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.


Azurgrip said...

The only reason I fear DP make choices for you is when they are the control freaks and would rather be able to answer for time delays (as if!). If they let others make decisions for them there's an opportunity to for fuckups. We know there won't be any if they trust the folks they hired, but it's all part of the DP's realm.

D - you mention newbies. I had the pleasure of running trade testing for my union local this past weekend, were I ran a track laying test. Most had a concept of the mechanics, but non put any thought about the orientation of the chassis. I did give where the camera was looking and where the move was - in this case, right to left - with a Pee Wee. All put the dolly on to be able to push the shot, but putting the operator on the outside / far side of the chassis. I asked everyone why they put the chassis on the track that way and non had put any thought into it.

Only one gave themselves enough space on either side of the marks.

I guess I've got to come up with a class...

Anonymous said...

You might have to. I can't tell you how many times I've had to answer the question "Isn't it better to push than pull?" Sorry you had to work on your off day.

Dcitroni said...

Hey D , Hello all
I understand the frustration of the operator or DP calling for the lay out of everything you do. And in the end you look the fool if it fails.
Being part of the decision making process is vital. But it does take a while to gain confidence in yourself to speak up and just as important you need their trust.
Letting them decide it all makes me feel trapped and I get a little more than snippy to say the least!
I like the stock comment " who you been workin with? " I may steal that.

Some Ideas for future posts.....
"Who should you listen too?" When the DP or operator asks for something different then the Director asked for.
And maybe some links to common supplies like Sintra and things a google search and a strssed best boy just wont find.

Take care and thanks for the great posts

Anonymous said...

You guys bring up some very interesting points about some of the finer points of being the dolly grip. D, you are absolutely right when you say that the move is the easy part. As a dolly grip you have a lot of people to please--the director, the operator, the assistant, the key grip--and sometimes it seems as though none of these people are on the same team or trying to accomplish the same thing. It's up to us to make it all work when we might be being pulled in different directions.
You are also right when you talk about dolly set up. I too am already thinking about it when I watch the blocking. You have to take a lot into account--where the assistant is going to be, how the operator likes to sit or stand, eyelines, being able to have a clear view yourself and giving yourself enough space at all points of the move to go farther than planned if necessary, where the lighting is going to go, and so on. You have to think about all these things before you commit because, as you say, you can't go back and make big changes when people are waiting. Ultimately, I think as dolly grips we do have to take the responsibility for how we set things up because we can't allow others who might not be looking at all these things to put us in a position where something isn't right that keeps us from doing the work we're capable of. I had a situation once where the director insisted that I lay a dance floor for a particular shot. It was the wrong way to do the shot and I know I would not have been able to give him the shot he wanted. I suggested a short crane arm on track to the operator who talked to the director about it. The director walked right up to me and said, "you better be right".
It was the right way to do the job and he compimented me afterward. Had I done it his way he would have been disappointed.
A solid relationship with your operator is a huge part of being able to do this job really well. And I agree that if one isn't confident enough to jump into the conversations and offer solutions, talk with the key or the operator and develop a consensus before giving someone else a chance to make decisions about your job for you.

Anonymous said...

Acraw makes a good point. Setting up the dolly correctly is really important, and visualising the orientation of everything while the scene is being blocked is the right way to start. If the director suggests a method to execute a camera move, it can be considered, but ultimately the buck stops with the Dolly Grip. If you cannot get the shot by adopting the directors method, it is better to speak up at that point, because if you humour him, and do not get the shot, you will still take the fall for it. People pay and hire specialists so that they can make use of their wealth of experience. If you dont offer up your advice and stand by it, you are short changing the guys who hired you.

Anonymous said...

Guys, I can't add anything off the top of my head to this but D, this is one of your best, most rock-solid pieces I've ever read. I'm basically slamming my fist in the air and shouting "Yeah!" with every sentence I read. Like any job well done there are thousands of subtleties that add up to a transparent whole, and the only people who really see it are other members of the fraternity. A great topic and a great coupla posts. I head out to London in a couple of days, and will pass this site on to some of the guys I see there.

D said...

Thanks all for the great comments! Any feedback is good but I especially appreciate the insights from your own experience. Dino, thanks for the suggestions.
Wick- You made my day. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

A class isn't a bad idea....

Do it at the Maine Workshops or something, charge $1000 for the week ... get 20 students minimum and could be a nice earner.....