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.
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I think it's a similar situation with 1st ACs. Some of the new crop focus purely off of monitors- although this can work, they have to have the right tools. If they are on an 85mm WFO that monitor better have an insane response time because even just a few frames lag is going to bone you on close focus. It's important for guys to learn to focus off of marks and get that 6th sense about the relationship between camera movement, talent movement, and the flow of focus. It allows the puller to be more proactive and anticipatory rather than the more reactive situation of staring at a monitor.
That's not to say people can't pull great focus just by pixel peeping- theres plenty of situations where that might be the only option (handheld free for alls being a major one). I just prefer to see a 1st who can drop some marks and nail that like a machine, knowing whether they had it or it could have been better without even looking at a screen.
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