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 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.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


 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.