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.


The Grip Works said...

Thank you D !
Sleep is pretty hard to come by at this point, as I type one handed while I rock my baby with the other :-)
Its great though. When are you due ?

D said...

Hey Brother. She's due at the end of October, though she thinks he will come early, one of those intuition things I guess. Meanwhile, I'm at the In Laws in San Francisco having a beer and a mini vacation.

Anonymous said...

Dancefloors are always fun.
I ve been pushin for over 20 years and learned something new just yesterday.

i had the peewee positioned in a straight line at a right angle to the scene we were shooting. doing a lateral move. As i made my move the operator noted that the back end of the dolly moves before the front and actually pans the camera.
As a result I now try to avoid this kind of setup on a dance floor

GHB said...

Hey, D. So sorry for my absence. Been busy with life and just haven't had the time to write. I have been checking in and did want to share a story of the most famous foot I've run over, but I'll save it for another time. It's a good one though.
As far as this recent topic, once again I couldn't agree with you more. Watch the actors. Even if you're watching them on your monitor, never take your eyes off them. Every move is initiated by them and they all have their tells. And as far as taking it in pieces, you are right on. Every point of a ten-point dance floor move is just one move. They are all motivated by different actions and and are all technically different shots as far as you're concerned. Each piece counts the same as the last and you can sure count on the fact that most actors are not gonna do the same thing twice, so watch 'em.
Recently ran into this with a technocrane shot where the actress never got out of the car at the same point and never left the car mark at the same time. After a take or two, I spoke into the clear-com head-sets while we were rolling and told the guy on the bucket, "fuck her, if she doesn't want to be in the shot, too bad for her." And I talked him through another shot that worked just fine. The operator asked where the hell I was going and I told him I was gonna try to put someone higher on the call sheet in the frame for him. He laughed (as he often does at my renegade dolly moves) and when they cut, the director said "Great! Moving on!" I got away with that one, but the fact was, the shot was falling apart because she wasn't playing along, so I gave them something they could use. I don't know if this is such good advice, but what the hell....

D said...

GHB- You just made my night! You got balls brother. I love it. It's great to hear from you and I know it's hard to check in as much sometimes, so I appreciate it. I hope you and your family are well. Just drop a line every now and then because I need the feedback!

Wick said...

Greetings to all, I've been enjoying the summer. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. D, this is one of your best posts ever, thanks for laying that out. We all need a reminder that one gigantic task always can be resolved into a lot of small ones, things we've all done before, it's just a matter of piecing it together.

GHB, your comment is great, too. I've done the same thing a few times, and lived to tell the tales. It's as much a "Forest for the Trees" thing as it is anything else.

I'll be at the IBC and Cinec trade shows with J. L. fisher if anybody here makes it to those shows, drop by and say hi.

The Grip Works said...

GHB, that has got to be one of my favourite stories ... don't know that i'd have the guts to try that :-)

danworx said...

GHB great comment, some actors don't deserve better!

Every now and then My stomach tells me to alter the move, to a different version. Usualy I get away with it, especially when the actors have "Last minute brilliant Ideas" that mix things up!

D, you're totally right in Your observations, sometimes you need to "Free Your mind" to get things right!
In the end my "gut thinking" often works better than my brains.

Greetz Dan