Friday, October 05, 2018

Cinegear Atlanta and Fisher's New Stuff

  Cinegear Atlanta is this weekend at Pinewood Studios just south of Atlanta. Although I won't be able to make it this weekend, since I'm working on the lot I did walk over for move-in day and see some old friends and get a preview of things to come. I visited the Chapman booth where Nichole and the team were busy getting everything together. They have some cool stuff to see including the 15' telescoping crane and the new head from Spacecam. Check them out if you head over there this weekend.
  Wick from Fisher had encouraged me to stop in and see Frank and Jimmy in Stage 3. Nichole  from Chapman was actually kind enough to point me in their direction. We all shook hands and they showed me the new Refined Hydraulic Control for the Fisher Tens and Elevens. They've pretty much redone the boom system on their dollies and they let me try it out. It was nice. It was actually better than nice. I was very impressed with the action on these machines. They were responsive and I wasn't searching for the start of the move. The things that I personally always found uncomfortable in the movement were gone. I was especially impressed with the action of the Fisher Eleven, a dolly I have never been a fan of.  Again, the arm was responsive, more powerful and it was easy to change the speed during the move. I'm going to go on a little bit of a tangent here. People often ask me which dolly is better, or which do I prefer: Fisher or Chapman. My answer is, it's a personal choice. When I teach  dolly classes for our union local I tell the class that they have to find the dolly that they are most comfortable using. I happen to be a Chapman user. I've pushed their machines for 25 years and have a relationship with them. By the same token, some of the best dolly grips in the world, guys who are much better than me, use Fisher dollies and swear by them. I've used them myself many times, and have huge respect for the company,  I'm just more comfortable with the Hustler 4. In the beginning it was mostly about the action of the boom. I've always liked the transmission in the dollies I just found the boom control was a challenge for me personally. This changed today. The arm was sweet. Jimmy Fisher also showed me another feature; the variable speed control. You can dial the speed down to a painfully slow creep with the turn of a knob. I think some dolly grips who found the Ten and Eleven challenging will be pleasantly surprised, and much more inclined to use them. Please stop by their booth and introduce yourself and check them out. They are in Stage 3, Booth S131 Thanks to Jimmy, Frank and Joe for the demo this afternoon. If you see them tomorrow tell 'em I sent you.
 
  You can find out about the expo and register at cinegearexpo.com.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Burt Reynolds








 This is one of those posts that isn't really about camera movement, or even filmmaking. It's about something more important. It's about the way that movies and the people in them shape our view of the world. Now, if you're like me you read that last sentence as, " Blah blah blah, high minded pretentious claptrap blah." But bear with me a minute. I want you to do something. Go to Youtube. Type in Johnny Carson Burt Reynolds, and watch. Watch every video because they are fantastic. You have the opportunity to watch two good friends who genuinely enjoy each other's company age over thirty years. After you've done that, come back and read on.
  I first remember being aware of Burt Reynolds in Deliverance. I was probably around four years old. Yes, my parents took me to Deliverance at four. It was the seventies and they probably thought at that age I really wouldn't remember most of it. They were right. I don't remember much except a lot of paddling. The thing I do remember is this big dark handsome face. Even at that age I recognized him as someone who was in charge. He was my first impression of silver screen cool. He had a bow and arrow and a wetsuit with the arms cutoff and I wanted to be that guy. Over the next few years I saw him again and again . In White Lightning, where Ned Beatty apparently has recovered from his brush with the hillbillies from Deliverance and become a crooked sheriff, Burt fought the law and drove his ass off to deliver quality moonshine and win Bo Hopkins' girlfriend. Ned Beatty was so effective as the evil sheriff that to this day my mother cannot abide him as an actor. In W.W and the Dixie Dancekings, he was a thief with a heart of gold. He laughed loud and drove fast. I still remember a shot where his car splashed water on the lens and how I suddenly realized there was a camera somehow involved in all this mayhem.
  Then comes the mother of them all. I saw Smokey and the Bandit. And life was never the same. I spent my sixth grade year drawing pictures of Kenworth trucks. Quarters were perfect wheel templates. I listened to East Bound and Down  over and over on my little record player. I remember laughing hysterically when Sally Field said, "Holy shit!" The fact that you could put those two words together was an epiphany. That it was shot in Georgia and Alabama gave me a sense of pride. It felt like it belonged to me. I saw Hooper with my twelve-year-old best friend and marveled at the proportions of the girl jumping out of the cake, you know what I'm talking about. I was excited to learn that some of it was shot near my town. In Cannonball Run it seemed  he was just having a little fun with friends like Dom Delouise and Sammy Davis Jr..With a wink at the camera, he let us know that is exactly what he was doing. Most of all, he showed me that as a Southerner he was one of us. When I was a young boy growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, Hollywood seemed a million miles away. Unreachable. You can't get there from here. Burt changed that. He bridged the divide. He had a home in Georgia. He went to college in Florida. He let me know that you could get there from here.
  As I later grew up and joined the Atlanta film industry, for which I was told Burt was almost single-handedly responsible, it seemed almost everyone had a Burt Reynolds story. There was the time he was directing Sharky's Machine and let a down-on-his-luck stuntman do needless retakes so he could earn more money. I met a camera assistant who had worked on Deliverance.  There was the transportation coordinator, JL Parker, a legend in his own right, who was one of his best friends. Burt often stayed at his house and JL's  son who later became a Best Boy I worked with called him "Uncle Burt." He told me a story of going out to LA in the 70's and Burt letting him take his car out for a spin down Laurel Canyon.  We lost JL recently. Like Burt, he, his wife Cindy and the rest of his family are inseparable from the Atlanta film community.  I'm sure the stories are flying up there. Burt and the Atlanta industry were intertwined.  It always seemed like he was just around the next corner, or that I had entered a room he had just left. DammitJust missed him....
   As the years went by, like the rest of us, he he got older. He lost a little of his swagger. He went from being the number one box office draw for much of the 70's to doing direct -to -video action movies like Malone and Rent-A-Cop. He had been injured on a film in the 80's called City Heat with Clint Eastwood and had never really recovered. He spent a lot of time on pain medication. But it was always a sense of comfort to me to know he was in the world. When I thought of him, I imagined him down there at his estate in Jupiter, Florida entertaining famous friends or hosting fancy parties. Then this past week I learned he had left us. My best friend texted me. Then my wife. Both texts were variations on the same sentence, "Burt Reynolds died."  The sense of comfort that he was somewhere in the world has gone.
   I worked with Burt a few years ago. It was a little tv movie, I can't remember the name. He was rather frail by then. His injuries from a million stunts and the accident on City Heat  had worn him down. I have worked with everyone from Al Pacino to Robert DeNiro and never really got star struck, but the day he walked onto set I was mesmerized. There was the guy I saw when I was four! The one with the bow and arrow! He was nice. Cordial. Clearly medicated for whatever pain he was in, but still sharp; giving acting tips to a younger cast member. I meekly said hi and had a picture taken. Like all of us who work in this profession, I tried to be dispassionate, businesslike. As the news of his passing broke a few weeks ago, though, I find myself wishing I had done more to engage with this man I'd known my whole life but had never met. The man I had recognized from my earliest memories, who had always left the room just before I arrived, was finally in the room. I kept my head down, said my starstruck "good mornings" and before I knew it, it was over. He left the room and went back to Jupiter, Florida and I went on to the next job. Dammit. Just missed him.
  Watching the videos of him now in his later years, it's almost like watching two different people, from the self-assured swaggering box-office favorite to the frail older man he became. Watch the videos. Remember him as he was, as he would want you to.

  Keep the hammer down, Bandit. I'll see you soon.
D











Saturday, August 18, 2018

Casablanca

  I took a day off this week just because I wanted to (something I have never really done in almost thirty years). As I was lying on the couch I decided to watch Casablanca. I had seen it as a teenager and didn't really understand it or appreciate it. I was blown away. Photographically it was gorgeous. The story was funny and moving, and the actors were all great. Of course, being a dolly grip, what really caught my eye was the camera movement. Most dolly moves back in the 40's and 50's were clumsy, shaky affairs used to accentuate a story point. Then MTV spoiled us and we became accustomed to the swooping, gliding camera we see now.  The moves in Casablanca were flawless. Although the name of the dolly grip is probably lost to history (they didn't give us credits back then, and technicians were studio employees assigned to projects by the studio department), the guy was a master. You could see it in the walk-and-talks where the distances, and starts and stops were perfect. There were a couple of sit downs and compound moves that he nailed. And push-ins were rock solid. Now if you watched a movie made today, these things wouldn't even register. Dollies, cranes, and track have become so advanced that it's not as hard as it was to make a steady shot once you've mastered the craft. I was just so impressed that the camera moved as much as it did ( a compliment  to director Michael Curtiz) and that the moves were so flawless that I was really struck by it. You can also see the influence it had visually on a young Steven Spielberg, whose camera is also rarely still. If you have nothing to do on a lazy Sunday, or are a young dolly grip working his way up, check it out. This is how it should be done, and why we do it today.
D

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Attitude

  In over ten years that I've been doing this website, I've touched on just about every technical aspect of the craft that applies. I've discussed track laying, dance floor, louma beams, Fisher vs Chapman, Technocranes, camera ops, compound moves, stand-ups, sit-downs, load outs, load ins, safety, handheld, steadicam, timing, wheels, flags, stands, and just about any facet of dolly gripping, and gripping in general that someone in my position may run up against. But it occurs to me that the one thing I may not have covered is attitude. How do you come across to your camera operator and DP? How do the other members of the crew view you?
   Years ago I worked with a DP who was a real.......hard guy to like. I've discussed this before in previous posts, but this DP was just mean. He talked to me like I had never been talked to by a camera man. The guy was a dick, but.... he taught me something. I remember when things got tense for other departments (not mine because he was usually yelling at me) he would say, "Icy calm." And that stuck with me. I still have the occasional nightmare about the guy and, to my shame, got drunk at a major industry event and went looking for him years ago (thank God he wasn't there) but I learned something from him. Icy calm. That's what a dolly grip should project. No drama. Nothing to get excited about. Just icy calm. To this day, when I'm confronted with an impossible shot, one that makes the sweat break out on the forehead of a normal man, I get a little nervous and then I think, "Icy calm." People look for competence. They expect and admire it. They gravitate towards it. Stay calm. Icy calm. As my Dad used to say, "Act like you've been there before."
   And then smile and nod as the camera operator takes all the credit. Congratulations, cog. You've done your job.

Time to mix another one,
 D

Saturday, August 04, 2018

This and That

  Hey all. It's been a while since I've posted.  I've had a rollercoaster of a year and I'm here to catch up on a couple of things. First, what have I been doing.? Well,, I'm going to name drop a little because it's just easier. In the time that I've been radio silent I've done some "B" camera work Venom, Ant Man and The Wasp and some "A" camera work, Blockers, Instant Family. Then a little bit more "A" camera work: Wonder Woman 1984. And frankly, I'm tired. So, I'm going to talk about my daughter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW382o8V0cg
That's her. Yeah, she's awesome. She's truly the coolest girl I know. She has sang in Vienna and Italy and  though she doesn't believe it, I am very proud of her,

Anyway, to get back to the  task at hand...

   I had a whole dance floor post in mind but then realized that  I have probably covered it already in the last ten years. Listen to some opera. It will calm your soul. Moving  cameras is an art. Learn it, I'll be back but when I'm not as tired. Or drunk. ...Drank. ...Drunken..... Yes.

Peace.
D















Saturday, May 26, 2018

Solid Grip Systems at Cinegear

Ok, Here is what it is. I am an internet moron so I can't seem to download the correct files to the page. My old friend Onno is aware of this and forgives me (I'm sure).  Onno at Solid Grip Systems is as solid a guy as you would ever want to meet. He and his shop design and build beautiful equipment. I have a Twindolly that he sent me for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 that literally saved the shot in a couple of cases, He will be at Cinegear in Los Angeles this year with a whole new bunch of stuff that he has designed. Please go by and see him. You won't be sorry. He is a working dolly grip who knows what it takes to get the job done and goes out and makes it. He'll be at the New York Street booth #86.  Go by and see him and all the cool stuff he's come up with. And tell him D sent you.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Open House Tomorrow!



Git On Down There!







Saturday, April 07, 2018

The Lull

  Ok, here it is. I'm going to veer away from Dolly Gripping in specific here for a minute and talk about the craft of gripping in general. This is not something I would normally do on social media but it's my page so screw it. The town I work in is a little slow right now. It happens every year and not just here. Even Los Angeles is generally slow from roughly Thanksgiving until February. Fine. My town was extremely busy last year. I mean EXTREMELY busy. We had at least three Marvel shows including one which shot for 14 months. That's besides all the other series and pilots and movies. As a result a lot of people were brought in to the business to take up the slack. Everyone worked at a frenetic pace. As for myself, I haven't had a day off that I didn't take voluntarily in almost two years. Then the lull hit, which everyone who has been in the business for more than five years saw coming.  Most of the veterans were prepared and most of us kept working or went on vacation. The youngest among us, though, who were basically begged to work for their sandbag carrying skills, suddenly found themselves out of work for many months. I now see a lot of them making some pretty daring posts on social media about how they aren't being hired right now when for a year all they did was work.  All I can say is, "Dude, you were lucky." You were lucky to come of age when the only skill that was required of you was a strong back and an ability to show up on time. And now that it has slowed to a more normal pace, experience trumps youth. Gripping is a craft. Being a good set grip is a severely underappreciated and underestimated skill. I hate to break it to you like this but this amount of work is the norm.You want to get the call? Be better than the guy (or girl) they're calling now. You have to build a reputation. You have to expand your skill set. Just being available and having a tool belt isn't actually all that's required of this career. If someone led you to believe this then you were sold a bill of goods and should ask for your money back.  This job requires more than showing up and sitting at the carts, scrolling through your phone until the Key calls for a C-Stand. You have to know rigging. You have to know lighting. You have to know safety. You have to be able to anticipate. You have to be able to hear your Key Grip's name being called from another room while engaged in a conversation and immediately respond. You should be able to interpret much of what your DP wants by how he's waving his hands.  Can you set a flag and run it up 20 feet on a stand and wing it in and nail it? No? Then you aren't qualified. Do you know what hardware to bring to set for a car mount without having to be given a list? No? Then you aren't qualified. Do you know the difference between a day or night bounce? No? Then you aren't qualified.  What's the first thing you establish when building a car mount? Don't know? Then you aren't qualified. Can you lay track? (a set grip should know how to lay track) No? Then you aren't qualified. Can you tie off a 12x12 without being told every move to make? No? Then you aren't qualified. It takes years. YEARS to learn how to do this job well. It's being part artist and part engineer and if you want it bad enough you learn as much as you can about it and brush the pretenders aside and take your place on a crew. You will be often unappreciated, often underpaid for what you do, and often treated like a monkey with tools. But eventually, if you stay with it and learn your craft, you will start to ascend in the ranks. Your experience and skill will pay off. But you don't get to claim that after a year of work. You wait your turn like the rest of us did and elbow your way forward after learning the intricacies of the C-Stand and the differences between diffusions. What does the term "Fill the frame" mean? Look it up. What becomes the source after you set the diffusion in front of a lamp? Ask someone. I'm sorry you're not working after putting in a hard first year of nonstop work. Welcome to the movie business. Learn your craft. Being available isn't the only job requirement this year.

Rant over,
D

Friday, March 23, 2018

JL Fisher Open House 2018









  It's that time of year again.  This is a great event year in and out. Unfortunately I won't be able to make it this year as I'm working on the other coast, but if you are able, go. You won't regret it.





Friday, March 09, 2018

Operator Hires

   Here's a tricky subject. Key Grips traditionally bring their own Dolly Grips. It makes sense since Dolly Grips are actually members of the Grip Department. Over the last few years however, I've noticed an uptick in the number of calls I get from camera operators checking availability. I haven't spoken to any of my colleagues about this but I would imagine they've noticed the same thing. Years ago, this never happened. In the last year alone though, I've done "B" camera on a show with my regular Key Grip because the operator brought his own guy from LA, and I've lost a show that the operator campaigned hard for me to get, but the Key Grip insisted on bringing his own guy. I should say at this point that I have no resentment whatsoever in either of these instances. I've been in both positions before. Although I would have liked to have done both of the jobs as "A" camera, in each case I understand why I ended up where I was and respect both decisions. The point I'm getting at is that in each case the camera operator had a Dolly Grip in mind and contacted him for the job. I think a couple of things are in play here: The huge demand for content has resulted in more production probably than at any time in history, leading to a shortage of Dolly Grips who are qualified to do the job; and more young Key Grips who don't understand the position and hire Dolly Grips who can't put the camera where the operator needs it. I hear over and over again nightmare stories from camera operators about their previous Dolly Grips. Guys who can't do compound moves. Guys who can't do dance floor moves. I heard a couple years ago about a Dolly Grip, "A" camera on a fairly large feature, who couldn't put the low-mode on. It was inevitable that operators would take matters into their own hands and build up a list of Dolly Grips that they know will get the job done and not make them look bad. I think this is a good thing. It goes a long way toward establishing us in producers' and directors' minds as not just an afterthought but as one third of the shot. Which we are.

Time to mix another one.

D
#onethirdoftheshot

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Black Panther

  I've gotten a few emails concerning Black Panther. This movie used a variety of camera movement platforms, mostly Technocrane provided by the professionals at Cinemoves. Scotty Howell has built a world class company and we literally use no one else, When I say a variety of platforms, I mean the shoot was always changing from handheld to Technocrane to dolly to Steadicam to Spydercam to Movee to whatever else they could come up with. Camera operator Scott Sakamoto and I were constantly switching modes and the result is one of the most satisfying movies I've ever been privileged to be a part of.
  Chapman, as usual, came through with a Hustler 4 that practically did the moves itself. It was a wonderful machine (and no, I won't say what number it was). The scene in the council room was all dolly and the machines performed flawlessly (I wish I could say the same about the Dolly Grip) on what was the longest day of the show. The Warrior Falls sequence was a ten day marathon. I was particularly happy with the shot following T'Challa out of the ship down the stairs into the water which was accomplished with a Movee and a Mimic. The shot pulling him out as he prepared for battle was me manning the Oculus head, trying to stay ahead of Chadwick. Two Technocranes, a Steadicam, three handheld cameras and a drone made for some tough days, but the sequence speaks for itself. The casino sequence was accomplished through visual effects stitching, Spydercam, and a detachable Movee rig designed by Cinemoves. A lot of work went into this sequence by Grip, Camera, and the first class stunt team. In all, a very fun, exhausting and satisfying experience,

    Black Panther: Tools used- Chapman Hustler 4 dolly, Super Peewee 3 dolly, Cinemoves Technocrane, Moviebird, Oculus Head, and Movee. Spydercam. Special thanks to Kenny Rivenbark, head tech extraordinaire, Mike Howell on the pickle, Sean and Henry of Cinemoves for the Movee rig and my B camera dolly grip Kenny Bolton. You guys were like a machine. I was just along for the ride.
  Good luck to our DP Rachel Morrison and congrats on your Oscar nomination,
  Congrats also to my buddy Scott Sakamoto for your Lifetime Achievement Award,
    Coog, I love you, dude.

Good job guys.
D

Saturday, February 10, 2018

2018 Motion Picture Moving Camera Platform Lifetime Achievement Award

  Can we just call it the Dolly Grip Award already?

  Anyway, my old friend Danny Pershing  (Django Unchained, Eat, Pray, Love, Baby Driver, Hateful 8, Iron Man, ok, I give up) just won the lifetime achievement award from the SOC. It's one of the few arenas where the contributions of the Dolly Grip is recognized by our industry. Recent winners include: Brad Rae, Mike Moad, And Moose Schultz.
  I've known Danny for over twenty years. He is one of a kind. I have a story. Years ago Philippe Rousselot called me to Key a commercial for him in Los Angeles. I had been Philippe's Dolly Grip on several movies and he trusts me. I told him, " I'm not a Key Grip, but I'll do my best." Anyway, I knew I needed a good Dolly Grip to come in because there was a lot of crane and jib work and I wanted to concentrate on the lighting with Philippe and not deal with camera.. Without hesitation, the first name I thought of was Danny, and surprisingly he was available. I then proceeded to micromanage him to the point where I finally pulled him to the side and apologized. I said, "Danny, the last person you need telling you how to do this job is me. I'm sorry, I'm just nervous because it's Philippe." Danny was so gracious and handled it so much better than I probably would have and that's one of the reasons he deserves this award. He is quite literally the best in the business. I'm proud to call him a friend and so proud of him for this much delayed recognition,
   Thank you Danny. I've learned so much from you over the years. Your patience and good attitude has been a template for me to follow for over twenty years. Congratulations.

And now a word from Bill Pope.




https://www.facebook.com/dan.pershing.14/videos/10216129735015734/

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Freelancing

  I did a post a few years ago called Freeballing which talked about freeform finding a shot when they don't really know what they want. This happens when you usually have a montage piece and you find shots as they happen. I recently (last night) had a chance to revisit this situation and as it turns out, had a lot of fun doing it. This is literally when you as a dolly grip get a chance to be creative and, if you're experienced, know what they might need in editing and can deliver. The setup was a mission control type room with a main character facing a huge screen. We had a technocrane swooping around over the various desks and my camera on a stabilized head "mowing the lawn" in front of him. As the scene unfolded, my main job was to stay out of the crane shot and keep them out of my shot on a longer lens. The instructions from the DP were to travel in on an angle and then travel out on a mirror angle. as this happened, and the crane shot changed, I had an opportunity to find shots. If the crane camera was on the right side of frame, I decided to give them a left to right tighter shot, which I knew they didn't have yet.have but would be valuable. Although the DP or operator hadn't really given me instructions, I saw an opportunity and took it. After we cut and moved on, the DP came up and said, "That was crafty." I said , "Crappy?" and he said ,"No, crafty." And I knew I did the right thing. This reinforced to me the importance of experience for a dolly grip. I knew what they didn't have already, but would probably need and gave it to them.
  I work in a boom town. Production in Atlanta has increased tenfold from what it was when I started here thirty years ago when we had one series and one feature a year. Now, if you do a season of  "B" camera on a series and know how to put the sideboards on, you're a "dolly grip." Forget that you don't understand editing, or eyelines, or crane placement. None of that matters anymore until you don't understand the shot and five takes in, you still can't get it. As dolly grips we are more than just some monkey who moves the camera from one place to another. Often, as was proven last night, it's up to us to give them what they need. If you don't know what they need you can't give it to them.

   It all comes back to what we have been harping on for over ten years on this page: Learn your craft. This job is a craft and it's up to you to learn it.

Learn your craft.