Saturday, December 05, 2015

It's The Easy One's That Get You

  I've said it for years. It's not the five point dance floor moves or the swooping Technocrane moves that are your undoing, it's the seemingly easy moves that get you every time. I think it's because it looks so easy that the Director is thinking, "What's the big deal?" while you try to move with an inexperienced actor, that the really big moves (that you make look easy) get buried. I've talked about this phenomenon with steadicam ops and other dolly grips, and it holds true.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Guest Post


I received an email  recently from some filmmakers asking to do a guest post. I get a few of these every so often and usually discard them. This one, though, interested me. The director had written a short post about the movement in his film and I thought, "Why not?" I haven't seen the film, so I can't speak about it one way or the other, but I did find it interesting. So check it out....

Creating the Cinematic Camera Movement for LA Riots Short, April’s Way

By: Robert Nyerges, Director

Originally, April’s Way, my latest short about a Korean store owner struggling to protect his family and his market during the looting of the 1992 LA race riots, was conceived as one single shot. An evolving narrative, as well as location and budget constraints forced our hand to trim that concept down into a series of long sweeping takes with multiple hand-offs to help accentuate the multicultural collisions that are featured in the story. 

I’ve always been inspired by the Spielberg approach of turning two shots into one. Obviously, he adopted it from the old studio style of shooting movies but I think the impact and practicality still remains. I prefer to shoot my projects dynamically for time and efficiency’s sake. For example, one of the long takes early in April’s Way follows two characters down a grocery store aisle in a medium shot, until the end where they round a corner and dip out of frame. We continue the shot by introducing another character in a wider shot who eventually walks towards the camera to create a close up. End shot. 

Cinematographer, Nicholas Wiesnet, was also on board with this style from the moment I presented the project to him. “We are both very much drawn toward classic movies. We wanted this to feel grounded in reality but we also wanted it to feel cinematic.” Niko said of our similar preference for aesthetic. He even referred to the style that we both wanted to achieve as that of a ‘Movie-movie’. “By movie-movie, I just mean you’re enhancing reality. You’re making reality slightly magical so that it hits certain emotional chords. Whether that means starting on someones back and pushing in really slowly, etc…You’re enhancing the drama and just responding to the script.” 

To accomplish these types of shots, we knew that a Steadicam was the best approach. Our operator, Neal Bryant, was such a champ and definitely the right man for the job. He used the Steadicam M-1 with the Arricam LT, and we also had to cut all of our film down into 400’ rolls to accommodate the size and weight needed to fly the camera on the sled. 

Unfortunately, further location limitations, as well as technical issues with our camera and video gear resulted in an even further reduction of our cherished long sweeping Steadicam shots. Inevitably, only two of the long takes remain in the film and the rest fell into more traditional coverage to facilitate quick turn-arounds. Niko said, “We had limited time and didn’t have much time to improvise. We had to move fast. The fact that Robert storyboarded was really critical to us making our days and getting all the shots that we needed to tell a story.” We remained on the Steadicam for the majority of the shoot for the sake of speed and since our budget didn’t allow us to carry a Chapman in our arsenal. Poor Neal, with all of his talent, ended up feeling like a ‘Human Dolly’.

Overall, I think the style still shines through and we successfully achieved a cinematic look to the film that still feels gritty and down to earth. I’m super happy with the way the film looks and we couldn’t have achieved that authentically if we had shot on digital. 

We are currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to finish the film. Please head to the link to support and share. every little bit counts!

Check it out here: http://kck.st/1MRUKrU

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Little Down Time

  Hi all. I actually have a couple of weeks off before I start the next one. This comes after a marathon of about 22 weeks with only a couple of days off (and sometimes not that) between jobs. Now I sleep until noon when I can and drink long into the night. I say things on Twitter and Facebook under the influence that may go viral at any time and end my career (not really). Anyway I'm still here, just not in the mood. My wife has given me a "honeydo" list of 16 items that I am to complete before I go back "to work." Let me read off a few: New kitchen sink faucet, fix screen door, fix wall under stairs, move the couch, take BBQ to Goodwill, fix hole under fence, help me paint the chair, and these are just a taste. So you all can see what I'm up against. As I'm a notorious cheapass, I recently found myself taking apart the freezer accompanied by a Youtube video on appliance repair. I was, of course, successful but it took four hours. Therefore, my posts have been few and far between as the demands of family (wife) have left me with precious little time for writing about the intricacies of pushing dolly. Please forgive me and don't stop checking in. Also, if your freezer is leaking water onto the floor I can totally fix it.
D

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Still Here

  Still here, guys. Working a Tuesday thru Saturday schedule on a twenty day shoot with a bunch of kids. On a farm. It's also over an hour drive to work every day, so I'm a little pressed for time. Once all this has died down in a few weeks, I'll be back as usual. Until then I may have a couple of guest posters. Stay tuned and be safe.
D

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Rhythm

 (I had to look up this word like, three times to spell it correctly, and I'm a spelling freak.)
 Rhythm is a very important concept when talking of camera movement. Now you may think I'm speaking of the beats of a move or any such high-minded ideas ( what an awful sentence. I really have dranken too much,). I'm talking about the rhythms of the set. In other words, the flow of work from one take to the next. When you do a difficult shot, with many variables- focus, framing, actors, dolly-, you get into a rhythm.  You rehearse, and get 50% of it if you're good. If you're really good, you get 90% of it on the first take. By the second or third take you nail it. Unless the rhythm is off. Twenty minute delays between takes are a killer.  I know the director needs to talk to actors and lighting needs to be tweaked blah blah blah. But you have to establish a rhythm to the shot and once it is interrupted, it's hard to get it back.
   I'm doing B camera on a show now. It's basically a fill-in job until my next one. But the concept of rhythm has really been re-emphasized on this one. It's what allows us as dolly grips to pull off a multi-point dance floor move. It grounds us and keeps seemingly impossible shots from becoming overwhelming. I've always said that the way to master dance floor moves is to think of them in separate chunks of movement. If you try to visualize the whole move at once, it will freak you out. Establishing a rhythm is just as important. Once it's broken, by a wardrobe malfunction, or a lighting adjustment, it's hard to keep it. That's where the true pro shines. Remembering the speed twenty minutes later. Work on that.

D

The Captain has spoken.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

New Stuff

Very tired. Little time for myself. I love you all. Drink Up. Lay it straight. Lock the boom handle when you wrap it up. Put a safety on it. Check the "Jesus Pin." Bring it all. Remember your eyelines. Flat stock sucks. Strap it up. Cinch it tight. Don't "Flatten out" your booms. Suck it up. Check your lenses. Blah blah blah. Have fun. Making movies should be fun. You're lucky. God bless. Call me if you need me.
The Captain has spoken.
D

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Joe

  We in the camera movement community lost a good friend this week. Joe Cuzan, who was a tech for Cinemoves, was killed on Friday while working on his truck. I first met Joey in 2003 on Big Fish. He was a big, smiling man who was quick with a joke and never got frustrated or angry. I remember on that job we were pulling a 50' Technocrane through mounds of sawdust at the circus set at wrap, trying to get it to the trailer. It was about 5 am and we were tired and ready to get back to our hotel rooms..  At about a hundred feet from the trailer the steering handle sheared off, making a long night even longer. Joe didn't curse or get upset (unlike me). He calmly got down under the base and figured out how to fix it. That's how he was. He knew there were more important things than this business. I just happened to see him Thursday night on a job after not seeing him for a year or so. He shook my hand and gave me a big hug with that smile he always had. We later made a joke about a PA telling him where to stick his paperwork. At the end of the night I shook his hand, said  "Thanks Joey," and left. The next night we learned that he had left us. He was a good dude. Those of us lucky enough to have worked with him will miss him. Scott Howell and the whole Cinemoves family has stepped up to help support his children, Sebastian and Isabella. A fund has been set up in Joe's name at http://www.gofundme.com/joe_cuzan.
 Please give if you can.

   Joey, "Fancypants," I'll miss your smiling face buddy. See you down the road.

                                          The Cinemoves Family. Joe is in red on the left.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Lay The Room (in dance floor)

   I'm just finishing up the latest epic. nine weeks of dance floor and crane work and I'm worn out, and strangely elated. I love dance floor work. It really is a disappearing art in a lot of ways. In a world where most young directors just want to bring out the Steadicam (or "Crowd Pleaser"as an operator friend and I call it), I think a lot of younger dolly grips aren't familiarizing themselves with the craft as we all used to. There was a time when dance floor moves were just a regular everyday occurance that you had to contend with.Dolly grips learned how to lay it, overcome problems with thresholds and carpet, etc., and not get freaked out as the combos got bigger and more complicated. Now, dance floor seems to be only infrequently used, and then mostly in tv work. As a matter of fact, I now use dance floor work as a benchmark of mastery of the craft. I once had a very young grip tell me that he had taken set gripping as far as it could go and was considering putting himself out on the market as a dolly grip (after I had just shown him how to put on the low mode). "Oh really?" I asked. "Can you do a five or six point dance floor move with three booms in it and nail it by the second take?" He had no clue what I was talking about. In that spirit, here is a short primer:

1. Lay to the wall. In other words, don't try to lay to the angle of the move. Lay the floor parallel to the set walls. You'll see why if you don't.

2. Try to lay the floor in pads or squares when possible. Avoid tailoring the floor to the exact move in "L's" or other irregular shapes.

3. Accommodate the actors. Don't have them half on and off a floor. Lay it bigger.

4. Learn the move in chunks. If you try to envision the whole move in it's entirety, you'll get freaked out. Let the actors tell you where to go next.

5. I tend to worry more about the plywood joints than the plastic ones. They tend to show up more. Try to run the plywood with the direction of the move. (that's just my opinion).

These are just a few hints to help make your dance floor life easier. There's a lot more to it, but this is basic.

Good luck,
D

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Which Wheels?

  A long time reader sent in a request for a primer on wheels. When do you use pneumatics? When do you use hard wheels? The answers are fairly simple and I won't belabor the point here. P.neumatics or air filled tires are used pretty much for dance floor. The softer, more forgiving surface of the wheel tends to soften out the seams in dance floor. Pneumatics also tend to help out on soft grassy surfaces as the hard tires dig in more and make for harder pushing. Years ago, when I was pushing a Hybrid, we put on the pneumatics at the beginning of a show and just left them on. For the Hustler 4 we mix and match and leave them for the run of the show. I once had a DP who shall remain nameless who insisted that I install soft compound tires (the solid, very soft tires from Chapman). I told him that either he would have to wait for me to change them out for exteriors or they would get chewed up and he didn't care. The show bought a new set of soft compound tires at the end because ours were a mess. This DP was a half wit. If you ask me by email I will tell you his name. Soft compound tires are virtually never necessary. A good set of medium hard and a set of Pneumatics will get you through pretty much any show. The bottom line- On a Hybrid, put on the pneumatics and leave them on. On a Hustler, mix and match. On a Fisher, use what came with them and use skate wheels on track. The Fisher round track wheels are a pain in the ass to keep changing out. I've used these wheel combinations on literally over fifty movies, including some very high profile ones and they've worked fine.
The Captain has spoken.
D

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Shooting Film

   Yes, we're actually going back to a 19th century technology to shoot our latest epic. I had looked forward to it. After a couple of years or digital movies and series, I had longed for the simple, mechanical whirr of the film camera. It's kind of like missing an old girlfriend after a few years. All you remember are the good times. Remember chart lights? Yeah, we do 'em. Remember gelling windows? It's back. 85 filters in the camera? Every day. But then you start to see the bad side. Camera jams. Hairs in the gate. Horrible video taps. All in all, I think it's about an even tradeoff. Now that I've gone back to it I can see that there are advantages to both.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

What's Going On

  Not much to report this week. I've been working some long hours so I haven't had a chance to think up a topic and nothing has really pissed me off lately so, no rant this time. I'm in the second week of a medium to high budget studio picture. It's a comedy about suburban life, spies, and marriage. I'm with a DP I love working with, one of my favorite camera operators, my regular grip crew, a good director and some funny and nice actors. So life is good right now except for the Fraturdays. If you have a particular subject you would like to see covered/debated in this forum, just email it in. If you are in the LA area, don't forget the JL Fisher Barbecue on May 16th. It's a really good event to attend to see old friends and catch up on what's new in the dolly world. Also there's beer (or at least there used to be.) I assume no one has made a jackass of themselves and ruined it for everyone yet (remember the coolers of beer on the tailgate that production used to provide every day?) Anyway, the kid's asleep upstairs, the wife is still at work, and I'm on the deck having a cocktail, having a drink, and listening to some blasts from the past. Be safe out there and don't be a stranger.

PS
I'm thinking of having a Dolly Grip dinner here in Atlanta for all the Dolly Grips in town, either on location or local. Those of you who may be interested leave it in the comments or email me. Otherwise I'll just go by myself and drink myself into a tizzy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Clear The Frame!

  I opened up a can of worms with my comments about crossing the lens or standing in front of it. A commenter named Sarah asked, " When should I use crossing?" This is a confusing issue, since a lot of people do it every time they walk past the lens. I was taught to do it too when I was starting out. After I started pushing dolly I realized that it drives a lot of camera operators and DPs crazy. If you must cross, do it when no one is looking through the eyepiece, or when we aren't trying to line up a shot. There used to be a short block of time (before digital) when the operators, stand-ins, dolly grips, and AC's had a chance to actually line up the shot and see what we were seeing before the set was swarmed with ladders, grips, juicers, art department and everyone else. Now as we try to see the shot we have to look through an army and often don't see the complete shot before we roll. I know everyone has to work and has a job to do. Crossing the lens is unavoidable. Just duck under it or do it quickly if you must while we are trying to see the shot. Yelling out, "Crossing" just draws attention to it and a lot of operators will growl, "Don't say it, just do it!"  The big grievance is literally just standing in front of the lens oblivious to what is going on. I've seen department meetings, people on their phones, or people just standing around in front of camera while we are trying to put 2nd team through their paces to see the shot. This has always been a little bit of an issue and always will be as long as we have several departments trying to all do their job quickly. I get it. But it seems to have gotten much more prevalent over the last few years and I think it's because no one is teaching the importance of not hanging out in front of camera. There was a time when I would get my head bitten off for it and everyone was aware. Now it seems no one is. When I was younger I was taken to the side and many of the rules were explained to me. I don't think that's happening anymore. Anyway, I'm not trying to bite anyone's head off myself, I'm just trying to draw attention to a problem that maybe we can all be more aware of.
Now move it!
D

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Repost For Young Grips.

This one is a repost from 2008. It's still relevant.


 I've been getting a lot of comments and emails from young grips just starting out which I'm kind of surprised about. I haven't seen many young grips starting out in the last few years and wondered if people just weren't going into it anymore. So here are some general tips from my own experience and from working with younger grips:
Ask questions. Don't act like you already know everything because if you're 22, we know you're lying and it just makes us want to screw with you.
Keep your dialogue to a minimum. Chatterboxes just get on our nerves.
Watch and know where your Key is at all times. If you see him or the DP waving their arm in front of a light, get a stand and flag ready to run in. You'll eventually get to a point where you'll know what a light needs when you see it, but not in a year.
Be on time. Better yet, be 30 minutes early.
You'll be the victim of some good natured (and some just nasty) jokes. Laugh louder than anyone. They're testing you.
Setting a flag isn't generally a two man (or three man) job.
Deferred pay is slang for "free." You'll probably do a freebie or two (I did). Treat them as a learning experience and chance to practice. Don't believe that crap about paying you when they make money. They're full of it.
The long, low paying crappy movies you slave on now will make some of the best stories and memories later. It won't last forever and no, there really isn't a difference in how huge movies are run. The pay is better, there are more toys to play with, and you'll rub elbows with bigger names, but the process is the same. It'll just take 4 months instead of 3 weeks. Now is the time to learn, while the stakes are lower. And you won't learn it all in a couple of shows. Gripping involves a lot of things; rigging, lighting, construction, engineering, camera movement, safety, and a little art mixed in. You want to learn as much as you can now so when you're on the 120 million dollar picture with Brad Pitt and Vilmos Zsigmond, you'll know what you're doing. You'll find a niche that suits you. I'm not a rigger. I can bolt truss together and build a car mount but I can't walk on a stage and know where and how the truss goes (well, I could, but just not as well as a Key Rigger.) You might want to be a Key Grip, Dolly Grip, Rigging Grip, Best B oy, or stay a Set Grip. But you'll generally find yourself gravitating to a certain area of expertise.
Join the union. No matter what your politics are, in the US at least, you'll need the turnaround, overtime, and insurance protection they provide. Plus, all the big movies are union. There's nothing wrong with low budget indies if that's your taste, but if you want to do bigger budget work, you'll need to work toward this. I was non-union for a while at the beginning and resisted, but eventually got in and my career got immediately better.
Allright boys (and girls), stay at it and drop a line every now and then.

Here's an addendum: You aren't a grip if you spend the majority of the day at the carts on your phone waiting for the Key Grip to call for something. Not too long ago, we assigned one guy to the carts and the rest stayed on set. Now, it seems the entire grip crew can be found vigorously Facebooking at the carts while the Key and Dolly Grip are on set. You aren't grips, you are gofers. Once you learn lighting, rigging, set discipline, blocking, and rudimentary camera rigging, you can relax a little. Here's a tip: you can't learn those things in a couple of years. Get off your ass and learn the craft. Or you don't belong here. 
 D

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Dolly Grips and Camera Department Safety

  Here's a hot button issue. A friend of mine asked me to weigh in on this one so here it is. As a dolly grip, I have always considered myself the last line of defense for the operator. This means that I put myself in danger for my operator. I never leave him alone unless a stunt brother takes over  This means that for every effects shot I go to the effects coordinator and ask about safe distances, eye and ear protection, or any cover that camera may need. This means that I talk to the stunt coordinator and ask if a camera position is safe. This means that I don't take "No" for an answer and I stake my reputation on the safety of every shot. The way I look at it is that part of the reason I am there is to say "No" when it is called for.  I take responsibility for their safety. That's how I was taught and that's how I operate. If I say "no" to a particular setup and I am ignored, I have the prerogative of going to the 1st AD and saying," They won't listen. I think it's unsafe. I divorce myself from the shot. I'll be on the truck but I want it on the record." Granted, this has never happened to me personally, but it is the only power I have. I take the safety of my camera department very seriously and will go to bat with the 1st AD or the director if I feel it is unsafe.
The Captain has spoken.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Let Me Do Some 'Splainin

   In a former post, I inserted a little tweak. A dig. A burr under the saddle. I used the name of a show that's been shooting for a relatively short period of time to make a point. Maybe too cute by half, maybe not. The fact is that I could have used any number of shows to make the point, but chose that one because that's the one I hear spoken the most. As in, "Back on blah blahblah." Or "when I was on blah blah blah. " Now, one thing I've tried never to do with this blog is be mean spirited. I can see where I come across that way sometimes and there are certainly people I don't get along with etc., I'm careful to never use proper names (not even my own). Having said that, let's move on.
   There is nothing wrong with being inexperienced. There is nothing wrong with not knowing everything. I sure don't, and I've been in this industry for going on thirty years.The problem is in being inexperienced and not knowing or refusing to see it. Now, I used a particular show as an example, but that isn't to say that everyone who started on that show isn't hard working and eager to learn. I never meant to say that and maybe my attempt to make a point was a little ham-handed. The point I was trying to make can maybe be best illustrated with a story:
   About twenty-three or so years ago I was a young grip in this town who had been fortunate enough to work on a couple of high profile movies as well as a long-running series. I thought I was sharp. I thought I was good. I thought I was better than I was. To the point of thinking that I really didn't need to listen to the veteran grip from Los Angeles who tried to teach me a couple of things about lighting. After all, at the age of 24,  I had two really big credits and a spot on a popular series. I must be good.
But I wasn't. I was fast. I paid attention. I knew a c-stand from a combo stand. But I wasn't very good. An older grip who had been around a while pulled me to the side one day and said, "You are pretty good. But you aren't great. You don't understand shadows and light yet." I didn't believe him. And it stuck in my craw. To be honest, it bent me out of shape. As time went by, however, I began to see that he was right. I wasn't very good. So I started working on it. I watched the Key Grip work a set. I watched the Dolly Grip lay track. I tried to guess what each light that went up might need in the way of flags and diffusion and tried to begin anticipating what the Key Grip might ask for. And I became better. So guys, I wasn't trying to be mean. I was trying to give you a kick in the pants. This town is full of young technicians with one or two credits who think they are better than they are. Just like I did. I've tried on at least a couple of occasions to pass on a better way to do something and have been blown off or simply ignored. And I hear similar stories from other guys who have been around a while all the time. As a friend of mine said, "This isn't just a job, it's a career." It's a craft. It's not one you can learn in three or four years. And it's not one you can learn by sitting at the carts on your IPhone waiting for the Key Grip to call for a flag. There's just too much to it. What hardware should be on hand when a car mount goes on? What's the first rule of laying a track?? What are the basics of crane safety? What's a graduated single? Can you set one? What's the first rule of rigging on a car? How do you safety a camera? Can you set a flag on the ground and run it over a wall to flag a light? How much light does a single cut? A double? What's the color temperature of tungsten? You should know most of the answers to these questions if you have been a set grip for five years. Again, I'm not saying these things to be a dick, I'm saying them because I want you to be better. Because if you are better it makes us all better. An experienced grip crew at work is a wonder to behold. It almost looks as if they are reading each other's minds. I've been on a couple and I want all of you to have that experience as well. But you won't get it if you don't realize what you don't know. Until you do, you'll be gofers instead of grips.
Be safe. Ask questions.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Things That Need To Be Said

  A friend of mine holds the opinion that nothing has contributed to the breakdown of discipline on set as the advent of HD. I tend to agree. For years, film sets have operated under a framework of unwritten rules known as "Set Etiquette." Since the advent of digital filmmaking, these rules seem to be breaking down. Here are a few of these for those who don't know:

1. Don't cross the lens if the operator is looking through it. Saying "crossing" as you block it is not only an indicator that you are a newbie on set, it draws attention to the fact that you are breaking rule number one. Be aware of where the camera is. Don't stand in front of it. Period. Ever.

2. Don't stand in doorways. Seriously. There's an old joke about the DGA standing for "Door Guards of America." It's not a compliment. I immediately know who is new on set when I see them standing in a doorway. Just stop it.

3. If you are a makeup or hair artist, don't practice your art in the middle of the set while we are lighting or lining up a shot. Or in doorways. Also, don't leave your bags in front of or on the dolly or grip equipment. Yes this happens.

4. If your camera has a flash, and you need to take a still, announce "flashing."  It ain't brain surgery. The electricians will thank you. If you don't know why, go back to film school. You don't belong on a set.

5. If you are a juicer and you turn on a light, practice courtesy. Announce before you blast thousands of watts of light onto unsuspecting eyes. I was almost blinded last week because some rookie hit a button and swung a 6k directly into my eyes with no warning.

6. If The Walking Dead was your first show, you are a rookie. Shut it, you know nothing. Go sand out the jockey boxes.

7. When "rolling" is called, just stop. Stop moving. Don't pick anything up. Don't put anything down. It's the easiest thing in the world to stand still and do nothing. Just do that.

  It's up to us to teach these new people and apparently we are failing miserably. I blame myself (not really). I blame you,
The Captain has spoken.

Wow, I've gotten such a big response in such a short amount of time that I've decided to add more. Please feel free to add your own rules that you see broken on a regular basis.


8.  If you don't know how to operate a particular piece of equipment, then say so. I've heard of cranes coming off of tracks, cameras falling off of heads etc. Just because you call yourself a Key Grip or a Dolly Grip doesn't make you one. Learn your craft. I'm thinking of someone in particular. Jackass.


9. If the dolly isn't working and is off to the side, that doesn't mean it's free to use as a seat, coat rack, deli tray, or plaything. If you ask me, I'll usually tell you you can sit on it after I make sure it's safe. But at least ask me.


I have since edited this post. I got a little carried away and put some things that weren't etiquette issues in. I have taken those out. Also to my makeup and hair brothers and sisters, I have clarified my point after being asked to by a hair stylist on Twitter. I added "while we are lighting or lining up a shot."   Okay, I think I'm done.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Monitors Revisited

   I probably get asked about monitors more than any other question. I've had it come up in questions at least three times in the last month including an operator asking, "Why don't you have a monitor?" (my answer, "Because I don't need one.") I've written about this before and it is always a source of some argument among dolly grips.
   The generation of dolly grips I came up with are the last to work before the advent of personal monitors. I held overs and did moves for years before we had them. I still remember the first time I saw an onboard monitor. I was amazed. Before them, we simply learned to form a general picture in our heads of what the camera was seeing; a sort of sixth sense, if you will. This sense in conjunction with subtle signals from the operator is what allowed dolly grips to deliver amazing shots without a monitor for years. And having it will make you a better dolly grip whether you use a monitor or not. Now there is nothing wrong with monitors. They are a tool. I use them. But I limit their use to mostly holding overs and shots where I have to thread the camera through heavy foreground and the like. There is nothing inherently wrong with them. But you can get dependent on them and if you spend all day staring at a monitor as you do your work you will fail to develop this sixth sense. You won't be as good. You will miss subtle cues from the actors and lose where you are in the space of the set. I've heard of dolly grips staring at the screen so intently during a simple lateral dolly that they run off the track. Don't be that guy. Take the time and challenge yourself to develop a sense of where the camera should be without the monitor. You will appreciate your skills much more.
The Captain has spoken.
D

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Camera Operators (Because That's What We Are)

  I've been thinking lately about camera operators. These people we share so much of our time and talent with. I have been blessed to work with some of the best in the business. I've been priviledged to call them friends as well as colleagues. Here's the thing though, guys. They can't do our job. And we often are treated like second class citizens. Not by them, but by production. I'll never forget a job I was up for a few years ago. A camera operator friend of mine was going out of the country to do a movie. He was trying to get me on but was in a battle with production. The DP wouldn't go to bat for him and production said, "We have a local guy who is very good." I called him a couple of weeks after he started the show to ask how it was going. "Well," he said, "we started off with a Technocrane shot. He couldn't get it. Then we went to a dolly shot and he couldn't get that. The rest of the show has been steadicam." I've never understood why production will bring in operators and focus pullers but will trust the person whose job is at least one third of the shot to fate. Part of it is our fault, guys. We've allowed people who weren't ready or weren't qualified to assume a position for which they aren't competent. I've seen it over and over again and heard horror story after horror story. "Dolly grips" who can't hold an over or put the low mode on or do a compound move who are time and again entrusted to make a shot they can't make. It's not an entry level position. Until we conduct ourselves as professionals and call out those who aren't qualified, we will always be considered second class citizens. Anyway, that's my rant for the week. Oh, I just forgot, I started this post talking about camera operators. The good ones appreciate and fight for us. The shitty ones don't. That's where I was headed. Remember that.
The captain has spoken.
D

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sarah- One Year Later

One year ago today, Sarah Jones lost her life. Help remember her by taking a moment of silence before the first shot today. This is a repost from last year. Never forget-never again.



2-21-2014

 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 escapeTo 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.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The SOC Awards Part 2

  Congratulations to my friend Chris Mcguire for winning Camera Operator of the Year. I livestreamed the show and though it had some hiccups, it was still a night of excitement for those who won. I would also like to congratulate (once again) Alan "Moose" Schultz. You make dolly grips everywhere proud. Most nominees were quick to thank the dolly grip (although not always by name) and thank them for their contribution. Dan Gold SOC was particularly quick to point out the dolly grip in his speech.I've beeen drinking since about 2PM and my wife says I have to stop now. Congrats to Bud Kremp also. Good work, dude! Good night all.
D

Saturday, January 31, 2015

“At what height would you like the camera today?"

- A quote from Winnipeg, Manitoba dolly grips.

Here in Toronto, we were lucky enough to miss the Blizzard of ’15 that dumped a few feet of snow on the North American east coast, but I’m not lucky enough to be able to hibernate, so I find myself having to work through the winter, and most likely outside in not the nicest of weather.

Dressing appropriately is important to combat the cold, but what I’m having to deal with is the dolly freezing. We’re using Chapman Pee Wees - a 4 and a 3+ (A & B cameras respectively) and the oil pan heating pad in the 4 really doesn’t cut the mustard, never mind none in the 3+.

One of our local rental houses is smart enough to try by adding a pipe heating coil through the back end of the dolly, but generally it does very little. In my current situation, the dollies are stored in uninsulated, unheated, unpowered trucks so in the morning the dollies come out as solid bricks of ice. A couple of 2K open face lamps pointing at the dolly’s underbelly is the morning ritual, but there’s got to be a better way.

(and don’t get me started on salt / ice melter and it’s effects on dolly tires!)

Suggestions? Comments?



Would you believe there was no snow when we arrived an hour earlier...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

SOC Awards

Congratulations to Moose Schultz for winning the SOC Lifetime Achievement Award for Moving Camera Platform Operator this year. This is truly the only body in the industry that recognizes the contributions of the dolly grip. I've been to the SOC's and they really put on a good show. Only camera operators really know what we contribute day after day and I appreciate them in their recognition of the dolly grip's role in what they do. In recognition of Moose's award, I've decided to list a few of my colleagues who I believe deserve some recognition. I consider most of these guys friends as well as top notch Dolly Grips.

Danny Pershing- This is the dude whose career we all want. Cool, calm and collected. Even Bob Richardson can't shake this guy. With credits like: Django Unchained, Iron Man, Shutter Island, and Eat, Pray, Love, Danny continuously amazes me with his professionalism and calm under fire. He was also the first Key Grip I ever worked for way back in 1990.

Bill Wynn- A dolly grip's dolly grip. This guy knows more about the craft of moving a camera than anyone I've ever met. He gets it done and if I was a Key Grip, I would call him first. The West Wing, Three Kings.

Moose Howery- The ultimate professional. This guy has a list of credits that makes us all hang our heads. He's a rock star. Apocalypto, Forrest Gump, Contact, The Book of Eli.

Greg Brooks- My buddy. Came in like a freight train to become Clint Eastwood's dolly grip. This guy inspired me to walk the rail on a recent shot. Makes it look easy. Gran Torino, Trouble With The Curve, J Edgar, Changeling.

Sean Devine- Somehow decided to become a Key Grip, but a craftsman as a dolly grip. A world class pusher. Serenity, 42, Friday Night Lights.

Ashley Sudge- I wanted to be this guy for years. The coolest customer you will ever meet. He literally just walks up to the dolly and just does it. Planet Of The Apes, Interview With The Vampire, NCIS: LA.

Andy Crawford- A veteran pusher. And a gentleman. I've admired this guy since I walked into Chapman in Los Angeles and saw his personal dolly off to the side with his tag on it. Independence Day, The Help, Friggin Stargate. Really Dude?

Troy Wade- I've known Troy forever. He was Michael Mann's go to guy for years. Collateral, Ali, Miami Vice.

Brad Rea- What can I say about this guy. He is the ultimate professional. Winner of the SOC Lifetime Achievement Award. I am so proud to know him. When I think of the most professional dolly grip I know, his name pops up. Gone Girl, Memoirs of a Geisha, Iron Man.

Mike Epley- I've known Mike for years and am still amazed he returns my calls. There is literally nothing he can't do with a dolly or a crane. The General's Daughter, Shooter, Marley and Me.

Sanjay Sami- Everybody who is anybody knows who this guy is. My friend. The only Key Grip/Dolly Grip/Steadicam Operator I have ever heard of. He completely amazes me with his talent and ability. Wes Anderson's go-to guy. Those dolly shots in Moonrise Kingdom?  Yeah that was this guy. The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, The Darjeeling Limited.

Wayne Stroud- I met Wayne years ago when he was Robert Altman's regular guy. He has a talent for improvising and making the shot happen. That long opening shot on The Player? That's Wayne. The Player, Gingerbread Man, Kansas City.

John Mang- I don't know John personally, although we run in the same circles. He's Spielberg's regular guy. Lincoln, War of the Worlds, Iron Man 2

Bruce Hamme- This guy is at the top of his game He's Roger Deakins's regular Dolly Grip. Roger trusts him to deliver and he does. I've heard Roger ask him many times after a shot, "Was that OK?" True Grit, Skyfall, No Country For Old Men.

Trip Pair- I've known Trip for years and his dedication to his craft and single-minded focus on the job at hand inspires me to go the extra mile every day. Founder of Stop and Care, he truly cares about his profession and those around him. Terminator:Salvation, We Are Marshall.





That's it.  These are the Dolly Grips that inspire me through their innate talent or professionalism, or just....coolness. I am honored to call most of them friends.
Again, congratulations to Alan "Moose" Schultz. Good on you Brother. You make us all proud.
I raise one to you.
D



This post has been edited since it's original publication. I write most of them after a few drinks and I always add something I forgot or reword some things. Just thought you should know.
D

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Chapman Grand Opening-Atlanta

  Had a great time at the Chapman-Leonard Grand Opening at Pinewood Studios Atlanta today. I got to see a lot of friends and coworkers that I haven't seen in a while and spend some time with a lot of the fine folks from the Chapman family. I did a demo of the Hustler 4 and Bill Winn did a demo of the Hybrid 4.  I still haven't switched over to the Hybrid 4 because I wanted to wait a while and let all the kinks get worked out, but from what I saw today, I would be completely comfortable using it on my next show. It would be hard to give up my Hustler 4, though. Thanks to all who came out and to Nichole for putting together a great event. I spent a lot of time talking to Leonard and his beautiful wife Cindy and learned a thing or two myself. Of course it's always good to see James Marks and all the wonderful techs who keep us going. Thanks everyone for a great afternoon!
 
  I plan to soon get back in to some more technical posts, including something on keeping your camera operator happy and maybe revisiting dance floor and techniques to make complex moves a little less stressful. Please comment or email any suggestions on things you would like to see. After a while away from the blog, I'm starting to get reinvigorated again but I need some inspiration. Help me out!

  I've got a few weeks off before my next job so I've got a little time to devote to these long neglected pages. Stay safe out there and don't be afraid to say, "No" if something isn't right.
D

Monday, January 19, 2015

That's A Wrap!

  We finally wrapped on the twelve week Sci Fi extravaganza/catastrophe I've been working on for what seems most of my life. It just went on forever. Although our lead actress was a minor and we worked mostly ten or eleven hour days, I often joked that this was the only company that could make a ten hour day seem like a sixteen hour day. All in all, we had a great time. I did a fair amount of rickshaw work with my operator, Larry McConkey, and we turned in some really beautiful shots. (No, I did not get part of his rate) although I should have for trying to outrun a seventeen year old girl. There was a little bit of everything and we pulled out most of the tools in the arsenal. Mostly our crane of choice was the Moviebird. It's always a pleasure to use this crane. The bearings are so smooth and the option of lengthening it to 45' comes in handy. We also did some work with the 72' Hydrascope, the Phoenix, and the Aerocrane jib. I must give credit to my B Camera Dolly Grip, Kenny Bolton. This guy stepped up and delivered. He is turning out to be a fine dolly grip. I had my dolly of choice, the Hustler 4, and a Peewee 4 for the small dolly. Both went through the wringer and came out the other side as good as the day of the loadout. I must thank the Chapman team at Chapman-Atlanta for their service. Thanks to a great cast and crew, we pulled it off and had some laughs along the way. Thanks also to Cinemoves and Mike and Parker. They're our go-to guys for technocranes.

  I will be at the Grand Opening of Chapman/Leonard at the Pinewood-Atlanta studios this Saturday. I will be doing a demo of the Hustler 4 in what is sure to be an edge-of-your-seat event. My buddy, veteran dolly grip Bill Winn, will be doing the Hybrid 4. Hope to see you there.

  Speaking of the Hybrid 4, I did use it briefly on a series last year. While I liked it (I've always loved the Hybrids), I'm not quite ready to switch over to it. I think I'll let it be out for a while and let some of the kinks get worked out.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Happy New Year!

  I know, I know, a dormant blog is really depressing (first world problems). I'm sorry for my absence. But, as you all know, real life intrudes and as the list of things you have to do gets longer, things tend to drop off the bottom. That's what happened in this case. Work, family, babies needing attention, business, daughters in college, soccer games and everything else piled up until I had no room for this. Even when I had the time, I didn't have the energy, or initiative, or inspiration to give you guys a half-assed post just for the sake of doing something. For the last eight or so years I've done an end-of-the-year post of things I've learned. These include things I've learned about the job, and life in general. I don't know how much I have to draw upon, but here goes:

1. Don't be afraid to fail. You would think this one would have come about years ago, but I'm just starting to get it. Strangely, this was brought about by a crane shot. I was doing a very large studio picture (literally money was no object) and needed to get the camera as close to a car on a gimble as I could as we raced toward it on an insert car. After several unsuccessful passes, the camera operator said, "Why don't you cue the stop?" "Sure," I said. I was confident and full of piss and vinegar about scraping the paint on this car. We raced in, the car rolled on the gimble, ....and I chickened out. I called it earlier than the operator had previously. We all had a good laugh, but I resigned myself to be a little more bold in the future. Granted, this was a special case with a lot of variables; a speeding insert car, a technocrane, a rolling car, but I still chickened out in the end. I won't next time.

2. Someone was once where you are. I work in a boom town right now. It's full of guys who don't have near the experience they should for the jobs many of them are getting. Have a little patience. Don't yell, teach. Lord help me.

3. Take time off. Do it. Things will work out. In twenty-five years at this job I have never missed a payment or wanted for a job. Have faith in your friends. Have faith in the Lord. Take a week (or a month) off.

4.On the first day everyone is as nervous as you. Call on your experience. Embrace it.

5. Beer is a gift from the Lord.

6.Play with your children. Someday they will stop asking.

7. You don't always have to have the answer. That's why you have a Key Grip. Sometimes others will see the answer before you do. It's ok.

8. Let the younger guys do the heavy lifting. I paid my dues. I don't have to rush in and pick up the dolly any more. (This isn't an excuse to be lazy, just to use your resources). We have a crew of guys in their twenties and thirties. Now, I let them carry the heavy stuff if I'm doing something else.

Wow, I made it to 8. Meanwhile, I'm on a short holiday break until we resume the latest epic I'm on. We have two and a half weeks left and I'm unemployed until the phone rings.

I will be at the Chapman grand opening at Pinewood Studios-Atlanta on January 24, where I will be demonstrating the Hustler 4 dolly in what is sure to be an edge of your seat affair. If you want to attend, you must RSVP to marketing@chapman-leonard.com. Hope to see you there.

Let's all have a great 2015. Stay safe out there.