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