Saturday, February 28, 2015

Camera Operators (Because That's What We Are)

  I've been thinking lately about camera operators. These people we share so much of our time and talent with. I have been blessed to work with some of the best in the business. I've been priviledged to call them friends as well as colleagues. Here's the thing though, guys. They can't do our job. And we often are treated like second class citizens. Not by them, but by production. I'll never forget a job I was up for a few years ago. A camera operator friend of mine was going out of the country to do a movie. He was trying to get me on but was in a battle with production. The DP wouldn't go to bat for him and production said, "We have a local guy who is very good." I called him a couple of weeks after he started the show to ask how it was going. "Well," he said, "we started off with a Technocrane shot. He couldn't get it. Then we went to a dolly shot and he couldn't get that. The rest of the show has been steadicam." I've never understood why production will bring in operators and focus pullers but will trust the person whose job is at least one third of the shot to fate. Part of it is our fault, guys. We've allowed people who weren't ready or weren't qualified to assume a position for which they aren't competent. I've seen it over and over again and heard horror story after horror story. "Dolly grips" who can't hold an over or put the low mode on or do a compound move who are time and again entrusted to make a shot they can't make. It's not an entry level position. Until we conduct ourselves as professionals and call out those who aren't qualified, we will always be considered second class citizens. Anyway, that's my rant for the week. Oh, I just forgot, I started this post talking about camera operators. The good ones appreciate and fight for us. The shitty ones don't. That's where I was headed. Remember that.
The captain has spoken.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sarah- One Year Later

One year ago today, Sarah Jones lost her life. Help remember her by taking a moment of silence before the first shot today. This is a repost from last year. Never forget-never again.


 As most of you have heard by now, a young member of the Atlanta film community, 27 year-old Sarah Jones was killed yesterday when a train struck her while she was working on a film called Midnight Rider.
  Unfortunately, I didn't know Sarah as well as I could have. I seem to be saying this a lot lately  about those taken too young. She came in often as an additional second AC on several jobs I was working on. I would say "Hi," she would say "Hi" back and we would each head toward our respective labors. I can distinctly remember two things, which aren't much, but are all I have: I remember meeting her, and I remember the bacon. We were on a darkened stage when we met, and I noticed the new girl with a large toolbelt. I walked up (apparently I was in a rare social mood), stuck out my hand and introduced myself. She said, "Hi I'm Sarah." She was friendly, and full of the promise we all had at that age, starting an adventure that she expected never to end. Then there was the bacon thing which I noticed but never asked about. She had a shirt that said Bacon is nature's candy or something along those lines. I thought it was funny as I have often called barbecued ribs nature's candy, which they are. Then on the last job we were on together I noticed that she had a sticker on her toolbelt that also mentioned bacon with a picture of two pigs. That's it. That's all I have. One thing that is apparent over the last two days, though, is the love that the Atlanta film community has for her. Our hearts are broken.

  I don't know all the details of what happened, and try to reserve judgement until the facts are in. I do know that, according to the lead detective on the investigation, the company did not have permission to be on the tracks. I have done countless train shoots. I've rigged cameras on trains, done dolly shots next to the tracks, crane shots of approaching trains and pushed Peewees down the aisles of passenger cars. I do know one thing, you never shoot on a live track without a representative of the train company there. You don't approach the tracks or a train unless they know you are there and you have permission to do it. These situations are tightly controlled. And I suspect one other thing. No one said "No." In this business, we are put in a lot of dangerous situations. A certain amount of risk comes with the job. We regularly shoot in caves, mines, boats, high speed cars, helicopters, and any other dangerous situation a writer can dream up. In these situations we trust that the groundwork has been laid, discussions have been had and meetings held by the higher ups who we often call "the adults" or the "grownups." We call them that for a reason. We count on them to worry about the details of making us safe while we focus on making the movie. All we ask is that if we are put in a situation, that we know the risks. ALL of them. And sometimes, someone has to say "No." As a Dolly Grip, the safety of the immediate camera crew on any given shot is my responsibility. I've earned that through experience, as has my Key Grip. No one said "No" for this girl and those injured in this senseless tragedy. Instead, corners were cut and permissions were broken and a 27 year-old girl who just wanted to do a good job was put in a position from which there was no escapeTo get a freaking shot. And that's why we are here, guys:  To say "No" for those who don't know they can. As a forty something Dolly Grip who's been around the block a few times, I would have said, Hell no to being on that trestle on a live track without a rep or permission. As a twenty-something young grip with something to prove and trying to make an impression on "The Adults," however, you can bet your ass I would have moved the camera up there myself and stood by it to yank it out of the way if a train came. It's up to us not to let the creative minds override common sense just to get a cool shot. It's up to us to look out for each other and for those who haven't been around as long. To say "No" for them. Because often they don't know they can. When the time came, no one said "No," for her.  Now, all that's left is an endless sadness and anger, and lawsuits, and finger-pointing and we are still without a friend and co-worker who was doing what she was told, trusting the adults that it was OK.

 To a young lady with a bright future cut short, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't make it a point to get to know you. I thought I had more time. I'm sorry that no one was there to look out for you. I'm sorry for your parents. I can't imagine losing a child, especially to something as ultimately meaningless and stupid as a movie. I'm sorry for my colleagues who were lucky enough to know you better than I did. I wish you could see how much they loved you. I'm sorry for all that was taken from you because no one said, "No." You deserved better. From all of us.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The SOC Awards Part 2

  Congratulations to my friend Chris Mcguire for winning Camera Operator of the Year. I livestreamed the show and though it had some hiccups, it was still a night of excitement for those who won. I would also like to congratulate (once again) Alan "Moose" Schultz. You make dolly grips everywhere proud. Most nominees were quick to thank the dolly grip (although not always by name) and thank them for their contribution. Dan Gold SOC was particularly quick to point out the dolly grip in his speech.I've beeen drinking since about 2PM and my wife says I have to stop now. Congrats to Bud Kremp also. Good work, dude! Good night all.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

“At what height would you like the camera today?"

- A quote from Winnipeg, Manitoba dolly grips.

Here in Toronto, we were lucky enough to miss the Blizzard of ’15 that dumped a few feet of snow on the North American east coast, but I’m not lucky enough to be able to hibernate, so I find myself having to work through the winter, and most likely outside in not the nicest of weather.

Dressing appropriately is important to combat the cold, but what I’m having to deal with is the dolly freezing. We’re using Chapman Pee Wees - a 4 and a 3+ (A & B cameras respectively) and the oil pan heating pad in the 4 really doesn’t cut the mustard, never mind none in the 3+.

One of our local rental houses is smart enough to try by adding a pipe heating coil through the back end of the dolly, but generally it does very little. In my current situation, the dollies are stored in uninsulated, unheated, unpowered trucks so in the morning the dollies come out as solid bricks of ice. A couple of 2K open face lamps pointing at the dolly’s underbelly is the morning ritual, but there’s got to be a better way.

(and don’t get me started on salt / ice melter and it’s effects on dolly tires!)

Suggestions? Comments?

Would you believe there was no snow when we arrived an hour earlier...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

SOC Awards

Congratulations to Moose Schultz for winning the SOC Lifetime Achievement Award for Moving Camera Platform Operator this year. This is truly the only body in the industry that recognizes the contributions of the dolly grip. I've been to the SOC's and they really put on a good show. Only camera operators really know what we contribute day after day and I appreciate them in their recognition of the dolly grip's role in what they do. In recognition of Moose's award, I've decided to list a few of my colleagues who I believe deserve some recognition. I consider most of these guys friends as well as top notch Dolly Grips.

Danny Pershing- This is the dude whose career we all want. Cool, calm and collected. Even Bob Richardson can't shake this guy. With credits like: Django Unchained, Iron Man, Shutter Island, and Eat, Pray, Love, Danny continuously amazes me with his professionalism and calm under fire. He was also the first Key Grip I ever worked for way back in 1990.

Bill Wynn- A dolly grip's dolly grip. This guy knows more about the craft of moving a camera than anyone I've ever met. He gets it done and if I was a Key Grip, I would call him first. The West Wing, Three Kings.

Moose Howery- The ultimate professional. This guy has a list of credits that makes us all hang our heads. He's a rock star. Apocalypto, Forrest Gump, Contact, The Book of Eli.

Greg Brooks- My buddy. Came in like a freight train to become Clint Eastwood's dolly grip. This guy inspired me to walk the rail on a recent shot. Makes it look easy. Gran Torino, Trouble With The Curve, J Edgar, Changeling.

Sean Devine- Somehow decided to become a Key Grip, but a craftsman as a dolly grip. A world class pusher. Serenity, 42, Friday Night Lights.

Ashley Sudge- I wanted to be this guy for years. The coolest customer you will ever meet. He literally just walks up to the dolly and just does it. Planet Of The Apes, Interview With The Vampire, NCIS: LA.

Andy Crawford- A veteran pusher. And a gentleman. I've admired this guy since I walked into Chapman in Los Angeles and saw his personal dolly off to the side with his tag on it. Independence Day, The Help, Friggin Stargate. Really Dude?

Troy Wade- I've known Troy forever. He was Michael Mann's go to guy for years. Collateral, Ali, Miami Vice.

Brad Rea- What can I say about this guy. He is the ultimate professional. Winner of the SOC Lifetime Achievement Award. I am so proud to know him. When I think of the most professional dolly grip I know, his name pops up. Gone Girl, Memoirs of a Geisha, Iron Man.

Mike Epley- I've known Mike for years and am still amazed he returns my calls. There is literally nothing he can't do with a dolly or a crane. The General's Daughter, Shooter, Marley and Me.

Sanjay Sami- Everybody who is anybody knows who this guy is. My friend. The only Key Grip/Dolly Grip/Steadicam Operator I have ever heard of. He completely amazes me with his talent and ability. Wes Anderson's go-to guy. Those dolly shots in Moonrise Kingdom?  Yeah that was this guy. The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, The Darjeeling Limited.

Wayne Stroud- I met Wayne years ago when he was Robert Altman's regular guy. He has a talent for improvising and making the shot happen. That long opening shot on The Player? That's Wayne. The Player, Gingerbread Man, Kansas City.

John Mang- I don't know John personally, although we run in the same circles. He's Spielberg's regular guy. Lincoln, War of the Worlds, Iron Man 2

Bruce Hamme- This guy is at the top of his game He's Roger Deakins's regular Dolly Grip. Roger trusts him to deliver and he does. I've heard Roger ask him many times after a shot, "Was that OK?" True Grit, Skyfall, No Country For Old Men.

Trip Pair- I've known Trip for years and his dedication to his craft and single-minded focus on the job at hand inspires me to go the extra mile every day. Founder of Stop and Care, he truly cares about his profession and those around him. Terminator:Salvation, We Are Marshall.

That's it.  These are the Dolly Grips that inspire me through their innate talent or professionalism, or just....coolness. I am honored to call most of them friends.
Again, congratulations to Alan "Moose" Schultz. Good on you Brother. You make us all proud.
I raise one to you.

This post has been edited since it's original publication. I write most of them after a few drinks and I always add something I forgot or reword some things. Just thought you should know.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Chapman Grand Opening-Atlanta

  Had a great time at the Chapman-Leonard Grand Opening at Pinewood Studios Atlanta today. I got to see a lot of friends and coworkers that I haven't seen in a while and spend some time with a lot of the fine folks from the Chapman family. I did a demo of the Hustler 4 and Bill Winn did a demo of the Hybrid 4.  I still haven't switched over to the Hybrid 4 because I wanted to wait a while and let all the kinks get worked out, but from what I saw today, I would be completely comfortable using it on my next show. It would be hard to give up my Hustler 4, though. Thanks to all who came out and to Nichole for putting together a great event. I spent a lot of time talking to Leonard and his beautiful wife Cindy and learned a thing or two myself. Of course it's always good to see James Marks and all the wonderful techs who keep us going. Thanks everyone for a great afternoon!
  I plan to soon get back in to some more technical posts, including something on keeping your camera operator happy and maybe revisiting dance floor and techniques to make complex moves a little less stressful. Please comment or email any suggestions on things you would like to see. After a while away from the blog, I'm starting to get reinvigorated again but I need some inspiration. Help me out!

  I've got a few weeks off before my next job so I've got a little time to devote to these long neglected pages. Stay safe out there and don't be afraid to say, "No" if something isn't right.

Monday, January 19, 2015

That's A Wrap!

  We finally wrapped on the twelve week Sci Fi extravaganza/catastrophe I've been working on for what seems most of my life. It just went on forever. Although our lead actress was a minor and we worked mostly ten or eleven hour days, I often joked that this was the only company that could make a ten hour day seem like a sixteen hour day. All in all, we had a great time. I did a fair amount of rickshaw work with my operator, Larry McConkey, and we turned in some really beautiful shots. (No, I did not get part of his rate) although I should have for trying to outrun a seventeen year old girl. There was a little bit of everything and we pulled out most of the tools in the arsenal. Mostly our crane of choice was the Moviebird. It's always a pleasure to use this crane. The bearings are so smooth and the option of lengthening it to 45' comes in handy. We also did some work with the 72' Hydrascope, the Phoenix, and the Aerocrane jib. I must give credit to my B Camera Dolly Grip, Kenny Bolton. This guy stepped up and delivered. He is turning out to be a fine dolly grip. I had my dolly of choice, the Hustler 4, and a Peewee 4 for the small dolly. Both went through the wringer and came out the other side as good as the day of the loadout. I must thank the Chapman team at Chapman-Atlanta for their service. Thanks to a great cast and crew, we pulled it off and had some laughs along the way. Thanks also to Cinemoves and Mike and Parker. They're our go-to guys for technocranes.

  I will be at the Grand Opening of Chapman/Leonard at the Pinewood-Atlanta studios this Saturday. I will be doing a demo of the Hustler 4 in what is sure to be an edge-of-your-seat event. My buddy, veteran dolly grip Bill Winn, will be doing the Hybrid 4. Hope to see you there.

  Speaking of the Hybrid 4, I did use it briefly on a series last year. While I liked it (I've always loved the Hybrids), I'm not quite ready to switch over to it. I think I'll let it be out for a while and let some of the kinks get worked out.