Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Next Big One

I'm starting a feature in Atlanta in September. It'll be great to be working at home again and I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of old friends. As a prelude, I'm driving cross-country from California to Atlanta (the car I had in California finally gave up the ghost and I had to bring my truck from Georgia out here, meaning I've got to drive it back since I'll be there for a while). I think I'm going to take I-40 instead of I-10 (nothing is more depressing than 2 days across Texas alone). Anyone got any good things to see on that route? I might stop by Tombstone but don't really know of anything else. Give me some ideas.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fill In Work

Let's talk about something that we all face every now and then as professional Dolly Grips- the Fill In Day. Lately, as I'm between shows, I've been getting calls to fill in for Dolly Grips who want to take days off. I've done days on everything over the past few years from Bones to Mad Men. Over the past couple of weeks, the calls came so frequently I've had to turn down days (I am on vacation after all, and have an extensive "honey do" list to complete).These days can be your saving grace as an out of work Dolly Grip. Dolly Grips on shows hate to take days off (in general). We understand the intricate balance between Camera Operator and Dolly Grip and don't want to upset it. I always feel guilty about doing it, but as a friend of mine said long ago, "Life intrudes." Sometimes you have to do it, and it is a big relief to have a good Dolly Grip available who can step in and make it as seamless as possible. Luckily, most of us know each other and who we can trust not to come in and totally change around the settings on our boom controls, or have the Key Grip say,"who was THAT guy?" when we return. So, if you have a good reputation, you can actually find a nice little niche as a temp Dolly Grip, working two or three days a week just filling in on second units or days when the guy just wants a day off.
Here are some simple rules:

Don't try to be "Super Day Player." If you're filling in for "B" camera, you have a lot of spare time. You may be tempted to race in every time something is called for just to eliminate boredom and justify your presence. The guys have a rhythm. Don't upset it. Let them know you're available to help them tie on that 12 x 12 and then go have a seat on an apple box.

Do what you know. If you're "A" camera, it can be a little stressful being thrown in among a tightly knit group. You don't know the system, you don't know the MO. Do what you know. If you think you need a floor, lay it. Ignore the DP saying, "You need a floor for this?" I did and it worked out fine.

If your dolly is tuned to someone's specifications and you can't find "up" to save your life, look for an alternative. I did a day on a show where the Dolly Grip had a dolly specially tuned to his preferences. After I blew four takes on the first shot, I switched it out for the "C" camera dolly we just happened to have on stage and everything was, well, not fine, but better.

Try and put everything back as you found it. You'll want the next guy to do it for you.

Remember, your goal is to have the Key Grip say to the Dolly Grip when he returns:" You want to take next Friday off?" (OK I'm just kidding).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This Is What It's Come To......

What do a day and a music video have in common? Nothing unless a day is actually 25 hours long. That's right. I just worked a 25 hour day. On a music video. I don't even know where they show these things anymore. Music videos, long the punchline to any of several jokes concerning low rates and long hours, are now a valid employment option in today's uncertain Hollywood production climate. I actually had a valid excuse for doing it. The Key is a great guy and a great commercial Key Grip and is one of those rare people whom (who? whom? I don't know I've been up for 28 hours) I can always call when things are getting tight financially, and he will always have a job for me. It may not be a five-day commercial (although he's come through on quite a few of those too), but it will involve a valid, legal means of earning money. He got me through the writer's strike relatively unscathed. As a result, I don't mind coming out on the occasional crappy job to try and stay on his good side, and let him know that I'm in for the good as well as the occasionally horrible. I'll be honest here, I don't really need the money right now. Fill-in work has kept me pretty busy, taking over for the Dolly Grips I know who want to take days off and need someone they can trust to cover them. And I'm starting a feature in September. This one was a little different, though. Guys who usually do big features and would not normally take a music video were on this one. At about 2/3 their normal rate. And it was a Union job. Yes, you read that right. It went on for 25 hours, was Union, and the rates were not just a "little low," they were insulting. These guys needed the work. Production, of course, had no idea of the caliber of Grips they had, nor any idea of how much time and money they saved them over the course of this grueling slog. These guys worked just as hard on this piece of crap as they would have on the 100 million dollar features they often do. In fact, these producers (who, I'm sure if you asked them, would tell you that they identify themselves as "Liberal" and "for the rights of everyone to earn a fair wage") basically stuck it in and broke it off. Yes, I know, don't take the job if you don't like the terms, but 25 hours? This is what it's come to. Thanks, Governor Swarzeneggar, and thank you California Assembly for your aggressive moves to protect the industry for which this state is known throughout.... oh that's right, you didn't. One image comes to mind: A Jackass....playing a Fiddle....while Rome burns.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Answers to Questions that Weren't Asked

I've got a nifty little application that tells me what visitors to this site are looking for when they come in from a search engine. It's always fascinating to see what people are interested in and it gives me ideas on which way to steer the conversation. As I've said in previous posts, I don't know if any of them found the answers here or not. And it drives me crazy. The message board has been quiet so none of them just came out and asked for the answer to whatever was troubling them, so I'm going to take a few and answer them anyway. Some aren't questions per se, but I'll address them as if they were.

Working with dolly considered lowly.
The answer is.... only to people who really have no idea what we do. And there are a lot of them. I've worked with really big name directors who valued my input and would call me to the monitor frequently to consult about a shot, and I've worked with tv directors who didn't even acknowledge that I existed (and vice versa). This is true, though, in any position to an extent. I've watched as the same thing has happened to DPs, camera operators, ACs, gaffers, and any other position you could name. The bottom line is... we're not lowly but we're replaceable. What we do takes mainly common sense, timing, and is learned by doing the same thing over and over until you get the skills down (just like any other profession). The film business is like a pyramid, but that's mostly in the chain of command area. When you need a good dolly grip, you can't do with a crappy one. Anyone can roll the camera around and park it to shoot. Not everyone can immediately see what you need to get a shot, set up the dolly, lay out the surface, and do a five point move with three booms in it and nail it on the second take....and the third and so on. You're only as "lowly" as your skills allow.

Fisher Ten/Chapman Peewee for sale.
They aren't.

How much does a Dolly/Key Grip make?
Again, depends on your skills, reputation, and work ethic. There's Union Scale which most of us try to get a little over and some can command it, which is somewhere in the 32.00 to 40.00 an hour range. There's also "low budget" Union Scale which can be 15.00 an hour. There's also the abominable cable side letter rate which is around 28.00 an hour. It also depends where you are working and under which contract. New York and LA rates tend to be the highest in the US. Some make a lot more than that on equipment rentals. On non-union, it's often a day rate which can be anywhere from 150.00 to 300.00 a day. These figures are ballpark so don't send me emails telling me the exact number. I really have no idea what they make outside the US.


Wa11y Dolly.
Stop it.

Apple.
???

Thursday, August 06, 2009

This Says It All...


A friend of mine sent this to me. All right Dolly Grips, vote in the poll to the right (if you work in LA) and let me know how it's going out there. My phone ain't ringing much.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

This Weeks TV Nice Moves Award Goes To...


Burn Notice. I just started watching this show and was immediately impressed with the nice sled work. Just coming off an episodic, I know the end result of a lot of our work ends up on the floor. Directors in TV don't get final cut, so a lot of really intricate work that took a lot of sweat to set up gets butchered, for time if nothing else. So if the moves aren't actually worked into the overall look of the show (CSI: Miami, NCIS) you get a lot of inward groans as that beautiful Technocrane shot you worked so hard to get is cut two seconds in for a closeup or an insert.
Burn Notice makes camera movement a large part of the cinematography of the show and it's really nicely done. I don't know who the Dolly Grip is- there's no IMDB listing for him/her (though it's shot by Bill Wages, whom I've worked with a few times) but I would like to send some praise in his, or her direction. Nice work!
Oh yeah, I also saw The Uninvited on cable. Nice work, Gil!
Update- Earl wrote in to tell us that the "A" camera DG is Casey Osborne, and the "B" camera
DG is Jimmy Greene. Thanks Earl and nice work guys!