Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

  Well, we've almost made it through another year. The 21st came and went without incident, so I've gone ahead and lined up my next job. I may as well go ahead and do my End of Year What We Learned Post because I will need to start sobering up soon.
Here are a few things the year taught me:

1. Handheld sux. But it sux much worse in tv than on a feature. I did one of each this year- a totally handheld pilot and a totally handheld feature. Though neither was a particular joy work wise, I did meet some cool people and a new camera operator whom I really like. After the pilot almost threw my back out, I had some trepidation about repeating the painful, dreary chore. The feature actually wasn't that bad. It's the pace that gets you in tv. It was one shot to another without much of a break, but the slower feature pace allowed me to rest a little between setups and saved my back. Of course the worst thing about handheld is that for a Dolly Grip it's simply monkey work. You have no real input into the process and nothing much to offer except a strong back. But, you can at least earn some respect if you know what you're doing which leads to my next post...

2. Experience wins out. Act like a professional. Stay alert and let your camera operator and DP know you are there for them. You may be a monkey but at least they'll realize that you're a trained monkey.

3. You're not 25 anymore. It's ok to let the younger guys take up some slack every now and then. It gives you a break and lets them get familiar with handling a camera. It also gives you an opportunity to teach them about things like keeping an operator safe, looking ahead to future obstacles, and paying attention.

4. Always use equal force when getting help on a chassis move, or when you have a couple of guys moving a crane chassis. I knew this already for dollies but it was brought home on a 50' Techno move in which more chassis guys were on one side than the other. The crane, all 6000+ lbs of it skipped off the track. No harm was done. A quick application of the Pettibone set things right, but it hammered home that you have to pay attention to everything.

5. Use more of everything than you think you need when it comes to safety. Again, this is something I generally practice anyway, but I was reintroduced to the concept when I had to harness in a camera op  to the bed of a speeding pickup to do an actor POV over the cab of the truck as it careened down city streets. I had four points on him, but neglected to do the one extra that I thought of, but discarded, that would have pulled him into the back of the cab. Add one nervous actress behind the wheel and your omission quickly becomes apparent. Take the time. Do it right. Do more than you think you need. No one was hurt and I quickly added it on the second take but it was a painful learning experience.

6. I actually am not that bad on a Fisher Ten. A long time ago, a great dolly grip told me that I had to be good at both dollies. I, of course, knew this but if you use one dolly consistently over the other, getting behind the lesser used one can be uncomfortable. I filled in for a buddy of mine for one day on a very big movie earlier this year. I thought he was a Fisher user and dreaded it for a week before the day arrived. As it turns out, he was using my old friend the Hybrid, so it was a non-issue. But I did get pressed into service on a Fisher Ten on a couple of other shows, and you know what? It was fine. I tend to be very particular about the boom setup on my dollies and the Fisher just isn't comfortable for me personally, but after a couple of shots I got into the groove and soon began to enjoy the difference in timing. It's not bad, just different. I started out on a Ten many years ago on In The Heat of the Night  (the tv show not the movie) and had not really been behind one more than a couple of times since. The timing for the action on the arm is a little different. You have to actually do everything a split second earlier, but my friend was right. It does make you a better dolly grip. I no longer dread the Fisher Ten.

7. It's not the destination, it's the journey. Enjoy the ride. We all end up in the same place anyway, so have fun, laugh, love, don't sweat the small stuff (and it's all small stuff).

That's about it for the list.

   Everyone have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Life is good. I'm not rich, but I'm sitting in a cozy house having a cozy drink as the rain falls outside. My children are safe. My wife (inexplicably) loves me, and I've got it pretty good. And I have a lot of friends, including many of you whom I've met over the years on Dollygrippery. Some of you I've never met in person, but I feel like we're old friends just the same. I will one day have a drink and a laugh with you in some bar in Toronto, or Atlanta, or India, or Los Angeles, or wherever, but till then I thank you for your friendship and raise a glass to you. Stay safe and stay in touch.


D

PS

Azurgrip blew his own horn earlier for a show he did last year. Here's one of mine (although it's not as cool as his.) Check it out.       Beautiful Creatures. And you get to see the back of my big head!   More of the back of my head. And my actual hands. For about a half second.
  I would like to reiterate that teenage witches can in no way compete with giant robots rising out of the sea, but you can see the back of my head. And a hellacious boom up. Which I F'ing nailed.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Just a little horn blowing. The trailer for the movie I was working on last winter has just been released (I think it's also running at the start of the Hobbit in the theatres).

Pacific Rim was an all time mind blowing experience to work on and looks like it will be in the theatres. Working with Guillermo Del Toro was a blast and a half!

http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/wb/pacificrim/

Friday, December 14, 2012

Another One In The Can

  We just wrapped our latest epic. Eight weeks of handheld work is over. I actually didn't think I would be able to bench press an Alexa for that long, but it actually wasn't that bad. We did have two crane shots, one was a 50' Techno and the other was a 35'-45' Moviebird, but other than that, it was all handheld. Over the last eight weeks I've been shot at multiple times, smoked out, blood spattered, and heard more incarnations of the "F" word than I knew were possible. I've met a former governor, stood in a lake in 37 degree weather at night, had the flu, laughed a lot, cussed a lot, and made a fair amount of money which is already gone. My impressions are that handheld sux, and the Moviebird is a great crane. I just like the thing. The bearings in the arm are so sweet that I marvel at the action on it every time I have to finesse an over-the-shoulder at forty feet .One handed. Overall, a tough show but possibly a good movie. Or a s&*%ty one. Hard to tell. Now for a few weeks off before the next one.

  My heart breaks for those babies in Newtown tonight.Please keep their parents in your prayers.  Those of you who are parents, hug your children and keep them close. The wolf is always at the door.

  I got my .com domain back from the crazy lady. At some point in the coming days, you'll be able to use it. So at least there's that.

   Look out for each other. There are some evil bastards walking the streets.

         D

   

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cold Weather Part Deux

 First of all, a congratulations to my old compadre Dolly Grip Frank Boone and Key Grip Eddie Evans on the success of The Walking Dead.  Arguably the best show on television, it is consistently compelling and, most importantly, the dolly work is top notch. I watched the second season in practically one sitting on Amazon and I save the third season episodes for my long turnarounds with the Captain. Nice job boys This is one of the shows I wish I'd worked on ( if I had it in me to do tv anymore). If you haven't watched this show, do yourself a favor and catch up. Nice work, Frank!
   Now, back to the job at hand. We have covered what to wear in cold climates, but now need to give some tips on how to keep your machine working when it gets cold. As I've mentioned, I have never worked in temps below 20 degrees or so, so I depend on those of you who regularly work in those temps to give us some tips on how to keep your machines working. For myself, I know that when Winter sets in, I let my Chapman rep know that I need a little special consideration. They will replace the normal hydraulic fluid with very thin fluid. The heaters on Chapman dollies are also helpful, but only until you are well into the day. They only work if you bleed the air, and plug the dolly in. Not much help past call on a brisk day. I know my friends in Canada have techniques they use for keeping the fluid warm during the day ( battery powered heaters etc) but I have never had to look for these products in the states. What other tips do those of you in cold climates have for us?

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Cold Weather Work


  This post grew out of a conversation between Wick and Sanjay about an upcoming job Sanjay has in Poland and Germany. As I know very little about extremely  cold working conditions (anything under 15 degrees F or so, it's fortunate that Wick does. We have a few other readers and contributers who are used to this kind of cold. Please send in any suggestions or posts you have on the subject. Thanks, D.







I got to talking with Sanjay Sami today about working in the cold. He’s going to be on the German-Poland border in January and February, and is looking for tips on how to stay warm in that kind of winter climate. There are two things that really affect us on set in the winter. One is staying flexible enough under those layers of clothing to keep moving and doing the work that we do without sweating so much that when we do come to a standstill, we’re freezing in our own sweat. The other is of course staying warm while we’re just standing around waiting for anything to happen.

The main thing is to dress in layers, and adjust your coverage according to how hard you’re working. This can’t be stressed enough, and I think most of us understand it in the abstract.  This should extend to wearing double or even triple layers of socks, with the ones nearest your feet being thin and chosen for their ability to wick sweat and condensation away from your skin and into the next layers. Same thing for underwear, both tops and bottoms. I’m a fan of silk for those first layers. It seems to adjust best to the body temperature and exterior temperature changes, removes moisture quickly and dries quickly too. After that, I prefer wool over cotton for the next layer, and finally a wind-blocking outer shell, something like a Carhardt coverall or two-piece Thinsulate snow pants and jacket. Also always keep your head warm and your ears covered - wear a hat or a balaclava. I picked up an arctic expedition hood with a zippered face cover several years and that’s been my salvation several times.  It’s made with Thinsulate and so is an excellent wind block, and lets me adjust the amount of coverage I want or need pretty much as I please. It also doesn’t interfere with radios, and I can keep my nose covered without fogging my glasses.

Footwear is a tough one, especially for dolly work. Again, you have the “standing around vs moving around and controlling a dolly at the same time” problem.  I’ve settled on some regular insulated boots (Thinsulate again) that are big enough to accommodate the extra layers of socks, and for extreme weather, I got some LaCrosse “Frankenstein” boots that are supposedly guaranteed to –70 Celsius. I have never really been happy with any solution for footwear, and get chilly feet no matter what I do. Fortunately, once I  got the LaCrosse boots, they seemed to have the same effect as carrying an umbrella – once I had them with me, I didn’t worked outdoors in heavy snow or extreme temperatures again. Or at least for a few years, then the magic wore off in Poland.

Gloves are of course another weak spot.  I generally prefer some wool rock climbing gloves, with all five fingers open, and another glove or better yet, a mitten, over that.

Another thing is to be aware of the warning signs of hypothermia, frostbite and dehydration. Read up on them in any first aid manual, if you’re not sure what warning signs to look for in yourself and in others.

I never really had any experience with pocket warmers, or electric socks, or any other fancy gadgets, and am curious if anybody has recommendations or advice with that sort of stuff. The one thing I will say is that cold will suck the life out of batteries, like the one in your phone. Carry it on you, in an inside pocket, so it doesn’t freeze and dump all it’s data while sitting in your car or backpack in the truck. 

Sanjay’s looking for some serious input and advice. He’ll be in the middle of nowhere, and it can get nasty there (0° Celsius is the average high for January / February, and it can get much colder (-20° c. is not uncommon). Add in wind and snow, with the snow having started in December or late November, and as you can see, it’s not a fun place to be outdoors all day.  What do our brothers and sisters recommend, aside from calling in sick?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Some Thoughts On Handheld

   The movie I'm doing now is all handheld. When I say that, I mean ALL handheld. We don't even have a dolly. It's this director's style, I saw it coming. With an all handheld show comes the usual complaints, the biggest for me being that I literally have no creative input into the process. Where I'm used to being intimately involved in the making of shots, from design to execution, here I have no part. This is the most painful for me. My operator is great and, of course, I am responsible for his safety so he does defer to me on that note. Normally, as our friend GHB so eloquently points out, carrying the camera is a courtesy we provide as Dolly Grips. I don't mind doing it as long as the camera department realizes that it is a courtesy that I am not required to provide. On an all handheld show, however, I have to justify my being there and if I want any part of the process at all, I'm always there to take the camera and make the operator as comfortable as possible. Boring, yes, but necessary. So, for the next eight odd weeks I will be wearing a backpack and clearing branches and other obstacles out of the camera operator's path while I long for the days of fifty foot dolly runs and complex Technocrane moves. There is an art to providing handheld camera support. Knowing how much or how little guidance an operator needs, knowing when to step in and point out a safety issue, even pointing out eyeline errors (my favorite), all require a certain amount of experience that is a little comfort when you are excluded from the little powwows you're used to being included in. So with that in mind, I've compiled a list of things to look for in handheld mode:

Safety is number one. You are the operator's eyes and ears when he's in the eyepiece. Take the initiative to head off any situations beforehand. Which side of camera is the gun firing? What's minimum safe distance? What does he do if something goes wrong? Have all this planned out before the shot gets hairy and you're all stumbling around in a hail of gunfire.

How does his path look? What obstacles can you remove or have removed?

What's the "Safe Word?" On our show there is a lot of gunfire and squib action. The operator is swathed in eye and ear protection and can't always communicate. I told him to just point the camera up in the middle of a take if he gets in trouble and I'll know something is wrong (or just drop it and run).

He's holding that camera for a long time, especially on an HD show. Make him comfortable. Take the camera when you can or give him a box to sit on when he can.

Know when not to be there. Sometimes it's just silly to be in tight quarters just so you can take the camera. In tight spaces, let the AC do it. He has to be there anyway. Make sure he's safe and comfortable, and then leave.

  As hard as it is, sometimes to stay involved in a show like this, remember that your camera operator is depending on you. You may not be providing the same input into the process, but you can damn well be sure that if you are vigilant and do your job well, he will appreciate you. Be professional. Stay alert.

Since I'm not dealing with the usual rehearsals, marks, track etc, I actually am able to become a second set of eyes for the Key Grip and help him out a little more.


  While it isn't much fun, a handheld show offers it's own challenges, although they are more physical than mental. I don't enjoy it. It's tedious. But at the end of the day, I'm still right in the middle of the action. I have to be. The operator might fall down if I don't.

Prometheus sucked.


Stay safe.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bleahh

The post you are about to read is a good example of what can happen when a neighbor throws a cocktail party, at which you take full advantage of the well stocked open bar, followed by too much tv watching and internet surfing.After reading it, I still have no idea what I was trying to say other than Prometheus sucked. I was apparently quite angry at Ridley Scott for going to Iceland as well.  As a writing exercise, I have left it pretty much as written although I have edited a couple of choice curse words. Enjoy.



I originally wrote a much longer rant on various things including, Cabin In The Woods, (I want my 3.95 back), Dan Bradley (Google him, he still sucks as a film maker, although people will still hire him), Prometheus- After all the hype, after the interviews with a disinterested Ridley Scott from a glacier in East Bumf^%# Iceland, or wherever it was, this movie was such an overblown, badly made piece of crap that it changed my political views. I have edited it down to a very short drunken rant. Promethius was such a piece of crap that it literally infuriated me, ditto Cabin In The Woods (Joss Whedon, you're very talented, the people I know that have worked with you say you are an enormous $#%^%), I forgot where I was, but the afore mentioned films suck so bad that they literally (yes, I know what literally means) suck a hole in the time/space continuum and culturally end life as we know it. I will now settle down and watch Duck Dynasty or whatever piece of crap reality show is on A&E because it is ultimately more enjoyable that the 100 million dollar suckfest you have unleashed upon the world. I am only sorry that I actually worked for a few minutes out of my day to pay for a small part of the crap you made me believe was worth my time through your high blown "interviews from Iceland" or Alaska or wherever you went to shoot this shitty movie. That is all. The captain has spoken.

PS- Tomorrow I will probably have a sober rewrite, or I may not. I realize the preceding post is largely unreadable, I stand by it, however, For a real hoot, and a completely incomprehensible blogging experience, visit "dollygrippery.com" I bet she liked  Promethius.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Learning Your Craft

   This is something that we have harped on time and again. I often get emails from young beginning dolly grips asking what they can do to improve their skills, and thus, their hireability. Many are just out of college and have decided that this is a career they want to pursue. I always tell them,"Be a set grip first." I don't think you can be as effective as a dolly grip if you don't know the fundamentals of set lighting and rigging. Aside from this, there are a lot of subtle rules of behavior to working on a set. Unwritten laws abound in this business and you can often offend someone or put your ignorance on display for all to see, and have no idea what you did if you don't take the time to immerse yourself in set life and learn it's rhythms. This is not fun to hear I can imagine, but believe me, it makes all the difference in the world. It will teach you endurance and discipline. It will teach you the correct way to work and how to be as efficient as you can. You will learn to immediately assess a situation, formulate a plan, and attack, all the while ignoring the pouring rain, pitch dark, and freezing cold in which you're expected to perform.. As a dolly grip, you have little time to mull over the situation. You can't stand there and "ummm" and "uhhh" with a vacant look on your face as the operator or DP, or both, wait for your solution. You are constantly thinking a step ahead, and set gripping teaches you all this. If you're young and just out of college, don't worry, you have time, and all the more reason to take the proper steps and learn the job from the bottom and inside out. Aside from this, I can't tell you how many times the dolly grip has to take over the set if the key grip has to step away (and he will sooner or later). Now you're the defacto key grip. Any minute now, the DP will look over at you and ask if you can rig a camera in the ceiling, or fly a 20x20, or flag the condor, or set a double off an actor, or "Hollywood" a lenser. If you haven't been a set grip, odds are you have no idea and fumble for your radio trying to whisper that you need help. If you were a good set grip, you confidently take a second and give an answer, then you start feeding orders on the radio. Believe me, this will happen sooner or later. Take the time.

   OK, now you've been working the set for a couple of years. It's time to move on. You've probably been working with a key grip pretty regularly and you let him know you'd like to push dolly. Now, he can start throwing "B" camera jobs at you. Maybe an operator you're friendly with has a low budget show and he's willing to give you a shot. All of this is an opportunity to learn. Go to a rental house. Familiarize yourself with the dollies. They are the tools of your trade and you should be intimately familiar with what they can and can't do. Learn approximate lens heights for any configuration. Learn what you need to do a Lambda shot off the side. How about straight off the front? It's about making the operator comfortable while achieving the shot. How far do you offset the track?. Do you need to offset the track? You have to be right the first time. You don't want to be relaying it while the DP checks his watch. Get all the accessories out and learn what they do and how to attach them. If you're a Chapman user or vice versa, you still need to learn the other dolly because sooner or later you will end up pushing it. As a set grip, you've probably helped put a crane together  so you are already ahead on that. What are the rules for operating it? What's a sightline? These are things you have to learn. I can't tell you how many thirds I work with who don't know how to lay track. While you are a set grip, pull the dolly grip to the side and ask him to teach you. I pulled out a couple of sticks at lunch one day and taught one of the thirds how to do it after she asked me. That's all it took. Learn how to mark the wheels. Learn how to do a compound move. Then two or three in succession. Believe me, the time will come when you're on a dance floor and the operator keeps adding boom and floor marks and the more he adds, the harder you'll sweat unless you've put the time in and have learned how to remember, and then execute them. Do you know how to lay a floor? Again, something you will pick up as a set grip. You don't want to be trying to figure it out on your first job as "A" camera. How do you lay a floor across a half-inch drop off? It has to be smooth and even. If you've been a third, you already know.

   As you can see, there's more to it than hitting your marks. These are a fraction of the things a dolly grip has to know, and a lot of them he picks up as a set grip. It's like taking the core curriculum in college. You have to have it before you can graduate.

Wubba Wubbba. Doodle doodle dee.

As an added bonus, here's a great article by camera operator Dan Gold SOC on the importance of the Dolly Grip to the process. http://www.soc.org/index.php?id=27&article=47

Thursday, September 27, 2012

That's A Wrap: Show Round Up

 I apologize for being so sparse on the posts lately. I've been in the middle of a twelve week show and we just wrapped. All in all, it was a good one despite the problems we had early on with camera shake. We finally ironed it all out and it went smoothly from there. I had a fantastic camera and grip crew to work with (both in Atlanta and San Francisco). I give it a difficulty level of an even five. Almost every shot was a dolly or crane shot, but nothing really challenging, although I did have one fun dance floor move involving pulling through a set and timing the move to character dialogue. It was a lighthearted comedy and we spent a lot of time laughing. We did ten weeks in Atlanta and then moved cross country to San Francisco for the final two. Although I was the lone representative of the grip crew to travel, the guys in San Francisco were all great grips and great people. Now it's two weeks off and I start the next one.

Tools used: Hustler 4, Peewee3, and Fisher 10 dollies. 30', and 50' Technocrane from Cinemoves, and a 30' Moviebird as well as a Fisher 23 Jib. Remote heads were Libra and Scorpio. Cameras were Arri Alexas.

Now for two weeks vacation.....

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Cables

I ran over one a few weeks ago and it actually derailed the dolly. It ran it the %^&* off the track. The fracking thing is as thick as a welding cable. Is this progress? It's like 1945 again. I used to bitch about the tiny BNC cable that I had to trail along. In comparison to this donkey d&*ck I'm dragging around now, the BNC is like a gossamer strand, almost lighter than air. What I would give to have it back. It's my first video show. Everything up to now has had a film mag with the name Panavision or Arri on the side of it. So now I'm dealing with a shaky camera (apologies to Arriflex. I know you guys are dealing with the issue. I have great love for you), a cable that rivals the one they strung across the ocean floor in the 40's, and you still have to reload the thing every twenty something minutes and it takes LONGER. I often wonder, if video technology had come first, would film be the new big thing? Would we all be rolling our eyes at this "new" technology with it's whirring cameras and quaint "gate checks?" Plus, the eyepiece isn't long enough. I now have to set the dolly up on the wrong side for a Lambda Head shot because the eyepiece isn't long enough to get the operator's head out from under the camera offset (or, ubangi for those older than twenty-five. Yes, I still call it a ubangi. If I offend you, you clearly don't have a whole lot to live for. Grow a pair.) I realize I sound like one of the old cranky Dolly Grips I used to laugh at and say, " I'll never turn into that guy." but I was young and stupid. Meanwhile, there's a concert at the amphitheater about four miles away from my house and I can hear it while I'm trying to sleep. So, excuse me, I've got to call the cops and ask them to turn down that awful rock and roll racket.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Drive

Every now and then, I see one I wish I'd done. Nice work, Sean.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Searchers

  I am a huge John Wayne fan. One of my earliest memories is of seeing True Grit at the drive-in. I couldn't have been more than three or four, but the memory of the snakes and the big man with the eyepatch remains as an indelible image on my brain. Since then, I have voraciously read every biography of the man I could find, and seen as many of his movies as I could. In that vein, I recently read a biography of John Ford. Aside from all of the stories of his legendary venom towards his cast and crew, I learned a few things about composition and movement. Ford rarely moved the camera. He believed that it would disorient the audience. While this may be a quaint notion today, after watching  The Searchers again tonight (under the influence of The Captain, of course) I was amazed at how right he is. In my daily work life I long for challenging camera moves. I get bored with the same old drifts and pushes. Ford, however, believed that the action within the frame gave the movie interest. His compositions moved the story along without a lot of fancy camera moves. He rarely moved the camera. In fact, he hated it so much that when he finally did, it was much more effective. Today, we move the camera constantly. It swoops and glides and never stops just so that some former music video director can "make the scene interesting." John Ford would have punched him in the mouth and said, "If your story isn't interesting, moving the f&;$;*^ing camera won't save you." I did a movie years ago that was basically shot like a music video The camera swooped and pushed and drifted for no reason at all. We never blocked a scene, we just stood the actors in a room and swooped around them. As a result, when we reached a shot that would have benefitted from a dramatic push-in, the move had no power. Watch The Searchers. Watch the push-in on John Wayne as he leaves the asylum. It's like a punch in the gut because the camera has been mostly fixed up until then. Until you watch this film, you don't realize how much we over move the camera. This movie was made in 1958, and it holds up so well, unlike the crappy "remake" The Missing of a few years ago. John Ford would have punched Tommy Lee Jones in the mouth too. And Ron Howard.  So if you've never seen The Searchers, watch it. And learn.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ironing Out The Bumps

  I often get asked about the importance of a level track vs a "lay of the land" one. My reply is usually that I'm more concerned with a track that has no bumps, than a level one. I had pretty much satisfied myself with my track laying and had rarely had a problem. Then along came the Alexa. This is my first feature that isn't film. Every show I'd done up to this one had been shot either on a Panaflex or an Arri 435, on back to the old BL (remember the coaxial mags?).  These old film cameras were as stable as anything you could ask for. Since the obsolescence of steel track, I rarely even had to use skate wheels anymore except for extremely long lenses (150mm or above). The first day on this show, I noticed something was different. I had a quick dolly move with an actor who stood up and walked briskly across a baseball field. We were on a geared head, on a relatively wide lens (I think around a 50mm on the 12:1). Take one, the director yells, "No, no, no!" He then yells that he sees a bump on the takeoff. Okay, I take a little steam off. Take two, the same thing. Over the course of the show, I begin to notice that I'm having to use the skates more often than ever, usually when we're on a long zoom. Complaints about the bumps become common from the operator and now I'm getting concerned. Finally, I've had enough and want to know what's going on. After looking at the camera, which I hadn't really bothered to do closely, I notice that it's supported solely by a tiny baseplate that's about 3" by 3". There's basically nothing supporting the huge lens or the back of the camera. It's all balanced on this tiny baseplate, an incredibly stupid design through which even the slightest of vibrations is transmitted. So, I've had to really go back to the basics on my track laying.  Now, I not only level with the whiskey stick (level), but sight down it afterwards and use shims to tune up the joints, even though it may not read exactly level afterwards, something I wouldn't necessarily have done if we had been shooting on a film camera. (As a matter of fact, I just finished a Panaflex show and rarely did this and never had a single complaint of a bump showing in the lens). I called some dolly grip buddies of mine who had done work with the Alexa and discovered that this was a common complaint, though maybe not as prevalent as on my show where we constantly use a long zoom and are also using the smaller diameter 15mm rods as opposed to the 19mm rods. We recently switched out to the 19mm and it seems to have helped, but it has been a pain up to now. My key grip finally told the DP that he can't redesign the camera in the field and the baseplate is an incredibly ridiculous design, so they tried the larger rods. Anyway, if you use the Alexa, be on the lookout for this. And lay it straight.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Product Review - CGE Tools' DollyMate MiniMate

For years I had an old ammo box that I had ripped the top off, and then velcroed it to whatever dolly I was using. As much as I liked having the storage space for all the "little things" - grease pencils for the Fisher Ten arm, pens for my crossword and shopping lists, etc - it was a little big and got in the way. I eventually stopped using it.

Like any good technician, I've been trying to up my water intake and with productions springing for water bottle alternatives, my dollies end up covered in water bottles - more stuff to fall off when "coming off the rails", etc.

Along comes CGE Tools' DollyMate MiniMate. As soon as I saw this little bag, I had to have one. I've been impressed with it's manufacture. I thought that the magnets wouldn't hold up to the weight of my larger water bottle, but it's been hanging on for a couple months now, without a sign of giving up. I asked CGE Tools John about the number of magnets sewn in the MiniMate and my concern, and get got back to me quickly saying that due to the price of the magnets themselves, it would have meant adding to the price. Fair enough. Works great as advertised!! I work day in / day out on a Hybrid and being able to slap it on the side of the dolly if I'm backed into a corner its incredibly useful.

CGE makes three sizes. The largest - the Archetype, is an apron that sized is appropriately for the back of a Fisher Ten and can carry almost everything and the kitchen sink. The medium is the MiniMate and carries two bottles, tape measure and any other little bits. The smallest (and not really) is the SaddleBag, with one main compartment, tape measure clip and a bunch of little pouches.

Thankfully I've been able to talk my local expendables store into carrying CGE Tools products (check out the website: http://cgetools.com) and have since bought four more MiniMates as gifts.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

  It was interesting to read all the comments and emails from my last post. All the old-timers pretty much came up with the same answers, which were pretty much my own answers. The only one that they over-thought was the Fisher 10 question. I was looking for something along the lines of "ask if they are getting the round track wheels," but of course Sanjay and the others were correct. I did get a tweet asking about a question from the earlier post which was how the choice of head affects the Dolly Grip. The answer is that a geared head requires you to be more careful in your starts and stops, especially on a tighter lens, as the operator is directly controlling the head with his own movements, rather than with a geared wheel. It's much harder to control the frame as the dolly accelerates or stops quickly. Everyone seemed to enjoy this post so I'll think of some more. Please send in some suggestions if you have any.
   Slate had a great article on the accident on Twilight Zone: The Movie, that took the lives of actor Vic Morrow and two children, as well as a helicopter pilot thirty years ago. Check it out here. Now, when you get those safety bulletins with your call sheets, you'll have a better idea why they're there. Check it out.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Next Day Sober Rewrite- A Week Later

Those of you who are regular readers may have briefly caught a post I did last week entitled So You Want To Be A Dolly Grip. It listed some questions that every dolly grip should be able to answer or situations that a good dolly grip should be able to think his way out of. It was written under the influence of several Captain Morgans and inspired by a situation that I was irritated about. After reading it the next day, I deleted it. I didn't like the tone which came across to me as a little smug and a lot obnoxious, which most of you probably didn't even pick up on, but sprung right off the page at me. I deleted it and got a lot of emails and a few comments asking where it went and when I would rewrite it. Everything I write comes from experience and long hours of doing things the wrong way until I figured it out, or someone showed me the right way. There's no substitute for putting in the time and you can't learn it all overnight. I still learn things every day and am still trying to be better. Dollygripping is a craft, like any other that requires you to develop specific skills and a base of knowledge to solve problems quickly. You can't learn it in school but if there was a final exam, these questions should be on it:


Director wants to boom up from the lens at ground level to roughly eye height (or as close as you can get), what do you need? (No, it's on a dolly not a jib).

What is the inherent problem with pie pieces in a dance floor?

What are some things you can do to eliminate a track that is squeaking?

Track is on a wooden floor, the floor is popping under the weight as the dolly moves, what can you do to help eliminate the noise?

100' of track on a 300mm. It has to be smooth. What do you need? (No, Sanjay)

Crane track should always be ________.

You're doing a commercial and the company has rented a Fisher 10. What question have to ask? (after, "What's the rate?")


Director wants to pull an actor down a sidewalk with the camera directly in front of him. He can't step in the track and the director doesn't want to use Steadicam. What do you suggest?


A camera is to be placed looking directly down on an actor lying on a bed. What do you need?



Doing a haul-ass move on track with another grip helping push. You rig up a push bar on the back of the dolly. What shouldn't you do? Hint: If you do it wrong, the dolly can go off the side of the track.)



All right. There are some basic questions that a dolly grip should know the answers to. Smugness removed.

Social Media and Miscellania

To help spread the word, you can also find us here:

https://www.facebook.com/dollygrippery

We've got a new Flickr page up for photos:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dollygrippery

Please send us your to dollygrippix@gmail.com

If you have a moment also check out the adventures of Rodger the sandbag (it's a laugh riot!) at:

http://thetonguedollyexercises.tumblr.com

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

So You Want to be a Dolly Grip? NDSR

This post is being rewritten. Those of you who've been coming here for a while are familiar with the NDSR, or Next Day Sober Rewrite. I wrote this post last night after a couple of Captain Morgans and was already irritated about something related to this topic and the end result was predictably obnoxious (at least to me). I read it three times and disliked it more each time I read it. So, I pulled it down to rewrite it. A little awkward, but I can't have something up that I'm not happy with because it will drive me nuts. Once I've taken some of the kinks out I'll put it back up.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

New GI Track Update




  Gil over at GI Track has a beautiful track system and I thought I would give everyone a chance to see some highlights. For those of you who aren't familiar with GI Track, it's a heavy duty dolly track with one innovative difference. It's capped with a PVC cover that is easily replaced if damaged. Get a nick in it?, Just snap on a new cover and you're good to go. Your track can conceivably remain in like-new condition indefinitely. I've tried it out and it works great. He also has a line that expands to crane width and can hold up to 6500lbs if supported every two feet. That's a 30' Technocrane (and we all know how much fun Technocrane track is to work with). Here's a link to a video of his track under a Techno. And  here's a link to his website that has more in depth info on GI Track and how it works. If you're in the market for new dolly or crane track and want something with the smoothness but not the fragility of aluminum track, give GI Track a try.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Things I've Heard,

The following is a compendium of some things I've overheard over the years. I am responsible for a few of them, but most were said by others.*

I've got more time in the honeywagon than you do in this business.

Twenty- five year old juicer: "We're going to need a sider on this."  Friend of mine: "I've got shoes that have been in this business longer than you have, so shut the f^%$ up!"

Why is the word "bag" not funny, but the word "sack" is?

When you get all the extras out of the door, I'll lay the track. Til then, I'm going to sit here and play Angry Birds.


To gaffer who just suggested a dolly shot- " You just make sure everything's plugged in." He did not take it well.

It's not a magic vibration isolator."

Key Grip to DP: "You're a f^%$#ing amateur."

DP: "This looks really nice."   Operator: " And it only took three weeks." He didn't take it well either.

John Frankenheimer to Key Grip: " Look through the lens and make sure nothing stupid happens."

Dolly Grip to Tim Burton after he called for a huge crane shot at the last minute: " This ain't Batman!" (He thought it was funny).

Famous Actress: "Can I ask a stupid question?"  Operator: "Better than anyone I know."

"Pipe down, Bullock!"

Operator to DP: "Do you want to step outside?"

UPM to me: " Your ass is in a sling!"

Stunt Coordinator on an insert car: "We'll go a little faster around the on-ramp and maybe the car won't turn over."

"We don't have much money, but it'll be a lot of fun!"

UPM to me: " You don't get paid for wrapping."   Me: unprintable. (We got paid).

Twelfth grade English teacher: "Your ass is in a sling!"  What is it with this saying?


"Go Slower, start later, end sooner." What does this mean?

"Low, wide and tight." Ditto. Who are these people we work for?


Specular softlight.

"That had all the emotion of a truck pulling out of a parking space!"

On a parallel (scaffolding), "Give me a high hat." I shit you not.


DP on a boom and a move: "Can you do that?"  Dolly Grip: "Can you pour piss out of a boot?"


* This is a next day sober rewrite. I didn't like the title.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Being A Good Guest

 The idea for this post actually came from something that happened this week. We were shooting in a nice neighborhood in the heart of downtown. Our trucks were about a half a block away and I was pushing the Peewee to set. I reached the parking lot of the location and noticed one of our guys talking to a neighbor and apologizing to him for the locations guy. "What's going on?" I asked. "Well," he said," the juicers put all the gas bottles for the balloon (the lighting balloon for a night ex later) in front of his house and he's worried that his kids might knock them over and get hurt. We called the location guy over to deal with it and he says he's busy directing traffic and doesn't have time." I shook my head and trundled on to the staging area. On my way back, I noticed the neighbor still standing in the parking lot. "Did someone help you sir?" I asked. "No," he answered. "We weren't notified of anything and no one has been over to talk to me about this yet." I looked around and saw the Locations Assistant (about twenty-five years old) standing in the road waiting for a car to come by so he could wave it through. I saw the Location Manager on the phone laughing like an idiot about something while this guy fumed. " I also saw a row of about twelve huge gas bottles still lined up like soldiers in front of his house, just waiting to be knocked over like bowling pins by his five-year-old. "I apologize, sir," I said. "We are guests in your neighborhood and someone should be here to deal with this. I'll see if I can find someone to help you." Seeing that the crack locations team was still busy doing nothing, I went to the Second AD and brought it to her attention and she handled it. The guy later came up and thanked the other grip and myself for helping him out.
  In our business we are always in someone else's space (unless we're on stage). It's easy to forget that we don't actually "own" the location. We are guests and it's important to act like it. I could easily envision this guy calling his father-in-law, the state senator, and giving him an earful, and then the next day's cover story in the local paper, Film Crews Have No Respect For Our City. It wasn't really my place to deal with this guy. I could have easily shrugged and gone on about my business, but this is my town, and it's my responsibility, as it is everyone's, to make the experience of having a film crew in your neighborhood as painless as possible. The excitement of it lasts a while, but can quickly fade at two in the morning when condors are cranking up and grips and electrics are clanking around with equipment and shouting into radios. I'm as guilty as anyone of being disrespectful from time to time. In the heat of battle things happen, but we have to always remember that we are guests. As dolly grips, this can translate into cleaning your wheels before you go into a location, or even putting on the soft tires to help protect the floors. Put your parts down on a mat and lean dance floor on a wall only after you have protected it with a furni pad. I've actually taken over for dolly grips who were fired for not respecting the location. Yes, it's often a pain in the ass, but go the extra mile and people will notice.
I now step down from my soapbox. The Captain is calling.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Things That Don't Suck

In order to balance out the universe, it's only right to have a list of Things That Don't Suck.

In no particular order:

You know that perfect zone you get into when doing a boom up or down combined with a push-in and the speed of both match up exactly and the operator doesn't have to touch the tilt wheel? That doesn't suck, but it's a delicate balance.

Finding the one perfectly level piece of ground in the whole state. For a fifty foot run.

The director walking up and saying,"Thank you. Great shot."

A standing board that fits the first time.

Per Diem.

A UPM who actually understands how movies are made, not just how to read a balance sheet.

Seeing an old friend you last worked with over ten years ago.

Pulling off a very technical move on the first take.

Your family showing up at lunch.

fourteen hour turnarounds.

The familiarity of working with a camera and grip crew you know very well and with whom you've done several shows.

Having your B camera dolly grip walk up at the martini and saying, "The truck's loaded, just roll it in and we're done."

A really good wrap party. Not a snooty one with a jazz combo, but an open bar and a nasty funk band.

Finishing a show in December and knowing you have another one starting in January (Or even February).

A good stand-in.

Getting rained out on location, in a really cool city, early in the day.

Laundromats with bars in them.

Night exteriors downtown when you light up three city blocks.

Getting home while the sun is still up.

This is only a partial list. Please add your own in the comments.
D

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Things That Suck







In no particular order:


Directors who actually look over my head to ask the operator to "Go faster," "Go slower," etc. You do realize that I'm actually here, don't you?

Actors, usually under the age of twenty-five, who don't understand how the camera works. If you can't see it it can't see you. If you completely change your action or speed out of the gate and veer off on some wild course, it's almost impossible for the camera operator and I to keep up, much less guess what cockamamie thing you're going to do next. If you go from sitting normally in one take to dropping into a chair and out of frame the next, it just adds a take, and everyone who knows anything knows it was your fault. Someone needs to teach these youngsters that there's more to it than just the acting.

DPs who pick the dolly for you without actually having a conversation with you. I do not understand why they care which dolly I push. They all do the same thing. Wouldn't you rather me have the one I am most comfortable with? It's not 1975. Many advancements have been made in dolly technology and I may actually be better able to use one rather than the other.

PAs who actually try to keep me out of the set while I'm doing my job. Dude, do you hear the DP calling my name? I've done five pictures with the first AD. I'll tell him you're an idiot.

Being shushed. I'm not five. If you shush me one more time I'll flick a booger on you when you're not looking.

Steel track.

DPs, Ops who want to keep the slider on for every shot. Who do you usually work with? Where's the trust?

People who kick the track accidentally and then just keep walking like it doesn't matter. Either replace the wedge you just kicked out or tell me you did it and apologize. Yes, I'm talking to you.

Having to look for a stinger on every shot. No, I'm not going to pump it manually. It's your job. Leave me a stinger and tell me where it is. Please.

Seat offsets.

People who stand in doorways.

People who stand in front of the coffee machine. What are you, guarding it? Get your cup and move on.

Fraturdays.

The Aerojib. I do not understand the fascination with this piece of equipment. It never fits back in the case the way it came out. You can't see the connections. It doesn't go long enough to be helpful. Yes, I understand it has it's applications but the cons outweigh the pros. Get a Fisher Jib. It goes just as short and also goes to 21 feet.

Cables. Someday someone will invent a way to send pictures through the air. We will call it "wireless."

Location Managers who habitually find locations that are either totally impractical ("You can put all your equipment in this five square foot space, but stay off the sidewalk!"), or take us 30 miles outside the zone for a nondescript house with a tree in the front yard.

To be continued.....

Thursday, June 28, 2012

PA Juice

I don't normally plug other websites here. Other than Blood,Sweat, and Tedium, and The Hills are Burning, or other fellow industry bloggers. I get emails from time to time asking me to write about this film school or that website, but generally I just ignore them. I even get authors asking me to review their books. One was titled something along the lines of My Tight Firm Butt (yes, that really happened). I have to put in a good word for PA Juice, though. This is a great site written by below-the-line insiders for below-the-line insiders. Whether you are a grip, juicer, or PA, you'll find something here to smile at. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Picking A Speed

 Years ago, I was in the middle of a movie and was off to the side of the set laying a track for a future shot. The lead actor walked up and watched me work for a minute. "Hey, let me ask you something," he said. "How do you know what speed to push the camera?" I think I gave him some lame answer along the lines of, "You just know." He got a dubious look on his face and said, "Yeah, but how do you know?" I'm pretty sure I just shrugged my shoulders and said, "I guess if you do it enough you just develop a sense of it." He walked away with a doubtful look on his face. This conversation was brought to mind again last week when I got an email from a student asking the same question...."How do you know?" After thinking about it for a while, I believe my second answer those many years ago was essentially correct. After you've done it a while, you just develop a sense of what works with the rhythm of the scene. Of course, your operator and DP will tell you if you aren't going the right speed, but generally, you develop a timing that is usually pretty close to right. I was talking to a camera operator recently about another Dolly Grip who was going to take my place on a show that I was leaving. He said, "I don't want to have to talk to him and I'm afraid I will."* He wasn't being unfriendly, he just meant he didn't want to have to explain the speed or execution of every shot (this camera operator and I have a very tight working relationship and rarely have to talk about the shots. We just do them). I think that, first of all, you have to speak the language, and film is a language. It has a pace that you will immediately pick up on if you've seen more than ten movies (and of course you have) in your life. You basically do the same shots over and over in different situations. The operator I'm working with now will often just look at me after we've set up a shot and say something like, "page three, paragraph B in the Dolly Grip Handbook?" And I'll smile and nod. You'll generally know what kind of move the shot calls for just by knowing what the scene is about. Of course, staging shots are generally self-explanatory. You follow an actor at his speed, start when he starts and stop when he stops, all the while adjusting for any variations he may make or for if he misses his mark. These shots are all about just having the camera where it needs to be to see what it needs to see. It's the aesthetic shots that are a little more subjective. These are often unmotivated moves that add emotion to a shot. These require you to speak the language. Sometimes even staging shots require a little more finesse than normal to work though. I did a shot last week that involved starting behind two actors sitting on the trunk of a car. One actor stood up and walked away from the car about ten paces forward, away from camera, stopped and turned to face camera, leaving him in the background facing the actor who was still on the trunk, with her back to camera. He then walked forward toward the girl on the trunk and as he did, we pushed forward and met him at the trunk in a fifty-fifty**. A pretty straight forward dolly shot. Just match his movements as he walks forward and meet him at the car. After one take, though, the camera operator asked me to delay my move a little because we were moving forward so fast to match him that we totally lost the foreground actor on the trunk and then found her again as we landed. So, I adjusted a little and held back to hold them both the whole time, causing me to land later than he did. I just creeped the end of the shot a little and wrapped around them to make it look like it wasn't an accident that we were landing a few seconds after he did.In the end, while not a perfectly matched staging move, it worked. I also suggested to the email writer that he watch a few movies for the camera movement to get a sense of why certain moves were made. The fact is, you really shouldn't notice a staging move unless you're looking for it.
  All right, I've droned on enough. Please feel free to add any thoughts you may have, or suggestions for up and coming Dolly Grips who may have the same questions.
More next week including an end of the show wrap-up.

*He worked out fine. The camera op called me later and told me the guy was "awesome."
**a "fifty-fifty is a two shot featuring two actors facing each other in profile,each usually taking up an equal amount of the frame.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Worthy Cause

I got a strange phone call the other night. It was from a production assistant I had worked with years ago and hadn't really heard from since. She left a message and said she had some questions to ask me. I was curious, so I called her back and we played catch-up. Then she told me the reason she had called. She is a producer with an organization called Make a Film Foundation. The organization operates much like the Starlight Foundation. It allows a child with a serious or life threatening disease to write and act in his or her own film along with noted actors and directors and of course crew members who volunteer their time to help this child's dream come true. It's a good way for the child to not only communicate what he or she is going through, but to fulfill a dream. She was calling to ask if I could donate some time on a weekend to work on a film sometime but I had to inform her that I was, unfortunately, no longer in Los Angeles, or I would be there in a second. I told her that I did, however, have access, through Dollygrippery, to many working professionals. So do me a favor, guys, check out makeafilmfoundation.org and see what you think. There is a link for volunteers, but if you are really interested, please send me an email and I can put you in touch with Debi Hughes, the lady who called me. I know we are all tired on the weekends, but many of us have children of our own and can't imagine what it would be like for one of them to develop a life threatening illness. This is one way we can put our considerable skill to good use, other than cranking out the next overblown studio extravaganza. I know next time I'm on the West Coast, I'll be getting in touch with Debi to see if there is any way I can help. Just check it out.
D

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Eyewash

 I the course of our day-to-day activities, we are sometimes called upon to simply LOOK as if we're accomplishing something, without really accomplishing anything other than making others feel better. I call this eyewash. I don't know where the term originated, or where I even heard it, but I've always used it to refer to these situations. An example- The DP asks you to "lock off" an effects shot even though you know from talking with the operator that it will be unoperated and no one will touch it during the shot. So, you dutifully grab an arm, a head, and a mag clamp and affix some good old fashioned eyewash to the camera. The DP sees it and is happy. Even though it's essentially doing nothing. Other examples of eyewash are- harnesses in a scissor lift, a furni pad over the operator for a squib hit that's 50 feet away, a lenser for the moon. There's nothing wrong with eyewash. It scores you points easily without having to do much actual work. I'm a fan of it no matter how I may roll my eyes when I'm doing it. I know all of you have some good eyewash stories. Let's hear 'em.

                                                                                     

Saturday, May 26, 2012

What's on tonight?

This question was posed to me recently: What am I watching?

I'll admit. I'm one who uses a monitor. I feel in this day and age of high page count and long work hours that anything that can help me go out quicker and less takes - I'm all for it. One can't always get close to the camera when there's two (or more) camera crammed against each other and assistants all over so, one feel a bit removed. The monitor really helps and I feel that I'm more "synergistic" with the operator.

Having the right tool for the job is more than ever important these days. One can't always get by with a little 3" Casio wireless anymore. It's a big decision whether to spend big bucks on something that you may not even get the kit rental on. I purchased last year a Marshall 7" HD monitor. Not top of the line, as I'm not pulling focus from it, but something that has reasonable brightness to see in the outdoors (with the help of a hood).

Are you using a monitor? And if so, what are you using?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Double headed Dragon - Pure Brilliance or Sheer Panic?

This photo is from doing "Double Headed, Hand Held Walk and Talks on "Covert Affairs' season two.

I did a daily on what was called a "webisode" for a already shooting television series. This is more and more common these days. Get in a couple off day actors, spill some crew over from main unit and get the writers to come up with some witty 2 page scenes. Sounds simple. HA! Never is. Add a a bunch of these "scenes". Mix in a few set shifts and you've got the makings of a long day.

These guys had brought in two camera teams, but only one dolly. Invariably the "blockings" of these setups generally had both cameras on top of each other with "A" camera edging "B" camera and ruining choice moments. Panic ensued… "Let's just put "B" on with "A" and that will solve everything!!"

I know that script people get a rate upgrade with more cameras - can that happen for me too?

We got the shot, then out of panic the rest of the day was setup that way - as Double Headed Dragon. I can understand in certain circumstances that it would be helpful, but so many times, one camera wants to go one way when the other camera wants to go the other. Then, due to lack of space, the focus pullers can't ride and now they're crying and tripping over themselves.

Is this the answer? Are locking two cameras together the answer (not including 3D here)? Or is this just panic?

Speaking of 3D, I did have a chance to see "The Avengers" over the weekend. Bloody great movie! To all the grips on the show: you should be very proud! It's been a long time since I was part of an applauding audience in a movie theatre!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Coming back to the "real" world?

Where have a been all this time? I've just finished working on a feature film.

Well, thanks to Non-Disclosure Agreements that I've had to sign I can't really say… and as the NDA is still in play I still can't say anything till the movie is released next summer.

However, I can say that I've been working on the largest project to be shot in Canada. I was working as the "B" Camera dolly grip. Up to four cameras every day. I worked with different operators, depending on the situation. Most of the time on headset with the director. Days with 300 extras. Days of SteadiCam. Days of two telescopic cranes fighting for the same spot. As big as the scope of the movie was, the rigs weren't big. Its seemed we were either on Steadi or crane and the moves weren't complicated. Always 1 to 2. The director was very prepared and knew exactly what he wanted, but at the same time, camera work was figured out on the day. We generally shot the first rehearsal and worked from there.

For me, I was an odd duck on the crew as it wasn't my regular crew, plus the out of town Key Grip was working with a new crew for him. They left me alone to do my job, as I worked with camera operators and the director.

It was a long seven months. Not many long days. Good turn around. Rarely did we go late on a Friday night (the Friday Five Dollar Draw stories is a post unto itself!). It was a paid vacation.

Now, after a couple weeks off, I'll be returning to the meat grinder of television series work. Mondays to Saturdays.

Every year I wish I could make it down to L.A. for the J.L. Fisher open house and CineGear Expo (and the Chapman BBQ?). Please let us know if you're going and what you saw that interests you!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hello from NOLA!

Hello from New Orleans! Posting has been a little sparse lately. I apologize for this. Between babies and work and travelling, it's hard to find time to post, much less come up with a topic. I am writing to you from my hotel room in the beautiful Riverside Hilton. We are in week three of ten on my current production and it's going well. I have a great operator, who I genuinely like, as well as my regular feature DP whom I haven't seen in three or four years, as he's been in Europe doing two movies back to back. It's such a pleasure to work with people you know well and have a history with. The hardest part of this job is getting back into a feature frame of mind after having been in tv for so long. Quick and dirty is not always required and it's easy to forget that I now have the time and the latitude to do things properly rather than just resorting to the easiest and quickest option.  Where I would have recently just thrown down a piece of plywood for a push-in, I now take the time to lay a rail, and no one questions it. As I've said before though, tv makes good Dolly Grips, and I'm grateful for the time I spent in series world to refine my skills a little. I'm so used to having only a couple of takes to nail the shot that I find myself getting a little bored when we do seven or eight because of performance. I've also been doing B camera for a few months to get away from it a little and I have to admit I'm a little rusty. Things that were once second nature (knowing which side is best to mark etc.), I'm having to relearn. I find myself going back to something GHB said in a guest post about crane work. He said he always marks the side of the camera between him and the actors. I used to do this instinctively, but now, after so long away, I have to think about it. It goes for Dolly work too. If you mark the wrong side of the dolly, you find yourself out of position to do the shot. Either you can't see the mark, or you can't see the actors. If you find yourself having trouble executing a shot, change the side of the dolly your marks are on. Odds are, you've marked the wrong side. I know several of you are working in NOLA. Give me a shout and we'll have a beer. Till next time....
D

PS: I've now  registered "dollygrippery.net" so the site should be available there now. You may still visit "dollygrippery.com" for a good dose of crazy from the woman who inexplicably bought it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fisher Open House

  Save May 19th on your calendars. It's the Fisher Open House. It's one day that celebrates the Dolly Grip and his contribution to the art of motion pictures (wow, I'm loaded). Seriously, the guys at Fisher put on a great show. There's beer and barbecue and you'll more than likely run into an old friend or two.  I try to never miss one. Visit jlfisher.com for details.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Handheld

  My last post generated a lot of comments, so obviously it's a subject that merits more attention. Most Dolly Grips will assist in handheld mode by lifting the camera and placing the camera on and off the operator's shoulder. My regular Key Grip has always insisted on this and I've never really had a problem with it. I consider myself "camera support" and am generally happy to do it. To a point. Lifting and placing the camera in handheld is a courtesy, or at least that's always how I've viewed it. I've never seen anything in the Dolly Grip's job description that mandates it. I've always tried to follow the British tradition of "Camera Grip" and be as supportive to the camera department as possible. Generally, I follow the Key Grip's lead. If he expects me to do it, I'll do it. He's (or she's) ultimately the boss and I'll do my best to fulfill his wishes. I'll always start out doing it as if it's expected of me until one of the camera crew gets snotty about it. When a 1st or 2nd assistant starts yelling for me to pick it up, it's over. I will patiently explain that I'm providing a courtesy out of respect, that can end at my discretion. At some point, it just became expected that we carry the camera when it's not on a shoulder, which is nowhere to be found in any union by-laws that I've ever seen. Again, I love my camera brothers and sisters. But don't get cheeky or, as my friend GHB says, you'll find yourself getting very lonely around the camera.
   In recent news, my pilot is almost over. Three weeks of handheld (which I happily carried out of respect for my operator) is almost over. After almost six months without being behind a dolly on "A" camera other than a few second units, I may be ready to jump back in. My regular feature DP has a show in New Orleans and I'm excited, for once, about getting back to it. I was so burned out after my last job that I took a few months to only do "B" camera and second unit jobs, and was perfectly happy with that. I'm looking forward to it. I'll let you know how it goes.
D

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Three Weeks of Monkey Work

Handheld....the bane of the Dolly Grip. I recently signed on to a pilot. Sounds like a good story, A-list cast, average money, and it is a perfect bridge covering three weeks until my next feature. I check out dollies and track with the B camera Dolly Grip, load the truck, and then find out it's all handheld. And I mean ALL handheld. Three weeks of fourteen to sixteen hour days of bench pressing an Alexa. Not much thought or skill involved. Just help keep the operator safe and try and massage my sore shoulders every night. The crew is great and the work moves along fast, but it's hard not to feel at least a little like the victim of a bait and switch. The dollies all look as shiny and new as the day we loaded them and they probably won't even come off the truck. I don't mind a little handheld every now and then. But picking this thing up and putting it down over a hundred times a day is starting to wear on me. I need a drink.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Bite Your Tongue

 This post was suggested by a Dolly Grip buddy of mine from Texas. He had worked with a relatively green operator, who, when he made a suggestion, would disregard it it, and say, "I'm the operator, you're the Dolly Grip." There was a time, in the not-too distant past, when I would have probably not taken something like that sitting down. My reaction to a situation like this, however, is directly proportional to my financial situation. As a new (and old) father with a new mortgage, I find that I'm suddenly much more agreeable and willing to let such comments slide right off me. Although I've never had a situation arise like this with an operator, I have with a DP.  While I'm a firm believer in knowing where you stand in the whole pyramid structure of the film crew, I also am not very good at being treated like a tool rather than a technician (see previous post). There are times when you just have to bite your tongue. Dealing with an inexperienced or attitude challenged camera operator can be trying, and sooner or later you will reach a point of saying, "Enough's enough." One thing I won't be is verbally abused. I may take it for a while, but sooner or later it's going to boil over. A good camera operator knows to rely on his Dolly Grip. The operators I work with regularly know that I can help them if they'll let me. They may not take my suggestions, but they always listen and are usually willing to try them. An operator who casually dismisses his Dolly Grip and has the attitude of Operator> Dolly Grip is unknowingly letting his inexperience show.  Still, if you need the job, taking a deep breath and telling yourself it's only temporary is necessary. The older I get (and more in debt), the less hotheaded I am. So maybe biting your tongue is also a by-product of maturity. I recently watched a short film on Dicky Deats, a legendary Key Grip who recently passed. He said that his favorite part of filmmaking was being part of the process. Being relied on to solve a problem gave him the greatest joy. That's all any of us want, especially as Dolly Grips. Part of that process involves knowing when to bite your tongue.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Monkey Work

  Sooner or later, you're going to do what I call "Monkey Work". This is how I refer to jobs that are basically just for a paycheck. For me, these are usually B camera jobs. On jobs like this, the DP is usually a pretentious jackass who, because you're on B camera and it's a less than blockbuster budget show, just assumes you're an idiot or "monkey" and spends his time treating you like one. That's fine. It's a paycheck, you're there to do a job and you just do it. It can be trying though. I did a show recently in just this situation where I was basically an afterthought to the DP. He questioned everything I did and seemed to believe that the simplest things were beyond my grasp. He would catch me waving a flashlight in front of the camera, trying to check a reflection in a window, and treat me as if I were mentally deficient for using this method. I caught myself muttering under my breath a lot, "I push dolly for two Academy Award winners and I'm too incompetent to check reflections for this hack." But, like I said, it's your job, you don't argue with the boss, and you just get through it. In any case, it can be humbling and sometimes it can be good for you. Grin and bear it.
  I picked up ten weeks in New Orleans in April with my old DP who's been in Europe forever. I'm looking forward to getting back in the groove. Since my series ended, I've been doing pretty much just B camera jobs and second unit TV, which was fine. I was so burned out and exhausted that I lost my taste for it for a while and just needed some time away from the responsibility of A camera work. I was beginning to wonder if I would get my taste for it back, but I'm starting to look forward to it again. GHB is coming to town to do a show and I can hopefully get together with him for a beer. If any of you are down this way, give me a shout.
D

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Whew!

  Once again I find myself in a hotel room somewhere midway across the country. My Dad and I are driving my two cars to Atlanta where we will meet my family and all our crap. Then, I start a show the following Monday (B camera again, but it pays and this move is cleaning me out). I turned down a ginormous show because I just couldn't swing it with the move so I'm taking whatever comes and grateful to have it. In other news, a tornado has once again struck my hometown and they are once again digging out. See my thoughts on that here.
   Our friend Sanjay is in LA at Chapman this week and once again I missed him by a day. Every time he shows up I leave. Sorry Sanjay, tell Shafi hi for me. The way Sanjay works, I'm sure he'll end up taking a Hydrascope back to India with him.
   I did some fun TV second unit and fill -in work over the last two weeks on three different shows, including a Hydrascope on a Titan. I truly believe I could make a decent living working four days a week doing second units for television. I just wouldn'y enjoy it much and my heart wouldn't be in it.  That's all I have for this disjointed excuse for a post. I drove for ten hours today and I'm wiped.

Friday, January 20, 2012

dollygrippery.???? and the SOC Awards

  As most of you know, my procrastination caused me to lose my precious domain name to some woman who writes fairly unintelligible articles. I plan to re- register under a .net or maybe a .tv. As it is now, I'm in the middle of a logistical nightmare with moving etc. Until then, please direct anyone you know to be a reader to this address. Posts may be slim for a while unless Azurgrip finds time under his own busy schedule to put up something. I am taking any guest posts you may send me to keep the thing interesting. If you are an experienced dolly grip, or a newcomer with a fresh perspective, please don't be shy about emailing me something. I may punch it up a bit but the credit will be all yours if you wish.  We're not going anywhere, and have big plans for the future. We're just on a little hiatus after almost five years of continuous activity. I've met some great people and colleagues in the creation of our community and I'm grateful to all of you for your support. I can't tell you how great it has been to meet all of you and share our common experiences.

I would like to congratulate a couple of good friends. Two camera operators I work with are up for the SOC Operator of the Year Awards: Simon Jayes, my good friend and co-worker on True Blood, and Will Arnot, whom I did a feature with a couple of years ago.. Simon is a truly gifted camera operator and it has been my pleasure to be his Dolly Grip for many years now on three tv series and more shots than I can count (both kinds). With Simon, it's more fun than work.Will Arnot,  is up in the feature category for The Help. Will is a fantastic operator and a truly great person. I look forward to working with him again. Will makes it look easy. Andy Crawford was his Dolly Grip on the picture and Will would be the first one to give him credit where it's due. Congratulations gentlemen. It has been an honor to work with both of you and call you both friend. Good luck!

Until next time, stay safe and keep it on the track.
D

Sunday, January 01, 2012

This and That

  I'm actually low on ideas for technical posts right now. Over the last four years we've covered just about every imaginable topic you could think of in the field of dollygrippery. The well is dry. Please email me or comment with any ideas you may have or topics you would like to see covered.
   One thing about this business that I've always appreciated is the universality of it. By this I mean that yuou bring a crew of hundreds of people together, many of whom have never met, and because of the traditions, training, and work ethic among most of them the whole thing can function like a machine with very few hiccups. Making a movie is an unbelievable logistical nightmare. That a group of strangers can meet, pull it off, and part as mostly friends amazes me every time it happens. This is true now more than ever as the film business finds itself breaking out of the traditional "shot in LA or New York" mold and is cranking  up in places like Shreveport and Detroit.  As I was loading out dollies for the last show in Atlanta, I attempted to strike up a conversation with an out of town dolly grip who was checking in a dolly behind mine. I could tell immediately that he thought of me as "just another local with a Southern accent who thinks he's a dolly grip."  He shrugged me off and went his way and I'm sure did a great job, but the attitude gave me the idea to just say this: there are good techs everywhere, as well as subpar ones. It's a new business and if you're fortunate enough to be a guest in someone else's town, at least be gracious. That's all I'm going to say about that. Jackass.
   I've got a new blogsite up at infrequentwriting.blogspot.com. It's  mainly just a place to practice and polish up my writing a little. It was inspired by a blog called 365 Jobs, as well as Michael Taylor's blog. Both are so well thought out and beautifully written that they made me want to have a place to work on my skills a little and see what else I could write about. Check it out.
   Like I said before, give me some ideas. I haven't been behind an A camera dolly in five months, so I need a little shove to know which way to go. Maybe I'll get in touch with Larry the Boom Guy. He's always got great ideas for posts. I got nothing but time so help me out.
D