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?"