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.

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,


Thomas said...

This is great info. I'm a DoP starting a courtroom episodic soon overseas. We'll be using Panther dollies, and I'd like to use dance floor for most of our stage work. Do you know of any reason Panther wheels might not be friendly with dance floor?



D said...

To be honest, Thomas, I haven't used a Panther in years. Perhaps one of our readers can enlighten us? If we don't get an answer here, I'll email someone but I can't imagine there would be a problem.

raj said...

Panther dollies can be challenging in open dance floor moves. The dollies have a tendency to spin on longer moves. The newer versions of the dollies have remote controls for changing gears and there should be a bar that can lock 2 sets of wheels into a synced position. The most important aspect is having an experienced dolly grip with that dolly.
Camera operators generally love the pedestal style dollies as your seat will raise in the same relationship to the boom so it is easier to stay in position around the camera. Also, your seat can rotate around the pedestal.