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 ; ).


Jaliya said...

Ooh -- Atlanta! It's *warm* there!! Soak up the rays and music for me, OK?

Savannah's always worth a sidetrip ...

Safe travels and may the work continue to come to you!


GHB said...

The other day we were doing a slow push-in on an actress. After take two, the director walks up to the camera (where the operator, focus puller and myself were standing) and says to the operator, "On this take, push in twice as fast...Make sure you tell your Dolly..." Then he walked away. The operator just looked back at me and burst into laughter because he truly feels our pain and this issue always makes him laugh, too. I had a laugh with him and then asked the operator if he thought the director actually knew which one of us controlled the speed of the dolly. He just laughed again.

D said...

Yeah for some reason TV directors do this more. I also have fun with it. I'll say something like ,"You heard the man, Simon (operator)go a little faster.

Zen On Wheels said...

Chapter 12: Let Others Have The Glory Most Of The Time -
This site looks ultra helpful. Great Commentary. It'll take me a while to go through it all, but I will. Meanwhile please forgive if there's a more appropriate area for this question.
I've just been listed in the grip category after years of besting as a spark, and I intend to focus on pushing dolly. I've done a number of freebies this winter, and found that I like it a lot, and it comes natural to me. I suppose I'll start taking daily grip calls and hoping for some B-dolly action. Since I was just now listed I intend to celebrate buy putting a kit together. Are there any notable features when buying a level? Besides the obvious, are there any other tools or items that will make the job easier?