Tommy, a Dolly Grip pushing a show in Michigan sent in a email saying I should write a post on marks. When is it critical to hit them? How important are they? My answer is, you should ALWAYS hit your marks.......until it's time not to. Most of us come up hearing, "Marks are just references, it's most important to watch the actors blah blah blah." True. Marks are what allow us to recreate a move sequence down to the inch...........with second team* We all know, however that a lot of actors rarely, if ever, do the same thing the same way twice. Things happen during a scene. Furniture gets moved, extras stray from their designated path, the actor thinks, "my character wouldn't stop by that chair." This randomness is part of what keeps us from being replaced by servos and motors. It's also what gives us a certain amount of control over how a shot looks. We have to make split-second decisions about where the camera should be at any given time during a move and adjust to keep the lens where it should be. This sometimes results in "disregarding" the marks. Say I'm doing a parallel move with an actor from one end of a room to another. He's walking along, we're in sync. Suddenly, he stops five feet short of his mark. Rather than blowing through to my mark, it's my job to stop the dolly to match (and make it look like it was supposed to happen). Or, same shot, say he lands on his mark, but an errant extra has shifted a little too far to the right and will block him from lens at this mark. You see this impending situation, shoot through the mark enough to clear, the shot is saved. A good AC will also see this coming and adjust focus accordingly. If this actor hits his mark and everything's cool, you should nail it. Another example- say your doing an opening pull back and stop. Some actor walks into frame, you push back in with him, not necessarily matching distances, as he goes to another mark and stops. If he stops 4 inches shy- hit your mark. If he overshoots by 4 inches-hit your mark. The reason? Your position on that mark is the one anchor the AC has in the room that's constant. If he sees you are on your mark, he automatically knows how much the actor is off by and can adjust. On a completely aesthetic move- a dolly down a row of pictures, a push in on a flashing bomb- you should nail your mark. Marks are important and hitting them while not watching them is an art unto itself. It's a technique that's developed over time that involves quick flicks of the eye to them and back to the subject, and a kind of hyper-awareness of where the dolly is in the space. A Dolly Grip who consistently hits his or her marks is much appreciated by focus pullers and camera operators. I've had more than one thank me when I've hit marks and I ask them don't most Dolly Grips hit their marks? They say a lot aren't even in the same zip code, which makes their job harder.
One my favorite things to do is a walk and talk pull back. This is a real test of your distance judging. You have to pull back with actors, holding the exact distance, and land exactly when they land. It's always cool to reach the end of the shot and land precisely on your mark as they land on theirs. It's even cooler to reach the end and land two feet short of your mark as they are two feet short of theirs, glance up at the Panatape readout, and see that it's the same distance you started at. Now there are ways to help yourself with this shot, but I'm not going to go into that today (no it most certainly does not involve dragging a string or a laser). Thanks Tommy for the suggestion.
I will reiterate that any of you experienced guys out there who want to write a post yourselves are welcome to email me one and I'll clean it up, and paste it onto it's own post. I won't use your name if you ask, but I would like to know who you are privately just so I know who I'm dealing with. I know a lot of you are aspiring writers so this is your chance to speak to a community of Dolly Grips that literally spans the globe. Send it in!
*"Second Team," for those not in the film business, refers to Stand-In's. These are people who are hired to recreate the actor's movements during lighting and camera blocking, so that the actors can go to makeup after rehearsal. "First Team" are the actual actors.
Completely off-topic, every now and then I like to recommend movies or shows that I think have particularly good work in them and send some good press to someone who has earned it. This time it's Catch Me If You Can, Spielberg's film about a teenage master con artist. I caught it last week on cable and had forgotten how good the work was. Jerry Bertolami delivers a master class on how it's done. The camera never stops, and the moves are flawless (and Jerry's a nice guy). So check it out.