Friday, October 25, 2019

Congratulations J. Moose Howery!

  The SOC has bestowed it's Moving Camera Platform Lifetime Achievement Award on Jeff "Moose" Howery. Moose is a good friend of mine and I can think of no one who deserves this award more. Just a short list of his credits include : Forrest Gump, Contact, Apocalypto, The Book of Eli, Hidden Figures, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and Venom. He is truly a dolly grip's dolly grip. I recently pushed on a movie he stepped up to key and it was a rare pleasure. Thank you SOC for honoring Moose with this award!

   Other than that, after a glorious seven (7) week vacation that I hate to see come to an end, I am heading back to work and boarding the Marvel train until April. I'll try to make regular posts. If you have anything you'd like to see posted here, drop an email or leave it in the comments!
 

D

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Explanation of Terms

  I have been asked by more than one reader who isn't in the industry what certain terms mean. Here is a handy glossary (not in alphabetical order cause I ain't got time for that):


AD- Assistant Director- The director's right hand person. Does the shooting schedule, calls rolling to roll camera, keeps the set moving by dealing with logistics so the director can concentrate on the actual creative process, deals with extras, keeps the set moving.

DP- Director of photography (also cinematographer). Lights the set. Chooses lenses, shooting stops, etc. Basically responsible for the look of the movie. Head of the camera department, grip, and electric departments.

Dance Floor- A surface laid over an existing floor by the dolly grip when the floor is not smooth enough and the camera moves are not linear in which case track could be used. Usually consists of 3/4" birch or oak plywood covered with a 1/" top of plastic sheets called ABS or Sintra.

PA- Production assistant. Often an entry level job under the AD. "Locks up" roads, streets buildings, etc to keep crew members and non crew members from walking into the shot. Has many other responsibilities such as wrangling extras etc.

Technocrane- A camera crane with an extendable arm. Commonly used lengths are 30 and 50 footers although there are max lengths anywhere from 10' to 100'. Camera is operated remotely by the camera operator. The arm is extended by use of a control commonly referred to as a "pickle." Often the pickle is operated by one person while the arm is swung around by the dolly grip. While Technocranes used to be a specialty item only brought in for particular shots, now they are common and a show will often "carry" one for the run of shooting. Has made use of fixed length cranes very uncommon (anyone want to buy a Giraffe Crane?).

Electrician- In the movie world, electrician refers to Lamp Operator, not a household electrician like you may think. Electricians in movie world are also called sparks, or  juicers. They power the set and set up and operate the lighting instruments under the direction of the Gaffer. 

These are common terms I may use from time to time. If there are any more terms you would like defined please shoot me an email.

D


Monday, October 07, 2019

Actor Safety

  I look at part of my job as keeping the stars of our shots safe from whatever it is I'm doing to achieve them. We use a lot of heavy stuff with sharp corners and also create a lot of trip hazards. I once worked with a DP who refused to allow me to ever lay a dance floor in such a way that an actor could step on or walk on it. This included just laying the room so that they were always on it. I had to make strange cuts and customize each floor which took forever when I could have just laid a pad and kept them on it the whole time.While this is a little extreme, I do try to minimize anything that may possibly break their concentration or cause a hazard while they are trying to do their thing. I'm always looking for anything that I may have done that might injure them. I'll put a tapeball or a duventine pad on sharp dance floor corners or, if they must somehow cross a piece of floor and aren't wearing shoes, I'll make a pad of duventine across the edge so if they do catch it, they won't stub their toe. I always, if there is an opportunity, point out any trip hazards to them.  If possible use floor, planks or an offset so they don't have to cross track.
  My least favorite shot to do is a camera looking straight down on an actor. This one always gives me the willies and I'm always relieved when we get it and move on. You should never have a camera over anyone without a safety. I usually screw a bolt into the plate to stop any danger of the camera sliding off and will attach a daisy chain safety from the camera to the dolly, or run a line to the grid overhead, or even build a goalpost with speedrail over the camera and run a line to that. In addition, if it's a static shot, I'll take out the boom control handle and build up under the arm with apple boxes or a small combo stand. Leave nothing to chance. I've even had actors ask me if the camera is safe and I'll take them through all the precautions we've taken. Incidentally, all this should be done with the stand-ins also. Don't let yourself get bullied into shortcuts by a DP in a hurry or an AD who's trying to stay on schedule. Usually you'll see this shot coming and will be able to have the stuff waiting in the wings to be used. Always be looking for what could go wrong because if it can, it will and your career and more importantly, someone's safety and even life is on the line. If that little voice is speaking to you from the back of your head listen to it.
  Anyway, just a couple of things to keep in mind.
Stay safe,
D


Friday, September 13, 2019

Go The Extra Mile

   I ran into a situation on the last show that retaught me a rule I've always tried to work by: Do what you know is right. We were in a room with carpet and the floor underneath was clearly less than perfect. It was a dance floor shot and I called for the pieces I needed for a standard single layer surface. In the back of my head my spider sense was tingling that I was making a mistake but I brushed it aside and laid the floor. I was in a hurry and wanted to get it done and get the camera up so I'd be ready once we were lit. On the first run through all the marks with just me and the operator, it was clear that I had made a mistake. There were bumps on the joints and the floor was a little wavy so the camera was wobbling from side-to-side and it was completely unusable. The DP and the guys were in the middle of lighting so I had plenty of time still. I told the operator I needed to redo some things. I then went to the key grip and told him I needed to relay the floor. Now my key grip on this job was a veteran dolly grip of forty years. Most of you would recognize his name. He had taken the job as key because the DP, a very talented young up and comer, is the son of a camera man he had pushed for for years. So I went to him and said I needed to lay a double floor (two layers of plywood instead of one, and the tops, screwed together to form a solid base to roll on). He said, "I wanted to suggest it but didn't want to get in your rice bowl."  That's the way he is. He's respectful and trusts his dolly grip to know best. I told him that I had known better but took a shortcut and made a mistake. So, in the middle of lighting, I pulled it all out and relayed a double floor. And it worked perfectly.  Somewhere in the 12 years of posts on this site is the instruction, "Double lay floors on carpet." I still remember typing it many years ago. Everything is shot specific, and an experienced dolly grip knows what he or she can get away with. But I knew better and still took the quick and easy way out against my better judgement. I broke my own rule, And it bit me in the ass (well, almost).
  So here is the gist of this post. Go the extra mile. If your experience is telling you to do a little extra to save yourself grief down the line, listen to it. It's the most important tool in your bag. There are a lot of times that I'll have a shot on a wood floor and the key grip will ask if I just want the tops with no plywood. I almost always say no. I would rather do a little extra work and know it's right rather than do the minimum and then fight a bump or wave in the floor and have to fix it with actors and director waiting around. Do yourself a favor. Go the extra mile. Believe me, there are few things worse than rolling toward a bump that you know is there because you half assed it and wondering if it's going to blow the take. Your work will be much stronger if you can concentrate on the move rather than wondering if that little bump halfway through the move is going to show.
  Anyway, there's a thunderstorm rolling in, I've got a nice glass of wine, and another week off coming up. Life is good.
Stay safe out there,
D

Monday, September 09, 2019

Oliver

  Another post that has nothing to do with pushing dolly or film making. Bear with me.






  My wife, Rebecca, found him tied to a tree in Compton, of all places. Emaciated and clearly miserable and mistreated, he shivered in the rain at the end of a very short rope. Animal control was called and he was taken away. My wife, being my wife, called for four days to keep track of his condition. She called me at work asking if we should take him in. I said no (we already had two dogs in our little LA house and I always said no anyway). She said, "I'm taking him." I said, "Ok." I came home to the most pathetic creature I had ever seen. He was all skin and bones and by that I mean he had no fur and every bone was visible. He didn't look like a dog by any definition you would use. She had set him up in the garage after consulting a vet who said he had the worst case of mange he had ever seen and would probably die within the week. He slept for a week straight.  But under her loving care  he didn't die. His fur grew back and he slowly gained weight. We named him Oliver after another famous orphan, and soon he was member of the family. He was certainly the most neurotic dog I had ever seen. Easily scared after a short lifetime of abuse, he slowly came to trust us, although he was always a little unsure of all this good fortune. His lineage was uncertain. Rebecca said probably Beagle and bird dog and something that crawled out of the woodpile. He liked to bark at the crows, something my wife called, "Going on sky patrol." His bark was a booming, sharp roar that you wouldn't have believed could come from a dog of his medium size. It drove me crazy. He barked to demand his dinner, or attention, or to go out or just for the hell of it as far as I could tell. When we walked him he strutted with a gait that reminded me of that bulldog from the old Warner Brothers cartoons. I always imagined a cigar in his mouth and a bowler pushed forward on his head. He liked beer and many's the time I would get up to get something and come back to find his tongue stuck deep in my bottle. Scotch, ditto. He not only came back from his inauspicious beginnings, he flourished, if a little uneasy that we might turn on him at any time.
   We had to put our Ollie down this morning. Sixteen years of sky patrols, beer drinking, and stress had taken it's toll. While his mind was clear, his eyes had grown cloudy with age and his back end, as happens with so many dogs, had finally given up. A cancer mass had formed on his mouth. Rebecca made the decision last night that it was time. That's the deal we make when we join the pack. So today after a treat of McDonalds egg and cheese biscuits, among many hugs and kisses, he went to sleep on his own bed. He was a good boy.
  So long Oliver. I'm having a beer in your honor. I'm proud to have been in your Pack. We love you.

I'll be back later, busy hoisting a beer for my boy.
D

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

I Need Some Input

  Hi all. I've been asked by my local to teach an advanced dolly class. I guess it's for experienced working dolly grips to sharpen their skills and maybe learn some new ones (me included). I'm just having a little trouble figuring out how to structure it and what to teach. Any ideas? If you guys were taking such a class, what would you want to cover? Help me out here.
D

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Not Today!

  Sorry, no post this weekend most likely. I'm on vacation in the mountains of Tennessee! Get out and enjoy the Labor Day weekend! Think about this crap next week!

D

Friday, August 23, 2019

Impossible Shots

  I am typing to you now from my new laptop, my first new machine in fifteen years. My previous one, an old Hewlitt Packard (the very one I typed the first post for Dollygrippery on in a hotel room in Connecticut) had become just too bogged down with malware and old age to use anymore. The twenty minute bootups, lost data, crashes, bugs, and sixty second battery life had made using it too much of a chore. Which might be one reason for my infrequent posts of the last few years. So today I went out and bought myself a refurbished laptop for $250 and it's like a breath of fresh air to use. I may even publish that Dollygrippery handbook I've been threatening for a few years now.

   I am taking a short vacation after a solid fifteen weeks of work (of which the last two were six-day weeks. The first four weeks was additional photography on a Disney job from last year, followed directly (the next Monday) by  eleven weeks of another installment of a well-known franchise. This one was directed by a very enthusiastic and creative director and shot by a young, very talented DP. Their style was very slick with a lot of dolly and crane work which kept the camera constantly moving and me constantly scratching my head to figure out how to do some challenging moves in some small spaces. It was also, for the most part, a return to the old tried and true "block, light, shoot" method of film making which has sadly fallen by the wayside in many productions today. We blocked it, lit it, and then I figured out (with the much appreciated help of my key grip, a veteran Dolly Grip) how to do a 180 degree floor scraper booming up into an over-the-shoulder in a 13'5" by 7' space. It was great having a challenge but by the last three weeks I was a burnout. It also brought to mind how most of the challenge of this job isn't the moves, it's the setup. I've touched on this many times but once you reach a certain level of proficiency, the actual operation of the move is almost an afterthought. It's figuring out what you need and how to best set up the shot that is where you make your money. And it's still the part of this job that I enjoy the most. Many times the director would be running around with his finder and ask, "Can we get the camera here?" The key grip and I would both answer, "Just show us where you want it and we'll figure out how to get it there." And then we did. Once you reach a point where you've done literally any shot they throw at you (most of them many times) it comes down to figuring out the space you're in. Always remember though: You can't change the laws of physics. Unless you can take a wall out or drastically rearrange the room, sometimes you can only offer a very close compromise. I never say no except in issues of safety, but sometimes I do have to say, " I can't get the camera inside that actual wall unless we cut a hole but I can get it close if we remove the onboard battery."
  Anyway, hopefully since my new laptop will make it easier to post, I'll be around a little more. This ol' page is a little rusty but it's still chugging along. Drop a line and say hi sometime.

Stay safe,
D

Saturday, July 06, 2019

11'9"

    This isn't my waist size, or the distance to the craft service table. It's an example of the dimensions of every room in the set I've been working on. Here's another one: 13'. In actuality, when combined with the title of this post, it's the dimension of one of the main rooms in the set I'm working on. 11'9"x13'. It's a dining room set. The double door leading into it? A little over 9'. Hallways? Something like 5'2". It's maddening. Nothing in this set, a whole house interior, is divisible by 2. Why is this a problem? Well, for the dining room, I know at some point there is going to be a shot circling the dining room table. It always happens. This means I have to lay the entire room. This in turn means that I now have to make custom cuts to fill a room that's 11'9"x 13'. It's maddening, needless work. In 100 years of set building, the word hasn't reached the set designers of the world to make sets divisible by two.
  This is a common problem. Years ago I was doing a tv series. The doors to the sets were a non-standard size. The dollies didn't fit through them. So every morning or every set change, a wall had to be removed just to get the dollies into the set. When confronted with this dilemma, the set designer's response was that he wasn't going to change the look of his sets just so we could get the dollies into them. This half-wit cost us an hour a day for a couple of inches. I finally had drinks with the draftsman and she laughed and said she would take care of it. Problem solved.
  One more story. Years later I was doing a big Tom Cruise movie. The key grip, DP and I went in to look at the sets in preproduction. In the main office set, a room we would be in for weeks, there was a 2" thick rug covering a third of the room with a 1200 lb desk on it. I pointed out to the DP that this might be a problem and he immediately agreed and had the desk moved and the rug taken out. The rug was then painted on the floor. You can't tell the difference! Rugs are the bane of the dolly grip's existence. You may see a piece of them in the master and then never again. They result in extra work for the set dressers or endless building up to match the height for dance floor for me. Every time I walk in a set and see a rug with furniture on it I groan because I know it's likely to never be seen yet cause endless problems. Nobody sees rugs! Stop putting them in sets! Make thresholds easily removable! Now please, don't misunderstand me. I've worked with some of the most talented set designers and art departments in the world. Some truly astounding, jaw dropping sets. But help me help you.
  Anyway, that's my rant for this week and a love letter to the set designers and art directors of the world. If you have a gorgeous set but it's impractical to shoot in, you've failed! Rant over

D

Thursday, April 25, 2019

JL Fisher 2019 Mixer

  The 13th Annual JL Fisher Mixer is coming up! Please make plans to attend, it's always a great time. May 18th, 9AM to 4:30 PM!







Sorry, my computer is acting up. Had to take a picture and post it, but you can see all the info.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Technocranes and Actors

   Here's a topic I really haven't covered because up until recently it hasn't been an issue. Most of the time a Technocrane is used for big sweeping shots over a crowd or big pullbacks or push-ins, never really getting close to actors except maybe just staying on it for closeups or overs because you're already on it. Lately, though, I've been asked to do rather aggressive moves in among the actors in a scene, which can lead to sticky situations.. I covered this to some extent in an earlier post.  The job I'm on now, though is a different animal. It's an action movie which generally means I'm waving the arm around like it's on fire and I'm trying to put it out. Only now, the directors (we have two) and the DP want to do it among and in close proximity to the actors. This makes for some nerve wracking shots. A couple of weeks ago I had a shot with a 45' Technocrane in a van (a VAN) that started with the Oculus pretty much in number one on the call sheet's lap. One thing I've realized is that it's very important for the actors to know what the camera is going to do and exactly where it's going, because often, they don't. In these cases, whenever possible, I try to operate the crane from the head. That way I can keep a close eye one the actors and see if someone is getting into trouble. It's also imperative that you as a crane operator take charge of when and where that crane moves. If you are unsure about an actor's movements or you think  an actor is unsure of what happens next, stop everything. I always make sure that if I'm doing an aggressive move that I take a moment to let the actors know exactly what I'm doing and that I'm keeping an eye on them and will stop the action if I think it is becoming unsafe, Communication with the 1st AD is essential. Don't be afraid to stop the action or ask for a minute if you need to assure someone's safety. Remember, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Leave nothing to chance.

 Stay safe,
D

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Choose Your Weapon

  Sometimes the decision of which camera platform to use is easy. You're given a situation, you weigh the options and the answer is self explanatory. Sometimes it's made for you. The DP says, "Just throw down a stick of track and do it on the dolly." Sometimes, you have to mentally flip a coin (a weighted coin depending on the conditions) and go for it. You can't spend too much time debating it. My dad, who was a bricklayer in his younger years used to have a saying: "Quit figuring and lay block." This means you can pull your ruler out and calculate everything down to the inch for every scenario or you can give it your best guess based on experience and go to work. Anytime I find myself overthinking a shot I'll whisper to myself, "Quit figuring and lay block." Then I just go to work. And it's never not worked out.
  We had a similar situation last week. We had a shot which had several points to hit with about six actors standing on one side of a long table. The DP suggested the Technocrane off the bat. The operator and I both balked at the suggestion because often when you get into more detailed work, a fifty foot camera crane isn't always the best tool to use. We both wanted to put the Oculus on the dolly and go. We debated for a few minutes and mentally flipped a coin. A weighted coin. It was weighted toward the crane because the Oculus needed to be underslung to get out over the table at one point. On the other hand, I knew the way these directors and DP worked, we would end up going somewhere height wise that hadn't been planned on. (Also, we were covered because the crane had been the DP's suggestion). So, we quit figuring and laid block and it worked out to be a great shot.
   I hope everyone has had a good, safe week. We had a moment of silence for Sarah that same day. Be safe out there and don't be afraid to say No if something seems off.

Time for a refill.
D


Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Feb Freeze '19

Quickie update - went to White’s February Freeze and saw the new Panther S-Type dolly. Sebastian from Camadeus was great on showing the capabilities. Unfortunately I didn't get a full hands on.

And caught up with Jesse and Frank from Chapman.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Wakamole

January seems to be the month of convalescing. Thankfully I get to sit out “Snowmaggedon ’19” on my couch sipping champagne and scarfing down  bon bons….

It’s been a while since I’ve contributed here. I feel awful. For those wondering, I’ve been hiding in space. I’ve just finished on two seasons of television on “Start Trek Discovery”. The NDA I had to sign was large enough to stop cars so I had to be ultra careful about what I said and didn’t say. I found any topics I wanted to discuss was directly tied into the show which made it useless.
One thing that became a thing the second season was the use of the stabilized remote head on the dolly. I was left in the room with actors while the operator, focus puller and everyone else was outside. Made for some lonely times. Or spent talking to “oneself” over the head sets. I am looking forward to a season three….

One thing that came up and bit me was sound. No, the boom guy wasn’t rabid. For some time I fought with the floors - the paints used and materials.  With the use of the stab head they didn’t want to give me the time to lay dance floors. So I was stuck between a rock and a hard place with squeaking tires. Baby powder would dry the tires out and become useless over time. I couldn’t use Zep because of the slick mess it left behind. Got to the point that if I ever got a chance to get on track, they’d be so dry that they’d squeak there too.

For a while I’d stay after wrap and pull all the tires, wash them, then re-Zep them to reimpregnate them overnight and reinstall in the morning. Eventually this became too tiresome so I gave up and just covered the tire with an inch of cloth tape. Worked the best but had to be replaced every week or so (or if I ran through a puddle).

I’m seriously considering switching to Fisher next year to see if their tires fair any better. We did put my Hybrid IV through its paces with all sorts of neat builds. Love the strength of that arm. Now if they could only get me a black one…

Big shout outs to James Parsons - B dolly grip, Francois Daignault - A Camera operator and Andrew Stretch - A Camera Focus puller.

I’m off to the White’s February Freeze to meet up with Chapman folks and maybe see this new Panther dolly.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Requested post: What Do You Use For Dance Floor?

  I put in a call for suggestions for posts on our Facebook page (I just got in from work and am two drinks in and too tired right now to do a whole link thing. Look up dollygrippery on FB) One of the requests was for what materials are used for dance floor by different Dolly Grips. First, I'll go into a little history. When I started, we used birch plywood and luan (yes, luan as a top layer). We would lay it out and screw it to the plywood with one inch screws. As you can imagine, it cracked and popped and didn't work well at all but it was what we had. Later on, someone discovered plastic polymer sheets as a topper over the birch (birch is the ubiquitous plywood used in dance floor. It's all I remember as a young set grip). These sheets were the game changer. They were flexible and quiet, and durable. Now there are two types of plastic toppers used: ABS and Sintra.  We use 1/4". Which one you use is really up to you. I've used both, and really don't see(or care) about the advantages of one over the other. It's a plastic sheet. ABS is more rigid and sometimes has a pebbled surface on one side. Sintra is more flexible which makes it easier to get into small spaces. I tend to use Sintra more mainly because that  is what my best boy orders and I don't really care as long as it's square and the edges are smooth. I tend to not be too picky about which material I use. They both have their strengths.
  The bottom layer is a little trickier. For years, as I mentioned before, birch was the go-to choice for plywood. It's straight and smooth and relatively light. Everyone used it for years. Then it all fell apart (literally) I noticed it around 2006 when I did a movie in New England. After about two weeks, the birch we had started bowing. Then it started falling apart. It was later explained to me that most birch found in the US was low quality Chinese made birch. So we began the search for a better plywood. What we found was Baltic Birch.  Plywood from The Motherland. Heavy as hell but it kept it's shape and worked well. Later on and for the last few years, I've used Red Oak. On the show I'm on now, though, we were assured that the birch was American and not likely to fall apart like my last experience. So far that seems to be the case three weeks in. Anyway, there's my short answer to the question. Thanks for asking!

D

For those of my friends not in the business, a "dance floor" is merely a slang term for a plywood surface laid on an existing floor to give a smooth camera move in more than one direction, unlike track.

Friday, January 18, 2019

True Detective: Season 3

  There was a moment in watching the first episode of the third season of True Detective when I knew we were in good hands. The lead actor is looking into a closet and the camera moves left to right. He stands up a little too tall and we lose his eyes in the top of the door frame. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking, " Boom down, boom down," and then as if by magic, the camera gracefully lowers in a diagonal until the actor's eyes are fully visible. Now it's entirely possible that the operator was frantically reaching back and signalling a vigorous thumbs down, but I don't think so. I think it was a dolly grip putting the camera where it should be to make the shot work (which is our job. Welcome to Dollygrippery).
  The first season of True Detective was the ultimate slow burn. As I watched it I was constantly filled with a sense of dread. Camera movement was a huge part of this. The thing was filled with slow pushes and unmotivated wraparounds that heightened the intensity the way good camera movement should. And who can forget that spectacular endless Steadicam shot by my friend (and current camera operator) Chris McGuire. Then came the second season. Bleahh.
   That's all I have to say about that.
   The third season reintroduces the sense of dread that made the first season so watchable. Everyone is a suspect. You get the feeling that things are happening under the surface. The story moves along slowly, propelled with beautiful unmotivated pushes and lateral moves. The photography and compositions are gorgeous and add to the feeling that something really awful is about to happen. The camera rarely stops and, under the skilled hand of dolly grips Tommy Ruffner and Dustin VonLossberg, brings back that slow burn I've been waiting for since season one.
   Nice work!
Time for a refill!
D

Monday, January 07, 2019

Laid Up

  I had a minor surgical procedure done. Most of you men can guess what it was but it left me couchbound for a day or two. During that time I had an opportunity to read some twitter and came across a well known actor who had congratulated a director, DP, and operator for a movie they had done. In my normal defensive asshole fashion I asked what about the dolly grip, who made the shots possible  and am waiting for my response. This is the kind of thing I've been railing about for years now. We are one third of any shot that happens, yet get one third of the money (thank you local 80) I'll let you know when I receive a response. I will also write a year in review post when my "surgical area" stops hurting,
  Till then, the doctor says there is no restriction on cocktails. Lucky me.
Take nothing less than you are worth
Learn your craft.
D