Friday, March 09, 2018

Operator Hires

   Here's a tricky subject. Key Grips traditionally bring their own Dolly Grips. It makes sense since Dolly Grips are actually members of the Grip Department. Over the last few years however, I've noticed an uptick in the number of calls I get from camera operators checking availability. I haven't spoken to any of my colleagues about this but I would imagine they've noticed the same thing. Years ago, this never happened. In the last year alone though, I've done "B" camera on a show with my regular Key Grip because the operator brought his own guy from LA, and I've lost a show that the operator campaigned hard for me to get, but the Key Grip insisted on bringing his own guy. I should say at this point that I have no resentment whatsoever in either of these instances. I've been in both positions before. Although I would have liked to have done both of the jobs as "A" camera, in each case I understand why I ended up where I was and respect both decisions. The point I'm getting at is that in each case the camera operator had a Dolly Grip in mind and contacted him for the job. I think a couple of things are in play here: The huge demand for content has resulted in more production probably than at any time in history, leading to a shortage of Dolly Grips who are qualified to do the job; and more young Key Grips who don't understand the position and hire Dolly Grips who can't put the camera where the operator needs it. I hear over and over again nightmare stories from camera operators about their previous Dolly Grips. Guys who can't do compound moves. Guys who can't do dance floor moves. I heard a couple years ago about a Dolly Grip, "A" camera on a fairly large feature, who couldn't put the low-mode on. It was inevitable that operators would take matters into their own hands and build up a list of Dolly Grips that they know will get the job done and not make them look bad. I think this is a good thing. It goes a long way toward establishing us in producers' and directors' minds as not just an afterthought but as one third of the shot. Which we are.

Time to mix another one.


Saturday, March 03, 2018

Black Panther

  I've gotten a few emails concerning Black Panther. This movie used a variety of camera movement platforms, mostly Technocrane provided by the professionals at Cinemoves. Scotty Howell has built a world class company and we literally use no one else, When I say a variety of platforms, I mean the shoot was always changing from handheld to Technocrane to dolly to Steadicam to Spydercam to Movee to whatever else they could come up with. Camera operator Scott Sakamoto and I were constantly switching modes and the result is one of the most satisfying movies I've ever been privileged to be a part of.
  Chapman, as usual, came through with a Hustler 4 that practically did the moves itself. It was a wonderful machine (and no, I won't say what number it was). The scene in the council room was all dolly and the machines performed flawlessly (I wish I could say the same about the Dolly Grip) on what was the longest day of the show. The Warrior Falls sequence was a ten day marathon. I was particularly happy with the shot following T'Challa out of the ship down the stairs into the water which was accomplished with a Movee and a Mimic. The shot pulling him out as he prepared for battle was me manning the Oculus head, trying to stay ahead of Chadwick. Two Technocranes, a Steadicam, three handheld cameras and a drone made for some tough days, but the sequence speaks for itself. The casino sequence was accomplished through visual effects stitching, Spydercam, and a detachable Movee rig designed by Cinemoves. A lot of work went into this sequence by Grip, Camera, and the first class stunt team. In all, a very fun, exhausting and satisfying experience,

    Black Panther: Tools used- Chapman Hustler 4 dolly, Super Peewee 3 dolly, Cinemoves Technocrane, Moviebird, Oculus Head, and Movee. Spydercam. Special thanks to Kenny Rivenbark, head tech extraordinaire, Mike Howell on the pickle, Sean and Henry of Cinemoves for the Movee rig and my B camera dolly grip Kenny Bolton. You guys were like a machine. I was just along for the ride.
  Good luck to our DP Rachel Morrison and congrats on your Oscar nomination,
  Congrats also to my buddy Scott Sakamoto for your Lifetime Achievement Award,
    Coog, I love you, dude.

Good job guys.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

2018 Motion Picture Moving Camera Platform Lifetime Achievement Award

  Can we just call it the Dolly Grip Award already?

  Anyway, my old friend Danny Pershing  (Django Unchained, Eat, Pray, Love, Baby Driver, Hateful 8, Iron Man, ok, I give up) just won the lifetime achievement award from the SOC. It's one of the few arenas where the contributions of the Dolly Grip is recognized by our industry. Recent winners include: Brad Rae, Mike Moad, And Moose Schultz.
  I've known Danny for over twenty years. He is one of a kind. I have a story. Years ago Philippe Rousselot called me to Key a commercial for him in Los Angeles. I had been Philippe's Dolly Grip on several movies and he trusts me. I told him, " I'm not a Key Grip, but I'll do my best." Anyway, I knew I needed a good Dolly Grip to come in because there was a lot of crane and jib work and I wanted to concentrate on the lighting with Philippe and not deal with camera.. Without hesitation, the first name I thought of was Danny, and surprisingly he was available. I then proceeded to micromanage him to the point where I finally pulled him to the side and apologized. I said, "Danny, the last person you need telling you how to do this job is me. I'm sorry, I'm just nervous because it's Philippe." Danny was so gracious and handled it so much better than I probably would have and that's one of the reasons he deserves this award. He is quite literally the best in the business. I'm proud to call him a friend and so proud of him for this much delayed recognition,
   Thank you Danny. I've learned so much from you over the years. Your patience and good attitude has been a template for me to follow for over twenty years. Congratulations.

And now a word from Bill Pope.

Saturday, January 13, 2018


  I did a post a few years ago called Freeballing which talked about freeform finding a shot when they don't really know what they want. This happens when you usually have a montage piece and you find shots as they happen. I recently (last night) had a chance to revisit this situation and as it turns out, had a lot of fun doing it. This is literally when you as a dolly grip get a chance to be creative and, if you're experienced, know what they might need in editing and can deliver. The setup was a mission control type room with a main character facing a huge screen. We had a technocrane swooping around over the various desks and my camera on a stabilized head "mowing the lawn" in front of him. As the scene unfolded, my main job was to stay out of the crane shot and keep them out of my shot on a longer lens. The instructions from the DP were to travel in on an angle and then travel out on a mirror angle. as this happened, and the crane shot changed, I had an opportunity to find shots. If the crane camera was on the right side of frame, I decided to give them a left to right tighter shot, which I knew they didn't have yet.have but would be valuable. Although the DP or operator hadn't really given me instructions, I saw an opportunity and took it. After we cut and moved on, the DP came up and said, "That was crafty." I said , "Crappy?" and he said ,"No, crafty." And I knew I did the right thing. This reinforced to me the importance of experience for a dolly grip. I knew what they didn't have already, but would probably need and gave it to them.
  I work in a boom town. Production in Atlanta has increased tenfold from what it was when I started here thirty years ago when we had one series and one feature a year. Now, if you do a season of  "B" camera on a series and know how to put the sideboards on, you're a "dolly grip." Forget that you don't understand editing, or eyelines, or crane placement. None of that matters anymore until you don't understand the shot and five takes in, you still can't get it. As dolly grips we are more than just some monkey who moves the camera from one place to another. Often, as was proven last night, it's up to us to give them what they need. If you don't know what they need you can't give it to them.

   It all comes back to what we have been harping on for over ten years on this page: Learn your craft. This job is a craft and it's up to you to learn it.

Learn your craft.

Friday, December 22, 2017

My Least Favorite Shot

  Anytime I have to put a camera looking straight down over anyone it gives me the willies. I hate it. I'm in a constant state of nervousness until it's over. The above shot is an extreme example. Sixty floors up, over a bunch of schoolchildren. You can't really see the whole setup, but it's off a Peewee sideways on track and it's a left to right move of about twenty feet. Shots like this are nerve wracking enough when you're doing the standard offset-on a riser-over-the-bed-shot. When you're eighty feet up, it just magnifies it. Always remember to do any rigging, attaching the camera to the head, lens changes etc. before you swing the offset out. I actually prefer to swing the actual offset rather than  the R.O. because I can see the bolt and how much engagement it has as opposed to the R.O. knob where the threads are hidden. Don't forget to safety the matte box as well as the camera and double check everything before swinging it out. If there isn't a "Jesus pin" on the plate, screw a 3/8" bolt into one of the holes in the plate below the camera. On this setup, I have a daisy chain through an eyebolt, around the handle and around the rods just for a little more piece of mind. Some lenses have little tabs with holes for wire safeties too. I have seen a lens fall out of the mount and hit a stand-in so don't take anything for granted in this situation.  Whenever I'm in the old lock off looking down at an actor position, I'll usually support the arm too. It's overkill but if the hydraulics ever pick that moment to fail, someone's going to the hospital or worse. Sometimes AC's will laugh at me for taking all of these precautions but I'd rather over rig than under. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong and a matte box or focus motor from that high up could kill someone. Don't take shortcuts.

   I've added a new link in the long neglected links section for Give them a look. It looks like some well researched info.

  I've had a little more time to post lately mostly because I've been doing B Camera on the last two shows and frankly I'm not as tired as I normally would be. Plus, both are in the Marvel universe and that means ten hour days. I had the opportunity to work with my old buddy the legend Brad Rea on the last one which was a treat, and I'm helping fill in for a friend who needed some time off on this one so I'm getting to work with some other A camera guys who I wouldn't normally see. It's always kind of fun to team up on a show with another A camera guy, although doing B camera can leave you feeling a little left out when you're watching the other guy in the middle of it all. Anyway, it can be a nice break from the action and I get to see some friends without all the pressure.  I hope you all have a safe and joyous holiday with family and friends.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Double Tap

  Something happened today which gave me an idea for a post. Since I have a long turnaround (a week of days into a Friday night exterior) I find myself with a few hours to fill up while I try to force myself into nights. Anyway, the inspiration was an actor committing what I call a double tap. I was pulling back with an actor as he lurched toward, then descended a small staircase. We'd done a couple of rehearsals and at least two takes. No problem. He lurches, I start the pullback. and he stops. He Stops. For about a second, then goes into his descent down the stairs. By this time I was a good two feet further than I should have been, but there was nothing to do but slow down and keep going. This is a double tap, when an actor appears to commit to a movement and suddenly pauses before actually committing. It most often happens on stand-ups or sit-downs. He or she will lean forward, my fingers start to turn  the boom control in anticipation. The actor's knees tense. His head starts to rise. The knob turns and the camera ascends in perfect synch with his head. Then, he stops. He settles back, and shoots up in frame toward the ceiling. Except he's not in frame because we left him long ago on our journey upward. At this point I shake my head and fling my arms outward in frustration. I learned long ago that there is nothing you can do about a double tap. They are usually committed by relatively inexperienced actors and hopefully, after the second or third time it happens, the operator or DP will gently explain to them the situation. In any case, if you get double tapped, it's not your fault. Let it go until they get it right.
  I've been watching and enjoying Mindhunter on Netflicks. It's a beautifully written and shot show that reminds me of True Detective's first season, only a little less tedious and with a little more humor. The  dolly work by Dwayne Barr is stellar in addition to the operating by my old friend Brian Osmond. I  mean really flawless and my hat's off. Nice work!

  Ok, time for another cup of coffee as I head deeper into the night.


Friday, September 01, 2017

Hi Guys

Well, here we are. It's been a while since I've turned up a bottle and joined you. A lot has happened over the last few (or many) months. As always the demands of family and work have taken priority over the writing. I now have a six year old boy destroying the house and a twenty-one year old daughter spending the tuition. As you can imagine, the time for inspiration and writing about the glories of the craft of camera movement have been supplanted (I had to look that one up) by just grinding out a paycheck. Never fear, I am still with you. I've been on the Marvel train for a while. In between, I've done a couple of less than admirable shows just for the paycheck (patio furniture, bedroom suite) and have done a couple of posts just as placeholders to let you know that I'm still here. I know that useful technical info has been at a minimum. Honestly, guys, I'm drained. I do have a lot of ideas for posts that I will get around to when my son makes Eagle Scout, but till then we are selling popcorn to pay for the overnight on the aircraft carrier (Den 7). In the meantime, here are some things: Precision track is heavy as shit. I've used Filmair on, like, 20 movies. It's fine. Save yourself the trouble. Also, I tried the Hybrid 4. I really dislike it. I'm still a Hustler 4 guy. Also, you don't "need" a Peewee 4. The Super Peewee 3 is just fine. Also, I still hate seat offsets. Get a Banjo seat. Flat stock sux. Arri geared head levels have never been accurate and never will be. And, I've decided to leave the dance floor cart loaded and strapped off, because life is too short. Along the same lines: Dear set decorators, we will never see the two-inch thick rug on the floor. Thank you all.