Monday, February 24, 2020

Q and A With Sean Devine

  I've known Sean for around 15 years. He is a veteran Dolly Grip who came up old school. His credits include: 42, Drive, and The 40 Year Old Virgin. I happened to be texting back and forth with him last week and decided it would be a good idea to ask him some questions about the craft in general and his latest project, A Quiet Place II.

Tell me what challenges you faced on Quiet Place? AQP2 was challenging for everyone. The entire movie was on the move. Running, long oners, lots of locations. We have gotten so used to moving small digital cameras with primes that going back to film made it exponentially harder. I found myself on an electric car with a Miniscope and a Libra chasing or leading people in closeups very often. Shots evolve for John. What starts out as one thing almost always morphed into something very different. The challenge of that was giving ourselves enough room to evolve. The last thing we wanted to do was to be backed into a corner with nowhere to go. I also saw more Don Juan steadicam on that movie than I have in the last 10 years combined. Running full out, balancing the camera, and framing the camera backwards is one of the most difficult things I can think of for an operator to do. Matt did it on a regular basis when no other tool would do. We tried a rickshaw which was not maneuverable enough. Matt threw out the idea of the Mini Libra on the steadicam arm, but we never got that one going because of weight limits for the head and the film camera. Recently we were able to mount a Ronin 2 on a Steadicam arm with a Sony Venice. It worked great. Being able to concentrate on running while someone else operates makes all the difference. (see attached). All in all, it was an extremely fulfilling experience. Honestly, between the 3 jobs of operating, pulling focus, and pushing dolly, I had the easiest job. Speaking of pulling focus. Steve Cueva was often wide open, shooting anamorphic, on a long lens, and winging it. He is my personal hero.

I know you've worked a lot with Matt Moriarty. Tell me about the dolly grip/ operator relationship:  Matt and I met on Castaway in 1999. We became close friends a few years later when I pushed dolly for him on his first ‘A” camera job with John Bailey. Matt and I share similar work ethics and get along very well. I love that Matt is very direct and keeps order around camera. I learned under Tony Rivetti and Moose Howery. I was taught that a dolly grip stays with camera and supports camera however he or she can. It has been invaluable. For instance, very difficult Steadicam work was often used on AQP2. My job was to be there and pick up the slack and support Matt, Steve, and Kate Luele (2nd AC). In return, good rapport and friendships are built. Matt asks me what I think and in return I acknowledge the responsibility that he has to get the shot. To me, that is exactly the relationship to have between an operator and a dolly grip. Matt and I have it down.

What shortcuts might you give a young dolly grip? Stay with camera, don’t wander off. Support the camera crew and help them. Pay attention to blocking. Eavesdrop on conversations about the shot. The more that you know and understand, the easier it is to get the camera where it needs to be at the right time. Pay attention for your key grip. You are right there watching everything, help the key catch things. Keep a good positive attitude. I am by no means a model for that, but I do notice how vastly different life is at camera is when I’m present and friendly.

What has changed about the job in the last 20 years? The job went from being an extension of the grip department, where the key decided very often how shots would gt made, to several years of handheld camera (yawns), now back to getting extremely challenging shots. I find myself in the position of solving difficult logistics quite often these days. To the point where I question why I’m the lowest paid person directly involved with getting shots. Often as a dolly grip I find myself solving problems for an operator.

What things do you look for in a setup that might make your operator's life easier? What problems do you solve? I worked on a show for a while last spring that had me at camera by myself quite often because the DP also operated. The shots were long and complex. It was a bit shocking to the system at first but then I got into it. I could see all of the blocking problems, bogies, and actor issues when nobody else could. I like an operator that takes charge of the set and improves on the ideas presented so that’s what I did. And it was met with open arms. My point is, the more experience you have as a DG, the more easily problems become apparent. I watch for these things because no one person can catch everything. Help police the frame. Make suggestions on blocking if you and your operator have that relationship. Keep your operator informed so that good decisions come easy.

  Thanks to Sean for the great advice. I'm going to try to do more interview type posts with some of the great Dolly Grips we have in this business. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Lost Rules

  I've often said that the advent of the digital age has somehow degraded the rules of the set we all used to follow. Here is a refresher:
Don't stand in front of the lens. Just don't. These days the hardest part of the job seems to be just finding the shot. At any given time while the operator and I are trying to set up a frame there are: Meetings happening in front of the lens.
Makeup or hair being done in front of the lens. (before we even have a shot).
Here come the ladders.
Aimless wandering, staring open mouthed at the wonder of the set. In front of the lens.
Phone calls being taken, in front of the lens.
Stories told about the weekend's activities, in front of the lens.
Please, I beg of you, let us find a shot. Everyone will get their turn but it is meaningless until we set the frame.
Don't stand in doorways. This drives me crazy.
Don't stand under the crane arm.
Don't shush me. Ok, this is more personal but I hate being shushed by a 25 year old. I've spent more time in the honeywagon than you have on set. You shush.
When did I get so old.

Incidentally, I will be working in Prague the month of March if anyone wants to get together for a beer.


Friday, February 07, 2020

Communication Is The Key

  I've done a lot of wire work with a Technocrane. It seems every job I do now involves at least one sequence where I'm swooping a camera around an actor or stunt person on a wire. Needless to say this can get a little hairy and requires intense focus. It also requires that you as the crane operator know where the actor is going and that the stunt guys in turn know where you are taking the camera. Now a lot of work of this kind involves a fair amount of "making it up as you go" or "rocking and rolling" as we used to call it. So while you may not be able to say exactly where the camera will be at a given point during the shot, you can agree on parameters. Look at the set. See where the wires are and any movement they may be doing. I always talk to the stunt coordinator and see where I can't go. I've been in so many freelance situations where there was a miscommunication from the 1st AD or operator that I always go right to the source and find out exactly what that actor or stuntman is doing. They will appreciate it and see that you are actually looking out for their people. Also, forget the monitor. In these situations you can't afford to take your eyes off the head. Having a pickle operator you trust is priceless.  Mine have saved me from more than one unfortunate incident. Call out your moves on the headset. I'm always saying, "Swinging right," or "left and down," etc. I had an incident a while back where we had an actor travelling toward camera on a wire. We were in a hurry and losing the light and it was getting a little chaotic. The operator thought we were going to push in at the actor to simulate movement. With no rehearsal, the AD yelled. "Roll camera!" As we were about to go I saw that the stunt guys thought they were supposed to move the actor to camera. I stopped everything, went to video village and informed them that I wasn't going until I knew exactly what the stunt guys and I were doing. The DP agreed and I went out to the wire guys for a consult. Once we all knew what was happening, we rolled again and continued with the shot. Everything happened so fast, everyone thought everyone else knew the plan. In these situations, you have to step up and call a halt until everyone is up to speed. That Techno arm doesn't stop on a dime so you have to know what everyone else involved in the shot is doing and vice versa. This kind of situation can happen to anyone. The wire guys and AD department were all world class but mistakes can happen when the sun is going down and the yelling starts.
   This advice actually goes for any stunt. If they are flipping a car, go to the stunt coordinator and get approval for any camera positions.  If it's an explosion, go to the effects coordinator and find out the minimum safe distance for camera. If it's a gunshot, talk to the armorer. Communication saves lives.
    In any case, it's been a long week. Everyone stay safe. They ARE out to get you. Not really but act as if they are. It only takes once.