Friday, February 21, 2014


  As most of you have heard by now, a young member of the Atlanta film community, 27 year-old Sarah Jones was killed yesterday when a train struck her while she was working on a film called Midnight Rider.
  Unfortunately, I didn't know Sarah as well as I could have. I seem to be saying this a lot lately  about those taken too young. She came in often as an additional second AC on several jobs I was working on. I would say "Hi," she would say "Hi" back and we would each head toward our respective labors. I can distinctly remember two things, which aren't much, but are all I have: I remember meeting her, and I remember the bacon. We were on a darkened stage when we met, and I noticed the new girl with a large toolbelt. I walked up (apparently I was in a rare social mood), stuck out my hand and introduced myself. She said, "Hi I'm Sarah." She was friendly, and full of the promise we all had at that age, starting an adventure that she expected never to end. Then there was the bacon thing which I noticed but never asked about. She had a shirt that said Bacon is nature's candy or something along those lines. I thought it was funny as I have often called barbecued ribs nature's candy, which they are. Then on the last job we were on together I noticed that she had a sticker on her toolbelt that also mentioned bacon with a picture of two pigs. That's it. That's all I have. One thing that is apparent over the last two days, though, is the love that the Atlanta film community has for her. Our hearts are broken.

  I don't know all the details of what happened, and try to reserve judgement until the facts are in. I do know that, according to the lead detective on the investigation, the company did not have permission to be on the tracks. I have done countless train shoots. I've rigged cameras on trains, done dolly shots next to the tracks, crane shots of approaching trains and pushed Peewees down the aisles of passenger cars. I do know one thing, you never shoot on a live track without a representative of the train company there. You don't approach the tracks or a train unless they know you are there and you have permission to do it. These situations are tightly controlled. And I suspect one other thing. No one said "No." In this business, we are put in a lot of dangerous situations. A certain amount of risk comes with the job. We regularly shoot in caves, mines, boats, high speed cars, helicopters, and any other dangerous situation a writer can dream up. In these situations we trust that the groundwork has been laid, discussions have been had and meetings held by the higher ups who we often call "the adults" or the "grownups." We call them that for a reason. We count on them to worry about the details of making us safe while we focus on making the movie. All we ask is that if we are put in a situation, that we know the risks. ALL of them. And sometimes, someone has to say "No." As a Dolly Grip, the safety of the immediate camera crew on any given shot is my responsibility. I've earned that through experience, as has my Key Grip. No one said "No" for this girl and those injured in this senseless tragedy. Instead, corners were cut and permissions were broken and a 27 year-old girl who just wanted to do a good job was put in a position from which there was no escape. To get a freaking shot. And that's why we are here, guys:  To say "No" for those who don't know they can. As a forty something Dolly Grip who's been around the block a few times, I would have said, Hell no to being on that trestle on a live track without a rep or permission. As a twenty-something young grip with something to prove and trying to make an impression on "The Adults," however, you can bet your ass I would have moved the camera up there myself and stood by it to yank it out of the way if a train came. It's up to us not to let the creative minds override common sense just to get a cool shot. It's up to us to look out for each other and for those who haven't been around as long. To say "No" for them. Because often they don't know they can. When the time came, no one said "No," for her.  Now, all that's left is an endless sadness and anger, and lawsuits, and finger-pointing and we are still without a friend and co-worker who was doing what she was told, trusting the adults that it was OK.

 To a young lady with a bright future cut short, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't make it a point to get to know you. I thought I had more time. I'm sorry that no one was there to look out for you. I'm sorry for your parents. I can't imagine losing a child, especially to something as ultimately meaningless and stupid as a movie. I'm sorry for my colleagues who were lucky enough to know you better than I did. I wish you could see how much they loved you. I'm sorry for all that was taken from you because no one said, "No." You deserved better. From all of us.

PS: For those of you who knew and loved her, please leave any good memories you have here in the comments. I didn't take the time when she was here, but I can do it now.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

If You Can't See The Camera, Yaddah, Yaddah, Yaddah

  Dolly Grips spend an inordinate amount of time correcting mistakes. Most of these mistakes involve foreground actors blocking the other actors in their scenes by missing marks, or leaning. Now, I love actors, in general, don't get me wrong. But it seems that no one is teaching these younger ones the mechanics of clearing yourself for camera. I even heard one argue with the DP that he wasn't going to stand where he was supposed to. "Then you won't be in the shot," said the cameraman who is forever one of my heroes. Now most of the time, it's just an innocent mistake. I know it's difficult to emote or remember your lines while also hitting a mark. It's also difficult to swing around a fifty-foot steel arm that keeps changing lengths inside a freaking building full of classic cars and not hit one, miss all the actors, and still hit your marks. It's like, what you get paid for. Rule one for aspiring actors: If you can't see the camera, it can't see you. Don't worry, if you don't grasp this rule, I'll fix it for you. Or, you could take the time to develop camera awareness and be a brilliant technician as well as actor. There are a few who are veterans at this. Almost all of the old-schoolers from the studios were taught this early on. The younger ones are mostly taught how to be "angsty" (or angry, sometimes I don't know). I'm going to drop some names now of actors who make my job so much easier and excel at it.

Keanu Reeves- Yes, that one. This guy is the most brilliant, believe it or not, at clearing himself for camera and taking stage direction. Between takes, he's not in his trailer with some young extra, he's off to the side practicing handling his props. If a foreground actor blocks him, no sweat. He just leans out without taking his eyes off the other actor.

Denzel Washington- Horror stories aside, when I worked with him he was a gem. He took the time to communicate to me and the operator what he was going to do and always gave a clue when it would happen. Love the guy.

Tom Hanks- An actor's actor. Knows what's happening and why and where the camera is.

Stephen Moyer- The guy just gets it. He is not just an actor in front of the camera, he's a collaborator and knows how it's done. He doesn't flop into chairs or bound out of them like he's been shocked. He actually gives you a chance.

  What brought this on was a guest actress on a series I'm presently doing. Blonde, beautiful, and seemingly sweet, she proceeded to chew up the set like she was the only one in the scene. Always to one side of her mark (remarkably, always the side that blocked number one on the call sheet), she was so uncannily adept at blocking the other actors (she once blocked two of them at once) that the camera department and I soon came to the conclusion that she had to be doing it on purpose. She once walked out of a shot towards camera and managed to tilt her head at just the right moment and at such an unnatural angle that it obliterated everyone but her. At one point, after gamely trying to clear the other actors, the operator took his eye off the eyepiece and looked at me. I raised my hands, locked the brake and took a step back. I told him I was done. I can't take the dolly practically out of the room to clear her. The director gave up and we went into tighter coverage with her offscreen next to camera.

  Anyway, I don't want my actor friends to get upset at me. I do respect you. Just please learn to be aware of the camera. I know it can be done and while I can't do what you do, please help me help you.

PS- Michael Taylor over at Blood, Sweat, and Tedium has a great guest post up. Check it out!