Saturday, October 24, 2020

Back To Work

   I hope you are all doing well. It's been awhile, I haven't posted because, as for you, my days were almost all identical for a while, The only real distraction I had was when Sean Devine and I put together the  Dolly Grip Q and A's. They went very well and we had a great response. I hope to resume them at some point.

  Meanwhile, work seems to have returned. I went back and finished the show that shut down and am now on an action movie that shoots for just another month until my next long term job. I didn't want to do it but I have to say it's the best work I've ever done. I'm doing shots with a Peewee and a stabilized head that would have normally been Steadicam shots. Four minute takes racing down corridors and through doors ending up between bars in a jail cell type stuff. It's a challenge and I'm having a great time. As I told a friend of mine a few weeks ago, it's a great show to sand off the edges with. Anyway, I'll hopefully have more to say in the future now that we are getting back to work.

Stay in touch,


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Next Q and A: Manufacturer's Roundtable With Cinemoves, Chapman, Fisher, and GFM

Sorry all, I've been a little slack lately so I'm just getting this up. Friday the 26th at 1pm PST. Be there! Link is below:

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Q and A recording

  If you missed the last Q and A, there is a recording of it at:

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Next Q and A: John Mang and Mitch Dubin

Last week's session with Sanjay and Bob Yeoman went so well we decided to try it again! Next week's meeting will feature veteran camera operator Mitch Dubin, SOC and Dolly Grip John Mang,
Response was so huge last week we had some issues with capacity. Those have been rectified.

Join us June 3rd at 1pm.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Interview with Sanjay Sami and Bob Yeoman, ASC

  These are two of the guys responsible for the distinctive look of Wes Anderson's films. We're taking a week off from The Squares due to some scheduling difficulties but will be back with these guys on May 27th. Plan to join us!

Q and A with Sanjay and Bob Yeoman registration

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Dollywood Squares

  Yesterday's interview of the great George Santo Pietro (Ray Donovan, The Mandalorian) went very well and we all learned a lot from George and had a great time. Stand by for the next one which should be next Wednesday! Registration info will be forthcoming. Everyone is welcome whether you're a young dolly grip, film student, or just an interested observer!


Friday, May 08, 2020

Dolly Grip Zoom Q and A #2

To register, click the link:
Dolly Grip Q and A #2

We had a great time at the last one. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Round Table Success!

We work in a thankless business as it is, so I want to thank Sean Devine, Darryl Humber and special guest Jeff ‘Moose’ Howery for a great afternoon chat! Glad to see that us knuckle draggers were able to put down our afternoon (or evening in Sanjay’s case) cocktails and join in the roundtable. We hit 75 people from all over the world - which is an amazing feat - making our world even smaller. I look forward to seeing you all at the next one.

I would ask that you keep an eye out for the next announcements, ponder today’s meet, reflect on some questions and share the info!

Photos by Mark Manchester (all action shots - these guys are too fast!)

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Zoom Interview With Moose Howery

  Tomorrow, Sean Devine and myself will be conducting a Zoom interview with 2020 SOC Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, Dolly Grip Moose Howery. Everyone is welcome. We set it up for the young up and comers but there seems to be a lot of interest from some camera operators, and some heavy hitting dolly grips, ACs, and even first AD's.  We will discuss Moose's extensive credit list featuring Contact. Please join us and have a question ready.

What: Zoom meeting featuring Moose Howery
When: May 6, 2020. 12:00 PM Pacific, 3:00 PM Eastern
How: Register in advance at Dolly Grip Q&A

Hope to see you there!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Interview With Sanjay Sami

 My friend Sanjay Sami has become one of the best known, and most respected Key/ Dolly Grips in the business. Based out of India, he works everywhere and for everybody. He's also a Steadicam operator which kind of makes him a tour -de-force of camera movement. His credits include Eat, Pray, Love, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  He's a regular Key Grip/ Dolly Grip/ Steadicam operator for Wes Anderson.  Let's see what he has to say for himself:

What's your favorite little trick that you use to save time or make a shot easier?
Here are a few -
I have a clamp on extension on the boom controller that allows me to keep both hands on the steering handles and still operate the boom. I find this very useful for dance floor shots. I had built it about 18 years ago when I had injured my wrist and couldn’t effectively one hand the dolly. It worked for me so I have kept it as a tool I sometimes use on dance floor. A side effect of that is that you get more resolution on the boom knob - more travel for valve opening. This can be a problem if you have very fast moves because by default this makes your moves more subtle.
Another tool I find very useful is to use cord for levelling very long runs of track. I find that if I stretch a section of thin (1.5mm) vectran using a ratchet strap from the start to the finish of a very long run of track, it saves me a HUGE amount of time when compared to eyeballing it. When I eyeball lengths in excess of 200 ft it starts getting confusing about what I am actually looking at and I sometimes take longer than I should. With the cord, it becomes very obvious where the high points are, so you level the high side to the cord and then do a side to side.
Another thing Ive found is that, apart from the aesthetics of how it looks,I don’t sweat it if a long track looks wavy. I ride the track and see how it feels. If it feels good, I'm fine with it. 
Another little thing I do (I’m sure many people do) is I sometimes use my shin to start and stop a small move.
I also sometimes use bungee to help me start or stop a very fast move.

How did you get your start in the business?
I stumbled into the business by accident. I was working offshore (oil rigs) and I had some time on my hands for technical reasons. I was asked if I wanted to work temporarily on set, and here I am 28 years later.

Who were some of your mentors?
Early on I worked with John Flemming - An English Key Grip / Dolly Grip and he had a great influence on me. Later I worked with a few Key Grips who I hugely respected and learnt from. Herb Ault is definitely one of them. 

You are probably bet known for your work with Wes Anderson. How did that come about?
I was recommended to Wes Anderson when he was planning to shoot The Darjeeling Limited in India. It was an immensely challenging shoot. We had all the usual challenges that come with a Wes film as well as the challenge of shooting a large part of the movie on a real moving train. I think he must have liked my work.

You push dolly as well as operate Steadicam for Wes. How did this happen?
I think Steadicam and dolly are very similar. They are both difficult to do well, but if you are a good Dolly Grip, I think the understanding of the spatial relationship between  camera, actor and frame comes intuitively.
 But like any craft, you have to dedicate yourself to getting good at it.
Wes likes the fact that he has one point of contact for camera movement. He knows that I already get his sensibility and what he wants to achieve, so it makes that part of his job easier.

Wes Anderson's movies have a very specific style of camera movement. What are some of the details of
this style? How do you achieve them?
Symmetry is a very important part of his aesthetic, so laying out and planning the shots is crucial. When you have a track that pushes in, its very important that you have no 'drift' from the start of the move to the end. 
The camera is often locked off for shots that involve big moves. Magazine clamps - the works. Like a car rig. This is partially because Wes needs very hard stops and starts, and with a 1000 foot mag (remember those) its a vibration nightmare ! He doesn't like shots to be feathered to a stop, and when you have to bring a Hybrid with an Arricam ST with a 1000ft mag on it to a hard stop, it is challenging.
Wes doesn’t like the camera to pan or tilt unless there’s absolutely no option. The only panning we generally do is swish pans, which is almost like a camera reset. This approach makes life as a Dolly Grip very complicated. All moves and are done by booming the camera and tracking / rolling it. Some of them are obvious, big, extravagant dolly shots, but even on seemingly static shots where the camera pans from one character to the other we could be rolling the dolly over and booming down in order to get the character coming into frame with the mandated symmetry required. Theres a lot more choreography involved than is apparent. 
He also likes to do scenes that play out as one, this involves many complicated setups where walls, furniture and set pieces need to be tracked as well. We also sometimes have to switch track to change direction because the shot can’t be done dance floor.

Although everything is shot-specific, what's your favorite tool to move a camera?
Without a doubt the Hybrid 3 camera dolly. Its like an extension of my body. Followed by the PeeWee 3+
I think having both of them is perfect on a movie.

Besides the Wes Anderson films, what are some of your other favorite collaborations?
I loved working with Peter Weir & Russel Boyd. Two geniuses who work with so much respect to their fellow crew members. I like working with nice people - Robert Yeoman, Bruno Delbonnel, Darius Khondji, Steven Knight, Rodrigo Prieto,  just off the top of my head. 
As I get older, I realise that I value a pleasant and respectful environment on set more than anything else. 
Life’s too short 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Did Not See This Coming

  Hi all. I guess we are really all in the same boat now. In any case. I hope all of you are getting those home projects done in between trying to teach your kids math.  I myself spend most days (between school lessons) watching Youtube videos about ghosts and trying to write Dollygrippery: The Dolly Grip's Handbook. I'm getting much less work done than you would think. I'm now on the fascinating world of surfaces and how to choose them. As riveting as it is, especially for me, I find myself often distracted by what the cat is doing and the pull of making a drink at 11 AM. Stay strong boys and girls. Before you know it we'll all be back at it, begging for a day off. In the meantime, try to be productive. I'm going to try and post more during this time and help us all keep our skills sharp. Or I may not depending on what the cat is doing.

Keep your powder dry,

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Well This Is New.

   Three days ago I was preparing to bed down for my 6 AM leave time in Prague, CZ. My hotel phone rang. I usually ignore my hotel phone. I figure anyone I want to talk to has my cell number. But it was 9:30 PM so I knew something was up. A p.a. informed me that the studio had pulled the plug and I was to pack ASAP for a morning ride to the airport and a trip home. I quickly learned that air travel from Europe was soon to be temporarily banned. Missed that one by the seat of my pants. Three days later, I'm on my couch in a self imposed exile (for the most part). My wife and I spent the last couple of days stocking up on non-perishables, Stouffer's lasagnas, ammo (I'm a cautious fellow), and vodka. And, like all of you (literally all of you), I suddenly find myself with at least three weeks with nothing to do. How this will all pan out is unforeseeable. I do know one thing: This too shall pass.  As the entire world slows down, take this time to reunite with your family, something that a few of us up until a week ago would have given anything to do. Clean out the garage. Kick the ball around with your kids. Make your wife dinner. Catch up on the movie list. Try not to worry. I don't know what tomorrow will bring, none of us ever did, but I guarantee it'll all work out. Until the shows crank back up, enjoy your forced vacation. I know some of you have bigger worries than me so it's easy for me to say this, but it will work out. For once on a global scale we are all in the same boat, but we are all more connected than we have ever been.  I have friends whom I consider dear friends, whom I have never met in person, yet we share common interests. I know their families' names and what they look like. We've told war stories and laughed together.
  I had to leave Prague before I was able to thank and say goodbye to the wonderful technicians I met there. So, Jiri, Harry, David, Marcus, Tomas (I think there were two Tomas') and Ivan, thank you. I hope to return and share a Pivo and laugh about this soon.

Take care of yourselves and for f&ck's sake wash your hands,
The Captain Has Spoken,

Watch this:

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.



Sunday, January 19, 2020


  I had looked forward to this movie for a while. The first world war is the war that we hear the least about. Even though it was known as the War To End All Wars. Early on, I had heard that it was a "one shot movie" in the style of Rope. This, along with the subject matter, had me intrigued to see how and what they did. I was not disappointed. As an aside, the press keeps mentioning the "one shot" aspect as if it's a gimmick or a fancy Hollywood trick like 3D or Glorious Smell-O-Vision (look it up) meant to put asses in seats. This isn't that. It's really the best way to tell this story. It's immersive and visceral. The camera never leaves the protagonists and you as the viewer are taken along (whether you want to go or not) for the ride. Camera movement almost becomes a character in itself in this picture. In a lot of ways it's like being on the first hill of a rollercoaster. You're slowly clanking and lurching toward the top and you know that a big drop is coming followed by a bumpy ride. Under the sure hand of the legendary Roger Deakins and Key Grip Gary Hymns and his crew, the camera movement is nothing less than spectacular. The only problem I had was that the whole time I was watching it, some part of my mind was constantly shuffling through camera platforms; "OK, that's a Stabileye on speedrail, that's a crane, that's a steadicam." Joe Blow from Minnesota won't have that problem though. Go see it. Whether or not you think the subject matter was treated the way it should have been, it is a technical marvel. If you want to see how it's done, here's your answer.
  8 Am call tomorrow. Blah,

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Back to Work

  Well, the vacation is over. Monday morning I, along with many of you, will jump back into the grind and will carry on until around April. The job I'm currently on is a new streaming series. Instead of breaking it up into separate episodes as we're shooting, we treat it much like a six month feature. The director and DP are constant. This adds to a certain cohesion that is often compromised in standard series shooting where the DP alternates and the directors are on a revolving door. We know the drill and the fastest way to get things done.
   One of the systems we are using regularly is the Oculus head on the dolly. This works very well for a lot of things, but isn't a universal tool for everything. Wisely, our DP likes to use an arsenal of tools for many situations. We often go from Technocrane, to dolly, to mini Libra underhung on speedrail and carried. They all work really well in specific situations. I really like the Oculus on the dolly. It gives the operator and I a tremendous amount of freedom to find shots as we often make them up on the fly with little rehearsal. While this works well and the Oculus is an amazing head, don't make the mistake of thinking a stabilized head can fix everything. A wavy floor like a linoleum one will still often show up onscreen, especially on a longer lens on a dolly. It's best for high frequency vibrations like a wood floor. If you use it on a very wavy floor, it's best to leave off the vibration isolator. Pneumatic tires also help a lot,  Anyway, that's my 2 cents worth.
  Good luck in the coming year and stay safe out there. Remember, take nothing for granted and if something can go wrong it will.