooney".

A number of years ago I did a Xmas movie of the week with Mickey. We had a scene setup following Mickey as he's chased through a mall. About 100+ of rail with a push down following and doubling back with a close up of Mickey as he "ran" past camera. Thanks to setup time and Mickey, it had to be a one take wonder.

We did 10 plus rehearsals with Mickey's stand-in - for stunt player's timing (getting knocked off escalators, etc). Then Mickey came in and watched a rehearsal. At this point I'm winded. Mickey came over and proceeded to tell me to be on my toes as he was going to me twice as fast as his 70 year old stand-in - who was chugging pretty good through all the run thrus.

I sucked it up. I tensed up - "wound up the spring" and waited for "action!"

"Action" was called and I bolted like a gun had gone off. I looked ahead in the hopes that I could keep up with Mickey. He wasn't there. I looked back. There he was, waddling along as best he could, at about 20% speed of what we had rehearsed and I could see the sweat forming on his brow.

I burst in laughter. I couldn't stop laughing - the focus puller caught the laughter bug too and fell off the dolly. The camera operator couldn't see what was going on around him and just kept shooting. There was no video assist so the director didn't know what was going on either.

On the pull back both me and the focus puller were laughing so hard that we tripped over each other and fell down. The Op just followed the puck until they called cut.

Mickey just kept on going to his trailer as he had a date with a horse. The op and director were happy with the shot... and the movie still plays every Christmas to this day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


The comments from the last post tipped me off that I had hit a nerve with what we call creeps. For those of you from outside dolly world, a creep is a painfully slow dolly move, usually a push in. They usually have to time out to dialogue, meaning, land on a certain word of a two page scene. The fact that they are so painfully slow means your sense of timing has to be dead-on. Any fudging will show up, especially if there's foreground in the shot that is slowly moving out of frame. This is where remembering your speed and repeating it is crucial. Azurgrip mentioned an 8 minute scene with an 8 inch creep. This, my friends, is the definition of suck. Creeps are agonizing. Every sense is fully engaged and your concentration is narrowed down to a fine point, usually on some smudge or mark on a wheel that you watch as it endlessly rotates. Creeps hurt. Once you've memorized every inch of your path and know exactly where each surge or stall in the surface is, you have to compensate with an equal amount of pressure to keep a steady pace. On top of this, you have to land on the "first syllable of the word 'murder'" or some comparable mark after a page of dialogue. I dread creeps more than any other shot. Give me a 5 point 4 boom dance floor move any day, just keep your creeps. I usually, if they're short enough, try to do them sitting down, closer to the wheels. I rub a finger against a wheel to give some resisitance which I can increase or decrease if there is an irregularity on the surface. Try to avoid doing them on wood. Do 'em on track if you can. Wood has too many variables which can cause stalls or surges and this is a headache you don't need on top of trying to time it out. A slight dent on a plank that you wouldn't even notice in a regular move becomes like that crater in Arizona that you see from airplanes sometimes as you try to keep a steady pace. The sweat is in your eyes. Your knees hurt, your back hurts, and it just goes on endlessly. The worst is on the 4th take when an actor drops a line or flubs. Then you just want to take them out with a c-stand arm. I did a movie a couple of years ago with a lateral over the shoulder creep crossing the line behind an actor's head and had to block the facing actor between a certain line and emerge on another. Then reverse on the turnaround and repeat it. I needed thorazine by the time we moved on. Sometimes, as I've mentioned before, I'll lay the track on a slight slope and let the dolly do the work with me providing only resistance, but this can get you into trouble.
That's my view of creeps, what're yours?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Gran Torino

Part of what I like to do on this page is praise good dolly work. DP's get it. Directors get it. Operators even have their own awards. So, when I see good work behind the dolly (and we all know what bad work looks like), I like to point it out. I saw Gran Torino tonight and aside from being a really good picture, the work by my buddy Greg Brooks was well done. I knew he had grabbed a much coveted spot on Eastwood's crew a couple of years ago and was glad to hear it. The movie has a lot of almost imperceptible staging moves, including one scene in a garden with Eastwood and another actor where the camera has to go a long way back and forth to hold a nice over, that I, if I hadn't been a Dolly Grip myself, would have never noticed, which is kind of the point.. There are a lot of compound moves and all are nicely done with no sudden "top-offs" or "Bottom -outs." It's one of those movies that you see and wish you had worked on. Flashy moves ain't really Eastwood's style, so it takes a really steady hand to make all those slow creeps imperceptable. Nice work. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Aluminum Dance Floor Frame Pictures

Above are some pictures of GHB's frames. The pictures show a 4x4, a "pie piece" and a full 4x8 frame. The 4x4 shows the side with velcro covering it. This helps to cushion the plywood surface and hold it in place. It's just a strip of "fuzzy" velcro and the plywood goes on top. You can also see the holes used to bolt the frames together. They are also in sizes 2x8, and 2x4. As GBH said., they are very light and easy to transport. We have full trailer width jockey boxes and they slide easily in and out. They really make a difference as far as ease and quickness. Last week, we built an 8x12 floor on a slope in about 15 minutes from laying them out to the dolly sitting on it and ready to go. I hope these pictures help!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dance Floor - Part Two

It seems that D - even with his computer woes - has beaten me to the topic, but this is more about the nuts and bolts of it.

I started out with double plywood & screws, then moved on to Masonite tops and papertape joints and more recently gone with plastic (Centrex) and Teflon tape.

I was talking to a plastic supplier recently about what are my choices were and he rhymed off a bunch of stuff - as he didn't carry Centrex, and it got me to wondering what people are using?

Hey D - think you can "borrow" a new computer from Set Dec or your Video Playback guys?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dancefloor Outside etc.

Hi Guys. My computer is holding together for the moment so I'll post quickly.
One thing about the show I'm on- a lot of dance floor. A lot of 5 point moves with three booms in them. I love it. One thing that you usually don't worry too much about normally is dance floor outside. You may have a couple of bucks made up in the off chance, but usually, DPs and directors will go for the easier option of Steadicam (see my post from a year or so ago, Steadicam is not faster!) On my show, however, it's a constant possibility. One of the readers of this site, GHB, has had aluminum tracking frames made up which really simplify the process. We are renting them on this show and they work really well and go down fast. We have them in 4x8, 4x4, 2x8, and a pie piece or two. They bolt together into a solid surface and you level them just as if they were track and then floor them. They fit in the jockey boxes and are a lifesaver. Hopefully, GHB will comment on the specifics of how he had them made etc. I rarely lay track on this show because I like to give the DP and operator a little more freedom to widen on tighten as we shoot and not be locked onto track. TV, as most of you know, tends to be a little more free form than movies, so I made the decision to floor when possible to allow that. Dolly wise, I'm pushing a Hustler 4 and a Peewee 4. I am not completely satisfied with the arm on the Hustler. When I checked out the dolly, they had it waiting for me and I thought it was a little too quick on the up actuation. There's not much feather built into the arm. So I asked if they had another to look at and was told that they had none ready yet. I went ahead and took it and it worked fine, just not what I wanted. My intention was to get by with it for a month or so and then trade out when they had more available. As it happened, we had a shot with the Fisher 23 last week and they sent another Hustler to support it. I tried the arm on it out of curiosity and found I liked it better. So I kept it. It's much more what I look for as far as feathering, although I do plan to crack it open and tune it up a little. There's a little too much play between up and down, but a much better start on the up. This is the second Hustler arm I've gotten that was too quick on the up. When it first came out, every arm I got was pristine. I mean they were perfect. Now, the shops have had time to play with them and there is a little more variation in the arms I see. I'll talk to them at some point and see what is going on and what we can do about it. I don't mean this as a criticism of Chapman. They've always been very responsive to my needs. I just think there's a communication breakdown between the techs and the dolly grips. What do you other Chapman guys think?


Hi guys. Like I sent last night, my computer is having some problems. It's pretty old so it's probably due. Anyway, I got it up and running long enough to send this post. I didn't know for sure if my Blackberry had gone through. I also asked Azurgrip to post and let everyone know why it's so quiet here. Anyway, I'll try and be back as soon as I can. Please keep it going in my absence. Thanks

computer dead

My computer finally died so I'm sending this from my BlackBerry. I don't know when ill be back on yet.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Idle Musings

Hey everyone! The wheel set up post really generated some discussions which is why we're here. We also got some great tips. Thanks Acraw for the Ivory soap suggestion. (For those of you who didn't read the last comments section, Ivory soap can be used to quiet squeaky dance floor wheels) What a fantastic solution. I would think it would be slippery too, but I'll try it! There's a new thread started on the forum (just look to your right and a little down) about Chapman Vs Fisher, started by our friend Wick. Please drop in and put in your 2 cents worth. Azurgrip has come up with a great idea for an upcoming...event on Dollygrippery, no it's not a picnic, but it is pretty cool and we'll have more about that later.
My show just ended it's first week and all in all it was smooth sailing, although I can see I'll have very little time to rest. Practically every shot moves (although not as much as that show NCIS, where the camera even moves on inserts. Now that guy's tired ) That's cool though, I'd rather be busy. It seems to be a good and friendly bunch of people from the crew to the cast, and even the writer who I met the other day. I'm glad to see more and more visitors to the site every day. Keep the comments and questions coming. I'll be back with more later this weekend.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Wheel Set Up

I recieved some interesting statistics on the latest poll which involved which wheels you prefer. A surprising number regularly use soft compound tires, which I generally avoid like the plague. I suspect a lot of these users are doing shows that are mostly, if not all, on stage. Soft compound tires tend to be a little fragile for location work (at least the locations I end up in). I'd like to hear from some of you soft tire users about your reasons and the conditions you usually work under. I worked for a DP a few years ago who insisted on soft compound tires. I protested that they wouldn't hold up very well in the locations we would be working in and that it would cost some time to change tires every time we went out, but he insisted. At the end of the show, the tires I turned in were barely even round anymore. They were chewed to pieces.
For years (back when I mainly used the Hybrid) I would put on all pneumatics at the start of a show and just leave them on for the run. The Hustler has made it possible to mix and match a set of pneumatics on the outside and medium softs on the inside. To get on track, just put it in crab and turn all the track tires to the outside and roll on. I have grown to like the "all pneumatics set up" less and less over the years because it seems to increase bounce especially on really tight lenses. I really like the medium softs. They seem to perform really well on dance floor without the jiggle that pneumatics have, however slight, and also hold up well on locations with rough surfaces. The combination of medium and pneumatic that the Hustler offers gives just the right amount of stability and softness for seams and joints.
So, soft tire users, drop a line and let us know your secrets.
I've gotten a lot more "Happy New Year" messages on my Blackberry from fellow Dolly Grips this year than ever. Thanks to all and Happy New Year to you too!
PS- Don't forget to try out the new forum! Let's get some lively discussions going.