Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Hybrid Configuration + End of Year What Did We Learn Post

    I learned something interesting on the last show. The A Camera Dolly Grip pushes a Hybrid regularly. He showed me a new way to configure the head that Chapman offers and some of you die hard Hybrid enthusiasts may appreciate if you don't already know about it. It's simply a plate that bolts down in the same place that the regular four-way levelling head does, using the same bolt. The new style Hustler 4 rotating levelling head then attaches to the plate. Rather than an RO on top of the levelling head, giving you five extra inches of height you rarely need, you now can get a little lower than with the old style head. Having not pushed a Hybrid in a while, I hadn't seen it, but it really works great. I will be sure to ask for it next time I use one. I can file this one in my usual end-of- year what did we learn post, which is as follows:

1:You can get by on way less than you think you can.
2: Soft compound tires aren't as bad as I always thought.
3: Take it down a notch.
4: Don't overthink it. (I knew this already. It's actually one of my regular mantras. It bears repeating).
5: You know the front lifting handles built into the Peewee 4? There's a little slice cut out of the inside edge of each side. I know what that's for. (Think old-school low mode).
6: B Camera isn't so bad after all. I got a lot more stuff done.
7:  The replacement value of a short post seat riser is $845.00.
9: You don't really appreciate roundy-round until you don't have it.
10: Let the young guys take the front up the stairs.
11: That thing I said earlier about the new Hybrid config.
12: Being shushed by a  twenty-two year old PA  irritates me a lot more than it used to.

Here's to a great and prosperous New Year! Wishing you all the best. Take care of each other.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


We lost one of our own a couple of weeks ago. Tony Bendt, a Dolly Grip I had known only a few years passed away in his bed in New Orleans while on location. I don't know the details of his passing, and at this point it doesn't really matter. The world's supply of good men is down by one. Much of what I would say has already been said, coincidentally, by Michael Taylor in a post he did a few days ago about a fellow worker dying unexpectedly. I had heard about Tony just the day before reading Michael's post and had to read it twice to be sure he wasn't talking about him. I didn't know him as well as I would have liked, so I'll speak my peace with the few facts I did know and be done with it.
  The one thing I know for sure about Tony Bendt was that he had a talent for making friends. Whenever anyone passes on, it's amazing how many people say that everyone loved him and he brought joy into the world etc. etc.  I always wince a little and wonder how this could possibly be true of everyone who meets an untimely end. Well, if I were interviewed tonight about what Tony Bendt was like, I would say that everyone who met him loved him and he certainly brought a lot of joy to those who knew him. And Tony knew everybody. His ability to make friends struck me the first time I met him, at a gathering of dolly grips a few years ago. I met him, liked him, and a few weeks later received a text from him asking how I was. He would always send me pictures out of the blue. A  few of them are to the right in the picture section of this page. I don't think I ever went more than a couple of weeks after that without receiving a text or a picture or a phone call. He honestly was that way. I don't know how he found the time because, as I said, he knew everybody, and I have to assume that they were all getting texts and calls from him as well. He has a Facebook page and on it I have found the first Best Boy I ever worked with, a DP I've worked with, several Dolly Grips, and a whole network of  people I've heard of, but never met. He also loved this business. When you've been at it as long as most of us have, we tend to find ourselves jaded and disillusioned by the whole process. I never knew him to be that way. He honestly enjoyed his job, and the people around him. He was a good man in a business which sometimes seems short of them. He leaves behind a wife and two children. I pray for them. A blog has been set up for him at tonybendt.blogspot.com. If you knew him, go pay your respects. If you didn't, go and let it inspire you to leave as much of a mark on the people who know you as he did.
Safe travels, Tony. The world is a poorer place without you in it. See you on the other side.......

  Now, life, and business must go on. As most of you know, I let my domain registry expire due to a mixture of laziness, stupidity, and forgetfulness. In my defense, I've had a lot on my plate in the last few months and just let it slip through the cracks. Some company immediately bought it and is now holding it for ransom. It will be back. In the meantime, you can find me here at the Blogspot address.

  The show's over, we bought a new house, and I'm in the process of moving. Not a fun task in the best of times. Oh, I also don't have a job for next year yet. It's very exciting. You didn't come here for news on my personal life, you came here for some tasty Dollygrippery, so here's a rundown of the last job:

Steadicam, Steadicam and more Steadicam. I sit on the truck, help the A camera Dolly Grip lay track, sit on truck some more, surf the internet, move carts, get bored and help grips build 12 x's, sit on truck, do establishing shot. That's pretty much how it went for nine weeks. In the meantime, I made some new friends, worked with a great DP, and reconnected with some old friends. That's really all you can ask for. Til next time, stay safe out there.

Saturday, November 05, 2011


  Well, it's been a while. I apologize for not checking in for a few weeks, but I've been dealing with real estate stuff, one year old's birthdays, and work. The show is going well and I'm really enjoying B camera and not having to be there every second. I think of myself as Eddie Van Halen's guitar tech. I make sure the rock star has everything set up to put on a show. I can play, but I prefer to remain in the background. I'll have a topical post soon, but right now I can't really think of anything to post on. Ideas anyone?

PS -Because I've been slack lately, my domain name registration may have expired. If the site goes dark, nothing's wrong, I'll be back.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Day 2

 I haven't done really much of anything for two days. I've been going about this all wrong!

Day 1: A camera- Steadicam, B camera- One shot on hi hat. Shoot the breeze with A camera dolly grip. Get wedges for hi hat.

Day 2: A camera- Steadicam most of day. Two dolly shots. Help A camera dolly grip get and lay track. Shoot breeze with A camera dolly grip. B camera- Set up shot on sticks. Don't shoot it.

More to come. That is all.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Oxford, Mississippi- Oct 4

  Hello from Oxford, Mississippi, home of Robert Faulkner, John Grisham, and Ole Miss, or, the University of Mississippi. I have made this my last stop on my four day cross- country drive. Oxford is a quintessential Southern university town. Amidst magnolias, a thriving music scene, and pretty sorority girls are Confederate cemetaries, Greek Revival mansions, and the barely controlled chaos of SEC college football. I arrived here at around 7PM, and after checking in to my hotel  decided to take a look around. After I found myself on the grounds of Ole Miss, I realized I was last here twenty years ago, when I worked on a movie here called The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag, the only movie I was ever fired from (although I prefer the term "replaced"). It's not as scandalous as you might think, I was simply too young and inexperienced to handle the responsibilities of being the main set grip, and the DP noticed. I got rattled, and then I got replaced. I later worked with this same DP about sixteen years later as his Dolly Grip and we had a nice laugh about it. In any case, I find myself here again. I don't remember  much about my time here before. I remember some cool bars, seeing some band called Insane Jane, and picking up a girl for a date in front of a white columned sorority house (apparantly I had a good time while I was here). There's something about the feeling of a Southern college campus that you don't get anywhere else. At least I don't. All these schools: Alabama, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Georgia, are connected by a common history and a (usually) friendly rivalry. Notice I didn't include Auburn in this list because they don't count. It's a history of proud tradition, sometimes incredible cruelty, loss,and Southern gentility, and it permeates the air of these little towns built around big schools. I've worked on the grounds of USC, UCLA, even Harvard, but I don't get the same feeling I get here. It was here, during the Civil War, that the medical school building was used as a hospital for the injured from the Battle of Shiloh. The dead were buried in a mass grave near what is now the coliseum. It was also here in 1962, around a hundred years later  that James Meredith, in a show of incredible courage, became the first African- American student to be admitted to the University of Mississippi.  But enough history. I think being here reminds me of my own days at the University of Alabama not too far up the road. Or maybe I'm just happy to be back in the South. In any case, It's a satisfying end to a good trip.
 So tomorrow I'll finish up the last leg of my trip and prep on Thursday and Friday to shoot Monday. I'll try and give regular updates as to what's going on but internet at my house in Georgia is spotty at best. A buddy of mine who is Key Gripping a series in Atlanta is renting my house so he'll have a roommate for a couple of months. Maybe I'll get him to do a guest post or something. Till next time.....

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Open Road

  This week I will begin the long drive to Atlanta to start my next show. It's the one I'm doing B Camera on and I'm actually looking forward to not having the responsibility of A camera. I'm also looking forward to the drive. I've made this trip probably half a dozen times over the last ten years and while it may seem like drudgery (and sometimes is), I see it as a little "me" time. I've got four days with nothing but my satellite radio and my cellphone which has GPS and Yelp, so I should never be lost. I'm going to treat it like a mini vacation and stop when I want to, and take a side road now and then if it looks interesting. I'll be taking Interstate 40 from Los Angeles to around Memphis, where I'll drop down into Atlanta. I did this a couple of years ago and enjoyed it a lot. If anyone has any ideas or good restaurants along that route, let me know.

  It's been a good week. I did two second units on two different television series that went really well and then filled in for a friend of mine on A camera on a pretty big movie  for one day and had a blast. I've been enjoying my two and three day a week schedule, but I'm ready for an actual job. It'll be good to get back home and see some familiar faces. I hope all of you are doing well. Drop me a line sometime.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Letting It Go

  I once had a camera operator ask me how many takes before I start to sweat. I honestly have no idea what my answer was. At the time we were both under the thumb of a particularly dictatorial DP (think Captain Bligh, or Humphrey Bogart's character in The Cain Mutiny). This guy just couldn't be pleased and alternated takes between screaming at him, and screaming at me, a peculiarly ineffective leadership style. It does bring up a topic for a post, though: letting go of your mistakes.
  This was always a hard one for me. I tend to beat myself up for mistakes. I will hang on to them way too long if I allow it. It's in these times that the words of a great old DP come back to me, "D, sometimes you just have to say f*#@k  'em."
  In a lot of ways you have to be like a quarterback. Sooner or later, you're going to throw an interception. You may even throw one that results in the other team running it back for a touchdown. But you have to let it go. The next play is a brand new one and you can't be effective with the memory of that spectacularly bad pass weighing you down. This is one of the reasons I always say that TV is the best training ground for a Dolly Grip. It's fast and there's little room for mistakes. If you don't get it by the third take, you don't get it. If you consistently don't get it by the third take (unless it's an extremely technical move of some kind, with a three-axis Lambda, a 360 degree pan and three booms while crawling on the floor to stay out of reflection) they are probably going to start looking for another Dolly Grip. Lucky for me (heh heh) I've been doing mostly TV for the past three years. And I enjoyed it. It was a challenge every day, and it taught me that the previous fifteen years of big fancy features had made me soft. I didn't get three rehearsals and six takes to get a shot in a two page day. I got to lay a dance floor, get the master and most of one side in two or three takes, while mentally working out where and how much floor I would need for the other side as we worked our way through a seven page day. And I learned that if I made a mistake to let it go. Luckily, most of my mistakes were in execution, not in setup, which would have taken a lot longer to correct. Sometimes you'll miss a boom or have a bad sitdown, but it takes a long time to re- lay a floor because you calculated wrong, or forgot which side the eyeline was on and just didn't lay enough. But every now and then that will happen, and when it does you will feel like a complete dumbass. Let it go.
   The truth is, most mistakes are quickly forgiven, unless you're working for a jackass like we were. Usually, you are your own worst enemy. It's easy to let the pressure get to you. Unlike most other departments, you've got at least four people depending on you (focus puller, camera operator, DP, director). Learn to let it go.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Going Out On A School Night

  This post is for all of us who have:

Woke up in our car in crew parking.
Walked out of the bar to a pale blue sky and realized we have to be at work in an hour.
Passed out on the bed, forgotten to set our alarm, gotten a call from the Best Boy asking, "Are you coming to work today?"
Done a sixty foot, balls -out move in the scorching heat with a blinding hangover.

  I'm going to start this topic with my most cringe inducing story. Not too many years ago, I did a movie in Louisiana. The star was Denzel Washington. The whole movie was shot in and around the Shreveport area except for one location: a small town a couple of hours over the Texas line. The company decided to bus the crew there in three private coaches, where they would drop us off at our hotel. As most of you know, any time a film crew gets on any sort of mass transit, be it plane, train, or bus, liquor will flow, and hijinks will follow. As soon as we boarded and staked out our prospective seats, the coolers came open and the crew in general, and the grips and electrics in particular, began to get blitzed. We had Bloody Mary's. We had beer, We had rum. One of the grips had pineapples that he cut in half, added rum and a straw, and passed them out. So we journeyed through the afternoon, blowing off steam and getting ripped. When we got to the hotel, we all got off the bus and began looking for our respective bags. At some point, I noticed Mr. Washington's makeup artist, whom I hadn't yet met. Now this man is just one of those people who carries himself with a lot of class. He's always dressed to the nines. He just exudes dignity. Today, he's chosen an outfit of pure white silk. I, of course, have picked a Bloody Mary as my particular poison and I think you know where this is going. I marched up to this completely unsuspecting man and stuck my hand out to offer a handshake. Bloody Mary, meet white silk. I was mortified. To make a long story short, the next day, after my repeated calls and notes begging forgiveness, he gave me a big hug. To this day when I think about that moment I shudder.
   The film business lends itself to substance abuse like few other careers. You take long nights in crew hotels with a common bar in a strange town for four months, add a group of mostly youngish men and women who have spent the last twelve to fourteen hours on a set, and you've got a recipe for disaster. I've seen marriages end before my eyes. Add per diem into the mix and you can ruin your life and reputation on the company dime. Now I joke around a lot about The Captain, and I do like my liquor drink. Some of my best posts have been with The Captain's guidance. But I learned long ago when to say when. Not because I'm naturally chock full of common sense, but because I've been burned enough times to know not to get loaded and lay down on the stove anymore. So here are some other things I've learned:

Respect the eight hour mark. This is the point where you can go to bed and still get eight hours of sleep before call. Know it ahead of time and adhere to it. Party like there's no tomorrow up to it, then leave.

Know your limits. Listen to the little voice (not the one in your pants).

If you're going on location alone, and you want to stay out of trouble (whatever kind of trouble that may be), take your X Box. It's a lot easier to say no to your friends when you've got twenty more levels of Gears of War waiting on you in your hotel room.

Chasing twentysomething PA's is fun and rewarding when you're under forty. After that it's just creepy.

If they are having the wrap party before shooting is actually completed, DON'T GO. (I have a story for this one involving a DP's lovely daughter, but I won't go into it).

Take a cab. Take a cab. Take a cab.

  I hope this timely Public Service Message comes in handy to those of you not quite old enough to know better.
And now....I believe I'll have a drink.

Monday, September 05, 2011

A Good Week

  It's been a good week.  I got two days on a series (A one day and B the other) and a two day commercial. I also got a call from one of my regular key grips about a movie in Atlanta in October. It's actually for B camera (the DP has a dolly grip who has been with him for over twenty years and he wants to bring him which I am all in favor of) and I thought, "Hmm, less work, same rate." So I'm going to do it.The B operator and focus puller are both good old friends of mine so hopefully it'll also be a lot of fun. It'll be nice to step away from the normal responsibility for a while. This dolly grip is also one of the best in the business and it'll be nice to meet him. It's funny that after last season's brutal schedule and workload, I still, after two months off, don't really want to step back in it yet. Usually after two or three weeks off I'm anxious to get back behind the dolly, but not this time. I don't know if it's just from getting older, a priority shift, or if the last year was just that hard. When I was in my twenties and thirties, work was all I knew and  I'm sad to say that I chased it at the expense of a lot of more important things. I haven't had but a couple of  birthdays off since 1990. Even when it's fallen on a weekend it seems there was always a  commercial to be done, and I also worked on a six day a week series through much of my twenties. The lure of distant locations, fancy hotel rooms and exciting new cities all kept me hungry to work constantly. Suddenly, not so much. I'm suddenly weary of irregularly shaped sets that need dance floors, rugs that don't come up, fifty foot track runs through the forest, sideboards that don't fit, and a lower back that remembers every Peewee I've helped carry up a set of narrow stairs. I'm not whining (well, maybe a little), I'm just surprised at my lack of ambition to jump into a feature. I'm sure I'll get it back. This just feels like a mid-point breather. By the way, Me, Me, Me, Me. I didn't mean to make this such a self-indulgent post, but I'm due for one. In the meantime, what would any of you readers like to discuss? I've had a call in to at least one of you for a guest post for a while now (you know who you are), so give us some ideas. Also, the pictures on the right are getting a little old, so feel free to send any cool ones you may have. I'll be away from the computer for a week or so (I still get email though) to do some family things and spend time with my children who are on opposite sides of the country, but will be together this week. Also, don't forget the message forum on the right of the page, which strangely gets rarely used. I see searches for things that lead to this page all the time ("used Fisher 10," "Mounting jib arm on Hustler 4," "laying circle track") but rarely any questions. So use us. We'll do our best to give an answer. Meanwhile, all of you have a safe and productive week.


I feel like I should clarify something here, also. For whatever you're doing on set, there is no substitution for an experienced Key and Dolly Grip. We can give you ideas and answers for whatever you might be doing, but some things shouldn't be attempted without someone who knows what they're doing actually present. Be safe. Learn the basics before you try complicated rigs. Just thought I should throw that in. Remember, Anything Can Happen.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The View From The Perms

This week, as part of my current two and three day a week schedule, I got to visit a place I've rarely had cause to venture into. I worked in the perms. For the uninitiated, the perms, or permanents refers to a grid system of wooden beams suspended in the top of most Hollywood stages. The beams are criss-crossed at 90 degree angles leaving roughly 3'x5' openings called ozones. This grid is surrounded and quartered by a system of catwalks and the whole thing is basically just a base from which to rig everything from lighting to set walls and special effects. The whole grid can be anywhere from thirty-five to sixty  or seventy feet above the stage floor,* depending on the height of the stage. It's truly a grip and electric's world up here, as we are usually the only crew members who have a reason to climb the long ladders or staircases into these shadowy recesses. It is from here that the electrics pull up hundreds of feet of cable and the grips hang teasers, green beds (catwalks that are suspended by chain just above set walls), backings, truss, and any of  the other countless things we are called upon to suspend above a set. I've actually never spent much time up here. I came up as a set grip in Atlanta, where stages were mostly empty warehouses in which we would hang a pipe grid. Perms were unheard of. I didn't come up through the studio pecking order where a rookie started out on the gang hanging green beds and backings before finally making his or her way onto a set crew. By the time I started working in Hollywood, I was already a working Dolly Grip with years of set experience and a pretty good resume, but there was a whole segment of grip rigging knowledge of which I was ignorant, that many Hollywood grips take for granted. I still remember my first job in Los Angeles. I was a permit (someone trying to earn their thirty days on a union show, making them elegible for membership in Local 80, the grip local in Hollywood.). As a permit, you basically had to wait until the town was busy enough so that even the most moronic among us had a job and no actual  Local members were available. I got a call at five o'clock one morning from the Local asking if I could push B camera on NYPD Blue, as their guy had called in sick."You can push dolly, right?" the voice on the phone asked. "Yes... yeah I can. Where are they?"  "Fox Studios in Century City," the guy said. "You need to be there by seven."  So I pulled out my trusty Thomas Guide** and plotted a course to the storied Fox Studios for my first job in an actual soundstage after over twelve years as a grip in the film business. I still remember calling my parents from the parking deck and telling them that I was at Fox Studios to work on NYPD. Even though I was, by now, a seasoned Dolly Grip, I was still a little unnerved by the thought of actually being there and wanted to share it with them. Anyway, I've gotten off track here, but I still remember walking in that stage and craning my neck up, and up to the highest ceiling I think I had ever seen. And at the top of it was the perms.
  So this week I did a commercial at Paramount. Now, I've done many commercials, too many to count. But I am still pretty ignorant of the perms. I've just never had much reason to go up there until this week. I should explain that there really isn't a dedicated dolly position on commercials, at least as far as rate goes. As a Dolly Grip on a commercial, you are expected to fall in with the boys when you are needed and especially on prelights and at wrap. So, I showed up to push dolly on a commercial and found myself in the perms pulling up pipe and trying to remember my knots. You know what the perms are? The perms are history. They've seen it all. Many of these stages were built in the twenties and these ancient beams have supported lights and walls, grids, and backings for everything from Sunset Boulevard to Casablanca.***  You can see the notches worn by years of rope rubbing across beams and handrails as it was pulled up by now forgotten craftsmen on these movies that have ingrained themselves in the public consciousness. On the air ducts and handrails, grips and electrics have drawn pictures of everything from women, to (strangely) women with penises (I don't get this one. What are they, twelve?) to dirty jokes or their own names, and sometimes, just the names of shows and a date. The wood is worn smooth by years of the hands of long-gone grips and juicers who participated in the making of everything from Ozzie and Harriet to Star Trek. These guys lived through the Great Depression, fought in World War II, and then hitched up their pants, lit a cigarette, and went to work. They walked these narrow beams without a yoyo**** or a harness. I guess the thought of falling seventy feet came in a close second to getting shot at by the Nazis. And then they went home to dinner with their families. I rubbed my hand along the smooth handrail and thought about them for a moment. And then I waited to hear the voice of the Best Boy say, "3-2-1 Pull!" like so many of them probably did. And I pulled, and pulled, and suddenly the pipe was at the top and I quickly tied it off (under the handrail, cross over, pull back, over the handrail, behind the rope, pull up, under itself and a double hitch. I think that's it). I think everyone who gets a chance should visit the perms at least once. It will humble you. It did me.

Catwalk in Stage 18 at Paramount Studios, Hollywood.

*No, I don't know exact numbers. Come on, did you read the first part of the post?

** In LA, before smartphones and GPS, everyone usd the Thomas Guide, which was a comprehensive map of Los Angeles. Call Sheets would give the Thomas Guide page for the location.

***Stages 8 and 9 at Warner Brothers.

**** A safety system designed for high work. You clip it onto your harness. It keeps you from hitting the ground.
For more personal experiences in the perms, check out Michael taylor's excellent blog at Blood, Sweat, and Tedium. He says it best.

Okay, you made it this far, now I have a ghost story involving the perms. Two good friends of mine, on separate occasions told me this story. They were both up in the perms on a stage (I don't recall which one, it may have been stage 18 where I was) at Paramount working on a movie called The General's Daughter. At some point, while looking down upon the filming, they noticed they were in the company of a man a few feet away, in strangely outdated work clothes, who was also gazing down upon the activity below. They didn't really pay that much attention to him, other than that they didn't recognize him. Then, as soon as they had seen him, he was gone. They both walked the perms looking for him and found no trace. When they finally climbed down they asked the stage manager if there was another way out of the perms and explained why. He stuck his hand out and said, "Congratulations. You saw him."
Thanks to Dano and Gary for this story.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Part Time

 I find myself in the not-too-unpleasant position of a two or three day a week fill in dolly grip. This is a phenomenon that often arises for dolly grips who are between shows during a relatively busy time. Television has cranked up and I'm getting calls to do a lot of double up days and 2nd units, as both A and B camera, for tv shows as well as filling in for guys who just want a day off. If you can time it right, this results in staying employed basically three or so days a week with the rest off. In the last month, I've worked on four different shows, thanks to a friend of mine who shoved some of his calls to me. I've also been able to reconnect with a lot of people I haven't seen in a long time. That's another good thing. I really dislike coming in cold to a crew I've never met, but so far I've seen at least a couple of old acquaintances on each set. The grip crews on each of these shows have been very welcoming and top notch professionals. I have four days this coming week on two different shows, then, hopefully, the cycle will start over and a new batch of double up days will start as new episodes begin. I'm certainly not getting rich, but I'm keeping the wolf away from the door. And there's always an opportunity to learn something new from people you've never worked with. It would be nice for a big feature to come along about now, but if it doesn't for a while it's ok. As long as I can keep going like this I can pay the bills and not dip into savings. Anyway, I hope you are all staying busy. Don't be strangers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Doug Slocombe*

  If any of you ever wondered who shot Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was a British DP named Douglas Slocombe. When I was a young boy, still enamored with movies and the way they looked, I would scan movie posters and memorize the names of the Directors of Photography. Even before I knew exactly what the job entailed, I somehow knew that these names were responsible for how the movies looked. As I got older, I knew who my favorites were. Douglas Slocombe was my first favorite. I devoured every book I could find on filmmaking and before I even knew what a light meter was, I knew that he believed that a good DP didn't use one outside.
   While most high school kids my age were idolozing names like Michael Jordan or Bo Jackson, I was reading everything I could about Haskell Wexler and Alan Daviau. I guess that makes me a little bit of a nerd. I remember in college I saw Dangerous Liasons, and suddenly I wanted to know everything I could about Philippe Rousselot. A college friend and I (he now is a very successful producer of reality shows for the History and Discovery Channels) would discuss Rousselot's techniques and how we could recreate them. Movies were still a very magical thing to this fresh, skinny going-on-twenty-year old. Here is now a pretentious list of films that that beer infused (and this Captain Morgan infused) young (forty-something) man counts among his favorites photographically:

ET-  Smoke. That's what first caught my attention. And it's the first time I remember it being used. It blew my mind. Now, it (smoke) just pisses me off and makes my face break out. Seriously though, this was one of the first times I began to notice photography as a way to establish mood. I was mesmerized. I remember wondering if they actually blew smoke onto the set on purpose. I soon learned the answer.

Empire of the Sun- Daviau again. A flawed story still beautifully told in light and smoke. This Daviau guy was getting my attention. You get the feeling while watching it that Spielberg is attempting to do "serious" work. And there's a hole or two but still a beautiful movie.

The Abyss- Spielberg seemed to always hire the coolest guys. Mikael Salamon was my new favorite. I know that Spielberg didn't do The Abyss. I think I was connecting Salamon with Always. Where I first noticed his work.

Do the Right Thing- Ernest Dickerson brought Spike Lee's New York to life.

The Navigator- I saw this with my college girlfriend to make myself look cool and intellectual. Shot by Geoffery Simpson (who I would work with years later), lit mostly with torchlight. She thought it was cool. I was, by association.

  At this point I had actually broken into the film business as a young grip, toiling away on movies that often involved biker gangs and robot mutant serial killers.

A River Runs Through It- Philippe Rousselot won the Academy Award for this one. The guy just blew me away. Later on, he became my regular DP. A true gentleman. I dropped his name every chance I got. And still do. I once told Mr. Rousselot how much I had enjoyed his work when I was in college. He said something along the lines of, "I don't understand that." If Philippe reads this he'll probably roll his eyes and send me an email telling me to find a hobby.

Tequila Sunrise- A mostly forgotten, and forgettable film except for the work of Conrad Hall, whose work I was first introduced  to on this one.

Mississippi Burning- Peter Biziou won the Academy Award for this one. Flawed story, beautiful to look at.

A Little Princess- To this day, one of the most gorgeously photographed films I've ever seen. Emmanuel Lubeski became my new photographic hero.

Road to Perdition- Every frame is like a painting. Mr Hall's final masterpiece. I can watch it over and over. Even with the sound off. A perfectly photographed film. Watching this movie makes me inexplicably want to punch Robert Rodriguez  in the face.

Heaven's Gate- Yes, that  one. It's long, boring, and has an immigrant roller rink. The photography by Vilmos Zsigmond is pretty unbelievable. It's worth sitting through just for that. Some shots will literally make your jaw drop. Mainly possible because they had the audacity to do thirty takes of a train pulling into a station to get it right. And Michael Cimino told the studio to pound sand. Cimino also hasn't worked in thirty years. He actually has. Just not anything anyone actually watched.

The Natural- Caleb Deschanel. Caleb Deschanel. If you say it a bunch of times, it loses all meaning.

Thus ends this exercise in pretentiousness brought on by too many beers and too much idle time.These are some of the movies that I can watch over and over just for the photography. But what do I know. I'm just a dumb old Dolly Grip (with a Southern accent yet).

*This includes the NDSR (Next Day Sober Rewrite). I didn't actually change anything, it was actually not bad. I just made some clarifications and additions. I hate reading it and hearing my own voice in my head reading it, but it's honest and I already got some good emails and one good comment so I'm leaving it up.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Anything Can Happen...

 ....is pretty much my motto. Anything can happen at any given time. The recent stage collapse in Indiana got me thinking. For those of you who haven't seen this,  the Indiana State Fair had a stage set up for a concert. You know the type, a self-contained stage with box truss above for lights etc., and just before the concert a storm blew up and an estimated 70 mph gust brought it down. Five people died. After I saw this, I was talking to a rigging key friend of mine and asked him about what could have been done. "No one would have budgeted for a seventy mile an hour wind," he said. At the least, they should have just evacuated everyone when it started looking rough. Danger is all around you any time you rig something. Anything can happen.
   Years ago, I was doing "B" camera on a feature that involved a lot of eighteen wheel trucks  roaring down a highway. It was basically Smokey and the Bandit with more gunfire and less humor. And the trucker was smuggling guns instead of Coors. We had several specialty rigs for shooting and one of them was a top drive truck with a platform off the front and a crane mounted on the platform. A top drive truck is a truck with the actual steering and control of the vehicle done from the top of the cab by a stuntman while the actor sits in the cab and pretends to steer. The "A" dolly grip and I had strapped and harnessed ourselves to the front of this monstrosity, prepared to swing the crane arm around getting shots of wheels, driver, etc as we roared down the road. This was unsetting to say the least. I asked the other dolly grip what he was going to do if something went wrong. He smiled and pulled out a huge buck knife and stuck it in his teeth. This did not make me feel better as the truck pulled out onto the road and I could feel the engine sucking my shirt into the grill. I made my own knife handy and hoped for the best. Luckily, when the hydraulics for the steering on top of the cab went out, we were already pulling over to reload after several takes of the wheels hurtling down the road. It could have been bad. Just one of those things you wouldn't think about happening, but did. This also came to my mind a while later when an aquaintance of mine, a police officer, was talking to another police officer friend of mine and I heard him say, "D doesnt know what it's like. He doesn't face danger every day."  The fact is, that we do. And anything can happen at any time. So when you're doing that overhead shot with a camera shooting directly down onto an actor's face, and you've got a minute, throw a stand under the dolly arm. Or when the thought comes into your head that maybe you should double check the tightness of a knob on the crane arm, or a connection on the levelling arm, do it. You don't have to be paranoid, just go the extra step. Anything can happen and you could save someone's life.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Under the Bus: Thrown

 AJ over at The Hills Are Burning has a great post about getting thrown under the bus. I also mentioned it in the post below this one. Getting thrown under the bus, or the act of being publicly called out for a faux pas whether it was your fault or not, is a common but unfortunate by-product of an industry that uses blame like an engine uses fuel. I've seen it happen hundreds of times, usually for a minor infraction, and often the most inexperienced among us are the culprits. I remember several years ago I was pushing dolly on an Aarron Spelling series in Atlanta and  the sound department had secured the services of a young intern right out of college. He just generally kept the cables untangled and got in everyone's way. One day when we were shooting in a mansion somewhere in town, the mixer noticed a peculiar hum during the take. He listened for it again and after the next, "cut," he and his team went in search of the offending noise. There was much discussion while we all waited for a resolution. I was leaning on the dolly, minding my own business when I heard a voice rising behind me. "I was listening and it sounds like that thing right there!" I turned around to see the young intern standing on the stairs pointing, no, stabbing an accusing finger dramatically at my Hybrid like a scene out of Twelve Angry Men. After resisting my impulse to come over the steering handle and throttle the little finger sniffer, I patiently explained that the dolly isn't electrical and doesn't hum unless it's being charged. They later found the hum to be coming from a refrigerator which the intern unplugged, forgot to plug back in, and ruined thousands of dollars worth of fancy rich people groceries. Justice delivered. This is a classic example of getting thrown under the bus. An accusation made loudly by someone who doesn't know any better. Or, it could also be a case of someone letting someone else loudly take the blame for something they didn't do. Don't be that guy. Either quietly ask any questions you may have, or, if the fault for whatever infraction lies with you, admit it. In all these years, I've never seen anyone get fired for just hitching up their pants, stepping forward, and saying, "I did it. It was an accident and I'll try and fix it." When you run from any responsibility, loudly pointing at a co-worker, as in AJ's example from her post, you reveal yourself to the one who knows the truth as a weasel. And you paint a target on your own back. Believe me, a weasel won't last long. It all boils down to trying to make yourself look better at someone else's expense. And that ain't cool.
   I'm still on vacation but starting to get itchy. I did go in on Dexter for a couple of days, and I'm up for jury duty all this week, but haven't had to report yet. I believe I'm going to head to Atlanta next month and start shaking some trees. Write if you get work.

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!

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.

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.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Sweet Home, Alabama

This post is different. It won't be about dollies, or track, or cranes. It's about something far more important.

"In the place where I was raised,
  clocks tick and the cattle graze.
  Time passed with Amazing Grace,
  Back where I come from."
            -Mac Mcannally

".....It looks like two miles of Hiroshima."
                        -Tuscaloosa resident and old friend Billy Field

       A couple of days ago, I awoke as I normally do, tired and cranky. I had a three o' clock call time so I had a few hours to relax and also watch my baby boy while my wife went to the gym. I sat down on the couch and turned on the tv and saw something extraordinary. I saw Concord, Alabama on my local Los Angeles Fox affiliate. What makes this extraordinary is that the only reason that Concord, a small rural hamlet outside Birmingham, would be on television in Los Angeles is that something really, really bad had happened. It had. I knew that there had been a storm and that tornadoes were in the area. I had, in fact, watched their progress on my Droid a little anxiously the day before as they bore down on my little hometown. I mentally went down the list of where my family members were at the time- daughter in Atlanta- good, Mom and Dad at home*- bad, sister and kids and various aunts, uncles, cousins and friends at home*- bad. I quickly made a few phone calls and put out a request on Facebook. Once I was assured that everyone was ok, I had to go back to work and didn't really have a chance to check back in for a long while. Now, I was looking at my television in sunny Los Angeles and seeing miles and miles of splintered trees, empty concrete slabs, and debris. It was unfortunately a familiar sight.
   In 1998, an F5 tornado roared in from the west and detonated on the Oak Grove-Concord area like a nuclear device. It left a swath of destruction a half-mile wide and took with it 32 souls. It left the wreckage of countless houses, trees, cars and my high school scattered for miles. I found out about that storm much the same way as I did this one. On my couch in Atlanta, watching CNN. My daughter was about two at the time and after kissing her and her Mother goodbye, I raced the three hours from Atlanta to Oak Grove to see what I could do. It was a sight I will never forget. I parked in a long line of cars just on a curve outside town and joined a crowd of other natives/onlookers walking slowly around the curve. As the town came into view, my jaw dropped. Helicopters hovered, firemen and policemen ran around shouting. Residents, people I'd known since I was born, picked through what was left of their lives. And as far as the eye could see was total devastation.

   Let me tell you a little about this area and her people. Oak Grove, Alabama lies in a cluster of unincorporated, and incorporated towns stretching in a line from the Black Warrior River to Birmingham, around 30 miles. They have names like Rock Creek, Concord (pronounced "COHN-coard," not "Concurd"), Pleasant Grove, and Hueytown. It's a mostly rural area with three high schools, Oak Grove (my school),  and about fifteen miles away, Hueytown, and Pleasant Grove in close proximity to each other. Students from the three relatively small schools mingled pretty freely. We all went to the same parties, hung out in the same McDonalds parking lots on Friday nights, and worked at the same grocery stores on the weekend. It is a place of green rolling hills, Sunday School, pine trees, and and a big wide river made for fishing and skiiing. In the Summer, the air grows thick and lazy. Summer nights are filled with lightning bugs and the sound of crickets. Fall means crisp air, Friday night football games, and blazingly colored leaves. Winter sometimes brings a little snow. And Spring, with the May flowers, also brings tornadoes. Tornadoes are a fact of life in the South. They're just something you live with and don't really think much about because they rarely affect you directly. As children, we were all subjected to monthly tornado drills in elementary school. We dutifully knelt under our desks, covered our heads and privately wondered how effective a twenty pound desk would be when the roof got ripped off. Other than that, we really didn't think much about them. It was a great place to grow up. I actually still know the names of most of the people I started kindergarten and first grade with. I know them because I graduated high school (a high school that was now a pile of bricks) with most of them in a class of about seventy, twelve years later. We would spend summers as kids exploring the woods and having stick battles, and as teenagers, building a bonfire  out on a rutted track known as Joe Berry Road, turning up the radio and having a party. We weren't rich, but we sure were privileged. Now, a town I knew like the back of my hand was gone.
   That was 1998, and now it's happened again. Not directly to Oak Grove. This time, at least, it was spared. Concord and Pleasant Grove, though weren't. It doesn't matter. For all intents and purposes, it's the same people being hit again just thirteen years after rebuilding. Only this time it was worse. An F5 descended from the west once again and cut a raw wound in this community. This time, along with Tuscaloosa, Pratt City, and a few more communities, the death toll is 250. Imagine ten or twelve random people who you saw at the gas station, sat next to in church, bought hardware from, people you'd known as long as you can remember, suddenly gone. And left in their place a pile of splintered wood and a homeless family trying to deal with the loss, not only of a loved one, but also their home.
  I don't want to get too maudlin on this subject, but this place and these people are my own. Although I haven't lived in that area for years, it's still "home" to me. My family still lives there. Everyone I knew from birth to the age of twenty lives there. They're good people. The finest I've ever known. They are tough and proud. They are bent, but not broken. So, here it is.... I don't like asking for things. The information we provide here has always been free and always will be. But, if you are doing well, if you have ten extra dollars in your pocket, please give to the organizations listed at the end of this post. If you're down on your luck, send along a prayer. They surely need it.

Roll Tide.

Thanks, D

*All my immediate family on both sides live in the affected area.

Visit  Hands On Birmingham to make a donation or, if you're in the area, to sign up as a volunteer.

You can go to bamastuff.com and order a "Roll Tuscaloosa Roll" tshirt for 10.00. All proceeds go to relief efforts.

alredcross.org  for the Mid Alabama Red Cross to donate. Click on "donate" far right top. The Birmingham or Tuscaloosa areas were hit as well as the Phil Campbell area in Franklin County.

Text "red cross" to 9099 to donate 10.00. Standard text and messaging may apply.

Friday, April 22, 2011


  Happy Easter! I hope those of you getting a day off enjoy it. I am taking Monday off also due to the fact that I can't bear the thought of going back after only three days off. I have reached the point of burnout. Five months of day in and out tv scheduling have taken their toll and I find myself caring less and less every day about the work or who does it. To help demonstrate how I reached this point, the following is a simple breakdown of a typical week on my show:

Monday- 7 AM call. Arrive at stage and the riggers have graciously unloaded the truck and moved it to the stage. They didn't have a chance to get to the dance floor cart, though. I can't remember where we used it last (We have a stage package that floats around to the six stages we occupy, and a truck package, a huge custom made beast that stays loaded on the truck for locations). Ok, we finished on stage one last week, all the way across the lot. The B camera Dolly Grip and I trudge across the lot and wheel it back to stage three. Get marks, Set up. A standard twelve hour day on stage follows.

Tuesday- More of the same except we moved all our stuff at wrap so it's already waiting for us on stage two, where we're working. We have a middle of the day move scheduled to stage four for three scenes. We make it at 3:00. After a 14 hour day, we wrap. Riggers will move us tomorrow morning.

Wednesday- Today is a double-up day. We have two full units shooting. My B-camera Dolly Grip will take A- camera on the other unit. Due to a call sheet mixup, my dollies and equipment have been moved to the wrong stage. The double-up unit dollies are outside the truck because the riggers didn't have time to get to them. I show up at the wrong stage, 20 minutes late due to the call sheet mixup (which happens on every double up day. The problem is, that I go to whatever unit my camera operator is on. He goes to whatever unit number one on the call sheet is on, unless there's Steadicam on the other unit. It gets a little silly and. sometimes whoever does the call sheet can't quite figure it out. Hilarity ensues). I spend a good twenty minutes figuring out where I'm going, and where my stuff is. I locate my fill-in B camera Dolly Grip who was also on the wrong call sheet. We push our stuff across the lot to the right stage. Get marks, set up, Shoot. After a 13 hour day, wrap. Tomorrow is a split, so we have a 2PM call and a long turnaround. I try to stay up as long as I can so that I'm not up at 8AM and asleep at midnight the next night.

Thursday- Shooting at a large ranch out towards Malibu where we have most of our standing exterior sets built. Arrive at 1:30PM, grab a burrito and load a stakebed. We are actually shooting in a cemetary we have built about 1/4 of a mile back in the woods. We'll need luma beams. Load, move, get marks, lay track, shoot. Cut, check gate, move on, tear down, get marks, lay track, etc etc ad infinitum. Move to ext. house. Load stakebed, move , get marks, lay track blah blah blah. After a 14 hour day we wrap. Tomorrow is a straight night. We have a 5PM call even though it doesn't get dark until almost 7.

Friday- We have a Moviebird tonight. Unload stakebed, find crane tech and say hi. Move equipment to forest clearing. Get marks, place crane, do shot. Move crane. Get marks blah blah ad nauseum. Crane is done. We now move to exterior house. This house is on a hill and trucks park at the bottom of it. We push dollies up hill and ramp up stairs onto porch. Watch rehearsal, get marks. This will take a floor. Lay floor, do shot etc. Turn around. Re- lay floor, do shot etc. We finish on an interior of the house. This particular house has about a four inch dropoff from one side of the living room to the other. We're going to need bucks. The Key Grip sends a couple of guys to the truck for some aluminum bucks. Meanwhile, I watch rehearsal, get marks, bring in dance floor and bucks. Lay floor, rehearse, shoot, tighter, check gate. Turnaround and re-lay floor on other side. Marks, shoot, tear down. We need an insert of a cellphone. B Camera is wrapped. Go get camera riser, do insert. Wrap to stakebed and then to 48 footer. The sky is turning blue so at least we won't wrap in the dark. It's 7AM when I get in my car. We have a 6AM call on Monday and we'll start over again with a new director and a fresh DP and AD crew.

 You can see my point.  I have unfortunately reached the point where I have a hard time showing interest and I'm starting to let little things go. I don't like working that way. So, four days off instead of three isn't really a cure, but it may bring me back around enough to carry me another couple of months. I hope the rest of you doing television have a chance for a little breather as well.
 Stay safe, D

**For those of you wanting more, Michael over at Blood, Sweat, and Tedium has a nice addendum to this post. Check it out.**

Mon, April 25-BTW, I just called the Best Boy and told him I would like to take tomorrow off as well. He said, "Awesome."

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,