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.


The Grip Works said...

I have to say, what an absolute pleasure it has been to have "Dollygrippery".
It is a sense of community that it provides us with.
I send this link to a lot of DP's , Producers, and even actors, because it educates them about the craft behind the grunt.
Keep it coming ...


The Grip Works said...

Your best posts are after at least 4 Rum and Cokes ...
To hell with political correctness :-)

D said...

I think this one was after just two. I've learned not to drink and post (much).

A.J. said...

A friend of mine once told me that he got a full scholarship to pay for college. "Damn, you're lucky," I said. That's when he turned from pleasant to really annoyed. "I didn't get the scholarship because I'm lucky. I got it because I worked my ass off!" And knowing the type of person he is, I knew he was right.

It's true that some people are lucky to be working right now. But some people, like you, are working because they deserve to be. And with things going the way they are now, it sounds like that certain local is lucky to still have members paying their dues.

D said...

AJ- I would be a liar if I didn't acknowledge that being in the right place at the right time didn't play a part in this business, on every level. I'm not even sure this story is true, though I have heard it from two grips and my Key Grip got a similar response when he called a couple weeks ago. If it's true, it totally negates the reason for a union at all, and renders us immediately impotent, and it's incredibly insulting to those who give 110 percent every day.

Michael Taylor said...

I pushed dolly a couple of times very early in my grip-trician career -- just enough to realize I had the makings of the world's worst dolly grip. Needless to say, I went in a different direction, but those experiences left me with a profound respect for good dolly grips and the amazing work they do.

You've done great things with this site, creating a real community -- a world-wide community at that -- where before had been nothing. For that, you deserve the thanks and congratulations of Dolly Grip Nation, and the appreciation of those of us looking in from the outside.

That your posts feature such good, taut, perceptive prose is frosting on the cake.

Well done, D.

Glenn said...

Good day.
I actually found your site when I was asked to be a "dolly grip" on a small commercial shoot. I was rather embarrassed precisely because I recognize that I am not qualified. Yet, because I work in a small market I am actually the only person locally who really could do it (and given their budget they weren't going to hire someone like yourself and bring them in). I felt responsible to do it well, and thus learn what I could. I am about 2 hours away from a larger market (where I worked in a rental house for a little while). I went down there one day to practice with various dolly's, setting up track, learn how to put the low mount on the Peewee 3, etc. But, my time was of course very limited and I didn't get to much.
I guess I'd just like any pointers on how to in fact get in some training when I'm not actually on a shoot, and when I can go train maybe once a month. What should I focus on? What can I learn without being behind a dolly?

D said...

Hi Glenn, Thanks for writing. First of all, let me say that there's nothing at all wrong with being inexperienced. We all have been at one time. I'm glad you got the opportunity to take the job and learn some things. You weren't who I was talking about in the above post. First, spend as much time with the dollies as possible. I know it's two hours away, but when you know you'll be out that way, try to spend a saturday with a Hybrid. Try another Saturday with a Fisher Ten. Learn how to put all accessories on them. Learn the high and low lens heights for all of them, so you'll know whether you need low mode or not. It's usually about 14 inches from levelling head to lens, so account for that. ( this can change depending on the head, and/ or plates the camera deptartment use. Sometimes it's around 17"). I generally think of the heights for the big dollies as 36" for the low and close to 7' for the high as a rule of thumb. Practice marking the center of the front wheels ands hitting the marks while moving. You have to learn what the relationship between the mark and the wheel look like from the back of the dolly, because the perspective is different. Learn the 180 degree rule and know and understand eyelines. These are just things you can do for starters.

Jake Beemer said...


Last month I was able to jump on a TV Show that I will be shooting for several months. Its my first official dolly grip cred and I'm supremely motivated to learn everything about the craft. Every day I pick up something new I can do better. I'm just getting started but I'm excited for a long career as a Dolly Grip.

Thanks for the amazing blog! I just found this site today!

-Jake Beemer

D said...

Welcome Beemer. Thanks for reading.

The Grip Works said...

You want a sister dolly grip ?? Have I got a photo for you.
Check your email :-)

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