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.
The art of Dolly Gripping is like no other job in the world. It falls to us to work out the mechanics of a particular shot, as well as offer a smooth, aesthetically pleasing move which makes the shot work and delivers emotion to the scene. It's the ultimate blend of engineering and art. This website is a place for professionals in motion picture camera platform movement to meet and swap tips, stories, and gripe a little about the difficulties we often face, but rarely get to talk about among ourselves. It's also a place for aspiring Dolly Grips to learn a little something from the old pros. So, welcome. Look around and join our little community. The site is run by myself, D, and Azurgrip, two guys who have each spent the last 20 years moving cameras around film sets. But it also benefits from the readership and participation of hundreds of Dolly and Key Grips from around the world, men and women who have helped deliver some of the most memorable and beautiful moving shots on film. So if you have any questions, please ask. You can ask questions or make comments on our message forum, which is below, just above the photos, or email us at dollygrippery at gmail dot com. We, or one of the experienced grips who frequent this site will answer.
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What you won't find here: How to make a dolly out of plywood, info on the Wa11y Dolly, anything about how to move a boat.