Saturday, April 09, 2011

Spotting Problems

 By spotting problems, I mean seeing potential problems and fixing or avoiding them before they become obstructive, or even dangerous. The ability to know when something is or isn't a potential issue is one of the most important assets of being a Dolly Grip. Actually of being a Grip also. It's always been my own opinion, for what little it's worth, that a Dolly Grip makes his money in setup, not necessarily in the moves themselves. I think the moves come with practice and either you have, or develop, the timing and dexterity or you don't. Once you have that part down, you don't really think about it much, you just step up and do it. Setup is where the problem solving part of the job arises and where you try and head off the roadblocks before you turn the corner and see them screaming toward you at 80 mph. Most of it is common sense, some of it is just gut feeling, and some of it you've learned just from being around other really good grips. I'll give a vague example which is the only one I can think of in my fatigued state: we used a certain brand of jib arm on a show I did a few years ago pretty consistently over two or three seasons. Now I'm not a fan of this particular arm, but someone higher up the chain than me liked it, so we used it a fair amount of the time. It's commonly seen arm, one used by a lot of guys all over the world and it works fine. I just don't like it. The connections are all internal so I can't see what's actually going on with them, and it is always a pain to put back in the case at the end of the day. We had this arm delivered from the vendor whenever we needed it and would build it at the start of the day. One time we were building it and two of the pieces just wouldn't fit together, no matter how we coaxed and cursed. It got to the point where the DP was standing over me waiting to see if he was going to be able to use it for the next shot. In any case, we managed to get it together (by employing a pair of pliers and questionable means) and the show went on. The next season, it happened again. Same problem. Same DP standing over my shoulder. This time, I told him to postpone the shot if he could and I would get the vendor to run over a replacement part. Which they did. Now this is not a huge deal. Sometimes things get tweaked and don't fit right. But not the same thing. Twice. This tells me that there's either a problem with the shop, or with that arm. Either way, sooner or later, down the road, something worse than postponing a shot could happen. I went to the Best Boy and asked him to never bring that arm out again. Get me a Fisher Jib. I can see the connections  on  the arm and I've never had one give me a problem. Not even once. "Big deal," you're thinking. "Two problems in three years. You just got mad at the arm and didn't want to see it anymore." And you're right, to a certain extent. But mostly I was concerned. In twenty years of putting crane arms together, I've never had two pieces that were meant to go together that just didn't. Not that involved tweaking one of the connections with a pair of pliers.That tells me that this is, to me, becoming a safety issue. If it's happened twice in two years, what else don't I know about. And while it probably would have been fine, I don't want to take the chance with a jib over actors and stand-ins heads.
  Now this example, while admittedly vague, demonstrates a pattern. In my experience, crane parts not fitting together is irregular. Having to physically change a connector by force is irregular. I've now seen it twice with this arm. Get it out of here before something breaks loose with 40 pounds of camera and 120 pounds of weight over someone's head. That's what you look for. You look for patterns. You look for irregularities. You look for two threads on the castle nut instead of three. Potential land mines are everywhere and spotting them can be the difference between swapping out a part and someone going to the hospital.
  On a lighter note, yesterday I got in my car and halfway to work before I realized I didn't have any shoes on.
 Be safe,


Emilio Mejia said...

Haha. Great note to finish the post on.

I'm in the last semester of film school, and your blog posts make me excited to get to work professionally. Many of the things you mention are the same pieces of advice I give to the freshman students that help on our shoots sometimes. Be safe, know the equipment, make sure it's working the way it's supposed to work, and know how to solve problems efficiently. Sometimes, they ask what a particular job on set is, and my answer is usually the same: Stay a step ahead of whoever you're working under and be ready to problem solve for the equipment you're responsible for. If everybody on set does those two things, everything runs smooth and we have a great shoot.

Again, thanks for the blog. It's always a highlight of my day when there's a new post.

Michael Taylor said...

Sounds like you're working too hard, D -- or else it's time to leave an extra pair of shoes in the car...

What you're talking about in this post applies throughout the industry. I've had similar problems with badly designed and/or poorly maintained set lighting equipment over the years. Things work out a lot better for everyone involved when trouble can be stopped in the formative stages -- thus avoiding watching something hard and heavy fall out of the sky or erupt in a ball of electric fire.

Glad to see you posting again. Hope you catch a break from all that work soon, and get a chance to recharge.

The Grip Works said...

Great post D,
Its difficult to explain the knot in your gut when you fly a crane that you dont trust. The thought of a crane snapping apart under tension is enough to make your buttcheeks clench !!

D said...

Thanks michael.
Sanjay- you said it brother. There's also the relief when the shot's finally over and you can get the thing out of there.

GHB said...

I think I know what jib you're talking about. I'm always a little white knuckled when we fly it. Mostly because it is rated for such high weight capacity so, of course, we always load it up. Ever broken one of the little tightening pins they give you to put that final tension on the wheel? That's always a good thing!

D said...

Yes, GHB, you nailed the very one. I have broken one or two of those things.