Tuesday, December 10, 2013

End of Show Roundup

I usually save this post for the end of a movie. My last movie didn't really end. It will be finished at some point. Whether or not I and my colleagues will be involved is another matter. We all have bills to pay and mouths to feed and must move on, though I'm sure all of us would like to be a part of it. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

   This job involved a lot of crane work. Spread out over two units. First unit alone had a 50', a 30', a 35-45 Moviebird, and a 15' Technocrane at any given time. We also had a 30' and 72' Hydrascope that came in and out periodically. I'll have more on the type of work I was doing in my future post, Scraping the Paint. As always, our regular crane and head techs from Cinemoves, Mike Howell and Sean Fossen did stellar work as well as Jeff Curtis making an appearance from time to time. Mr Rivenbark was on another job, but Sean does top-notch work and I'm always glad to see him. Trust between a pickle operator and a crane arm operator is paramount, especially in a job like this one, and Mr. Howell has never let me do anything stupid. Chris and David, and James from Chapman also came in and did great work with the Hydrascopes. Thanks guys.
   Dolly-wise, I had a Hustler 4, a Peewee 3, and several Hybrids that came in and out as extra dollies and splinter unit dollies. We also used a Fisher 23 and a 21 for several shots. Thanks to Christine, Isabel, Fabien and Shafi at Chapman for their remarkable service. Thanks to a wonderful cast and crew. Hope to see you all again.

  I have picked up a second unit on another show that will take me up to Christmas, so at least I'll be busy.


Sunday, December 01, 2013

A Sad Day Off

I was going to write a post on crane moves that come very close to other objects, like cars. I was going to call it "Scraping The Paint." I'm sure at some point I will get around to writing it but can't seem to do it right now. Please indulge me this one post, and then I'll get back to the usual drivel.

  Take up to fifty or sixty highly skilled and driven people. Put them all into a pressure cooker for anywhere from twelve to sometimes eighteen hours a day. Have them do the most ridiculous things, from mugging in front of a camera to waving a smoke machine around a set. Lock them into this situation for anywhere from three to five, or more, months and you'll have yourself a movie. But you'll also have a highly dysfunctional, sometimes contentious, but often fiercely loyal family. Now, at the end of this long period, you fire them all and send them on their separate ways. No matter what happens you will rarely, if ever, have the same combination of people together at the same time again. Out of this pressure cooker lifelong friendships are made, as well as lifelong enemies. Babies are born, marriages begin and end. No matter what the outcome, strong ties are made. This is a film crew.

   I have a day off tomorrow. It wasn't planned. I'm not happy about it, though not for the reasons you might think. My current job was supposed to carry on until just before Christmas. I've been on this particular show for three months now, and like the story always goes I've made some good friends, forged some ties. Together, the cast and crew of this production have been frozen, rained on, shot at, blown up, and smoked out. We've had countless hours of down time to tell our stories and miss our loved ones and wonder, "What is the holdup?" And I've enjoyed almost every minute of it. Until now. One of our own, a young man of immense talent, humility, and humor has left us before the last martini shot. Now this pressure cooker I spoke of earlier, it makes you forget the outside world. You forget that in the scheme of things what we are all doing means less than nothing. None of us are heroes. I'm not saving lives or protecting anyone. The danger that our cast is in and the heroics that they perform are purely manufactured. You get to know people beyond the screen persona that the rest of the world sees. I didn't know Paul Walker well. I had passing words with him for the first month or so of production. In the last month or so, however, our hours and downtime had placed us in the position of having time to talk. He told me about his daughter and how much he missed her. He told me how much his father loved seeing him and his brothers when they visited and how they had in recent years become much closer. I told him about my daughter. And my father. We didn't become friends, but we were acquaintances...thrown into that pressure cooker we've both been a part of for upwards of twenty years now. I made him laugh. And he made us all laugh. I don't know what went wrong with that car on Saturday afternoon that caused it to crash and take the lives of two young men. I do know that I am grateful to have had the small sliver of insight into the life of one of them. The other, I know nothing about. As the media machine does, it has virtually turned him into a shadow, obliterated by the celebrity of his passenger. I'm sorry for that. It must be incredibly hard on his family to see him become an unnamed footnote in the media gossip machine. I wish things were different. I wish I didn't get that cold stone in my chest every time I think of Paul Walker now. Above all, I wish I didn't have that day off tomorrow.

  I don't know what will happen with the job now. Maybe it will go on, maybe it won't. This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened and it won't be the last.  But for those of us who were in that three month pressure cooker and those who had known Paul much longer and better than I, there is a hole that will not be filled. Thanks for the laughs, buddy. See you down the road.


Saturday, November 09, 2013


  This morning as I was taking a shower, I suddenly flashed back to my first day on a movie set. I was about nineteen and had somehow fumbled my way into being hired as a grip on a low budget movie being shot in Mobile, Alabama. I still remember the conversation on the phone with the Second AD (Anthony) where I asked him what I needed to bring. "Just the normal grip tools. You know, a knife and screwdriver," was his answer. That first day still sticks out as one of the highlights of my life. I was on a real movie set! There was a dolly!(Fisher 10). And track! (square). And real actors! (Martin Sheen's brother, Joe). I was making a flat rate of $300.00 a week. "Wow," I remember thinking,"I can actually make a living at this!" The fact that I also paid my own hotel room out of this princely sum didn't even phase me. I still remember wearily heading back to my hotel room to soak in a tub of hot water and the smile on my face and the feeling of satisfaction that I had made it as I lay in that water. Sometimes, not as often as back then, of course, but sometimes, just sometimes, when I look around and see the dollies and cranes and lights and real actors, I still get that feeling. It's not as pure, because it's been jaded a little by almost twenty-five years in this business. But it's still there. I wish it would come around more often.

  We're almost eight weeks into Huge Franchise With Cars and Pretty People, and it's going well. We have a great crew and laugh a lot. I have a lot of toys. We carry a 30', a 50', and a 35'-45' Moviebird as well as a 15' Techno. I'm staying pretty busy so I don't have much time to post but I'm still here.
Stay in touch, D

Saturday, October 19, 2013

More Advice For The Newbies

  I have a lot of time to observe as a dolly grip. Here are some things I see:

Setting a flag isn't a two person job. Just back away once he has it in the c-stand. You aren't helping. Let it go.

Everything isn't a question. Don't ask me if I'm coming off the track or where the next track is going. I don't know yet.

Be a grip, not a gopher. Learn how to light. Observe the set. Look for things that stick out. Keep looking. You'll always find something.

If you are low on something, go get more of it. I don't care how close the truck is, make a decent staging area and keep it replenished.

It's a craft, just like bricklaying or plumbing. Learn your craft. Don't just be a gopher.

Be proactive. Are there lights bleeding onto the bluescreen? Fix it. It's your job. Try to anticipate what is needed before it's called for.

Thus endeth the lesson.
The Captain.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Three MPH Faster

  I spent today surfing the top deck of an insert car manhandling a Hydrascope as we swerved around the city. Here are some thoughts:

Agree on a speed. Our driver is a professional. He won't go rogue and get us into a hairy situation. If you're going to go faster, the First AD should consult with you. It's your ass hanging out in the breeze.

Harness yourself. A crane arm will drag you right off a car, especially around a corner. It's a lot of mass and you can't fight physics. I know the old argument about wanting to be able to get off the car if it goes out of control. If you have to let go of the arm to save yourself, it's like letting a wild animal loose. It won't stop until it hits something. Strap yourself in.

Watch your height. Especially if you are shooting off the back of the car. You can't see what's coming. The top height on the bucket or camera shouldn't be more than about 12 feet in the city Code is 13'6". Give yourself some leeway. Watch for overhanging branches and low lines. I did all my work on the top deck today from my knees (no jokes) to keep from being decapitated.

Have a spotter. Someone should watch what's coming up behind you. If nothing else it gives you peace of mind.

Let the arm do the work. Don't try to hold it perfectly steady. Let the head take the bounces. That's what it's for. You'll needlessly wear yourself out fighting the arm.

Watch the turns. This is where the mass of the arm can drag you. Your driver should take them slow.

Don't let yourself get talked into anything stupid. A movie ain't worth dying for.

Stay safe.

                                                            Yeah that's me.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Here They Come...

Aaaaand it's a boom town.
   I am based out of a city other than LA. Have been for over twenty years, except for a period of six or seven years when I lived in Los Angeles. When I left this town, I had spent well over fifteen years doing an endless string of tv movies, miniseries, and commercials, sprinkled with the occasional big-budget film. I was lucky enough to start out early with a couple of Key Grips who were well established and did higher budget work when it came to town. Then, it dried up. The lure of a favorable exchange rate and a phrase which I became very familiar with-Canadian tax incentives- meant making the choice between getting a job at Home Depot or making the trek out West a reality. I didn't really have a choice, in my mind. I had been a grip since I was nineteen and had few skills that would translate into a career that didn't involve digging or pushing a wheelbarrow at eight bucks an hour. So, with a rarely used Local 80 card, I made the move to California. When I left, I pretty much knew everyone involved in the business in this town. There were the up and comers, like me, and the old-timers, who were the generation before me. Then Atlanta took off. Like a rocket. Sensing where the industry was heading- I wanted to move back home and I didn't want to do tv anymore- I made the trek back, family in tow. Now, I don't know anybody. Everyone is 22 (or seems to be). Where I was once the youngest guy on set, now I'm one of the older ones. So in the spirit of now being one of the older ones, I have a few words of advice, same as they once did for me:

Learn to tie a f^*%ing knot. Learn it. A grip needs to know four basic knots- clove hitch, trucker's hitch, bowline, and square knot. If I have to spend more than a minute (60 seconds) untying a knot, I'm going to cut it. If you want to get fancy, that's fine. I myself went through a sheepshank phase, but don't be an a-hole.

Realize that this could all end next month. Right now, you're riding high. Jobs are plentiful and if one doesn't work out, well, you can just move on to the next one. You weren't here when we were scrambling for every job we could get; the twenty hour- day music videos, the crappy Hallmark movies. You don't want to move the carts? I don't want to hear it. Move the carts. It's your job.  All you will have when this ends-and it will- will be the reputation you make right now. When jobs are once again lean, I will get yours. And I won't lose a minute of sleep over it.

Keep your mouth shut. You're not Super Grip. You can't learn everything about this job in two shows. I've been doing this for twenty-five years and I'm still an idiot. Ask questions.

Don't tell anyone you're the best "anything" in town. You're a half-wit.. We still tell stories about the "best dolly grip in New Orleans." According to a friend of mine, he came in on "C" camera on a show. He lasted one day until he kicked the boxes out from under the track and ramped the dolly down it. Woops. The track is only a hundred dollars a foot. Next.

Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey. It ain't rocket surgery.

For god's sakes, learn how to wrap a lamp.

Sometimes, unfortunately, grips have to pick up heavy stuff. Good natured grumbling is fine. Sometimes there is an easier way. But sometimes, you just have to grab some steel and lift. Don't spend ten minutes yakking about it, just do it. Your Grandfather would be ashamed.

Thus endeth the lesson.

The Captain has spoken.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Thank You

   Thanks, you guys for the support for my wife's Cancer Walk. So many of you came through, even people that I don't know. She would give a hug and kiss to all of you if she could. We are overwhelmed. Thank You.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Here We Go!

  After eight weeks off, I'm chomping at the bit to get back to work. So, on Monday I'll go into town and commence my first day of prep on the next epic. I would like to take this moment and salute all the mothers in the world. The patience, love, and .....patience.... never ending patience you display on a daily basis is truly awe inspiring. It says something about child-rearing when I would prefer a fourteen hour day of track laying and dolly pushing to peanut butter and jelly stains on the couch and tantrums in the living room floor. I honestly don't know how she does it. In any case, I will soon be back in the driver's seat for a twelve to fourteen week extravaganza of green screens, Technocranes, dance floors, and all that goes with it. Thank God.

   I had the good fortune to teach a Dolly class for our union local a couple of weeks ago and it was a rousing success. It really was a pleasure to be able to drone on for a couple of hours before fifteen or so listeners who were truly eager to learn. And they did great! We went through each of the dollies and highlighted their various pros and cons, had a track laying seminar, ably given by my frequent B camera dolly grip, and did a little dance floor simulation. This was a basic class, just to give the rudimentary pointers, but I hope to hold an intermediate class soon. My thanks to those of you who showed up and showed an interest. I would also like to thank the guys at PC and E for their invaluable assistance. They did a great job!

   I think it's important to reiterate something here that I've said before. If you want to be a dolly grip, you've got to be a good set grip first. It's the foundation that everything else is built on. Yes, that means flagging and lighting and even twelve by's. It all starts there. And as a bonus, you can always go back to it if you have to. It's a skill that will serve you in so many ways. I still use stuff every day that I learned as a set grip over twenty years ago. Learn it.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Okay, Okay! I Think I've Got It.

  As most of you know, I've been trying to navigate Paypal to set up the whole T-Shirt payment thingie. I had a "shipping and handling" charge attached to it, which didn't seem to be kicking in. So, I raised the price of the shirts to offset the 12- to- 15 dollar shipping and packaging etc. Now, it seems to be working and adding it automatically, making the t-shirt price somewhere north of 35.00, which is a little ridiculous. So, I've refunded some money back to those who've paid this ridiculous price and will now again reduce the price of the shirts to 15.00 plus 15.00  shipping and handling (believe me, it costs that much). Good luck to us all.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

New Stuff!

  I am proudly announcing the first batch of Dollygrippery t-shirts. This is the first run and will be distinguished from all other editions by it's "unique" blue color. The front features the Dollygrippery logo and the back just has the "Dollygrippery.com" address. They're going for 18 bucks apiece right now as this is an experiment and I need to recoup my costs. Just use the Paypal button on the right.  As of the moment, I am not taking orders from outside the US until I figure out how the whole thing works although if you are outside the US and really want one bad (how could you not?) just email me and we'll figure something out.
   On the same note, this is just an experiment right now. I'm slowly figuring out Paypal etc although it seems to be working the way I wanted it to. If something goes wrong and you receive the wrong size or don't receive what you ordered, send me an email and we will work through the problem. Thank you. Nasty emails will be published here for the Dolly Grip world to see.

I did have to raise the price because shipping was much more than I thought it would be. Sorry guys but good for those of you who got in early!

 My wife and I would like to thank those of you who have generously given to her fundraiser for the Susan Komen Breast Cancer Walk. Although out of the US givers seem to be experiencing a problem, your kindness is appreciated and my wife loves you for it. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Help Out A Good Cause!

  This isn't something I often do, but I'm asking for a little help. My wife is walking in the Susan G Komen Three Day Breast Cancer Walk in honor of her mother, Janet. Janet lost her long battle with this disease two weeks before her only grandchild was born. If you can spare a dollar or five, please go to my wife's website and give. She, and I, will be eternally grateful.

Thank You,

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Looking For A Submission

I'm looking for a review from anyone who has used the new Hybrid 4. I keep seeing mixed reviews and would like someone who has used it to report in. Write up a review and email it to dollygrippery at gmail dot com. I'll punch it up if you like and give you credit or you can submit it anonymously (I would like to know who is sending it but will publish it anonymously if you like). Help us out.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Endless Process of Auditioning

  "The DP was really thinking about bringing someone in. We've had some problems in the past with dolly grips and He's a little nervous," the voice on the phone says. Thus begins another audition. As if a first day's jitters weren't enough, now you've got to contend with a DP and Operator scrutinizing your every move (literally). That's one thing about this job that I never get comfortable with, the proving yourself all over again every time you work with a new DP. Usually (well, so far almost exclusively) it works out fine and you end the show with some new friends and some new contacts for future work. I'm a little more mellow than I used to be. If you read most of my earlier posts from, say, 2009, I was much more militant, railing about incompetent dolly grips making it harder on those of us who work hard to learn and perfect our craft. Now, I just shrug my shoulders and say, "Just let me know if there's something I'm doing that you don't like, or would rather do another way. I'm sure after a day or two we'll fall into a groove." What I want to say is, "Check the resume and then call these DP's and Operators. If you still have a question, call someone else." As I've mellowed, (or maybe it's the medication) I've learned to accept this whole process with a little more grace. It just goes with the job, like working in the rain or pulling out a hundred feet of track on a moments notice. I recently had a conversation with a Dolly Grip who happened to be doing a huge budget movie in the same town where I was working on location. He stopped by the catering tent to say hi one day. Now this guy is one of the best. His name is on more than one blockbuster and is very well known in the industry. He was telling me how he was having a hard time with his operator, who he said just didn't like him. "How is this possible?" I asked. He didn't have a ready answer. The operator he mentioned is a friend of mine who I get along great with, but with whom I  had gone through a rather tense "audition" process a few years earlier myself. This is when I realized, it ain't always about your skills. This Dolly Grip is easily one of the most skillful guys to ever step behind a Hybrid, yet the operator had questions about his ability to deliver. They just didn't get along. The stars, for whatever reason, weren't lining up. I think he eventually worked out the issues (and got a raise in the process). What impressed me at the time, though, was the way he handled it. He was the epitome of professionalism and calm. He just told them, "Guys, if I'm not getting it done, send me home and get someone who makes you happy." When I heard this I decided then and there to try and relax a little on my next audition. It's really not a big deal. Sometimes it just doesn't work out and it's not a reflection on your skills. It's quite often a personality thing, or maybe just a series of unlucky breaks. After twenty-four years in this business, I'm finally growing up.

This week, you get a two-for-one of two posts in one day. Hey, I'm on vacation.

PS- Don't forget to ask any questions, or leave some observations in the forum. That place is deadsville. We also have a page on Facebook. Those of you who have been tasked with guest posts are long overdue. Get cracking.

Wait...... What?

Here is a list of things I heard on set recently that made me do a double-take:

1." We're going to need a shovel."

2. "Just put him in the van and the car will jump over it. We did the math."

3." Take the camera right over the iPad. Everyone knew about this."  Me: "I didn't even know there was an iPad."

4." Put it in "R" for "Race."

5. Camera operator: "If anything goes wrong, tell my wife which hospital I'm in."

6." We need fifty feet of Technocrane track." (We were inside a garage on a fifty footer).

7. "That car's worth two million dollars. Don't even look at it."

8. "Can we get the Techno down there?" (Points at 3' dropoff full of mud).

9. "The Hustler 4 only comes with a double detente."

10. After spending forty-five minutes building a car mount, "It's taking too long, rip it off."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Murphy's Law and Stakebed Packages

  Murphy's Law  will always... no always get you in this business. If you bring everything but the vibration isolator because in eight weeks you haven't once yet used it, the first thing you will need is the vibration isolator. I'm a little rusty because out of the last three shows I've done, one has been mostly on a jib arm and I was the chassis op, one has been all handheld, and one has been 75% car mounts. When going out on a stakebed, however, you still know the basic parts to bring: Low mode, a 12" riser, standing board, sideboar, a camera offset. Plus at least thirty feet of track. The point I'm trying to make is, that unless the entire forty is going, which seems to happen less and less these days, you have a standard guerrilla package that goes with you every time.At some  point, however, you have to say, "That's it." If they want the rest, they need to bring it all, or they have to wait. Here are two things a dolly grip looks for: Int and ext. Study the call sheet. If there is an interior, you will probably need dance floor. I usually bring a couple of full sheets plus 4x4's and 2x4's and 2x8's with plastic. If you need more, they'll have to wait on it because, after all, it's a 12' stakebed. If there are exteriors, I bring three 10' sticks plus an 8' and a 4'. That should cover whatever they throw at you. If the DP wants a 100' move, he should have brought it up in the scout and your Key will know about it. Don't forget extra levelling- basso blocks, extra boxes, and shims. You will not need any of it, unless you don't bring it. So bring it all..
The Captain has spoken.
By the way, this looks like my hair circa 1985. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Check Out The Hurlblog

 The Hurlblog is a great resource for filmmakers. Written by both DP Shane Hurlbut and his wife, Lydia, it gives great insight into everything from choosing a camera, to getting along with co-workers. I've worked with Shane a few times. He's a great guy and absolutely hilarious. But aside from that, he's got a great eye and always comes up with fun and challenging shots. Here's a post he did on camera movement. I don't agree with everything he says here, but that's a matter of opinion. Check it out and tell 'em Dollygrippery sent ya.

PS: This is a completely different note, but to keep things short, I'll just tack it on here. In the spirit of "Credit Where It's Due," I just want to clarify that I (D) didn't work on Pacific Rim. That was Azurgrip, who helps me keep things running around here and pops up from time to time. Check the post signature after each post to see who wrote it.  I've gotten a few emails saying how great the movie was, and while I'm glad to hear it and can't wait to see it myself, I actually had no hand in making it. (Though I wish I had).

Monday, July 15, 2013

Credit Where Credit Is Due

There's no accolades for us. No award ceremonies. We get a pay check at the end of the day. Maybe a little recognition through word of mouth, Facebook or website like this one. The fact we didn't get fired is our reward.  "Credit at Producer's Discretion". This is a statement seen on most deal memos these days. So on any project we've worked on it's great to be able to see your name go by in the credits. (to this day, every year I still get phone calls telling me that someone has seen my name on a Christmas movie that I did 20 years ago). For us who work in network television, broadcasters have trimmed timing down that end credits zoom by with another superimposed box of previews over top, so good luck seeing your name there. But at least it's there, so we do walk away (for the most part) with a feeling of having contributed to the project.

I worked on a major studio motion picture that's just been released in the theatres - "Pacific Rim". An incredible experience in all my years. I was the 'B" Camera dolly grip. I sat for days, while they shot single camera (old school baby!) SteadiCam shots. But a lot of the time I was swinging a telescopic of one kind or another. Trying to cram two and three cameras into places that really only should have one. There was many days that I would be driving home, thinking to myself "I did amazing work today", when most days of my career have been just thinking about getting home to bed.

It is an amazing movie to see. Yes, it's Godzilla vs Robots. If you do go for that thing, and want to go see it, do check it out in IMAX 3D if you can. It's well worth it. I'm not a fan of 3D and the movie wasn't shot in 3D but I feel that it was tastefully converted. For some unknown reason, most the grip and electric crews were not listed in the credits (keys and seconds only). I'd just like to acknowledge those people of the grip dept who worked on Pacific Rim.

Main Unit

Key Grips: Rick Stribling , Robert Daprato
Best Boy: Robert Rice
Dolly Grips: Patrick King, David Erlichman
Grips: Fabian MacDonald, Michael Ohordnyk, Chris Rice, Robert Vigus, Bert Gouweleeuw, Malcolm Nefsky
Crane Tech: Bob Harper
Remote Head tech: Brian Black

Second Unit

Key Grip: Christopher Dean
Best boy: Jim Holmes
Dolly Grips: Philip "Bucky" Lanthier, Ron Renzetti
Grips: Jon Billings, Wilton Higgins, Paul Sheridan


Key Rigging Grip: Bernie Lalonde
Best Boy Rigging: Mark Greenberg
Rigging Grips: Rod Benjamin, Randy Burbidge, Cesare DiGiulio, Mark DuFour, Roland Gauvin, Ron Forward, Guy Gervais, Jim Krauter.

I know I've forgotten names, but literally everyone in the local worked on the show at one time or another in one capacity or another. A larger tip of the robot cap to you folks for your time, sweat and support.