Saturday, October 15, 2016

Mr. Carroll

  About twenty-five years ago, I worked on my first tv series. It was a weekly crime drama, popular among the older set, called In The Heat Of The Night. We shot in the little town of Covington about thirty miles east of Atlanta. This last week, the movie I'm presently working on shot in that little town and that, along with the sudden death of one of my coworkers from that show, got me thinking...
  I had signed onto the show as an extra hammer. The grip crew consisted of an LA key, dolly grip and best boy and all local hammers. The hammers were all guys who had been in the fledgling Atlanta film industry for years. I was a wide eyed young grip, still learning the ropes as well as the politics that invariably accompany film crews. I met a future Business Agent of the local, several future key grips, and a cast of actors that to this day still all hold a special place in my memory. Of course the leader of all this was Carroll O'Conner. Most of us knew him as Archie Bunker even though he had by this time been a movie star for the better part of forty years. Carroll, or Mr. Carroll, as I called him, was the executive producer as well as the star and writer of many of the episodes.  Many of the cast and crew called him "Pops." I for some reason never did. Maybe it was because I was still trying to fit in and didn't think I had yet earned the right to call him by this familiar nickname. "Mr. O'Conner" was too formal. "Carroll" was out of the question. So I resorted to the Southern tradition of mixing formal with casual, yet still showing respect for my elders, and calling him "Mr. Carroll." Mr Carroll was the heart of the show. A gentle, friendly man, he ruled the show fairly and graciously, yet there was no question who the boss was.  He loved his cast and crew and was loyal to those who deserved it. I have many great memories of Mr. Carroll and those long days in Covington. He always had a joke or an observation. In my twenties, I was a smoker. Seeing me with a cigarette hanging out of my lips one day (I think, being around 24 years old at the time, I thought it made me look older.) he pulled me to the side and said, "Darryl, I wish you would quit those things. I smoked for years. I even had a cigarette when I was taking a crap. They're no good for you." by now, he had had his famous heart surgery wherein Joe Don Baker had been recruited to fill in for him. It's these types of moments I remember. He gave me my first dolly job.  He was a good man.
  Another person I met in those days was a blustery, swaggering electrician named Carl Johnson. Carl was a huge presence on the set. His big personality filled any room he was in. He worked hard and played hard and I learned a lot from watching him and working beside him. Carl was from the small town of Willacootchie, Georgia. He had gone to Vietnam as a soldier and come home to somehow find his way into the film business. I learned this week that Carl has left us. Although I hadn't seen him in a few years, not many days went by that I didn't think of him, mostly inspired by some saying I'd learned from him. Carl was also a good man. A big hole has opened up in the Atlanta film industry. I wish I had taken the time to keep up with him for all those years.
  Anyway, I'm rambling. I just started thinking about those days and felt the need to write about them.

Rest in peace, Carl. And you too, Mr. Carroll. I'm a better person for having known both of you.
D

Saturday, September 24, 2016

I am a Dolly Grip

  I am a Dolly Grip. This means that I am an expert in camera movement. I have a highly developed sense of spatial relationships. I can stand an actor up and sit them down consistently. I can repeat a move down to the millisecond. I understand blocking. I know where a camera has to be to make the shot work even without staring into a monitor. If a camera operator asks me,"Can you boom up and push in at the same time?" my answer is, "Can you pan and tilt at the same time?"  I can swing a Technocrane arm around inches over an actor's head, land on a mark and repeat it precisely. That's what I do. If you can't do these things consistently, you are not a dolly grip. If your signature move is to park the dolly, grab an apple box, sit down and open a paper or Facebook, but you can't stand up an actor, you are not a dolly grip. You are a pretender. And you make my job harder .Pushing dolly is a craft. It takes years,YEARS of work. You don't learn it overnight. You don't learn it by being the only guy available so you get the job. You learn it just like you learn anything else: repetition and time. It's not about a bigger paycheck. It's about the craft. Learn your craft. Learn your craft. LEARN YOUR FUCKING CRAFT. If you are too lazy or too stupid to learn the craft, then do something else. I am tired of going onto jobs with operators I have never worked with before and having to audition because they are used to working with crappy Dolly Grips. I should start each job with at least the assumption that I am a competent Dolly Grip. But because we have allowed mediocrity to be the rule, I have to prove myself over and over again to new operators and DPs. Get off the apple box, pay attention, learn blocking and eyelines and basic filmmaking or do something else. It ain't hard, we are not doing brain surgery here. It just takes dedication and work. Every job I go on, I hear stories about how bad the previous Dolly Grip was. You should be every bit as good at your job as the camera operator is at his (or hers). I started this website to uplift the craft. To teach those who are just starting out, and to share tips among us veterans. But I'm tired of hearing horror stories from camera  operators about how bad their last Dolly Grip was. Here are some basic skills: Stand up or sit down an actor consistently; Know and understand eyelines; Repeat a move consistently; Do a compound move with the tilt wheel not being turned; Repeat a Technocrane move consistently and know how to find and remember an eyeline; Understand blocking and know the general shot before the op or DP tells you where it is; Know when dance floor or track is called for; For god's sake be able to execute a basic compound move. Guys, we have to do better, or we will always be the second class citizens they already think we are.  Anyway, rant over. Drink up and stay safe.
D

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Dolly Dock

  I received a cool little gadget last week that I've been trying out. It's called the Dolly Dock and it's from a company called Cinegack. It started out with a dolly grip friend of mine voicing his need for something he could use to mount his monitor and still use his push bar extension, as well as be an extra rigging point for lights, flags, etc. It has threaded holes for 3/8" as well as 1/4"20 on all sides.
One very cool feature is also that the pushbar extension can also be mounted vertically for better control of the dolly when doing a move in crab. It also features a quick release attachment for a 1/4"20 mount. It's basically a multi-tool for your dolly.


 The Dolly Dock screws into the threaded holes on the ends of the pushbar. The locknut allows you to fix it at any angle, and if you wish, the extension bar can screw into the other end.







  It comes in it's own plastic case.
   My first thoughts are that it's a pretty handy little device to have in your tool kit. As a matter of fact, we almost used it to mount a light on the dolly for the first shot the first time I took it out of the case. It's very well made, and if you like to mount a monitor on your pushbar, its the perfect thing. An inch and a half wrench fits it, although I have been advised by the maker that due to the anodizing, not all Chapman wrenches will fit it perfectly, but your personal ratchet will. They are coming out with a Chapman "master key" later that will fit it as well as other tools on the dolly.

  The Dolly Dock goes for 100.00.

You can purchase it and see more pictures of it in action at cinegack.com
 Check it out!


PS: That's not my cupholder in the picture.
D

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Truth

Hello all. This is my first post in quite some time. As I posted  a while back my computer took a dive. And I decided not to get it fixed. I'm actually typing away on my wife's work computer. My eventual plan is to just go out and pick up a cheap laptop, but until then, I'll try and steal some time away on this one when I need it. My locked up computer isn't the only reason I've been absent these last few months. Oh, work had a lot to do with it. I did one of those huge superhero extravaganzas that are all the rage these days (I've got another one lined up for next year). This took quite a bit of time away but the main reason I've been quiet is that I just needed to step away for a while. After seven plus years of writing this blog, I was a little tapped out. It had started to feel like a chore rather than something I looked forward to. The well was dry. Now that I've had some time away and learned a few things, and had some time to ponder a few things, maybe I can come up with some posts that, if not informative, may at least be interesting. As always, please email me with any ideas or questions. If you're a dolly or key grip with some experience, hell, I'll even give you a guest post. So I'm going to try and crank this thing back up again. Thankfully, Azurgrip has helped keep it alive. I'll try and be around a little more. Anyhoo, I just wanted to check in and let you guys know I'm going to hopefully be around a little more. Meanwhile, I've got the Captain and Netflix on a Friday night.
D

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Coming up for air


Just a quick intermission between shows, barely enough time to catch my breath nor catch up on sleep. It’s crazy stupid work wise here!

Next show, the operator has requested Fisher dollies for us to use. I’ll be the first to say “I’m a Chapman guy”, but I’ll also try anything -  once… I’ve done shows with Fishers which have been both good experiences and bad experiences.

The most recent Fisher experience was bad. Once again, the DP had suggested the use of a Fisher Ten. I had squeaky track wheels that I could not fix - Zep, Pledge, water, baby powder, locked wheels, unlocked wheels (not all at once) - nothing worked. I tried for as long as I could then finally the Key Grip stepped in and gently suggested a change.

I’m perplexed as to why I wouldn’t be asked what I feel comfortable using. Budgets aside, would production force one lens manufacture over another on a Director of Photography? Doesn’t a Gaffer have a preference of the manufacture of lighting fixtures? An operator be forced to use one fluid head over another? So why can’t I pick the dollies? (wow - doesn’t that sound like a six year girl whine!).

Thankfully I work in a market where there are choices, but in this case the choices are being made for me. What would you do? 
 
Hopefully once the dust has settled and the hangover has cleared, D will be able to deal with his technical challenges and share his most recent adventures!

Friday, January 29, 2016

OK, Here's My Explanation

Computer down. Typing on pad. I'll be checking in soon.