Sunday, December 26, 2010

2010- What We Learned

"You shouldn't use the sun as a sightline. It will move."
                          - Day player to me earlier this year as I was working out a crane shot.

   2010 was a big year both personally, and at work. Our family lost a Mother, and gained a son, both within a week of each other. Work- wise, it was very busy. I did two series and a feature. Here's what I learned:

1. Although I am philosopically against cup holders on the dolly (that's all I need, one less seat receptacle and something else to lose just so you can have a place to put your coffee), a bicycle style one zip tied to the push bar is fine and completely unobtrusive. I take mine black.

2. When it comes to technocranes, the right tech is the difference between pass and fail. I knew this already, but it was reiterated on a very long day this year)

3. Keep extra wheel clips in the work box. The Hustler cart does a number on them.

4. In cold climates, be sure to run out the arm, and plug in the dolly at wrap or in the morning it's "No boom for you!"

5. Having a list of good Dolly Grips in your phone is invaluable. Unfortunately, they are always working.

6. Computers should have breathalyzers that you have to pass before you can get on the internet.

7. I need bigger cabinets for all the metal water bottles I now get as wrap gifts.

8. 1x8 dance floor pieces come in handy. Always cut one.

9. Don't lock yourself onto track if you can help it, or get away with it. Again, reiterated.

10. Soap works as well on dance floor as powder, and doesn't leave a mess. In fact, theoretically, it should clean it!

11. Luvs and Huggies leak. Pampers don't.

12. I don't let my friends know enough how much I appreciate them. Aww.

13. Cheaper ain't usually better.

14. When in doubt, use the force. It's better than the monitor.

15. Don't let well-meaning DPs who are used to working with crappy Dolly Grips talk you out of what you know. I love ya, but let go of my ears. I know what I'm doing.

16. If you convince said DPs to do it your way, you better damn well be right. I was.

Thanks to all of you for a great year and your inspiration and suggestions. Have a great New Year!
Dollygrippery.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Crane Do's and Don't's

  Our last day on the show before we shut down for the holidays was a big crane day. We had a 17' Moviebird and the shots necessitated moving it around in a relatively small space among a lot of people. This always makes me a little nervous. Besides the obvious dangers of swinging an arm around, over, and among a crowd of actors, background, and the usual suspects (vanities, 2nd AC's and AD's) you have the added variable of quick extensions and retractions. And that's what a lot of shots boil down to.... the variables. You want to decrease the number of them as much as possible. A crane shot involves a lot of them. At the least, you have a Camera Operator, a Crane Operator, and an actor.With an extendable crane, you add in a pickle operator and now you've got four variables that all have to work safely together to execute the shot. A crowd of background actors increases the variables by that much more. Earlier this year, Greg Brooks did an excellent post on Crane Marking. As I was threading the arm through the crowd last week, it occured to me that we had never really done a post on crane ettiquite. I'm going to do it in list form, making it easier to read, and for me to keep track of the points:

1. Scout the location. If you're outside, know where any possible hazards are. This especially includes power lines. There are specific distances that have been set up industry-wide for crane operation. They are here:  http://www.csatf.org/pdf/25ADDENDUM_A.pdf.

2. Know the space. Know how much room you have to operate. Don't forget to include room for the bucket swing.
3. When you are building a crane, it's the nature of the beast for everyone to want to pitch in. Don't let them. Most cranes can be assembled with two or three guys. The more hands that are on it increases the chances that something will get done wrong. A bolt won't be tightened or a piece will get left out or put on backwards. It's standard operating procedure to designate one of the guys as a wrench man, meaning it's his/her resposibility to tighten whatever bolts are used.
4. Inspect your handiwork. Once it's assembled, go over it piece by piece. Is everything tight? Are all the levelling arms connected properly? Are any pieces missing? A lot of times, a rigging crew will put it together for you before you get there. Always check the work. There are some cranes and jibs that have the connecting mechanisms inside the arm or obstructed from view (the Aerocrane Jib, the Phoenix Crane). The levelling arms on the Phoenix are connected in such a way that if you don't know what to look for, you can't tell if they are properly engaged. The AeroJib is the same way. The connections are inside the arm. Make sure they are tight and that you know how to put them together. This is one reason I like the Lenny Arm. There's no mistaking whether a nut is tight on a bolt. Support the crane as you build it. This means, don't build the arm and then attach the support rods last. Add them as you go, especially on the bucket end, until the arm is fully built. An unsupported arm can break or buckle.
5. When you are rolling a built crane into position, approach any curbs or bumps head on, square to them, never at an angle. A crane can quickly become unbalanced and flip.
6. Check the bucket latch. Fewer things can cause a cardiac arrest quicker than seeing all your weights sliding out of a bucket. It's happened to me. It ain't pretty.
7. Safety the camera. Most head techs will hard safety it anyway but always ask them if they need a safety or if they have their own. Sometimes they don't. A daisy-chain webbing and a carribeaner to the head does the trick. Don't forget to safety the matte box. Don't send a camera up on a remote head without a safety.
8. People rarely ride cranes anymore, but some do. Many operators just prefer to look through the eyepiece for focus, bogeys, etc. Buckle them in. It's not only for their safety, but also to keep them from absent-mindedly stepping off the crane and killing your bucket man. There's nothing like diving to catch an arm to get your blood flowing. When the platform reaches the ground after the shot, step on it. No one gets on or off without your say-so.
9. Know where your weight is. Stay in contact with the camera department and let them know when you are weighing in a camera or operator. I've had at least one AC take the camera off after it was weighed in. He won't make that mistake again.
10. Level your base. It's not only for safety, it keeps the arm from swinging on it's own.
11. If you're on track, it's a good idea to but a clamp or bag at the ends, especially if it's well off the ground. A dolly going off is one thing. A crane makes a much bigger, and more dangerous splash.
12. Don't let people absent- mindedly loiter under the arm while it's up. People love to stand under crane arms. I don't know why.
   These are some basics. There are many more tricks to crane work which I'm sure I've left out. Please leave any you may wish to add in the comments.
Please have a safe and happy Holiday Season, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. My year end round up is coming.
D

 
 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dealing With Surge

  I've done posts on choosing your surface before, but some of the work I did this week gave me the idea to do a refresher post. It was going to originally involve surging, the bane of all creep moves. The choice of what surface you roll on for a creep has a huge effect on the execution of the move. The more I thought about it, I decided to go ahead and include other moves as well.
  As I've stated before, and every Dolly Grip knows, creeps are the hardest, most grueling moves you can do. There's nothing quite like trying to make two feet of push-in last for two pages of dialogue. It can be mind numbing. And one thing that can make it harder is surge. Surge is the point in your beautiful, dramatic push-in where you meet an imperfection in the surface you are rolling on that causes the dolly to pick up speed or stall. It can really draw attention to itself, especially if there is a prominent foreground piece that suddenly seems to move faster or slower in the frame. Do yourself a favor, pick your surface wisely. I always try to do a creep on track. A lot of Dolly Grips use planks (usually 1x12 clear pine for example) for simple moves. I'm not a big fan of planks. In fact, I rarely use them. They just have too many imperfections that can ruin or make a creep harder. I always try to go on track when possible for a creep. It eliminates the variable of steering, and has the least imperfections of your choices, cutting out surges and stalls and allowing you to concentrate on the move and your timing. Always try to use the surface that suits each move and what you're trying to accomplish. If a lot of actors are walking through my trajectory, I'll go with floor. If the existing floor is flat and even enough, I'll go with just plastic. If it's not in the way and is just a move on a fixed plane, I'll go with track. I did make a conscious decision on my current show to go with floor in almost every case on interiors. The shots just evolve too much to get locked onto a piece of track. Foreground actors move around too much and directors always want to change the shot a couple of takes in and go tighter or wider at one point and a floor allows me to accomodate this. If the shot is a "special," though, and I know it won't change, such as a push-in on an object, or a solitary actor doing a long speech, I'll almost always go with a rail. As I've said before, one of my favorite shortcuts is to use two of my 2x8 dance floor pieces as planks for shorter moves. They have lower surge, they are easier to get in and out of sets than a 4x8, and still allow for versatility if the shot changes a little bit.
  I'm now three weeks into my show and it's been exhausting, so I haven't posted as much lately, but keep checking in. Stay safe. Till next time, and in keeping with our ongoing series of pretty actresses with dollies, this comes to us by way of Wick. It's European actress Justinia Sieniawka with a Fisher 11. Thanks Wick and Justinia! Keep 'em coming!
D

Friday, December 03, 2010

Back to Work

   I mainly wanted to get the Thanksgiving turkey off the top of the page, because the longer it's up there, the more neglected the page looks. I'm still in the midst of semi-invalid wife/ infant care, only now I've added the responsibility of work to the pile. My series started back this week. They always like to do an episode or two before the holidays to get a jumpstart on the year and provide us all with Christmas/ Hannukah (diaper) money. So I'm back in the land of dance floor and night exteriors for the time being until we shut down for the holidays. I've got some ideas for columns planned, I just need time to get to them, and maybe this coming year we'll get around to that podcast we've been planning forever. (and maybe even some t-shirts). Till then, I've got a 3PM call time and a baby screaming downstairs, so I've got to run, but I'll be back very soon. Thanks for still tuning in.

D

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm still dealing with a screaming infant most of the day and night so posting time is still scarce. But I do want to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday. Don't let the TSA get you!

PS- Don't forget to use our forum on the right. Just click and start a conversation.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Brief Pause

I will be away from the computer for a few days to handle some family responsibilities. Talk among yourselves. Here's a topic to help you get started..."Luma Beam Levellers-Friend or Foe?" on second thought, that one's putting me to sleep already. Let's try "Beer- The Great Equalizer." Be back soon.
D

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Everybody Wants to Be a Dolly Grip


Including the lovely Laura Dern. Thanks Laura.

All right. Who's next?

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Indurberator

   "Indurberator" is what a DP I worked for many years ago called the "RO" or "rotating offset." This piece of equipment which we all take for granted goes a long way in saving our butts in a lot of situations. If you are against a wall and need that extra six inches to the left, just loosen a knob, or flip a lever if you're a Fisher guy, and BAM!, problem solved. It's really an ingenious idea that most of us never really think about. You just automatically factor it in when laying track or a floor and don't often even realize the stream of consciousness reference to it: "Ok, if I offset the RO to the right, I can set the track a little more to the left and get around that corner and still hit the number two mark. Now, where'd I leave my tape measure?"  I usually set it at about 45 degrees to the right on the inside if I'm on the big dolly and the same on the Peewee, only to the outside, to keep the operator more centered over the dolly. I have, over the last few shows, however, had some camera operators complain about the Chapman ROs'. You know, the new style (not really so new anymore, just the "newest") Hustler 4 and Peewee ROs' with the center knob and the pin under the levelling head. I'll admit, they are a pain, and light years harder to deal with than simply flipping the lever on a Fisher RO. I've turned quite a few operators on to Chapman dollies in the past few years, but this is the one sticking point: they don't like the RO.  I was at Chapman today loading in a show and spoke with an engineer about it (Leonard and Christine weren't there) and told him what I needed. He scratched his chin for a minute and said, "We'll take care of it for you." That's what I call service. So hopefully, we'll soon see a different option for the Hustler and Peewee in the Indurberator department. I'll keep you posted.

Dear Paul Maibaum, is it strange that I still remember this word after 15 years? You've coined a term!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Last Supertechno 100 Pics


Ok, I know some of you are tired of seeing them, but I'm getting more emails asking for more. Vladimir with Supertechno sent these. Thanks to him, and all who've taken the time to send pictures. We all appreciate them and are extremely interested to see how this thing works.
Meanwhile, the series I'm presently working on is winding down. I'll have more to say about that later. I'm still debating whether or not to go back to my old standby series. They did come through with more (a lot more) money and it's 7 months of work, so I'm torn between wanting to leave myself open for feature work and the promise of a steady long run of paychecks, especially with a son due any day now. It's a great show to be on with a crew that I love, but if I gave you a list of some of the movies I turned down last year because I was committed to this thing, you would immediately write me off as a moron or a liar. Anyway, I'm tired. Bone tired. Tired of being on a movie set for as long as I can remember and in need of some time away from all of it. And I'm about to get it, thanks to the State of California and their paid family leave program (and we wonder why California is bankrupt). I hope all of you Sled Dogs out there are doing well and staying safe. (At this point in the post, I always look for some really cool, appropriate sendoff line, but I got nothing, so if you think of a good one, leave it in the comments).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

More Pics




This time from Wick.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Another Techno 100 Pic

This one from Onno. You can get a better idea of the height of the post with this one. Also, a representative from Technocrane left a comment when he couldn't find the email address. It is dollygrippery at gmail dot com. Thanks for any pictures or info you may send us. We appreciate it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What Supports You?


Pure and simple - we're on our feet all day. We aren't lucky enough to be able to come to set and plunk our set chair in a nice in the way spot and set up our magazines. We are running up and down stairs and gravel driveways - trying to find grip to start the 200ft running in parallel or Flintstoning a stop in an office hallway. I always feel it trying to do crane lock offs while trying not to move my feet from their planted spots.

I'm starting a new show this week and am trying to get into the tradition of purchasing new shoes with the start of each new show.

Generally I go through 3 - 5 pairs of runners a year. I'm a stickler. I've got wideish feet, so I've had to stay with a brand that I can get a 4E width. I've been wearing New Balance's 600 series for years. They're reasonable in price depending on where you shop. While I was waiting for the salesperson to return, I started looking around at other options (the buy one, 50% off the second pair was also tickling my wallet). I like the Merrell's, but once again, I get into an issue with finding my size and width - I've stopped wearing Nikes and Reeboks because of lack of widths - forcing me to buy larger sizes than I need (think Clown Shoes…).

Just in the last year, I've also come over to the Blunnie side. I finally plunked down the cash for a pair of Blundstones last year and have slowly been working my feet into them. I find depending on the store, the folks that sell Blundstone are a different breed of salespeople. Mind you, for the price I'd hope so, but it makes the purchase of the boot a lot easier on the pocket book, but they really want to see you happy wearing Blunnies and will do most anything to help - cleaning, stretching, footboards, etc.

All this opens another door to posture - the right shoe can go a long way to help with back trouble. Wrong shoe and you'll be in pain everyday.

What are you wearing to set?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

People You Should Visit...

I'm a little short on time and inspiration this week, so I'm going to try and send some business to some friends. These are all companies owned and operated by Grips throughout the world. They've put themselves and their talent on the line to build successful businesses. Check 'em out.

The Gripworks. Sanjay Sami has built one of the largest Grip shops in Asia. If you need it, he can make it. And he's a helluva nice guy. Visit him at thegripworks.com,

Grip411. If you need it, these guys know where to get it. Rick Davis has the info on anything grips use from clamps to cranes. Need answers? Visit grip411.com.

The Gentlemen Grips. I have been affiliated with these guys for almost my entire career, first as a hammer, then as a Dolly Grip. They're my family. Key Grip Alan Rawlins is one of the best in the business and can equip any size production. Check them out at gentlemengrips.com.

Solid Grip Systems. Onno Perdjic is a genius. Check out his Truss Dolly System and you'll know why. Visit them at solidgripsystems.eu

GI Track. Developed by Dolly grips for Dolly Grips, this innovative track system is generating a lot of interest. It's well thought out and extremely well-built. Check out Gil Forrester's company at gitrack.com.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Life of a Fill-In B-Camera Dolly Grip

  I arrive at the backlot at a large metropolitan studio at 6:30 am, tired because I worked a 60 hour week, slightly edgy because I know absolutely no one on the crew, and pissed because it's a Sunday. I take the waiting van from the parking structure to catering and quickly wolf down a bowl of oatmeal and a non-descript muffin. The air is slightly chilly this early and I shiver as I find the still-closed grip truck. I am a fill-in B-camera Dolly Grip.

   My friend Jerry had called me last Thursday and asked if I could fill in for him  on Sunday for a splinter unit he was pushing B- Camera on. As I am already in the middle of a rather difficult tv show, the last thing I wanted to do was take a B-Camera job, especially on a Sunday. Now, you have to know that Jerry is no ordinary B-Camera Dolly Grip. In real life, Jerry is a Key Grip who does very big movies with temperamental directors, DP's whose names sound vaguely European, and lavish catering. I have turned Jerry down for the last two jobs he's called me for because of previous bookings and my IMDB page is much the poorer for it. He is also a great guy and a truly phenomenal Key Grip. So, I told him if he couldn't find anyone else to do it, I would. I congratulated myself on my ability to be caring and selfless, as well as clever. Then, secure in the knowledge that in a town lousy with Dolly Grips, someone would take the call, I promptly forgot about it and went on about my business. Then Friday came and I noticed the text message recieved light blinking on my fantastically stupid Blackberry. "Couldn't find anyone to do it. Can you?" My heart dropped. But, I resigned myself to it. I couldn't turn this one down. If you turn down too many the calls stop coming.

  First impressions: I knew absolutely no one on  this crew. Ok, I did know the A- Camera Dolly Grip in passing and by reputation and we had mutual friends. Oh, I remember the Key Grip. Same deal, though I had worked with him before.  A nice guy. The rest? Never seen 'em before in my life. I shake hands with the guys, mumble a "Nice to meet you" and unload my Peewee from the truck. Next came a whirlwind of track laying, over-holding, helping the A -Dolly Grip build a deck for a dance floor, and then, at the 8 hour mark, a company move. It went by in a long, harshly sunlit blur. It's always a little discomforting to work with a completely unfamiliar crew. They all know each other. They all know where the extra wedges and the turnbuckles are. They all have nicknames or call each other by their last names. I on the other hand feel a little lost and not a little addled. Between the long week, little rest, cumulative burnout from endless work, and just being tired of movie sets in general, I'm more than ready for this day to end, and not a little relieved when the last half of the day consisted of mostly A- Camera only shots. I had a 6:30 am call on Monday and wanted to get home in time to get at least 8 hours of sleep. At hour 16 I began to realize that tomorrow was going to suck even more than my most fevered dreams could even approach. Finally, they decided to cut the last scene and after thanking all the guys, exchanging phone numbers with the A- Camera Dolly Grip (I had lost his in a phone that I washed in a washing machine a while back) I wearily headed toward the parking structure.
  The next day, running on three hours sleep I-  yelled at the camera operator (twice), barely restrained myself from yelling at the DP and getting fired, drank too much coffee, and went through a whole tin of snuff. Was it worth it? Well, in the process I also- helped out a guy who needed it, hopefully earned myself  a little more time in the boss' s phone list, met some cool people who are really good at what they do. Oh yeah, I made a little money in the deal too. One thing I've learned is that as bad as it sucks now, that check next Thursday tends to make it all a little more worthwhile. Thanks, guys for the opportunity. It was a pleasure meeting and working with you all. Now, I've got to go apologize to my camera operator.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

SuperTechno 100

Our friend Ian sent us pictures of the new 100' Technocrane being tested in Germany. Thanks to the guys at Supertechno for permission to post them.

Friday, August 27, 2010

One Piece At A Time

  I can remember as a young Dolly Grip how nothing got my palms sweating more than a big dance floor move. It was hard enough doing one where all the points are known and you got a chance at a couple of decent rehearsals. But the really scary ones were the ones that evolved as you went through a rehearsal, with the director shouting out a new instruction at each point. "Tighten up when she leans in here" or "Boom down when he goes around" were added to the pile of instructions you already had in your head and before you knew it, the whole scene was a useless muddle while you broke out in a cold sweat wondering how you would ever remember it all, much less execute it. Over time I learned the secret: Take it one piece at a time. If you try to think about the move as a whole, it'll scare the hell out of you. Think of it in chunks, one building upon the other, until soon  it all comes together. Here's another secret. The actors will tell you what to do and where you should be. No, I don't mean to go up to Robert DeNiro and ask him where number three is. I mean that if you understand the shot, and move with the actors, it's a lot easier to remember what happens when. It's all about understanding the actors movements in the scene in relation to the camera as opposed to a bunch of mechanical "okay, now I go here" movements. Generally, in Dollygrippery, the camera moves when someone in the scene does. Watching where they go will tip you off quickly to where your next mark is. Recently I did one of these moves that just builds and builds with every rehearsal. The director was Jonathan Demme, a great guy but not afraid to challenge you. What started out as a simple half-circle around a desk countering an actor turned into a five point move with a boom from the bottom to the top of the arm and a couple after that. As the move got more complex, the old sweaty palms started. Then, I took a deep breath and remembered to watch the actors and think of it one piece at a time. I nailed it on the first take, except for a minor blockage on a line, and by the third take I had it down. This is the secret that will save you these pregame jitters. Don't make the mistake of trying to shoehorn the whole sequence into your short-term memory all at once. It doesn't work. Watch the actors.

On a totally different note, I'm missing some of my old buddies I used to hear from pretty regularly. Where are you guys? GHB has been silent, as well as Wick and my old friend Megamoose. Just drop me a line and let me know you're still out there.

 On a happier note, Dollygrippery would like to congratulate Sanjay Sami and his beautiful wife, Tara, on the birth of their baby boy. Mother and son are doing fine. Get some sleep, Sanjay. I'm not far behind you.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hit and Run

This post was suggested by my friend Larry, one of the best boom ops in the business. It refers to the unfortunate reality that sooner, or later, someone is going to be hit by the dolly. It's pretty much inevitable. You put several people, all concentrating on their own tasks in combination with a 500 lb machine careening around a small space, sooner or later it's going to happen. In all my years I can list as victims, several DPs, a few Boom Operators, countless extras, and, of course, myself, not necessarily in that order. Still photographers seem to be the most common victims. They're sneaky, they're focused, they're often oblivious to the world around them because they're looking through the eyepiece of a different camera as mine swoops (yes, it swoops) around the room during a scene. Let me say this right off the bat: I have a lot of respect for still photographers. They often have a thankless job. The crew never really quite knows where they fit in. They kind of come and go on their own schedule and are part of the publicity department, so are often seen as somehow not really part of the crew by other crew members. I myself am guilty of this train of thought, even though I know they are part of the camera crew. The best still photographers are like ghosts. You might catch a glimpse of one as you dolly in, but they quickly fade out of view only to appear on the other side of the room as you land. But there are those who just always seem to be in the way. They materialise directly on top of your number two mark as you race toward it, obliviously snapping pictures as you try to silently warn them of impending doom while your 500+ lbs of steel, camera, and operator races toward them. This type drives me nuts. I've got enough things to watch without having to worry about flattening someone who suddenly decides that the perfect shot can only be taken from the exact center of my trajectory as I bear down on them trying to execute a boom and a move while simultaneously watching some actor go through his paces. My rule of thumb is, warn them once. After that, it's every man for himself. As f
ar as actors go, I've only hit two in all my years: Forrest Whitaker and John Heard. Both were warned extensively before the shot where not to step. Both inadvertantly stepped right where they shouldn't have. Forrest was a complete gentleman and apologized profusely even as I apologized to him (though I knew it wasn't my fault). John Heard was a complete dipshit about it, howling in pain (the dumbass was wearing flip flops for off camera dialogue) like I had done it on purpose until the director walked up and told him, "You were warned. You have to look out for yourself at all times." The thing is, it's going to happen sooner or later, so it's best to cover yourself beforehand by warning all parties involved, "I'm pushing in/ moving left/ backing up, so be aware." After that, you can only do what you can do. If you happen to smack someone after duly warning them, it's their own fault and as bad as you may feel, you have to let it go. This feeds right in to the type of surface you choose for a particular shot. You want to avoid actors having to step over track as it is much more hazardous than dance floor. If you have to lead an actor as he/she walks directly in front of camera, offset the track and use a camera offset. If an actor has to walk across your surface, use floor when you can or ask the actor if he or she is ok with stepping over track. Most of the time they are fine with it, but always be aware of how your choices affect others during the shot. I once worked for a DP who didn't allow me to lay dance floor anywhere the actors walked. While noble, this is extremely impractical (and stupid). Needless to say, this adds hours to the day and compromises a lot of your work, trying to figure out how to do this. It's just a little over the top. Anyway, I digress. Just be aware of how your choices affect others and be sure all parties involved in the shot know what is going on. Keep your eyes open for potential disaster, and always CYA. This has been a public service announcement of Dollygrippery.

I have to add a second part to this post. I recieved an email from a reader concerning the correct way to top-mount a camera on a "Straight Shoot'r."  Having not used one in years, I must defer to you guys. Here is the email:

"I'm currently working with a Straight Shoot'r jib on the Fisher10. It came with the camera mount under-slung, and we needed to top-mount it for a shoot the other day. We worked out a way to top mount it that didn't feel 100% right or slide as smooth, but worked well enough for what we needed. I have found pictures online of what it should look like top-mounted and it looks like what we had. I was just wondering if any of you had any experience with this jib and any pointers?"

Thursday, July 29, 2010

This is What Dolly Grips in India Look Like.

Sanjay sent me this picture of Priyanka, his Dolly Grip in India. This is hands- down one of the coolest things I've ever seen. If she starts working in America, we're all out of a job*

























*OK, just kidding. This is Priyanka Chopra, one of the most famous actresses in India (or probably the Eastern Hemisphere) and a former Miss World, posing with Sanjay's new Hybrid.  She's beautiful ain't she? (I mean the girl, not the dolly). Thanks to Priyanka and Sanjay.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Business as Usual

There's not much going on right now, other than work and sleep. My hometown of Atlanta is slammed with  feature work, while Los Angeles is sputtering along on TV. I'm working on a couple of post ideas, I just need time to write them. Hopefully this weekend I'll get a chance (unless I get a long turnaround). Stay safe.
D

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Where We Are

Every so often, I get a little fired up about our field. I (we) work a lot of thankless hours to deliver shots that really make or break a picture. We do it for much less pay than we're worth, and everyone but the producers generally know it. Since 2007, every year or so, I do a "state of the field" post. Usually it's after a few rum and cokes and often, I wake up the next morning in a mad scramble to correct whatever I wrote the night before. This year , I didn't really offend anyone, unless you're the kind of half-ass Key Grip who promotes your half wit brother or son to Dolly Grip because he needs a job. If you are, thanks for keeping us down. You are a big part of the reason our rates are what they are and why I have to demonstrate that I can do a compound move on each show.

I  started this site (I hate, HATE the word blog)  in 2007 to try and bring together the Dolly Grips of the world into some kind of community where we could all share our common gripes and also get a few tips from each other. Since then, I've made friends from all over the world. It's a strange thing about Dolly Grips, we have a profound impact upon the final image, yet we are often treated as less than important by production. Camera Operators know of our importance to the process. Believe me, I hear horror stories from them all the time of less than stellar "dolly grips" who can't hit a mark or have no concept of eyelines, timing, or blocking. You know the ones. They're bumped up by their  Key Grip brother-in-law or father, but don't know a camera riser from a seat riser. It's a joke perpetrated by guys who should know better. Yet, those of us who work at our craft are still often thought of as somehow less than integral to the process by production. It's an endless source of fascination to me that some cretin  who happens to be related to the Key Grip is suddenly a Dolly Grip, but it takes years of practice to become a camera operator. Here's the bottom line, dude. It's more than going from one to two. If you don't know that by now, you probably have no business being a Key Grip. I'm really happy you got your kid a job as a Dolly Grip, but he doesn't even know how to do a compound move or set up a dolly shot properly. Dolly Gripping is not an entry level position. It's like the old saying, " you never need a cop till there's not one around." Not that what we do is anywhere near as important as what the men and women of law enforcement do, but it's the same concept in our little world. I see it as my job day to day to keep production moving as quickly as possible. This means that I already know which side of camera the looks are on a turnaround, and have a plan for making it happen before the gate is checked. I make it my business to know where the camera is going to go before the DP tells me, how much track or floor I'll need, and any special equipment I'll need before it ever comes up. All of you know what I'm talking about. I had a dayplayer "B" camera "Dolly Grip" a while back who didn't know how to put the low mode on a Peewee 3. He promoted himself as a dolly grip but didn't know this most fundamental of tasks. This is what I've tried to help weed out with dollygrippery. I don't, by any means, count myself among the best, but I've spent years trying to become proficient in the basics of pushing dolly. And I'm pretty good at it. It ain't rocket surgery, but it is a craft. Just like bricklaying, or DPing, there are certain basics to the profession. Find the high point. Know your eyelines. Know your focal lengths. Know how to put the frakking low mode on a Peewee. These are things that we know as intuitively as our own names from doing it day after endless day for years. That's what dollygrippery is all about: knowing your craft. When I watch a movie and see a dolly move that takes my breath away, I say to myself, "nice work, brother*" and then I wait to see in the credits who did it. Because I know, as all of you do, what goes into it. More often than not, it's a friend or acquaintance of mine, which makes it that much more thrilling. I always lean over to my wife and say proudly, " I know that guy." This has no effect on her. She thinks I'm a nerd and rolls her eyes, but I'm proud for my friend because I know firsthand the artistry and discipline it takes to pull off a really difficult move. So I'd like to thank those of you who've become my friends on dollygrippery, and to those Dolly Grips whose work I so admire. You've made my life that much richer with your stories and comments. You all make it a little easier to do my own work knowing that you are all out there doing the same things all over the world. So the state of the craft, as I see it is, a little better than it used to be. I still run across operators and DP's who want to tell me every move to make, at least for the first day or two, but that's as it has always been. It has always seemed a little strange to me though that it seems to be taken for granted that Camera Operators and Focus Pullers are assumed to be competent from day one, but Dolly Grips spend the first week of a show auditioning. It's just this situation that I created Dollygrippery to help alleviate. To bring some sense of community to the Dolly Grip world and the Grip world in general. And here's another thing. There's a little story going around about certain members of a certain local being told they're, "Lucky to be working," when they call up the local to complain about the HBO rate or any number of things we should be protected from by our union each day. Here's a tip: I ain't "lucky" to be working. I work regularly because I sweat my ass off to do the best job I can, and like the other working Dolly Grips in this business, I deliver. Luck has very little to do with it and being told this by those I pay to protect my interests is an insult to those of us who are in the trenches every day and look to  for our protection. So shut it.
Deep breath.
Anyway, this turned into a little more of a rant than I intended. Thanks to all of my readers. Stay safe and keep it between the ditches (after your 14 hour day).


*This doesn't preclude the contributions of sister Dolly Grips. Unfortunately, our sisters haven't made inroads into pushing dolly like I hoped they would. I know of several kickass female grips who I would put up against anyone. Alexa is the only sister Dolly Grip I know personally. I would love to hear from more of you, so write in and tell me your story.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

New From Chapman

video

This is one of the newest things that Chapman is developing. It's an offroad dunebuggy set up for hard mounting or Steadicam. Clearly for MOS shooting.  Ask them about it next time you're there.

PS- I had another post up this morning but I'm not satisfied with it, so I'm rewriting. It'll be back up soon.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

What's Your Favorite Crane?

Another site I frequent had a question from a grip who is in the market for a crane as to which is the best. Immediately, I saw the makings of a post. A great many of the replies recommended the GFMs and Giraffe. First let's look at a few different kinds of cranes. The portable crane really changed the way a lot of movies are shot. The Louma revolutionized the industry with the ability to place a camera in a tight space and still deliver a crane move. Everyone's old favorite, the Lenny Arm continued this trend and before you know it, we were inundated with portable cranes, most from Europe or South Africa, and most named after animals. The Giraffe, Panther, Pegasus, Phoenix, and others greatly expanded the Dolly Grip's options and since they could be purchased, unlike the Lenny Arm, a lot of Grip's wallets. My earliest crane experiences were with the beloved Titan and the often cursed, but very effective Lenny. Then came the Giraffe, which due to it's ease of assembly and relatively light-weight components, became the most often seen, used, and purchased crane (at least in the markets I was working in). It snapped together quickly, could accomodate a rider at shorter lengths, and a "hothead" at longer (I believe up to 37'  if memory serves) configurations. It also didn't involve the large wrenches and cumbersome steel of the Lenny. Then, the Giraffe seemed to become less visible, and the Phoenix became the new favorite. Now, with Technocranes everywhere, the Phoenix seems to be the most used portable crane when the shot doesn't call for an extendable arm. I like the Phoenix. Gentlemen Grips, who I work for often, has two, and they are easy to put together, more solid than the Giraffe, and have a minimum of "whip" even at the longest length. The Lenny arm will still get it done, with a little more work (how many of us have put it together and realized we'd forgotten to put the "ears" for the cables between the sections?). One thing's for sure, it's a solid choice because it's an ultra-reinforced chunk of steel. I think you could hit it with a stakebed and it would probably destroy the stakebed. For jibs, I prefer the Fisher 23. This is the best non rideable portable crane in  existence in my opinion. For ease and speed of assembly and great action on the bearings it can't be beat. I like the Hydrascope and really want to see the new 70 footer. I also like the Moviebird just for it's great arm swing and really easy action at almost 50'. These of course are my own opinions and experiences and not at all the rule. There are a lot of portables I haven't tried, such as the GFMs and Panthers. Give me some feedback. What are your favorites?


I wrote this on my wife's fancy tiny computer,which I can barely see. It's almost like writing a post on my cellphone, aside from the fact that I'm in Vegas and likes my Vodka drink. Therefore, it's not the most well written post I've ever done but I hope you get the gist.
D

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy 4th!

Happy Birthday America and thank you to those who have served and still serve our country!
I'm off to Vegas for three days. Have a great week!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Another Season Over...

Well, another season of my tv show is coming to an end. I now get about two weeks off and go right into another (yes, at the crappy cable rate, but it keeps me here and the rentals help out). I didn't do the whole six month run this time. I just didn't have it in me and I had made a deal with the boss that if a real paying gig came along, I was going to take it. So I had a three month reprieve while I went to do a feature out of town for a substantially higher rate. Here's the kicker. We worked nine hour days. I couldn't believe it. My checks at the end of the week weren't that much more than they were on the tv show I had just left. So I did that job and then my boss graciously allowed me to return to the show and finish it out (much to the relief of my B Camera Dolly Grip who had bumped up into my spot and looked like he had just about had all he was inclined to take. All in all, another good season with a great bunch of people. As usual, here's what I learned:

Bad coffee is not necessarily better than no coffee.
Beware of actresses offering goodbye hugs.
Pie is hard to get out of your ear.
Sunscreen. Always.
Build the beams.
Better yet, have the riggers build the beams and drop them off.
You don't necessarily need pneumatics.
There is more than one cool Frenchman. (I only knew one before. Frenchman that is).
Make things harder on yourself on purpose if you want to get better. (I knew this one but the cool Frenchman reminded me).
Roundy isn't just for going around things. (I have a previous post about this one).
To quote the song, "I ain't as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was." (This has really no bearing on anything. I just like that saying and I'm practicing for when I'm old).
Cable shows will save money no matter how much it costs.
Don't drink with the British unless you're off the next day.
If you do drink with the British, the next day will be the longest and hottest of the season.

That's about it. We've got a few more days and then a little time off. I for one could use it.

D

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

There But For The Grace of God....

"We'll go around this curve and maybe the car won't flip over."
                       -The stunt coordinator on a movie I did at age 21, speaking of the Shotmaker on which I was riding.


   Before you read this, read this: http://hollywoodjuicer.blogspot.com/2010/05/rainy-night-in-georgia.html and this: http://thehillsareburning.blogspot.com/2010/05/film-set-tragedy-lessons-learned.html.
  OK, now that you're back, I want to relate my experience with this incident. I recieved a call from one of my readers (who I'll call Andy) right after this happened. Andy was very upset because this production had contacted him previously about working this shoot and he had declined the job. More importantly, he had warned the production coordinator that they needed to have an experienced rigger as well as gaffer before attempting any of the things they wanted to do. When Andy called me, he was furious, upset, and confused about what was a completely avoidable situation that they were WARNED about. Georgia being my backyard, I made some calls to find out the details. I didn't learn much, only that the "local" gaffer was no one I knew, and the crew was made up of students. This immediately told me three things: these guys had no business doing the things they were doing, this promising young man died as a direct result of this fact, and this could have easily been me twenty years ago.
  The film business is a nebulous world at best. Staffed by freelancers, crews tend to move around a lot. They get work mostly by reputation, and there aren't any real competency standards. As far as production knows, the guy tightening the bolts on the truss hanging over Tom Hank's head has a serious coke problem and was just released from prison this morning. It's up to the people doing the immediate hiring- the Key Grips, and Gaffers, to ensure that their crews are competent and safe. As a fresh faced twenty year old, I was just excited to be a part of this world and I didn't really think too much about the danger level of the things I was often asked to do, or the sanity of the person asking me to do them. You want me to hold this 2x4 and whack you with it if you get bit while tying-in? Okay. I'm just honored to be the one you trust your life with. You want me to go rig this condor? Okay. Now which one is the crescent wrench? I would gladly do things I wasn't even remotely qualified to do, often at great danger to myself or others. As I got older and more experienced I learned when to say no, and more importantly, that I could say no. It's up to us to largely police ourselves, and as far as professional studio productions go we do a pretty good job. As a general rule, someone who is unsafe or incompetent is gone before lunch. The unions and studios  have stepped up their attempts to lower the probability of accidents (and lawsuits) by instituting the safety passport program. This only applies to West Coast locals, though, and the "tests" at the end of the classes are arguably geared toward the  most moronic among us. The union/ studio world also tends to be a little "smaller." Most of us know who the players are and the bad apples get bad reputations pretty quick. It's the world of student films and low budget productions where more things are apt to slip through the cracks. The bottom line is this, and I think Michael Taylor said it best: it takes years to learn and master gripping and juicing. If you haven't put a lot of time in with a lot of experienced mentors, you've got no business rigging a condor or running the kind of power it takes to juice up a film set with 18k's. You wouldn't hire a college freshman to plumb or wire your house, why would you trust him or her with thousands of volts or steel over your head? This was a stupid, needless tragedy that happened because production didn't want or have the money to hire someone who knew what they were doing. They treated it as an afterthought. A hobby. And now they're trying to hide. Atlanta is full of top notch grips and juicers. I'd put a lot of them up against anyone in the business. A quick call to the union local or the film office could probably have resulted in someone willing to come out for a couple hundred to  help out some students. I actually lived very close to Monticello a few years ago. If I had been there when these guys were shooting, and had nothing else going on, I would have gladly gone and helped them out just for a free meal. I've got no problem helping students. And the first thing I would have noticed is the power lines. It's the most basic thing you learn when dealing with crane arms or condors. Scout the area and know what the hazards are.
    As you can see, at least two better writers than I have covered this unfortunate happening. I was just struck by how young this boy was and saw in him a little of that skinny, naive, but determined young man I once was. Then I was reminded of Andy's phone call and how upset he was that his advice to these students had been ignored. So if you're a young grip or juicer or just a student trying to break in, keep your eyes open.  Ultimately you are responsible for yourself.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Cinegear Expo

I'll be out at the Cinegear Expo tomorrow at Paramount (at least if I can make it after working all night). Hope to see some of you there. You can register online at cinegearexpo.com. It's 20 bucks at the door but it should be worth it.
D

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Moving On?

I've been slogging it out on network TV this year. First a pilot for CW, now on a series for NBC. I've encountered a few things:

The pilot had a big name director / producer. I won't mention names, but let's says he's gotten a bunch of TV shows off the ground (all having three letter titles). I pushed B dolly and had him within three feet of me all at time - screaming all the way, thankfully not at me, but at the rest of the crew (DP included). Seems he doesn't really like the whole "film making process...". Nerve wracking to say the least. Oddly enough, this was the second time I've pushed for B camera. I've always pushed A camera, but acknowledge that B camera is certainly a place to cut your teeth and hone your craft. I tip my hat to anyone who is part of a crew and has stayed pushing B.

On my current job, we've brought in a new guy to the crew to push B. He's a competent guy but also new to concentrating on dolly pushing and to the B spot. We've been able to share experiences and I've been able to pass along tips to help him get through this project - number one - don't be bullied into something you can't pull off. Yes, operator comfort is a priority, but at the same time, you have to be able to physically be able to do your job.

The show we're doing is of a CIA agent - so you've got the offices and enclosed spaces to deal with. I'm a big of NCIS and have more respect for the dolly grips on that show for what they've pulled off episode to episode, season after season. Just the amount of coverage in the bullpen alone is mind boggling. I'm hating our set design so much. Lots of glass and reflections for me and the operator to contend with (my op is pulling his hair out!!) We're in "ninja suits" all the time.

Two mechanical things that have come up in our first four weeks of shooting: We've managed to tear off the front corner seat pocket cap on our Hybrid, not once, but twice. Seems the cap is screwed into only an 1/8th of an inch of metal (first time we shot screws into the ceiling). Yes, we were using an seat extension and no, the operator is not a heavy guy. I'm still working with our rental house on this and have put in an email to Chapman.

The replacement chassis groans more than I do. I dread doing dancefloor moves in our studio, as the floors of the warehouse aren't level and I don't always have all eight wheels on the ground. I thought it may have been a loose leg (once again, the front left), but after tightening it still sounds awful. Even now, if a seat is placed in that pocket, then the pocket creaks like a old wooden sailing boat.

We do alot of handheld work and I finally got around to assembling the Mitchell Tractor seat (only to discover two weeks later that Modern now has one). Its been a life saver and the operator loves it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Goodbye



You were smelly.
You were filthy.
You cost me a fortune.
Like a lot of Good Dogs, you were an immense pain in the ass.
You loved us every day and we miss you more than we could ever say.
Goodbye Old Man. Safe travels. See you down the road.
I love you.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Moviebird Review and Something Cool

I had been hearing a lot lately about the Moviebird Technocrane and was curious to try it out myself. Last week I got the chance. We used the MB 35/45 over several nights and I must say that it performed admirably. We put it through several paces including a full speed extension matching a running actress and it held up well. We got the crane from Procam Rentals and Tech David Hammer came out with it and was a pleasure to work with. The crane will operate at 35' max, or, with the addition of an extension, at 45' max. Hammer explained that at full 45' extension it does get a little whippy but that this can be alleviated somewhat by dropping it back down to 35'. We used it at full extension and while there was a good bit of whip to it on a fast pan, it was possible to finesse a lot of it out after a couple of runs. I have to say that at the full 45', just shy of what a 50' Supertechno would offer, the arm is extremely responsive and not near as bulky or clunky as a 50' Supertechno. The arm balances extremely well and doesn't require a lot of babysitting. The tilt dampener on it also works well and holds it rock solid. Set up is pretty much just like the normal Technocranes we're all used to. Altogether, I would have to say it's a solid choice and wouldn't hesitate to use it again.
 Moviebird, and Procam also offer lengths of 17',  24' and 30'.
All in all, the only con that I saw at all was the whippiness at full stick at 45', but this is almost balanced out by the easier maneuverability of the arm. Of course you would have to pick a crane based on your particular needs.
I liked it and I especially like the responsiveness of the arm at full stick compared to a 50' Techno.
Pickle wise, it seemed comparable to the Technos we all know and love.

You can reach Procam Rentals at 818-717-0354 and Hammer will give you all the details. Their website is procamrentals.com . Tell 'em Dollygrippery sent ya.


Now, for the "something cool."  Those of us who favor the Hustler 4 know what a pain it can be in outdoor rural settings. It's just a little low to the ground and heavy to get over roots and hills etc. While I was away on my movie, the boys on my series came up with a set of big wheels that mount into the sideboard receptacles. They screw in and though they aren't steerable, the Hustler pops up easy enough to allow a lifting bar inserted in the back to pop up the front and turn it. It makes a big difference. Thanks to Chapman for making them up. Here's a pic.





Friday, May 14, 2010

Tomorrow at Fisher...

...I won't be able to make it after all. I have to go do a daddy thing in Atlanta. Please, those of you who can make it, take some pictures and give a report on how it goes.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Show Wrap-up

I'm back and all went well. A lot of free form work on this job and the operator pretty much let me have my head on this one. He would usually say, "Just do what you think is right" and it all worked out. A real pleasurable way to work. I must make mention of the increasing scarcity of decent Birch for plywood. We paid 90.00 a sheet for the best we could find- assured by the lumber company that it was the best available. Within two weeks it was cupping, bowing, chipping and warping. We made it through, but probably couldn't have gotten much more out of it. Someone has to come up with an alternative to Birch. Maybe some kind of fiberglass or plastic 3/4" sheets that interlock to make a decent surface that won't warp. It would be a big initial investment but would last for years and eventually make money in rentals. Let's investigate. Anyway, thanks for staying tuned during my frequent absences. We are planning some cool things in the future when we can get time to make them happen.
  Don't forget the JL Fisher Open House and Barbecue in two weeks, Saturday May 15th at Fisher in Burbank. As it turns out, I probably will make it and hope to give a full report. I'll be wearing the "Dollygrippery" nametag so please say "Hi" if you're a reader. I'll also take any suggestions for future posts or activities. Please visit the Fisher website for directions and info. It's always a great time to meet old friends and learn about what's going on in the Dolly Grip world.


Vote in the new poll on the right.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Crane Marking

Today's post is a guest post. I haven't been able to post as much, or prepare anything for a few weeks so I asked my buddy Greg Brooks to fill-in. Greg is a Dolly Grip's Dolly Grip. His credits include: the Showtime series Californication, and the Clint Eastwood films, Changeling and Gran Torino. He knows his stuff, you should listen to him.



CRANE MARKING
                                                                    "Good luck!"


A big part of what we do as dolly grips is operate camera cranes and jib arms. These too require the same soft touch and subtle corrections as a dolly but now you have to fight (or befriend) gravity and inertia. It can be quite challenging. Often times you are on a wide lens and you can wing it and get it close, but often times you are not and pin point precision placement is key and settling that crane into an over from thirty feet in the air is a skill like any other that challenges us as dolly grips. I've learned a few key tricks that can aid you immensely as a "bucket guy." This of course refers to the guy that is operating the crane and doing the primary arm movements from the handles at the rear of the crane. First thing I do is try to pick the back corner of the bucket that is between the action and the crane. Once a number one position is established by whomever is calling the shots, depending on the ground surface, I'll give myself a T-Mark (like the ones we use for actors) on the ground so I always come back and stand in the same place. Any mark will do, but the key is to have your feet in the same place every time because the camera can look like it's in the same place from thirty feet away from different foot positions. Secondly I look up at the camera which is where your eyes are going to be focused and match a vertical or horizontal line on the camera or the head with a vertical or horizontal line in the background. Sometimes it's the front of the matte box or the base of the head or anything like that. Then you just look beyond those two things and see what they fall in line with. The trick here is to not mark off objects that can move!! This is a mistake that we've all made a million times. Sometimes you'll mark off the top of a truck that you're sure will never move and then the 2nd A.D. comes out right before they yell, "Rolling!!" and asks for that truck to be backed up five feet!! Always stick with inanimate objects. I can't stress that one enough. I've been burned more times than I can think and my B-Dolly grip and I always tell stories about the times we've been burned by marks. The other thing you can do as a back up or as a primary mark is measure off your own body since sometimes the only thing to mark your first position off of is blue sky. So I make a note of where the back handle rubs against my side and remember the position. This is handy, but way less precise when you get into the very tight shots that your number two position is often establishing. So once your number one position is established, there will always be a number two and sometimes a three and four. I use the same procedure for all. The floor marks are really key for me because you can step into the mark as you are swinging around and then shift your eyes to the camera and land it in the exact place that you want and already have your feet planted so you can use your upper body strength to softly slide the camera to it's last mark. This system works pretty well for me. Again, I'd like to reiterate something that is stated on this site many times about being a good dolly grip. The most important part of all this is knowing what the shot is trying to achieve and knowing your lenses and what the shot will see at all your positions. I look forward to hearing some new methods from everyone.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Freeballing

In my experience, there are basically two kinds of shows. Those where the shots are meticulously planned out, and those where they aren't. On most sets, the director and DP plan out the shot with a finder. You get your marks. You know exactly what's going to happen and have a vague idea of where the camera needs to be at specific points during the shot. On others, the director or DP gives a vague wave of the hands and says, "Start here and go over here." You look at the Camera Operator and he rolls his eyes and mouths, "Good luck." Needless to say, the first kind are the easiest for me, although not always the most challenging. I'm presently doing the latter. It's a comedy with two high profile comedy directors (figure that one out). They are both great guys and the DP is a joy to work with. But there is a lot of vague hand waving and pronouncements of, "Start here and maybe we won't see the track." The Camera Operator, who is honestly one of the best in the world rolls his eyes and....well, you know the rest. The beauty of this system is the fun of not really knowing what is going to happen and having to adjust the shot as it unfolds. It gives the Dolly Grip more creative control over the shot and your skills really come into play. This style is affectionately known as freeballing. God bless my Camera Operator. He honestly asks  my opinion about shots and framing and gives me the freedom to make split second decisions as the scene unfolds. It can get a little frustrating sometimes, though, because I never really know what to set up because the rehearsals are so vague. What can be difficult is coming from a very rigid form of working to this freewheeling type of shooting. I've done movies where the camera placement was critical down to the inch. I was literally measuring the rooms to make sure I knew where the exact, symmetrical center was. You learn very quickly to look for clues as to where the camera should be- lighting fixtures or tiles in the floor are great indicators for lining up a symmetrical shot. It can be hard, though, to go from this style and be plunged directly into the less formalized one. I got a little testy today with my Focus Puller over a shot that we literally were making up as we went. I didn't mean to. I'm usually a pretty easygoing guy with my camera crews, but at one point I was just, like, "Dude, I don't know. It's the first time I've seen it and it was with second team." Now I'm a guy who prides myself on hitting marks. I don't miss often and if I do, I'll be the first to tell the focus puller that I was off by 2 inches or whatever. But when the actor is all over the place and you have to clear another actor and you are constantly booming up or down or adjusting left or right or in and out to hold the frame, things can get a little tense. I have to give it to our focus puller and operator. As challenging as my job can be on this movie, I can't imagine trying to hold focus or keep a nice frame with actors moving all over the place and the dolly constantly adjusting. All in all, although I do like the freedom to wing it, I am ready to get back to a more controlled style of working. The good side of all this is that it's very relaxed and mistakes are easily forgiven. It's a comedy, and comedies, in fact,  moviemaking in general should be fun. I once did a comedy years ago* in which we used the very rigid form of working which was not fun at all. The DP was a Jackass and everyone from the actors on down was tense and unhappy. Overall, I'll take freeballing any day.

*To this day, this was the most miserable experience of my career. Six weeks in Vegas and top rate and all I could think about was leaving. Someday, we will meet again, my friend.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

2010 Fisher Open House

The Annual JL Fisher Open House is coming up on May 15. Fisher always pulls out all the stops and puts on a great event with Barbecue and Beer. It's a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and aquaintances, swap some stories, and see the latest that Fisher and several other equipment providers have to offer. The Moving Camera Seminar is also always interesting and it's our time, as Dolly Grips, to be front and center. I, unfortunately, probably won't make it this year due to a prior commitment (my daughter is in a play that weekend), but strongly urge all of you to go. I will need someone to represent Dollygrippery if I can't make it to report on the goings-on and take some pictures. If you are a working Dolly Grip, or just someone interested in the field, it's a don't miss. If you go, be sure to mention Dollygrippery.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Nerves

I can remember when I first started pushing "A" Camera. To say I was a little nervous is an understatement. Which way should I orient the Dolly? Should I use track or floor? I remember when working out a dance floor shot, the operator would keep adding positions and camera heights and I would begin to sweat. My anxiety increased with each new variable. How would I remember all this, much less actually execute it? As time went by, however, the anxiety began to dissipate as my confidence, and skills, improved. I would spend a little time before each show just practicing compund moves. I couldn't have imagined a time when a six point comound move with four camera heights wouldn't send me into the nervous sweats. Now, I don't even think about it. I even enjoy them. It's a little more of a challenge, and it makes us worth our money. Looking back, I think one thing helped me master this skill more than any other: TV. Episodic television is the perfect training ground for Dolly Grips and the older I get the more I believe it. The moves are consistently more complex, you're with people you know well from being around them for endlessly long days, and they're a little more apt to forgive mistakes. And you have to learn to be fast and accurate. You have to nail it by the third take, minimum. This is invaluable when you move to Feature world. Features move at a much slower pace (generally). By comparison, a TV dolly grip who knows his stuff looks like a whirlwind on a Feature set.  I try to go back and do a little TV every so often, and though it's a grind, nothing keeps you sharp like TV. So those of you who still get a little sweaty at the prospect of a seven point, five boom combo, stay with it. Believe it or not, there will come a day when you'll actually enjoy them. It just takes a little (OK, a lot) of time.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Different Scenarios

There's a scene in Die Hard where the FBI agent, played by Robert Davi, assesses the situation and says, "This is a standard A-7 scenario." or something to that affect. This line comes to my mind whenever a shot or setup that seems all too familiar comes up. Once you've done this long enough, it's hard to find a shot, or variation of a shot that you haven't done. There are also common dolly set-ups that you just have filed away in your head that you can pull up from the memory bank and slam together without too much forethought. The standard A-7 scenario. You know with a Lambda Head that you're going to need a camera offset (what we used to call a Ubangi until someone with way too much time on their hands decided to be offended by that term. I still call it that though.) You know you'll need a sideboard if it's a moving shot. And you know how to orient the offset in such a way that the camera operator can do the shot in a reasonably comfortable way. I generally always use a 12" riser with a Lambda also. It helps get the dolly arm away from the operator and I can still hit the floor with the head. After a while, you have dozens of these different set-ups floating around in your database. That's what helps separate a part-timer from a full timer. It takes years to build up a catalog of different scenarios to draw from. Over-Under Camera Rig? Bam! Got it. Twin Dollies Tied Together? Boom! Get me some pipe, sideboards for the Peewee and chain vice grips. Need to mount an actor on the dolly with the camera looking at him as he moves back? Front board and a camera offset (Ubangi). This database is what will save you valuable time and double work when someone else would be looking down and scratching their head.
On a different note, the show is going well. Again, the Camera Operator, Jaques, Matt, the DP, and Jeff, the
First AC are all top notch and a pleasure to work with. Internet service is spotty here, so I may be a little infrequent, but keep checking in.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Road to Perdition

The late Conrad Hall delivers a Master Class on How It's Done. My friends, if you've never seen it, rent it. I saw it on the big screen, but you can get a taste. A gorgeously photographed movie the way they used to do it. They don't make them like this anymore. Shout out to Dolly Grip Mike Schwake. Gorgeous work my friend. This is the movie we all wished we'd worked on.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hangin' At the Trade Show


Last week I had the pleasure of manning a booth for GI Track at Toronto's Feb Freeze. It's put on by one of the local's rental / expendable houses.

We had all sort of people come by, from students to producers. Of course our favorite people to talk with were grips and being able to show them the latest and greatest.

One of the downsides to the show was that it was during the week, but I understand the issues the organizers have to content with. Generally the turn out will be less on a weekend, and during the week people are working. Rough go either way.

Gil and I had a great time - lots of great stories shared and bunch of great new faces. I was my first trade show experience, Gil's second and our booth was placed between Mole Richardson and Yellow Jacket Cable Protectors. Those guys had been to all the shows before and were sharing stories with us. Hilarious!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

What's New at Chapman

I spent the morning at Chapman- LA checking out dollies for my next show. Shafi, the tech who sets up my dollies, offered to take me around to see what's going on in the various shops there. I had been through it before a few years ago, but it's been a while and this was the first time I had been there on a Saturday, giving Shafi an opportunity to take me around at a more leisurely pace. The most interesting thing was the new 75' Hydrascope, which Sam, the man building it, was happy to show me. It's still in pieces (big pieces), but it's going to be a beautiful arm. It will mount on a Titan base as well as have a smaller motorized base for other applications. I am really excited to see the finished product.
 I also saw one more future dolly, which I can't talk about yet (Ok, I didn't see the finished product, just a hollowed out chassis with a label on it). It's something that's been talked about for a while and I know a lot of you will be interested in, but I don't know when it will be finished or when I can expand on it. So enough about that.
I met a lot of the guys behind the scenes at Chapman, and got a lot better insight into what goes into building a dolly, from material delivery to final testing. As an East Coast Dolly Grip for many years, I never really had an opportunity to deal with their West Coast facilities or people. My dollies all came out of a local rental house or from the Chapman facility in Orlando, so, other than talking to Christine or Hector, I never really crossed paths  with them. The dolly is the tool of our trade, though, and we depend on these people to make sure our machines do what we need them to do. So, I'm making an effort to be a little more involved with the people there. If those of you who use Chapman have never been through the shop, or met any of their talented technicians, I suggest you drop by on a Saturday and learn what goes into making these fantastic machines that we all depend upon. Give them some feedback. If they don't know what we need, they can't help us. As Dolly Grips we have to have a relationship with them. They've always gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure my dollies were right and I rest easier knowing that they're only a phone call away.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Feb Freeze

If you're in the Toronto area and not working, come on down to Pinewood Studios' Mega Stage for the Cinequip White's Feb Freeze. Tuesday Feb 9th, Open 11am til 8pm.

I'll be there all day manning the GI Track booth with Gil. Come by and say hello and talk dolly turkey!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

They Don't Know What We Do.

I wrote a post a couple of years ago about the fact that a lot of directors, and even a few DP's really have no idea exactly what it is that we do. I was going to repost it, but couldn't seem to find it, so I'll just add to it.
Our job is pretty deceptive. It looks pretty straightforward to someone who's just watching. We lay a track, put the thing on it, and go from one to two over and over.  A trained monkey could do it. Even a few Dolly Grips I've worked with over the years weren't sure exactly what  we do (or they were just really bad at it). They stand around and munch on doughnuts at crafty until someone calls them over and the operator tells them where to put the chassis and how to lay the track. Having not seen a rehearsal, they proceed to blow through about four takes until they finally hit one. I love those guys. As long as they're around, I'll always have a job. And we've all worked with the directors. You know the one who walks up after you've just completed a five point floor combo with three booms and a roundy into the end, and slaps the operator on the back, says, "great job but can you go a little faster?" and never even looks at you. He doesn't know what we do. Or the operator is setting up a shot with the finder and the director, looking on, asks, "can you do that?' You immediately speak up and say yes or "I can't get the camera quite that close to the wall." The director looks at you like, " Who is this guy?" and the operator looks at you and says, "How about here?"
We're there to solve the practical problems of setup, as well as deliver the movement, yet are often completely left out of the conversations concerning it.
I told this story once before but it bears repeating. I did a smallish feature a few years ago with a DP who had hundreds of music videos under his belt, but little or no feature work. Aside from being a dumbass, he also labored under the belief that he knew everyone's job better than they did. As a friend of the director, he had been given the DP slot on a studio feature. He proceeded to ignore every suggestion from the operator and myself, thus adding hours to each day. One day, after I had insisted on throwing down a piece of plywood to hold overs (I was tired of waiting for the young actors to magically hit their marks). We got it in a couple of takes and the DP walked up to the operator and said, "that was great. You held all those over the shoulders!" The operator said, "I didn't do anything, D did it!" The DP looked at me and said, "D did that?" This fracking DP on a 10 million dollar movie didn't even know what a Dolly Grip did. The operator said, "Yeah, he's the Dolly Grip." It's the same mentality that forces us to use a dolly that we are not as familiar with or simply don't particularly like as opposed to the one we've used every day for years just because the DP, inexplicably, likes a particular one. This makes no sense to me at all. If I do my job well, you won't notice or care which dolly you're on, and you might find that you like the one I use better. I've managed to turn several camera operators and at least one DP  on to my favorite. Generally, my job goes a lot smoother if they give me all the info, and then get out of the way. I often tell my present operator (an English chap) "Go get a cup of tea!" which is his cue to leave me to my business. I like to set it all up, and have them come back ten minutes later to a waiting camera, ready to go.
I will soon be leaving my show to go do a feature in Atlanta. Although I don't like doing this, the HBO rate just makes it more likely that a better offer will often result in people leaving. The Key Grip understands and was aware when I took the job that this would happen. Still, I'm leaving a great crew whom I love working with. I hope to come back afterwards to finish the season. So, for the next couple of months I'll be back at my home on the East Coast. My great B -Camera Dolly Grip will bump up and we've managed to get an old friend to come in on B. I hope it goes well. (But not too well ; ).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Going Live - Follow Up

Well, I got through it. It was a PBS concert special for the Canadian Tenors (with special guests Sarah McLauchlan and David Foster).

Thankfully not live to air, but was treated as such. 9 cameras - 1 jib on the balcony, 2 dollies, 3 handheld and the rest static.

Of the two dollies, one was at the back of the room and I was on stage left. This was a last minute change and really wasn't thought out properly. There wasn't enough space to get any proper angles and we had another camera shooting at us. I brought up the issues of hall beauty side lights that backlit both side camera positions to the director & DP. They agreed that the lights weren't required there. However, I tried to get the stage manager to clear "looky loos" in the wings, but that failed. I had a monitor to watch and cringed at the beautiful close ups of Sarah playing piano, but with three idiots in white shirts behind her. At one point there were so many people hanging about back there that I wished I could run around and get in the buffet line.

We didn't have any formal rehearsals, but did have a couple meetings to discuss what the director wanted. They band did go through the tops and bottoms of a couple songs - anything with choreographed parts. If I did anything like this again, I'd want and suggest to production to send out a head of time the album / songs that we were covering so the operators had an idea of the songs, timing and singers. In this case we had four roaming the stage with no real marks. Felt like two and a half hours of keeping overs.

I really felt crappy about the shots we were getting but I had to keep reminding myself that there were other angles to cut to. Thankfully, the director was pretty clear over the ClearComs and knew what he wanted.

Walked away with smiles and hope to do another concert like that.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Going Live

My background has been lodged firmly in feature film and television series - ok with commercials and music videos stuck in between.

I've been asked to work a live multi camera concert gig. It's working with a recording truck, director, headsets, etc.

I've never done anything like this before. Any suggestions? What should I be watchful for?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Repost of an Old Favorite: "Gripping Basics"



I'm a little short on time, and inspiration this week. 14 hour days, midnight company moves, wife out of town, and three dogs to care for (one is 15 and can no longer make it out the door, so he leaves me a little surprise every night), have all made finding time to post a little hard.  I went back through the archives and found this one. Since we've had some search hits for "grip description" it might be appropriate. My firm belief is that you have to put in a fair amount of time as a set grip before you can be an effective Dolly Grip. All of us on this site have spent many a night hauling sandbags and setting flags before we moved on to pushing dolly. A good Dolly Grip can work a set with the best of them. Here are a few tips to help those of you still in the trenches.

First posted 11/17/07. New comments added.

Someone contacted me recently and suggested I write a post on basic Gripping. Here are some tips:




Righty tighty, lefty loosey This one should be on a t-shirt. It's the Cardinal Rule. Learn it. It comes up a lot.



If they ask for a double, bring a single too.



When you set a 4x4 outside, use a combo stand.



When you set a flag, put the big leg under the weight.



When you set diffusion, fill the frame.



Put the diffusion at the angle of the light.



It will always start raining at wrap.



If you tie a 12x12 off to a sandbag cart, turn it sideways to the rag.



Gel closest to the light, then diffusion. In my original post, I got a comment from a grip who took offense at this one. He said he always puts the gel outside the diffusion and gave some lame ass reason for it. I took it easy on him. I shouldn't have. Gel goes before diffusion. Every experienced Set Grip knows this. So shut it. The other grips are laughing at you.



Bfl (big f#$%^g light), big f#$%g flag. One of the hardest things for me to figure out when I was a young grip was which sized flag to bring. In time, you'll get it. Generally, though, make the flag size correspond to the light size.



When laying track, level is good, getting the bumps out of the joints is better. If the track is consistent, the Dolly Grip can level it on the head. He can't correct for a huge bump in the seam though.



Always, ALWAYS bring everything. I'm guilty of breaking this one. It always bites me in the ass. Whatever you don't have is the first thing they'll ask for. To this one I'll add, Bring the Luma Beams.



If you bring a half-apple, also bring two quarters (and maybe a pancake).



Know your knots (clove hitch, bowline, truckers hitch, bohemian lesbian death hitch).



The "board stretcher" does not exist.



Neither does the "air hook."



"T-stops" are not in the jockey box (they are usually in the workbox, second drawer down).



If you keep two seats on the dolly, you are a chump. To this I'll add, to all you new Dolly Grips: If your focus puller needs to ride every shot, he's a moron. He's not the only one being taken for a ride. Miss your mark by six inches. Re-mark it.



The operator does not always need a sideboard. Don't just put it on there at the beginning of the day. Please.



Seat offsets are for the weak-minded. Apologies to certain Dolly Grips whom I really admire.



Always look at the set from where the camera is, it's all that matters.



Never fall asleep on an 8-step ladder. I did this one time. It wasn't pretty. I woke up on the way down.



Safety everything. It will fall. It will hit Katherine Heigle on the head. You will get fired.


Keep an extra jacket on the truck. It will always get colder than you think it will. Few things are more emasculating than wearing a fellow grip's jacket. Unless you're a female grip.


If you have a question, or don't know how to do something, ASK.  I get it. You're 22 and you don't want to look like you don't know something. I've been there. Trust me, everyone knows you're 22. They expect you to be respectful, keep your mouth shut, and your ears open. They will bury you. It will hurt.



As my friend Ted says, never be afraid to break something. Ted's a Rigging Key. He hangs thousands of pounds over poeple's heads.



Those are all I can think of for now...oh yeah, Murphy's Law applies more in this business than any other...if it can go wrong, it will. Never take anything for granted.

I still go back and set grip in between shows sometimes. It's good for the soul and makes me feel 22 again. (OK, it didn't hurt this much then, but you know what I mean).