Monday, March 23, 2009

My Day

I don't want to talk about it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dance Floor Update

My show involves a lot of dance floor work (for those of you not in the industry, dance floor is just a surface that you put down when you are doing a move in more than one direction) This week was dance floor helL. Strangely, a lot of our sets have rooms that are weird measurements. A lot of the spaces measure out to be 7'6", or 3'9" wide, which most of you know is an incredible pain. We also have a lot of 800lb dressers and 400lb oddly shaped sofas. I have spent the week piecing together floors and frankly I'm exhausted. The easiest solution in a floor situation is always just to lay a "pad" which means basically lay a square (or rectangle) that covers all the marks you need to hit. My lumber package generally includes five 4x8's, two 4x4's, two 2x8's, and two 2x4's. I hate pie pieces and think they're useless. I also had some doorway pieces made at 28" and a 1' by 8' piece. There's always one set, though, that just beats you up and during the blocking as the DP holds the finder at one spot you're thinking, "No. not there, just go one more foot left." I even had to do one shot that the operator started on a slider as I pushed in and then he finished it on the slider (window seats suck).The thing is, I actually relish the idea of the challenge. It's really making a better Dolly Grip out of me and it's good in a way to sharpen your skills on the old tv grindstone again. I realize that I've really gotten soft on feature work where you have a lot more time to set up and plan a difficult shot as opposed to the DP asking you,"Can you get the camera here?" after one half-ass run through. My stock answer is, "Yeah, we'll figure something out." So far, I haven't had to have any special cuts made (other than shaving an inch off the bottom of a door). I've been riding a lot of edges on one wheel this week. Please forgive any spelling mistakes as I am now 3 vodka -and -ginger- ales into my weekend. Don't judge me. I earned it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dropping In

Just dropping by before I head off to spend the evening somewhere in a canyon out towards Malibu. I'll have an actual post this weekend. Meanwhile, we have some cool things planned for Dollygrippery when we get time to actually do them. Hope all you guys (and girls) are working. Stay safe.
For those of you not actually in the business who are just interested, Michael Taylor over at has a great piece that pretty much sums up a day on a tv series from a juicer's perspective. Go give it a read and tell him I sent ya.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Your Camera Operator and You Part 2

Hi guys, great comments on the previous post from some real A list guys. In reading them it made me realize some things I wish I'd brought out more in the first post (which I kept shorter than I wanted to because I ran out of time. DW asked about getting a word in after the DP says, "Just get a ______ dolly and call it a day." In a situation like this, I don't know that there's much you can say other than let him know that you would be more comfortable with another dolly. In your situation, as Key, it's entirely appropriate to do it, but ultimately he's going to get what he asks for. I'm lucky in that the Keys I work with already know my preferences and it's all addressed way ahead of shooting and rarely contested by the DP. I've even convinced some operators I know to go along with what I prefer after the fact (notice that I'm being good here and not stating a preference for one or the other). As for the rest of it, it's the age old saying of "tell me what you want, not how to do it," that grips have been repeating for 80 years.
What goes along with this as a Dolly Grip is establishing your territory right off the bat. I can always tell when I'm working with an operator who's had some bad Dolly Grips. They point out the obvious and immediately start telling you how to do everything. My stock saying is to ask them, "Who've YOU been working with?" They usually get the hint and after the first couple of shots they settle in. But you've got to be there for the discussions. If the DP and operator are off to the side discussing how to orient the dolly, stick your head in. GHB said it well in the comments, just jump into the conversation. Claim your ground. If you know what you're doing it will soon become apparent and they'll generally turn over the reins to you. The dangerous part of this is if you don't know what you're doing. If you're relatively inexperienced it's best to go along with them, and most of the time your Key will know you're a little green and he'll step in and quietly give you instructions. Some Key Grips can't leave you alone and will jump into your business, but the ones who trust you will generally only come around when you ask them for a consultation. The moves themselves are the easy part, even though they are what it all boils down to. Either you've developed the skills to execute them or you haven't. Where you earn your money (in my opinion) is in set up. I usually am calculating what I need during the blocking. Once I've decided on a course of action, I consult my operator and tell him what I have in mind and together we either continue on that path or modify it. The set up is the most important because it has to work. You can't rip up and re- lay dance floor with the actors waiting around because you didn't allow for the door to open and close in the shot or didn't factor in the length of the dolly as you approach a wall. This is where being a team with your operator will save you. He'll help you avoid pitfalls you may not have picked up on in the rehearsal or fill you in on coversations he had with the director that you didn't hear.
Gripworks mentioned that you can't really blame some operators and DPs for not trusting you right off the bat. Unfortunately, and as much as it pains me to say it, he's right. They don't know any better. I've had to tell operators, "If you'll let me, I'll help you. That's why I'm here." They're not used to a Dolly Grip already knowing how to do the shot after the first blocking, when their previous Dolly Grip was at craft services munching on a cookie. We have to show them.
I wasn't going to post again tonight but we had such great comments and Acraw got me thinking (and we wrapped early) that these are things a Dolly Grip does and a lot of them, especially the younger ones, just don't know it so it's up to us to make them aware and that will raise the level of respect that DPs and operators pay to all of us.
Ok, I'm getting off my high horse. Thanks as always for your great comments. It's great to be part of a community of such great Dolly Grips.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Your Camera Operator and You

I once had a camera operator at the beginning of a show ask me before a shot, "Can you do a boom and a move at the same time?" "I don't know," I replied, "can you pan and tilt at the same time?" The relationship between an operator and Dolly Grip is one of trust, or should be. Unlike operators, however, we don't really go through a system of tiers that ultimately results in being a Dolly Grip (at least not officially). There isn't a union dolly grip level where your dues are higher and you are required to work in that category. Unfortunately, sometimes the Dolly Grip is just someone who wants the extra two dollars an hour or is the Key Grip's brother-in-law. Over the years, this has resulted in Dolly Grips all being painted with the same brush. For those of us who have worked hard to learn our craft and earn the respect of our camera department brethren, this can be frustrating. We all face it. The operator or DP who insists on doing every shot with a slider because he isn't used to a Dolly Grip being able to hold an over- the -shoulder. The operator who picks which machine you'll be using on a show. I don't tell them whether to use an Arri head or a Panahead, why should I be forced to use a Fisher or Chapman when that isn't my platform of choice? I especially get irritated when a DP and Operator have a discussion pertaining to my field as if I'm not there. You know the one. The DP walks up to the operator and asks him, "What do you think, should we use the Peewee on track or go on the Hustler on floor?" And they don't even look at you. I'm not suggesting that our position is more important than it is, but generally you would think that the person who has to perform the shot would at least be consulted. This is why I think you have to assert your position from the beginning. Already be figuring out the best way to do the shot on the first blocking and when it's time, go up to the operator and tell him your opinion. It immediately shows him that you know what you're doing and establishes that he doesn't have to worry about how the dolly will be oriented on top of everything else he's got to do.
Generally, I work with the same operators on a recurring basis, as most of you do. I have three or four that I see again and again because we all work with the same DPs. I really enjoy working with them and a couple are actually good friends outside of work. They trust me and know that I'll solve most of their problems if they'll give me the space to do it. These are the guys that it's a continual pleasure to work with. I haven't actually had an operator that I didn't get along with or didn't like in years. Thankfully the real a-holes are few and far between. But we've got to raise the bar on the position of Dolly Grip. For too long I've worked with operators who told me horror stories about Dolly Grips who continually ran off the track or couldn't attach the low mode. I've had AC's tell me about guys who couldn't get within the same zip code as the marks. Strangely, you hear very few stories about bad operators. It's time that our field was recognized for the craft it is. It takes practice and dedication to master it and it's not something you learn overnight.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The $%&%# Contract

I'm going to deviate from the norm here for a minute and talk about something that concerns those of us covered by the IA Hollywood Basic contract that's up for vote. Yeah, it sucks. I'm a pretty forgiving guy and I have never asked for more than I work for. I'm not even a hardcore Union cheerleader. I have, however, been in the IA for almost twenty years and I've watched our benefits and working conditions deteriorate at a steady rate while profits rise. The new contract calls for the current 300 hour requirement for insurance to be raised to 400 hours. All right, I understand that medical costs have gone up and I understand that something has to give. I'm willing to give them that. The New Media contract is a joke. It has worse standards than the non-union shows I used to do. Interchageability of crafts (in other words, we're tools, not professional craftsmen). No minimum rates. Residuals, out the window. Then, we get a letter telling us what a great contract it is and that we should vote "yes." It's insulting. Especially in the light of the joke of an HBO contract that a lot of us are working under now that should have been renegotiated but hasn't.
Over the years I've watched producers get concession after concession and I keep getting letters telling me how great the new contract is from people who aren't standing out in the rain with me all night. Then, my OWN UNION keeps telling me that a "No vote is a vote to strike." Whose side are these guys on? I'm tired of being in a union that seems to just roll over at the whim of the AMPTP in every negotiating session. The studios are having record profits and the price of doing business for them keeps going down because we're weak negotiators. I've had it.
Rant over.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Sorry for My Absence

Sorry for the absence of recent posts guys. I've had a really busy week of nights topped off by a really long flight home (complete with a 4 hour plane delay) last weekend and I've just been exhausted. We'll be back shortly. Azurgrip's comment on the previous post gives me an idea..... Hope you're all working and staying safe.