Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Clear The Frame!

  I opened up a can of worms with my comments about crossing the lens or standing in front of it. A commenter named Sarah asked, " When should I use crossing?" This is a confusing issue, since a lot of people do it every time they walk past the lens. I was taught to do it too when I was starting out. After I started pushing dolly I realized that it drives a lot of camera operators and DPs crazy. If you must cross, do it when no one is looking through the eyepiece, or when we aren't trying to line up a shot. There used to be a short block of time (before digital) when the operators, stand-ins, dolly grips, and AC's had a chance to actually line up the shot and see what we were seeing before the set was swarmed with ladders, grips, juicers, art department and everyone else. Now as we try to see the shot we have to look through an army and often don't see the complete shot before we roll. I know everyone has to work and has a job to do. Crossing the lens is unavoidable. Just duck under it or do it quickly if you must while we are trying to see the shot. Yelling out, "Crossing" just draws attention to it and a lot of operators will growl, "Don't say it, just do it!"  The big grievance is literally just standing in front of the lens oblivious to what is going on. I've seen department meetings, people on their phones, or people just standing around in front of camera while we are trying to put 2nd team through their paces to see the shot. This has always been a little bit of an issue and always will be as long as we have several departments trying to all do their job quickly. I get it. But it seems to have gotten much more prevalent over the last few years and I think it's because no one is teaching the importance of not hanging out in front of camera. There was a time when I would get my head bitten off for it and everyone was aware. Now it seems no one is. When I was younger I was taken to the side and many of the rules were explained to me. I don't think that's happening anymore. Anyway, I'm not trying to bite anyone's head off myself, I'm just trying to draw attention to a problem that maybe we can all be more aware of.
Now move it!
D

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Repost For Young Grips.

This one is a repost from 2008. It's still relevant.


 I've been getting a lot of comments and emails from young grips just starting out which I'm kind of surprised about. I haven't seen many young grips starting out in the last few years and wondered if people just weren't going into it anymore. So here are some general tips from my own experience and from working with younger grips:
Ask questions. Don't act like you already know everything because if you're 22, we know you're lying and it just makes us want to screw with you.
Keep your dialogue to a minimum. Chatterboxes just get on our nerves.
Watch and know where your Key is at all times. If you see him or the DP waving their arm in front of a light, get a stand and flag ready to run in. You'll eventually get to a point where you'll know what a light needs when you see it, but not in a year.
Be on time. Better yet, be 30 minutes early.
You'll be the victim of some good natured (and some just nasty) jokes. Laugh louder than anyone. They're testing you.
Setting a flag isn't generally a two man (or three man) job.
Deferred pay is slang for "free." You'll probably do a freebie or two (I did). Treat them as a learning experience and chance to practice. Don't believe that crap about paying you when they make money. They're full of it.
The long, low paying crappy movies you slave on now will make some of the best stories and memories later. It won't last forever and no, there really isn't a difference in how huge movies are run. The pay is better, there are more toys to play with, and you'll rub elbows with bigger names, but the process is the same. It'll just take 4 months instead of 3 weeks. Now is the time to learn, while the stakes are lower. And you won't learn it all in a couple of shows. Gripping involves a lot of things; rigging, lighting, construction, engineering, camera movement, safety, and a little art mixed in. You want to learn as much as you can now so when you're on the 120 million dollar picture with Brad Pitt and Vilmos Zsigmond, you'll know what you're doing. You'll find a niche that suits you. I'm not a rigger. I can bolt truss together and build a car mount but I can't walk on a stage and know where and how the truss goes (well, I could, but just not as well as a Key Rigger.) You might want to be a Key Grip, Dolly Grip, Rigging Grip, Best B oy, or stay a Set Grip. But you'll generally find yourself gravitating to a certain area of expertise.
Join the union. No matter what your politics are, in the US at least, you'll need the turnaround, overtime, and insurance protection they provide. Plus, all the big movies are union. There's nothing wrong with low budget indies if that's your taste, but if you want to do bigger budget work, you'll need to work toward this. I was non-union for a while at the beginning and resisted, but eventually got in and my career got immediately better.
Allright boys (and girls), stay at it and drop a line every now and then.

Here's an addendum: You aren't a grip if you spend the majority of the day at the carts on your phone waiting for the Key Grip to call for something. Not too long ago, we assigned one guy to the carts and the rest stayed on set. Now, it seems the entire grip crew can be found vigorously Facebooking at the carts while the Key and Dolly Grip are on set. You aren't grips, you are gofers. Once you learn lighting, rigging, set discipline, blocking, and rudimentary camera rigging, you can relax a little. Here's a tip: you can't learn those things in a couple of years. Get off your ass and learn the craft. Or you don't belong here. 
 D

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Dolly Grips and Camera Department Safety

  Here's a hot button issue. A friend of mine asked me to weigh in on this one so here it is. As a dolly grip, I have always considered myself the last line of defense for the operator. This means that I put myself in danger for my operator. I never leave him alone unless a stunt brother takes over  This means that for every effects shot I go to the effects coordinator and ask about safe distances, eye and ear protection, or any cover that camera may need. This means that I talk to the stunt coordinator and ask if a camera position is safe. This means that I don't take "No" for an answer and I stake my reputation on the safety of every shot. The way I look at it is that part of the reason I am there is to say "No" when it is called for.  I take responsibility for their safety. That's how I was taught and that's how I operate. If I say "no" to a particular setup and I am ignored, I have the prerogative of going to the 1st AD and saying," They won't listen. I think it's unsafe. I divorce myself from the shot. I'll be on the truck but I want it on the record." Granted, this has never happened to me personally, but it is the only power I have. I take the safety of my camera department very seriously and will go to bat with the 1st AD or the director if I feel it is unsafe.
The Captain has spoken.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Let Me Do Some 'Splainin

   In a former post, I inserted a little tweak. A dig. A burr under the saddle. I used the name of a show that's been shooting for a relatively short period of time to make a point. Maybe too cute by half, maybe not. The fact is that I could have used any number of shows to make the point, but chose that one because that's the one I hear spoken the most. As in, "Back on blah blahblah." Or "when I was on blah blah blah. " Now, one thing I've tried never to do with this blog is be mean spirited. I can see where I come across that way sometimes and there are certainly people I don't get along with etc., I'm careful to never use proper names (not even my own). Having said that, let's move on.
   There is nothing wrong with being inexperienced. There is nothing wrong with not knowing everything. I sure don't, and I've been in this industry for going on thirty years.The problem is in being inexperienced and not knowing or refusing to see it. Now, I used a particular show as an example, but that isn't to say that everyone who started on that show isn't hard working and eager to learn. I never meant to say that and maybe my attempt to make a point was a little ham-handed. The point I was trying to make can maybe be best illustrated with a story:
   About twenty-three or so years ago I was a young grip in this town who had been fortunate enough to work on a couple of high profile movies as well as a long-running series. I thought I was sharp. I thought I was good. I thought I was better than I was. To the point of thinking that I really didn't need to listen to the veteran grip from Los Angeles who tried to teach me a couple of things about lighting. After all, at the age of 24,  I had two really big credits and a spot on a popular series. I must be good.
But I wasn't. I was fast. I paid attention. I knew a c-stand from a combo stand. But I wasn't very good. An older grip who had been around a while pulled me to the side one day and said, "You are pretty good. But you aren't great. You don't understand shadows and light yet." I didn't believe him. And it stuck in my craw. To be honest, it bent me out of shape. As time went by, however, I began to see that he was right. I wasn't very good. So I started working on it. I watched the Key Grip work a set. I watched the Dolly Grip lay track. I tried to guess what each light that went up might need in the way of flags and diffusion and tried to begin anticipating what the Key Grip might ask for. And I became better. So guys, I wasn't trying to be mean. I was trying to give you a kick in the pants. This town is full of young technicians with one or two credits who think they are better than they are. Just like I did. I've tried on at least a couple of occasions to pass on a better way to do something and have been blown off or simply ignored. And I hear similar stories from other guys who have been around a while all the time. As a friend of mine said, "This isn't just a job, it's a career." It's a craft. It's not one you can learn in three or four years. And it's not one you can learn by sitting at the carts on your IPhone waiting for the Key Grip to call for a flag. There's just too much to it. What hardware should be on hand when a car mount goes on? What's the first rule of laying a track?? What are the basics of crane safety? What's a graduated single? Can you set one? What's the first rule of rigging on a car? How do you safety a camera? Can you set a flag on the ground and run it over a wall to flag a light? How much light does a single cut? A double? What's the color temperature of tungsten? You should know most of the answers to these questions if you have been a set grip for five years. Again, I'm not saying these things to be a dick, I'm saying them because I want you to be better. Because if you are better it makes us all better. An experienced grip crew at work is a wonder to behold. It almost looks as if they are reading each other's minds. I've been on a couple and I want all of you to have that experience as well. But you won't get it if you don't realize what you don't know. Until you do, you'll be gofers instead of grips.
Be safe. Ask questions.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Things That Need To Be Said

  A friend of mine holds the opinion that nothing has contributed to the breakdown of discipline on set as the advent of HD. I tend to agree. For years, film sets have operated under a framework of unwritten rules known as "Set Etiquette." Since the advent of digital filmmaking, these rules seem to be breaking down. Here are a few of these for those who don't know:

1. Don't cross the lens if the operator is looking through it. Saying "crossing" as you block it is not only an indicator that you are a newbie on set, it draws attention to the fact that you are breaking rule number one. Be aware of where the camera is. Don't stand in front of it. Period. Ever.

2. Don't stand in doorways. Seriously. There's an old joke about the DGA standing for "Door Guards of America." It's not a compliment. I immediately know who is new on set when I see them standing in a doorway. Just stop it.

3. If you are a makeup or hair artist, don't practice your art in the middle of the set while we are lighting or lining up a shot. Or in doorways. Also, don't leave your bags in front of or on the dolly or grip equipment. Yes this happens.

4. If your camera has a flash, and you need to take a still, announce "flashing."  It ain't brain surgery. The electricians will thank you. If you don't know why, go back to film school. You don't belong on a set.

5. If you are a juicer and you turn on a light, practice courtesy. Announce before you blast thousands of watts of light onto unsuspecting eyes. I was almost blinded last week because some rookie hit a button and swung a 6k directly into my eyes with no warning.

6. If The Walking Dead was your first show, you are a rookie. Shut it, you know nothing. Go sand out the jockey boxes.

7. When "rolling" is called, just stop. Stop moving. Don't pick anything up. Don't put anything down. It's the easiest thing in the world to stand still and do nothing. Just do that.

  It's up to us to teach these new people and apparently we are failing miserably. I blame myself (not really). I blame you,
The Captain has spoken.

Wow, I've gotten such a big response in such a short amount of time that I've decided to add more. Please feel free to add your own rules that you see broken on a regular basis.


8.  If you don't know how to operate a particular piece of equipment, then say so. I've heard of cranes coming off of tracks, cameras falling off of heads etc. Just because you call yourself a Key Grip or a Dolly Grip doesn't make you one. Learn your craft. I'm thinking of someone in particular. Jackass.


9. If the dolly isn't working and is off to the side, that doesn't mean it's free to use as a seat, coat rack, deli tray, or plaything. If you ask me, I'll usually tell you you can sit on it after I make sure it's safe. But at least ask me.


I have since edited this post. I got a little carried away and put some things that weren't etiquette issues in. I have taken those out. Also to my makeup and hair brothers and sisters, I have clarified my point after being asked to by a hair stylist on Twitter. I added "while we are lighting or lining up a shot."   Okay, I think I'm done.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Monitors Revisited

   I probably get asked about monitors more than any other question. I've had it come up in questions at least three times in the last month including an operator asking, "Why don't you have a monitor?" (my answer, "Because I don't need one.") I've written about this before and it is always a source of some argument among dolly grips.
   The generation of dolly grips I came up with are the last to work before the advent of personal monitors. I held overs and did moves for years before we had them. I still remember the first time I saw an onboard monitor. I was amazed. Before them, we simply learned to form a general picture in our heads of what the camera was seeing; a sort of sixth sense, if you will. This sense in conjunction with subtle signals from the operator is what allowed dolly grips to deliver amazing shots without a monitor for years. And having it will make you a better dolly grip whether you use a monitor or not. Now there is nothing wrong with monitors. They are a tool. I use them. But I limit their use to mostly holding overs and shots where I have to thread the camera through heavy foreground and the like. There is nothing inherently wrong with them. But you can get dependent on them and if you spend all day staring at a monitor as you do your work you will fail to develop this sixth sense. You won't be as good. You will miss subtle cues from the actors and lose where you are in the space of the set. I've heard of dolly grips staring at the screen so intently during a simple lateral dolly that they run off the track. Don't be that guy. Take the time and challenge yourself to develop a sense of where the camera should be without the monitor. You will appreciate your skills much more.
The Captain has spoken.
D