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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Time for a refill!
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.
The art of Dolly Gripping is like no other job in the world. It falls to us to work out the mechanics of a particular shot, as well as offer a smooth, aesthetically pleasing move which makes the shot work and delivers emotion to the scene. It's the ultimate blend of engineering and art. This website is a place for professionals in motion picture camera platform movement to meet and swap tips, stories, and gripe a little about the difficulties we often face, but rarely get to talk about among ourselves. It's also a place for aspiring Dolly Grips to learn a little something from the old pros. So, welcome. Look around and join our little community. The site is run by myself, D, and Azurgrip, two guys who have each spent the last 20 years moving cameras around film sets. But it also benefits from the readership and participation of hundreds of Dolly and Key Grips from around the world, men and women who have helped deliver some of the most memorable and beautiful moving shots on film. So if you have any questions, please ask. You can ask questions or make comments on our message forum, which is below, just above the photos, or email us at dollygrippery at gmail dot com. We, or one of the experienced grips who frequent this site will answer.
If you're looking for something in particular, please check out the "Links" section. Everything from equipment in India, to glamour shots of grips can be found there.
What you won't find here: How to make a dolly out of plywood, info on the Wa11y Dolly, anything about how to move a boat.