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

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.
D

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.



2-21-2014

 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.
D

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...