Sunday, December 26, 2010

2010- What We Learned

"You shouldn't use the sun as a sightline. It will move."
                          - Day player to me earlier this year as I was working out a crane shot.

   2010 was a big year both personally, and at work. Our family lost a Mother, and gained a son, both within a week of each other. Work- wise, it was very busy. I did two series and a feature. Here's what I learned:

1. Although I am philosopically against cup holders on the dolly (that's all I need, one less seat receptacle and something else to lose just so you can have a place to put your coffee), a bicycle style one zip tied to the push bar is fine and completely unobtrusive. I take mine black.

2. When it comes to technocranes, the right tech is the difference between pass and fail. I knew this already, but it was reiterated on a very long day this year)

3. Keep extra wheel clips in the work box. The Hustler cart does a number on them.

4. In cold climates, be sure to run out the arm, and plug in the dolly at wrap or in the morning it's "No boom for you!"

5. Having a list of good Dolly Grips in your phone is invaluable. Unfortunately, they are always working.

6. Computers should have breathalyzers that you have to pass before you can get on the internet.

7. I need bigger cabinets for all the metal water bottles I now get as wrap gifts.

8. 1x8 dance floor pieces come in handy. Always cut one.

9. Don't lock yourself onto track if you can help it, or get away with it. Again, reiterated.

10. Soap works as well on dance floor as powder, and doesn't leave a mess. In fact, theoretically, it should clean it!

11. Luvs and Huggies leak. Pampers don't.

12. I don't let my friends know enough how much I appreciate them. Aww.

13. Cheaper ain't usually better.

14. When in doubt, use the force. It's better than the monitor.

15. Don't let well-meaning DPs who are used to working with crappy Dolly Grips talk you out of what you know. I love ya, but let go of my ears. I know what I'm doing.

16. If you convince said DPs to do it your way, you better damn well be right. I was.

Thanks to all of you for a great year and your inspiration and suggestions. Have a great New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Crane Do's and Don't's

  Our last day on the show before we shut down for the holidays was a big crane day. We had a 17' Moviebird and the shots necessitated moving it around in a relatively small space among a lot of people. This always makes me a little nervous. Besides the obvious dangers of swinging an arm around, over, and among a crowd of actors, background, and the usual suspects (vanities, 2nd AC's and AD's) you have the added variable of quick extensions and retractions. And that's what a lot of shots boil down to.... the variables. You want to decrease the number of them as much as possible. A crane shot involves a lot of them. At the least, you have a Camera Operator, a Crane Operator, and an actor.With an extendable crane, you add in a pickle operator and now you've got four variables that all have to work safely together to execute the shot. A crowd of background actors increases the variables by that much more. Earlier this year, Greg Brooks did an excellent post on Crane Marking. As I was threading the arm through the crowd last week, it occured to me that we had never really done a post on crane ettiquite. I'm going to do it in list form, making it easier to read, and for me to keep track of the points:

1. Scout the location. If you're outside, know where any possible hazards are. This especially includes power lines. There are specific distances that have been set up industry-wide for crane operation. They are here:

2. Know the space. Know how much room you have to operate. Don't forget to include room for the bucket swing.
3. When you are building a crane, it's the nature of the beast for everyone to want to pitch in. Don't let them. Most cranes can be assembled with two or three guys. The more hands that are on it increases the chances that something will get done wrong. A bolt won't be tightened or a piece will get left out or put on backwards. It's standard operating procedure to designate one of the guys as a wrench man, meaning it's his/her resposibility to tighten whatever bolts are used.
4. Inspect your handiwork. Once it's assembled, go over it piece by piece. Is everything tight? Are all the levelling arms connected properly? Are any pieces missing? A lot of times, a rigging crew will put it together for you before you get there. Always check the work. There are some cranes and jibs that have the connecting mechanisms inside the arm or obstructed from view (the Aerocrane Jib, the Phoenix Crane). The levelling arms on the Phoenix are connected in such a way that if you don't know what to look for, you can't tell if they are properly engaged. The AeroJib is the same way. The connections are inside the arm. Make sure they are tight and that you know how to put them together. This is one reason I like the Lenny Arm. There's no mistaking whether a nut is tight on a bolt. Support the crane as you build it. This means, don't build the arm and then attach the support rods last. Add them as you go, especially on the bucket end, until the arm is fully built. An unsupported arm can break or buckle.
5. When you are rolling a built crane into position, approach any curbs or bumps head on, square to them, never at an angle. A crane can quickly become unbalanced and flip.
6. Check the bucket latch. Fewer things can cause a cardiac arrest quicker than seeing all your weights sliding out of a bucket. It's happened to me. It ain't pretty.
7. Safety the camera. Most head techs will hard safety it anyway but always ask them if they need a safety or if they have their own. Sometimes they don't. A daisy-chain webbing and a carribeaner to the head does the trick. Don't forget to safety the matte box. Don't send a camera up on a remote head without a safety.
8. People rarely ride cranes anymore, but some do. Many operators just prefer to look through the eyepiece for focus, bogeys, etc. Buckle them in. It's not only for their safety, but also to keep them from absent-mindedly stepping off the crane and killing your bucket man. There's nothing like diving to catch an arm to get your blood flowing. When the platform reaches the ground after the shot, step on it. No one gets on or off without your say-so.
9. Know where your weight is. Stay in contact with the camera department and let them know when you are weighing in a camera or operator. I've had at least one AC take the camera off after it was weighed in. He won't make that mistake again.
10. Level your base. It's not only for safety, it keeps the arm from swinging on it's own.
11. If you're on track, it's a good idea to but a clamp or bag at the ends, especially if it's well off the ground. A dolly going off is one thing. A crane makes a much bigger, and more dangerous splash.
12. Don't let people absent- mindedly loiter under the arm while it's up. People love to stand under crane arms. I don't know why.
   These are some basics. There are many more tricks to crane work which I'm sure I've left out. Please leave any you may wish to add in the comments.
Please have a safe and happy Holiday Season, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. My year end round up is coming.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dealing With Surge

  I've done posts on choosing your surface before, but some of the work I did this week gave me the idea to do a refresher post. It was going to originally involve surging, the bane of all creep moves. The choice of what surface you roll on for a creep has a huge effect on the execution of the move. The more I thought about it, I decided to go ahead and include other moves as well.
  As I've stated before, and every Dolly Grip knows, creeps are the hardest, most grueling moves you can do. There's nothing quite like trying to make two feet of push-in last for two pages of dialogue. It can be mind numbing. And one thing that can make it harder is surge. Surge is the point in your beautiful, dramatic push-in where you meet an imperfection in the surface you are rolling on that causes the dolly to pick up speed or stall. It can really draw attention to itself, especially if there is a prominent foreground piece that suddenly seems to move faster or slower in the frame. Do yourself a favor, pick your surface wisely. I always try to do a creep on track. A lot of Dolly Grips use planks (usually 1x12 clear pine for example) for simple moves. I'm not a big fan of planks. In fact, I rarely use them. They just have too many imperfections that can ruin or make a creep harder. I always try to go on track when possible for a creep. It eliminates the variable of steering, and has the least imperfections of your choices, cutting out surges and stalls and allowing you to concentrate on the move and your timing. Always try to use the surface that suits each move and what you're trying to accomplish. If a lot of actors are walking through my trajectory, I'll go with floor. If the existing floor is flat and even enough, I'll go with just plastic. If it's not in the way and is just a move on a fixed plane, I'll go with track. I did make a conscious decision on my current show to go with floor in almost every case on interiors. The shots just evolve too much to get locked onto a piece of track. Foreground actors move around too much and directors always want to change the shot a couple of takes in and go tighter or wider at one point and a floor allows me to accomodate this. If the shot is a "special," though, and I know it won't change, such as a push-in on an object, or a solitary actor doing a long speech, I'll almost always go with a rail. As I've said before, one of my favorite shortcuts is to use two of my 2x8 dance floor pieces as planks for shorter moves. They have lower surge, they are easier to get in and out of sets than a 4x8, and still allow for versatility if the shot changes a little bit.
  I'm now three weeks into my show and it's been exhausting, so I haven't posted as much lately, but keep checking in. Stay safe. Till next time, and in keeping with our ongoing series of pretty actresses with dollies, this comes to us by way of Wick. It's European actress Justinia Sieniawka with a Fisher 11. Thanks Wick and Justinia! Keep 'em coming!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Back to Work

   I mainly wanted to get the Thanksgiving turkey off the top of the page, because the longer it's up there, the more neglected the page looks. I'm still in the midst of semi-invalid wife/ infant care, only now I've added the responsibility of work to the pile. My series started back this week. They always like to do an episode or two before the holidays to get a jumpstart on the year and provide us all with Christmas/ Hannukah (diaper) money. So I'm back in the land of dance floor and night exteriors for the time being until we shut down for the holidays. I've got some ideas for columns planned, I just need time to get to them, and maybe this coming year we'll get around to that podcast we've been planning forever. (and maybe even some t-shirts). Till then, I've got a 3PM call time and a baby screaming downstairs, so I've got to run, but I'll be back very soon. Thanks for still tuning in.