Monday, July 27, 2009

How to Deal With Your Dolly Grip

Regular reader DP Ed Moore, from the UK, sent in an idea for a post for operators concerning how they can make our jobs easier. I thought this was a great idea, especially since I spend my day trying to make their jobs easier. Here are a few tips.

The following are given with great affection for my Operator friends. No offense is meant. I hope you get a laugh out of them:

Don't wait until we're rolling camera to tell me that you see a bump. We've done three rehearsals. Wake up.

Don't leave your coffee cups, half eaten sandwiches, candy wrappers etc on the dolly for the rest of the day. I understand you can't always leave to throw it away, but if it's been on there since breakfast and we're on the third shot, it's time to pull the trigger. I'll just put it on the camera cart and then blame it on you.

Don't leap off the dolly. You're not dismounting a horse and if the brakes aren't on you can make something really bad happen.

Don't tell me every move to make if I've proven to you that I know what I'm doing. I generally know which way to orient the dolly, how much floor I need, how high low-mode is, and whether or not I need a riser. Believe me, if I need help I'll ask. I need your input, but some things are pretty self -evident.

Don't get accessory happy. I can almost always set up the dolly correctly so that you don't need a seat offset. I've managed to make it ten years without using one (that's the last time I remember using one. It flipped and dumped the DP on his ass. Sorry, Frank). Give me a chance to set up the dolly in the right way for the shot before you start yelling for stuff. If you're still not happy, I'll get you what you need.

Do include me in conversations about the shot. I need all the info I can get and my contribution may make your job easier.

If I blow a take or a rehearsal, turning around and yelling won't help. I know I screwed up. I'm very sorry. I'm your friend. And I'll start changing your gear settings when you're not looking.

I have to see it at least once. Don't expect the first run through with actors to be perfect especially if the stand-ins did it differently (and they usually do). I know I have to match movements, hold eyelines etc.

Communicate with me. Tell me how I can do it better, or conversely, how I screwed it up if you can see that I don't get it.

Use a finder. I don't want to lay it twice.

Yes, I can do a boom and a move at the same time. I actually do this for a living. If I can't, you've got the wrong guy and it'll be pretty evident very soon anyway. I'm just as good at my job as you are at yours. Can you pan and tilt at the same time?

When I'm at work, I'll give you 110%. It's my job to make sure you can do the shot safely and as comfortably as possible. I drink Budweiser.

Watch my back. If you see me forgetting something, not doing something right, are uncomfortable with a shot set up, tell me. Don't watch me lay the track in the wrong spot and wait until I'm done before you mention it. We're a team. Watch out for me and I'll watch out for you.

I have a name. Learn it. Use it. I know you're big time DP and all but I'm a big time Dolly Grip and the whole motioning up and down thing with your thumb without saying anything is just insulting. This is a phenomenon mainly associated with commercial and television DPs. For some reason, some cameramen think it's cool to never address the Dolly Grip personally but to communicate through a series of cryptic finger displays. I know some do this from time to time if the set's loud or they're trying to be quiet. I don't mean you. A certain few do it very dismissively all the time. Believe me, I've worked with the best, they don't do this. This doesn't make you cool, it only makes you a jackass.

Don't tell me what kind of dolly to use. I don't tell you which head to use. I've been doing this a long time and I know the right tool for the job and which machine I'm most comfortable with. Every dolly is different and some Dolly Grips can make a Fisher Ten sing while others are more comfortable with a Chapman Hustler. It's my job to make sure you don't notice which brand of dolly you're on and if I do it well, you won't. I'm the one who has to make it work. Let me do my job. Help me, help you.

Operators- send in your own tips, pet peeves, etc. I'll put them in a post. I need all the help I can get.

These tips all pre-suppose that the Dolly Grip is experienced and is engaged in what's going on. Otherwise, I probably deserve whatever I get. I count Camera Operators among my best friends and what you do is truly a joy to watch. These are just some helpful suggestions to help us work better as a team. You know who you are.


chris said...

love the comment about doing a boom and move at the same time, i think i have been asked that question on probably 50% of the compound moves i've ever done. in my opinion, this should be a prerequisite skill for a dolly grip just as being able to pan and tilt at the same time is a prerequisite skill for the operator, as you mentioned.

D said...

Of course it should. Unfortunately, many DPs and operators approach a new (to them) dolly grip under the assumption that he can't do his job.This isn't really their fault. There are some really bad dolly grips running around out there and that's what a lot of operators are used to.

DW said...

THANK YOU for writing what I have been thinking for so long. I have known DPs/operators who have, at one point or another, done at least of these things, and have even known DPs/operators who have done pretty much ALL of these things (NOT good). It is nice to see that others out there share my pain! :)

The one thing that I tend to do which is somewhat not in line with one of your rules is the seat offset; I happen to like it and have found that, (depending on the operator) it can give them a lot more flexibility in how they sit and operate. Sometimes operators have to sit there for a looong time with their knees pressed up against the boom or whatever, and sometimes they like having a little extra legroom to stretch out. Yes, on smaller dollies the extended weight does throw things off a bit, but then I just throw a few bags on the opposite side, and all is good (I don't mind pushing the extra weight if it makes them more comfortable).

All in all though, I think it's a VERY good post -- perhaps we should all contribute to a book entitled "The Operator's Handbook: How to Work With Your Dolly Grip"


D said...

Thanks for the great comment DW. The seat offset is just my personal thing. Of course we all have our own way, I just used it as an example. I know operators who will immediately start calling for sideboards etc before I've had a chance to set the dolly up correctly and then when I do, they see that they don't need it. It's a time waster and a waste of energy to go for something you know you don't need (especially a Hustler sideboard). I just ask them to give me a second to get the dolly set up right. One of my favorite operators, whom I've worked with for years, is notorious for doing this. I just say, "I'll tell you what you need." But then we are good friends and can talk to each other that way.

GHB said...

Best post ever!!! It may take me a minute to get up off the floor. My wife wants to know what the hell is making me laugh so hard. I'm so glad for this site that there are people out there that feel my pain. Not that anyone should experience pain, but oh it's so nice to know I'm not crazy and not alone. It's so funny because every time I work with new people that don't trust me and they ask for stupid things or ask insulting questions, when they turn back around to their camera I roll my eyes and shake my head and wish I could share the laugh with someone. But as we all know, we're terribly alone in this endeavor. This post should be sent and be posted in the 600 news letter and definitely in the SOC magazine. I wish I could add to it, but it's perfect. D, you are my hero. Keep it up, brother....

Azurgrip said...

To add to the communication thread:

Please don't mumble to the camera. I can't read the lips on the back of your head.

Anonymous said...




D said...

nice one!

The Grip Works said...

Ha ha ha !!!! Brilliant D, just brilliant!

Love Azurgrips addition ! I always say I'm hard of hearing to any DP who is a camera whisperer :)

I had a DP who asked for the dolly riser to be locked off to a Cstand to "get rid of wobble" on a peewee. Same guy who insisted on the peewee instead of hybrid. mid shot he starts gesturing for me to boom up ... i dont so he's frantically flapping his arms around with his eye on the eyepiece, so the 1st AC leans over and booms the dolly up along with the Ctand.
I just walked off to craft service.

Chris said...

Printing as we speak. I'll be passing this out tomorrow. Thanks for the laughs.


Azurgrip said...

"Behind every great operator is an even better dolly grip"?

D said...

Very niice! Good t shirt material

DW said...

Two more:

If you're a DP/operator who likes to give hand signals for directions mid-shot, please don't change your hand signals -- be consistent. A thumb and an index finger point in completely different directions when your hand is in the same position.
Don't tell me to switch to low mode right before "roll sound!" is called. As far as I'm concerned, this is YOU not having your shit together and holding things up, not the crew waiting on the dolly grip (but yes, I will still do it fast nonetheless).


D said...

Yes, the famous finger point. I don't know how many times I've boomed up when the operator wanted me to go right. Good one DW.

D said...

Great story Gripworks. I got a good laugh out of that one!

Anonymous said...

Is this site still active? I would love to share some stories from north of the border.
Martin-IATSE 873

D said...

Yes the site is active. You can find the latest posts by clicking on the header. Send any stories etc to "dollygrippery at gmail dot com or post them in comments. Welcome to Dollygrippery!