Monday, May 30, 2011


  Cues are simply the visual or audio signal that kicks off a move or action. A cue may be an actor's first step, a word of dialogue, or a wildly waved arm from a director at the monitor. Important to the process is the cadence. This is simply the AD's call for the shot to begin. It usually goes, "Roll sound, speed, roll camera, speed, action!" Often, when we want the camera to be moving before the action even starts, we'll call for an "And......action," and move on the "and." Sometimes, it'll just be a verbal, "Go!" from the operator or director. I really dislike verbal cues. By the time I get the cue, I'm often already starting out a split second behind. Once you get behind the action on a move, it's difficult to catch up without it looking like you're catching up. There's also a little bit of doubt in every camera operator's head (believe me, I do not blame them for this, I would be the same way) that will make him or her often give you a verbal cue even as you're already starting. Verbal cues are also unreliable. I like to rely on what  see. I've had directors and operators simply forget to cue me. I also don't like relying on monitors for visual cues. There's just no substitute for real time visual on an actor for a visual. Most ofthem have a "tell" that will let you know when they are going to walk or sit etc. A turn of the head, a shift of a leg, even a shift of the eye can alert you to a coming move. These things are harder to see, at least for me,  in a monitor. Sometimes in situations like a blind corner, or a doorway, you can't see anything and you have to rely on a monitor. Just remember that a monitor is a tool, not the tv screen you filter all your visual info through. On a crane move, if I'm getting a verbal, a countdown (3-2-1-go) or an "And" really helps me get ready. A sudden "Go!" often puts you behind from the start. I can often also tell by the tone of my operator's voice what he's looking for.

I have a couple of other orders of business. Please check out The Black and Blue. It's a great site by a camera assistant who had some nice things to say about dolly grips. Give it a look.

Our good friend Onno will be at Cinegear in his Solid Grip Systems booth. Please stop by and check out his stuff. He's got some great gadgets. He may also need a hand running things since he's alone this year, so please offer a helping hand. I would be there to do it, but I'm out of town this year.  Give him a warm welcome.

    Happy Memorial Day to all our soldiers and their families, especially those of our fallen warriors. I'm taking a week off to go to Atlanta. Have a great week!


Sunday, May 15, 2011

B- Camera Dolly Grip(e).

  B-Camera Dolly is a strange, often thankless position. It often involves just "park and shoot" which doesn't make for a lot of excitement. You are expected to pitch in with the crew if your camera isn't working and they need an extra hand, while not straying too far from the set in case your camera gets called in. It's often also something of a learning position. It gives you a chance to learn the basics of how the machine works, working with an operator, and basic dolly gripping without the responsibility or pressure of A- Camera. Or, sometimes, as on my show, it's basically another "A." B-camera on my show works most shots, often moves, and on double-up days becomes "A" camera on the alternate unit. As a result, we pretty much need an "A" camera guy in that position, and I'm lucky to have that. I depend on my B- camera dolly grip to give me input into everything from laying floors to where the crane base is going. Here's a list of things that a B-Camera Dolly Grip can do (or not do) to help move things along:

1. Talk to your camera operator. Stay close to him/her. This means don't ask me on every shot if your camera is working. If I find out that it is and you're not around, I'll certainly call you and try to find out what it's doing before you get there. But don't walk up and ask me as I'm laying a floor or track if your camera is working. There's your operator, ask him.

2. Give me some input. If you've got a better idea of how to lay a floor, rig a camera, etc., speak up. Don't stand there and watch me work and wait for me to ask you to go get something. I know you're there to help. I don't need help. I've got at least three set grips willing to help. I need a dolly grip. (This only applies if you know what you're doing. If you're still learning, then learn).

3. Help me keep up with my stuff. You and I are a team. Your camera probably doesn't work quite as much as mine does. Just make sure the carts are in order, the track is all there, etc. I rarely get to leave, so stuff can get pretty scattered.

4. Pay attention. I am not going to service two cameras. I can't push mine and yours both.

5. Just to repeat, don't keep asking me if your camera is working.

6. If you know something I don't,  for Pete's sake speak up. Don't let me lay a floor for my camera and then mention that we should go ahead and extend it for yours. You're screwing up my sentra pattern.

7. Don't argue. Don't give me attitude. If I ask for something (pneumatics on a dolly, extra long offset, whatever) I have a reason. If you have a better idea, make it known and then move along.

8. We're still grips. Help the boys out every now and then. I watched a guy last year walk past two combo stands, grab his apple box and newspaper, and take them to the truck as we were doing a company move. I was carrying two combos and a sandbag. The guy was gone the next day. They help us lay track, help them when they need it. You don't have to put together twelve by's, but it doesn't hurt to pick up that stray stand and bag as you're on the way to the truck.

9. Tell the guys, "Thank you." We were all set grips once. A little gratitude for the luma beams goes a long way.

10. As we're about to roll, rehearse, and/or lay track  is not a good time to go make a sandwich. I'm completely serious.

I'm not trying to sound negative. These are all things I've dealt with (and probably done from time to time).
If you're a regular "A" guy who just wanted a break or is between shows, we're a team. Watch my back and I'll watch yours. If you're using "B" camera to learn, then learn. Ask questions. Watch how things are done. Pay attention. And no, taking the dolly class doesn't make you a dolly grip.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


  One thing about the film business, it's filled with traditions. It even has it's own language and a couple of books have been written defining several terms of that language. One, by my friend, camera operator Dave Knox can be found  here. There's another one written by Tony Bill you can find here. I like the old traditions, some of which, like the process of shooting on film itself,* seem to be dying out. It's a shame. They help keep it interesting. They connect us to our filmmaking predecessors in a unique way. Here are some I like.
For the uninitiated:

The Champagne Roll- It's simply the hundredth roll of film you shoot on a show, and marks a hundred thousand feet of film shot. Traditionally, glasses of champagne are handed out to the crew on this roll. This is one of the one's that will inevitably die out.

Dollar Day- It's a tradition that on Fridays, a PA walks around with a bucket and takes a dollar from all who are willing to gamble. Each participant writes his name on the dollar, folds it in a very special way, and drops it in the bucket. At the end of the shooting day, someone, usually one of the actors or the director, draws a dollar and whomever's name is called wins the whole bucket. Michael over at Blood, Sweat and Tedium has a great post on this tradition here. I've only ever won once. It was around $400.00. I went out  and bought a pair of tennis shoes which I thought were really cool and by three days later I hated them.

Box of F-stops- It's a rather mean tradition to send a newbie to the truck for a "box of F-stops." You may also substitute pig clamp, board stretcher, or air hook.

Watch your back- You'll hear this a lot. It simply means, "Get out of the way." Why this has become so ubiquitous is beyond me but I say it at least ten times a day.

The cadence- "Lights, camera, action!" is a saying wierdly promoted to the public through the movies. Directors don't say this. They don't even start the process of shooting. The assistant director says, "roll sound." The sound mixer or boom operator says, "speed." The 2nd AC says "marker," then the director says "action!" We depend on this cadence as dolly grips to get us ready. Sometimes we'll ask for an "and... action," to help us start a move before the scene actually starts. If the cadence changes and we aren't told, it can screw us up.

Here are some words you'll here on sets everywhere:

C-47- Also known as bullets, or pegs, these simply refer to clothespins which juicers carry to clip gels onto lights.

Stinger- extension cord.

On the day- This means, literally, when we shoot. It doesn't necessarily mean on a different day. It can mean when cameras roll twenty minutes from now, as in, "we don't need to give her the prop for rehearsal, but she'll have it on the day."

Kill the baby- A baby is a 1k light made by Mole Richardson. "Kill it " means turn it off. This applies to other lights as well. You may just as well hear, "kill the 12k," but baby is more disturbing.

Save the baby- Ironically means the same as "kill it."

Crossing- Some people say this when crossing in front of camera. Don't. It tends to irritate camera operators and will often point you out as a newbie. I was told before I ever stepped onto a set for the first time to do this, so I guess teachers are perpetuating this, but don't bother. If you have to cross camera, wait until no one's on the eyepiece and just go. If it can't wait, just go and mutter, "sorry."

Second meal- Producers tend to serve notoriously bad meals for the second meal, which is literally the next meal after lunch if you're shooting a long day. Union rules specify that you are to get a 30 minute meal break every six hours. Producers usually won't stop for this, however, so will often provide a courtesy walking meal, which you eat while working. Usually it's pizza or fried chicken which leads to the phrase, "What's for chicken?" Pizza is called, "circles of death." Azurgrip gave me the idea for this one.

Martini shot- The last shot of the day. It means literally, "the next shot's in the glass." After this, though, comes the JFK, or shot that no one knows where it comes from.

Abby Singer- Next to last shot.

If it ain't it ain't- If it ain't working on this shot, put it in the truck (to get a head start on wrap).

Mickey Rooney- In dolly terminology, it means "a short creep." Not very flattering to Mickey Rooney, who I'm sure is thrilled by it.

Gary Coleman- A short c-stand. I don't like to speak ill of the dead, however.

These are common phrases in the US industry. What are some in your neck of the woods?

* I've still yet to work on an HD shoot. Every job I get, film cameras keep showing up.