Saturday, July 30, 2011

Suggested Post from a Reader

   Our friend Ed Moore, a cinematographer in the UK, sent me an email a while back asking if I might do a post as kind of an introduction to the grip world, inspired by a young friend of his who just got his first job as a grip trainee (it's a British thing). I thought a while about it. I've already done a couple of  posts basically consisting of just tips (things like, if you bring a single, also bring a double). I've been thinking how I might make this different. Clearly, as Ed points out, the lighting control info would be of little use to a British grip. But I'll try.
   The easiest way  for me to do this I think is to remember what it was like when I was a green grip and then juxtapose it with what I expect or like to see now out of a someone who's just starting out.
    I think rule number one should be never be late. A slot in the grip department, believe it or not, is a coveted commodity. The production only allows you so many and you have to work with what you have. If you're late or don't show up, you're forcing your brothers and sisters to carry that slot and do your work for you. When I started, they used to tell me there was never an excuse for being late. This is a little silly. Real life will intrude sooner or later and you will be late at some point. It's when you make a habit of it that it becomes a problem.
     Next, I would say keep the dialogue to a minimum. I haven't worn a radio in years, but the one thing I hear most set grips complain about is that there's always one guy who is constantly chiming in. Don't be that guy. Be silent, keep your eyes open and mouth shut. Of course you should have a little fun. Don't be deadly serious all the time, but know when it's time to work. I used to make a game out of seeing if I could stay a step ahead of the Key Grip by watching what was happening on set and trying to have the next thing he asked for either in my hand, or already going up.  That kind of goes along with paying attention which is pretty obvious. Watch what's going on. If you see a weak point (no one's at the carts, the set is low on stands, the DP is lining up a dolly shot and there's no track or wedges etc. close) fill it.
     Ask questions. If you don't know how to do something or what something is, ask. If you don't know how to tie a clove hitch, pull one of the fellows aside and ask him to teach you some knots. If you want to learn how to lay dolly track, pull the dolly grip aside when he's not busy and ask him to show you how. We all started out knowing nothing and most of us are more than happy to share what we know now.
    Learn the equipment. This is basic. Get a catalogue from Matthews or American or any other manufacturer and study it. Learn the names that go with the equipment.
     Set etiquette. Some things are no-no's on set that really don't matter in the real world. Don't yell across the set. Don't throw people under the bus ( in other words, if something is late or holding up production for whatever reason, don't announce to the world which department is responsible). I've done it absent mindedly and then realized what I'd done and gone and apologized to the department. Don't stand in doorways. This one drives me crazy. Don't walk slowly through the set or a corridor leading to the set, taking up the entire walkway. Some people are in a bigger hurry than you and don't want to have to go around you. Always give the right of way to someone who's carrying something if you aren't. Don't run through the set. Running will generally mark you as a newbie. Don't put your eye on the eyepiece of the camera without permission. Some operators are peevish about this and unless they know you really well, they'll call you out. Don't play with the set dressing. I know it's just a pen, but it's also someone's equipment. Put things back where they go. If you borrow something, bring it back. These are the basics. This business works a lot on courtesy. The hours are too long and the work too hard to deal with a jackass.
      Have confidence. This is a strange one but it's true. A long time ago a gaffer told me to, "walk on the set like I own it."  This little saying has stuck with me for over twenty years and helped me a lot when I was inexperienced and self conscious. If someone didn't think you were good, you wouldn't be there. Act like it.
      If you really want to impress, be the first one there and the last to leave (at least while you're still trying to prove yourself). Crews above all want to know that you're someone they can depend on.
   I hope these little tips will help. Please feel free to add any that I've forgotten in the comments section.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


What I did on my last vacation

Hello from Vacationland...which is really just my house.  I've had a lot of time on my hands to do nothing  but play with my children, spend time with my wife, and lay on the couch which is what I needed more than anything. All this time on a person's hands can lead to boredom, which leads to internet searches. Out of sheer idleness last week I did a search for dolly grip in the hopes that it would lead to an idea for a post. It did. What I found was some good and some bad. On the good side, I found several posts on blogs by young dolly grips talking about a particularly cool shot they did or how much they enjoyed the job. I also found some articles on how important dolly grips and grips in general are to the process of filmmaking like this one. Dan Gold SOC really nailed it on this article and pretty much summed up all four years of this blog, thereby making it nearly obsolete. And this one, in which yours truly actually has a small paragraph. On the bad side, I found this one. This one was the worst of the bunch, although there were several which accused us of everything from holding the boom mic (clearly a mixup with the Fisher boom, which while operated by a "dolly grip," is a different animal), to carrying heavy stuff around. Unfortunately, I believe that often these misconceptions may extend out of the mind of the casual moviegoer and travel like a missile all the way into the above-the-line world, leading to lower wages, and generally being treated as an afterthought like we have often been for so long. A key grip once told me a story of a UPM he was working for who asked him why he needed so much dance floor because, "there wasn't any dancing in this movie." I've personally had equipment (crane bases, plywood, etc) unceremoniously cancelled because the office didn't understand what it was for and didn't bother to check, leading to a mad scramble to get it in before the day. Hopefully, this little corner of the internet can help dispel some of these ideas. Yes, I know we're not doing heart surgery and in the scheme of things none of this really matters, but it is our livelihood and we have to protect it as much as we can. And also I needed an idea for a post.
   I noticed that the Moviebird website has a nice blurb and a link about us. Thanks Moviebird!
Till next time,

PS- There are a few of you I haven't heard from in a while. Just check in to let me know you're OK or are still out there. Alexa- miss hearing from you, Megamoose- you too, Acraw- Say hi once in a while. I know many of you read without saying anything, but just let me know you're still around.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Special Offer from Grip411

 Rick Davis at Grip411 has extended a free offer to be listed in his upcoming Grip411 IPhone app. Grips all over the world use his Grip411 resource manual for information on everything from scaffolding to condors. Now he's going to include a crew section. To take advantage of this offer, just send the following info to grip411at mac dot com:

Full Name
phone #
email address

You may also include any equipment you have to rent.

Rick promises that this info will never be used for anything other than this listing.

Please pass this info along to other grips who may be interested. Thanks.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

End of Season Roundup

  Seven months of splits, nights, splinter units, inserts, cold, heat, dust, blood (real and fake), and sweat are finally over. No matter what you think of the show, (I make it a point not to use too specific names on this site. It's just safer in the long run but it's not hard to figure out, usually, who or what I'm talking about) it is a huge undertaking and a logistical nightmare. We have six stages filled to the fire lane with at least twelve standing interior sets. Each stage has it's own basic grip package that is augmented with the truck package. I have two dance floor packages and a subfloor cart that rolls around to wherever we happen to be, not to mention a hundred feet of track, and a set of bucks for exterior and sometimes interior dance floor. Location wise, we have a standing exterior set at Warner Brothers, and several permanent exterior sets at a ranch out toward Malibu, and an exterior in Long Beach. This year we travelled the distance from Lancaster, Ca to Long Beach, which is about as diverse and distant as you can get on a show. All this is further complicated by double-up days where a second unit comes in, necessitating two extra dollies and track. I have to thank my B Camera Dolly Grip, Demian, who stepped up to the plate and made my life so much easier. He's normally an A Camera guy and having someone who can take over when I need a day (or week) off is always a relief. We also have one of the finest grip departments I've ever worked with, from the Key Grip down. There's not much these guys can't do. I had several fantastic Dolly Grips come in for splinter units and B camera and they were all great. So, Chris, Matt, Tony, Chris, Dave, Jason, George, Devin, and I'm sure I've forgotten at least one, thank you.
  As hard a show physically and logistically as it is, it would really be a nightmare if everyone didn't get along. This show, however is blessed with a great cast and crew and we all really work well together. Anyone who has ever done a TV show for any length of time knows how after a while you begin to become like a family. This may be because you actually spend more time with your TV family than your real one. There's nothing like an endless string of 12 to 14 hour days in various conditions with the same people over and over to draw a cast and crew together. Under those conditions, troublemakers get weeded out pretty quick (although usually given a few chances). Usually, we just make the best of it and laugh as much as possible. I think laughing is the key. Otherwise in the middle of a 70 hour week, you begin to wonder what the point is.
  The Camera Department? Best in the world. Thanks Simon, Brad, Weezy, James, John, Neblowski, Joel, Dave, and Romeo.
   We used a lot of toys. Here are some of them: Hustler 4 and Peewee 4, Super Peewee 3, Hybrid 3, CS Base, High Post Kit, Raptor, and Hydrascope from Chapman, Moviebird 35-45 from Procam Rentals, Fisher 23 jib arm from JL Fisher, 20' and 30' Technocrane from Panavision Remote, Aerocrane jib. Superslider, and Modern slider, Libra head (Thanks Aaron), Aerohead and Scorpio Head. I do want to thank especially Hammer, Brian and Jason, and Joe from Procam Rentals. These guys are the best. Steve, Shafi, Jason, and Christine from Chapman also did a great job and never let me down. Hopefully, I didn't lose anything.
  I am now officially unemployed for the near future. If you need a slightly used, but well rested Dolly Grip in August or September (let's just make it September), give me a call.
   Vacation time!