Saturday, January 22, 2011

True Grit

  I'm a huge fan of The Duke. True Grit, along with The Searchers and Big Jake, is one of my favorites (the dolly-in on Ethan's reaction in The Searchers as he enters the asylum and sees the women who have been brutalized by the Comanche has always stuck in my mind). So it was with some trepidation that I went to see the remake by the Coen Brothers (remake isn't entirely accurate. The Coens went mostly with the Charles Portis novel which has a different ending and a different point of view altogether) I just couldn't see anyone taking the place of The Duke in the role of Rooster Cogburn, for which Wayne won his only Academy Award. I was wrong, on many counts. It's good. It's real good. I knew going in that technically, a movie made in the sixties would be inferior to a modern retelling, but in my opinion, everything worked much better. The story flowed much more naturally (as it should if it followed the novel) And of course Matt Damon as LeBoef was light years ahead of Glen Campbell's stilted performance in the original.The star of the show, however is young Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. No one really liked Kim Darby in the original, but Steinfeld's Mattie Ross runs away with the show hands down. If she doesn't get an Oscar for this one, no one should get one. But enough about the cast. There are more than enough reviews out there to cover that sufficiently. Roger Deakins and company have turned out one of the most beautifully photographed movies I've seen in years. On a crisp digital projection, it's jaw- dropping in places. Dolly Grips Bruce Hamme, and Rick Marroquin did truly beautiful work with sweeping crane shots and understated push-ins. Gentlemen, this is the one we all wanted to work on*. Dollygrippery  salutes you. Your contributions helped make True Grit a beautiful piece of work.

* A buddy of mine heard that I was working on a Coen Brothers picture at the time this was being shot. After bombarding me with baffling texts wondering if I could help him get a spot on  True Grit, I made it clear that I was actually working on a Farrelly Brothers picture, and while I love Bobby and Peter, I would have gladly left for a Dolly slot on Grit.

Friday, January 21, 2011


  Not much to report. It's TV, which basically means that you start every Monday somewhere between 6:00 and 7:00am, depending on how much of a precall you need to build cranes or load stakebeds, or whatever the puppetmasters have pre-ordained for you to do. By Wednesday, you're probably coming in by 10:00am at the earliest; and by Friday, it's either a split, or a straight night. Which is what we have. We seriously started on stage on Monday, worked on stage all week until Friday, which is a full night exterior in Long Beach. Now, those of you from Los Angeles will immediately know that Long Beach is a peel job. Those of you who aren't, will have to have it described to you. Long Beach is the one location, besides Palmdale, that all Angelinos roll their eyes and sigh wearily at when they hear it. It's far. From everything. There is literally nowhere in Los Angeles close to Long Beach except Long Beach. And if you happen to live in Long Beach, it still sucks because Long Beach, no matter how pretty it sounds, is a hole. You know those TV shows that always end with a shootout at the docks because a drug deal is going down on some boat of Liberian Registry? Long Beach. Every episode of NCIS or CSI:Miami that involves any kind of shipping container of dubious contents, whether it be kidnapped immigrants or Columbian White? Long Beach. So, tomorrow at around, oh, the beginning of the Los Angeles rush hour, I will begin my trek to Long Beach. To shoot the non-descript exterior parking lot of a bar that you could find replicated hundreds of times over in the environs of the San Fernando Valley. But I digress (because I have now had three rum and cokes). What I meant to say was that I sent my dolly in for servicing because three weeks of dusty, crappy locations had rendered it pretty near unusable. As most of you know, I generally prefer the Hustler 4. It's not really the best location dolly, but is the most versatile. For my show, a Hybrid with roundy -round would be ideal, but as it isn't available yet, the stoutness of the arm combined with the versatility of the roundy steering of the Hustler 4 make it the best choice for now. I'm going to digress here again- I love the Hustler 4. In my opinion, Chapman has created the ultimate dolly- for studio work. I can put an operator anywhere on it. I pushed a Hybrid for years but when the Hustler 4 debuted, it literally changed what was possible as far as where I could put a camera or an operator on a set. The biggest drawback in it is, its' low ground clearance, and the exposed rails the arm rides on. I could drag a Hybrid sideways behind a stakebed through the swamp for weeks (and have) and it just wouldn't stop. The Hustler 4, however, is more of a stage dolly. Anyway, I sent my dolly in for servicing and Chapman gave me a replacement. True to form, the replacement is better than the one I sent in for servicing. So here I am, Mr Big Time TV Show Dolly Grip, insisting to Chapman that I get my dolly back once it's serviced, and he sends me this one. Number 4* (yeah, like I'm going to tell you which one it is). It practically booms itself. I think I could call it on my cell phone and tell it when to boom up or down and it would do it. It's that good. So now I have to figure a way out to tell the Chapman tech that I want to keep this perfectly tuned machine after I've made an ass of myself insisting that I want the dolly that I'
ve done two shows on, that he's having serviced, back. The funny thing is, I m pretty sure I've had this dolly before. Back, long ago when I used to do movies. I remember you number 4*. And now you're mine again.
Anyway, I'm beginnig to ramble. But you get the general idea. That being, I made a big deal of insisting to my Chapman rep that I get "my" dolly back, and the temp replacement being better. Anyway. I 'm going to make another drink, so have a good night. See you in Long Beach.

I intended this morning to do what I call my "MASR,"   pronounced like "laser" or "Morning After Sober Rewrite." But, I've decided that the Captain (Morgan)'s writing style has a certain creepy charm that I rather like. The run-on sentences and awkward examples give it a flavor all it's own. So I've decided to leave it as-is, with apologies to Long Beach, Palmdale, NCIS, CSI:Miami, my high school English teacher, and anyone else who reads this random, seemingly pointless post.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


  As most of you know, we have a new addition to our little family. Jackson is now at twelve pounds. As I was sitting on the couch last Saturday with him, it occured to me that he would make a good workout partner. I could do three sets of twenty reps of lifting him straight armed off my lap to just over my head. So I did it. A few hours later, I bent down and turned to pick up something or other and BAM. It was like an electric cattle prod  was jabbed into my lower left back. I somehow made my way to the couch after several minutes in a frozen position. There I stayed. For two days. I have now missed two days of work and tomorrow will be my first day back (the doctor told me I could stay out until Thursday, but I think I can make it back tomorrow). I've probably missed ten days of work in twenty years. I hate missing work. I will now have to endure endless jokes and jabs- "You got that old man?"- and, of course next week's check will be a little lighter. I've carried three hundred pound dollies up stairs, lifted dollies onto track, hauled plywood into sets and rarely had a complaint. It took twelve pounds of lift to put me on my back. I blame the boy.
  As I was recuperating, I had occasion to rewatch The Ring. I saw it in the theatre when it came out and was impressed with the production value, but it soon fell out of my memory like so many things do nowadays (Where are my keys,? where is my car,? Where did I leave the dolly?). Watching it again, I was struck by how well it's made. Forget the story. The Ring kicked off the craze of American studios remaking Japanese horror flicks- The Grudge, One Missed Call, etc., most of which were inferior to the original, and at least one of which, I was Dolly Grip on. The story is implausible at best. The beauty of The Ring is the atmosphere. Every frame is infused with dread. Much like Seven, the rainy, dreary Northwestern American coast is used to full effect. The dolly work by Mike Brennan is beautiful and flawless. You won't see any clumsy crane finishes or bumpy push-ins here. And the dolly work adds to the dread. Watching it for the second time, I was able to see it purely on technical terms. They took a story which they had to know was clunky and made the atmosphere the star. So check it out if you get a chance.
 Anyway, I'm back to work tomorrow and hope I can fake my way through another day.

PS- We recently crossed the hundred thousand hits mark. Thank you all for reading and contributing your knowledge and stories. As my wife reminds me- If I had a dollar for every hit.....

Sunday, January 09, 2011

I Have To See It Once.

 I did a post a while back for camera operators showing ways that they could help make their Dolly Grip's life easier ( it's here). One of the points I brought up was I have to see it once. I did a show a few years ago where the camera operator would constantly verbally correct the first run-through. As in, "Too slow, too slow." or, "Boom up quicker when he stands, we didn't make it." This nearly drove me insane. Finally, I told him, "It's the first time I've seen it. I know how to do it, I just need to see it once." I think a lot of people don't realize that besides just seeing it, we also have to get the feel of it. We're getting upwards of 800 lbs of dolly, operator, and camera moving and stopping with a person* and often simultaneously booming up or down, and trying to get our timing right as well as hit a mark. Remembering how it feels to do a particular move is often just as important as remembering how it looks. Those first run- throughs are how we learn what is going to be required as far as how much strength to use to get the whole thing going and stopping again. If I'm too slow in one spot on the first rehearsal, that's actually a good thing because it tells me what I have to do to make it work. I can remember how much pull or push I used and tune it up on the next one.  The actors always do it differently than the stand-ins. This is one reason that I don't like to do too many rehearsals with stand-ins because the feel of doing it a certain way gets ingrained into your muscle memory and then you have to completely recalibrate it all with the actors. So if the first time with actors is a little off, you don't have to tell me. Believe me, I know when it's off, and where. I'm just figuring out what I need to do to fix it.
  * Or whatever we're tracking. In the last six months alone, I've had to keep up with an owl, a falcon, several cars, and fire. (yes, fire).