Wednesday, June 29, 2011

That's Our Phone booth

 Back before cell phones, at least before cell phones were smaller than a shoebox, the landscape was dotted with glass and steel cubes known as phone booths. They were a necessary part of life and I remember many a lunch hour spent looking for the nearest one so I could return a call or check my messages (see "answering machine"). Thus, phone booths were also an often seen set in movies and tv shows. They were portable, easily dressed, corralled actors into one small 3x3 space, and you could throw one up on any corner and shoot two pages of dialogue with minimal fuss. Being the easiest scene of a movie to shoot, it was often put off multiple times. It would be scheduled and then, as the day went longer, bumped to some other later day when it could be erected in any nearby parking lot. Thus a common sight in the caravan of trucks, honeywagons and vans that make up the production transpo pool would be a stakebed with a phone booth strapped to the bed. It would follow us from location to location, just waiting for that spare couple of hours when it could get unceremoniously retired as a location and released from it's stakebed prison.

 This pretty much sums up how the last two weeks are going to be.  Anyone who has done TV sees this coming. The last two weeks of a long season are almost always drudgery. The hours are long and the schedules are insane as the studio tries to tie up all the loose ends, pick up any missing inserts, or reshoot any unsatisfactory scenes (like we did last night, five pages worth).  In the midst of this cleanup work are the actual pages from the current episode that have to be shot, giving rise to the old Hollywood saying, "Chaos breeds cash." There's always one scene that gets put off over and over until finally, it has to be shot. I call those our "phone booths." We are now into two weeks of knocking out our phone booths which makes for some long days.

 We've also gone from a month or two of relative ease (a lot of steadicam and handheld) to suddenly every shot being on the dolly. Monday night we built not one, but two exterior dance floors, made infinitely easier with the aluminum bucks, but  still more of a pain than you want to get into at the end of a seven month run. At least tonight we have a Moviebird so hopefully there won't be any need for exterior dance floor. We are beginning the first of about six splits at our ranch out toward Malibu and it promises to be the typical two week battle toward the finish line. So I may be an infrequent poster for the next few days but I'm still around. Out in Malibu. In a phone booth.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Winding Down

  Well, we're reaching the end of another six month run. I'm starting to develop that "last week of school" mentality (along with everyone else) which is ironic because now is when the work really ramps up. It's the climax/cliffhanger episode, so the action gets more intense, the moves get faster and more intricate, and the hours get longer. My show is inherently dance floor-centric. I rarely lay track except exteriors and for really precise effects shots anyway, so this week at least I was lucky to be on one of our few dollyable set floors. It's funny how after so long on a show you  become really familiar with what you can and can't get away with. For instance, I know which sets I can get away without a floor on lenses wider than 50mm and which room entrances are 7' and which are less, and can immediately decide what I need (that sounds pretty easy until you realize we have 6 stages, each with at least two sets, and at least three standing exterior sets that we regularly return to. Knowing these sets as intimately as I do saves a lot of time in setup and allows me to often bring along only what I know I'll need or what I know will fit. If I was really organized, I would keep a notebook of all the sets and their dimensions as well as floor ratings, but, as I said, at this point it's drilled into my head so it would be redundant. Maybe next time.
  To go along with Azurgrip's recent viewing of the new X-Men, I recently saw Super 8. Pretty much what you would expect, especially if you were raised on a steady diet of Steven Spielberg (he produced it) movies. It definitely has his fingerprints all over it. I actually didn't care for it that much although it's easy to see how much work was put into it. It looks great and the camera movement by Mike Wahl was, of course, beautifully executed. A lot of great crane work. Some of my favorite shots to do are basically dolly shots that are done on a crane where you swing around low following the action as you would on a dolly, then go into a rise. There's a lot of this on Super 8. The train wreck sequence is spectacular although it's the longest train wreck in history. Like I said, I personally didn't care for it, because it's nothing you haven't seen before if you've seen ET or Close Encounters. Hats off to the dolly work, though. Nicely done. Which brings me to another point...
   I did a show a couple of years ago with an operator who was really unhappy with his previous dolly grip. He said he wasn't very good, although he was such a nice guy that he let it slide and powered through. I recently saw the movie he was talking about and everything looked fine. Moves were consistent and smooth and I didn't notice any bad booms etc. But, I don't know how many takes were needed to get the shot, or how the shots may have been compromised to make them doable for the dolly grip. The moves were pretty standard, nothing like the fairly technical work of Super 8. This brings me back to the point I've often made that the dolly grip often makes his money and proves his worth in set up. Making quick decisions, insulating your operator from having to make decisions for you, and getting the shot in the least number of takes possible is something that only someone who was on set would ever know. I try to always keep this in mind that I'm here as a team member with my camera operator. If I can't carry my weight, he has to carry his, and part of mine for me.
  Picked up a feature in August, so I'm headed back to Atlanta in late July.
   If anyone has anything in particular they'd like to discuss, shoot us an email or comment. Alfeo, I haven't forgotten your question about remote heads, it just keeps slipping my mind. I'll get to it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Misc viewings

During my hiatus this week, my wife and I had a bit of a "Date" afternoon and went and saw "X-Men: First Class". I won't go into a review here, but I quite liked it and my wife even more.

Having worked on a picture of that scale, a huge tip of the hat to all the dolly grips from around the world who worked on the project - ya did great and should be proud!

Has anyone attended any of the Local 80 (LA)'s dolly grip's course? Did anyone go to JL Fisher's open house? If so. could you please write us and tell us about it. Some of us who can't make these shows would like to know! Thanks!

On another note, my local Blockbuster movie rental place closed down. This is something that's happened in the US and Canada. I am heartbroken by this, as I've always gone out of my way to rent the full movie disc so I can see the "extra features" - especially the behind the scenes footage! This is something that has been totally left behind by most video on demand services. I don't really want to have to buy these movies, as I don't have the space to store, nor want to spend the money on something that'll I watch once. Is searching "behind the scenes" on YouTube going to be my only alternative?

Monday, June 06, 2011

Repost of an Oldie but a Goodie.

I'm into night work in a town that's over an hour away. I  just don't have much time to come up with a post. So here is an older one some (most) of you have probably not seen.

The Take They Use...

...Is not always the best take for you. I recently came across a trailer for a movie I did a while back (the fact that we shot it two years ago and it's coming out in January should tell you something). The first shot in the trailer is a boom down on a cell phone. I remember this shot well. We did it on a Lambda Head so we could get down low on a profile of the phone. We must have done 6 takes on this thing before the operator said it was good. The reason? The shake involved in an offset Lambda on a quick boom down. Anyway, we finally got the shot (I even reviewed it on playback) and it was fine. Then I saw the trailer. Boom down---shaky, shaky. I couldn't believe it. They used one of the shakey takes. This is an unfortunate occurance in this line of work, however (I'm sure camera operators and ACs deal with it too). Once we do our job, it's out of our hands and sometimes a take is used for reasons of performance, or whatever, that shows our work in a less-than-favorable light. I did a tv series years ago where there was a scene invloving a lot of extras at a party and a long dance floor move. We did a couple of takes and it was fine. Then we did one more and one extra suddenly decided to change his route. You got it, I nailed him. The whole dolly shook and he was fine, but I was sure we would never see this take. A couple of weeks later I caught the episode on tv. Guess which take they used? Yep, out of three good takes, we saw the one with the enormous jarring bump at the end. Another time I was doing this big budget movie and... well let's just say they used the crane shot where the hotgears developed a jarring glitch. It's still there in the DVD (no, I won't say which movie it was). That's why over the years I've learned not to judge AC, operator or dolly work too harshly in the final product. Sometimes, they're looking at other things and I guess they choose the lesser of two evils.