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.



The Grip Works said...

Great post D !
I'm impressed that with your paternity duties and shooting, you manage to get posts out :-)

Your first post about being aware of the environment you set a crane in is really important. Remember that powerlines can pull a crane arm towards them when the power jumps the line (arcs) .
I did not think this could happen, but it did on a tv show in Bombay.
They were filming at a local railway station with a Jimmy Jib, which is a kind of lightweight crane for video cameras and camcorders.
The arm got sucked up by the train powerlines (overhead in India). The guy on the bucket realised what was happening and let go of the arm, which stuck to the powerline and killed the grip tracking the base on track.

D said...

Thanks Gripworks! I only have time because we shut down til Jan 3rd. I have a mini vacation!. Great tip! I hope you, Tara and the boys are well!

Sean said...

Very enjoyable read D. It was the year of the diapers for myself as well, but we had better luck with Huggies. Go figure. Happy New Year!

D said...

Thanks Sean. Great to hear from you. It's funny, when my daughter was a baby, everything but luvs leaked. Hope you and your new family are well.