Friday, March 15, 2013

Thought for the day

"If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride - and never quit, you'll be a winner. The price of victory is high but so are the rewards." - Paul Bryant

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Behind the Scenes 10: Toys!

For those not technically minded, you're excused from today's lesson, because today I'm going to show you some of the toys we get to play with in the film industry.

These are part of the standard operating equipment you'll find on almost every shoot. They enable the camera to move along tracks to get closer into the action or run alongside the action. The movement created is a little different from an ordinary zoom in or out. The dolly is moved manually so it usually requires its own dedicated technicians, the dolly grips.

Dolly image courtesy of

Dolly tracks come in both curved and straight lengths, so they can cover pretty much any motion at floor level, but what happens if you have a location with a floor so uneven you can't lay tracks (like a forest floor covered in twisting roots) or too narrow to fit a dolly (like a doorway in an apartment)?

That's when we might use a...

This is a body-mounted rig usually carried by a particularly buff specialist operator. Film cameras might be getting lighter as technology improves, but you try carrying this weight over and over again as a scene is re-shot and re-shot and you'll develop muscles too!

The steadicam also has built-in stabilisers to offset the body's natural up/down walking rhythm to avoid making viewers seasick.

Steadicam image courtesy of

An amazingly simple contraption for getting a little height. The camera is rigged at the top, the operator climbs up, and a couple of brawny grips keep the ladder stable. The one pictured below is quite a fancy model. Most are much shorter and much less impressive.

Image courtesy of South African grips company Dragon Grips
But if you want the camera to sweep dramatically upwards or sideways, you need a...

Jib arm / Crane
These are long arms that can lift the camera up high or extend the camera into hard to reach areas. Jibs are lighter and smaller and come with interesting names like Jimmy Jibs and Meerkats.

Jimmy Jib from South African company Crow's Nest in use at the Augrabies Gorge

Cranes are longer, reach higher, and are more stable. Both use weights to balance out the long reach.

In the Olden Days, directors and camera operators still sat on the end of a crane to manually operate the camera. In this age of safety and liability issues, this gung-ho approach is rare.

Gung-ho approach on The Hunger Games - courtesy of Dragon Grips

Reaching the unreachable - courtesy of Dragon Grips

These days we have remote camera heads (head = the fancy doodat on which the camera is mounted which connects it to whatever else is supporting it) which can swivel the camera up, down or tilt side to side.
Cam Remote from

These remote heads are also highly specialised pieces of equipment that have their own specialist technicians with fancy job titles like Scorpio Head Operator or Powerpod Technician.

Tracking cars and Process trailers
You know those scenes where the actors are driving along, engrossed in conversation and not paying the least attention to the road? That's because they're not!
Their car has been secured on the back of a process trailer, rigged with lights and cameras, and all the actors need do is remember their dialogue.

Process trailer courtesy of San Diego Film Commission

A tracking vehicle is any vehicle, be it a quad bike, golf cart or truck, that transports the camera alongside the action

Tracking vehicle courtesy of Dragon Grips

Aerial Camera Mounts
Last, but by no means least, are the special rigs that enable cameras to fly above the heads of us mere mortals. Cable cams and helicopter mounts are the ultimate toys on any film shoot, but since they also cost a pretty penny to use, it's not often we get to play with them!

Image courtesy of

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Behind the Scenes 9: The Grips Department

Question: What’s the difference between a grip and a PA?
Answer: A PA can spell “grip.”

The Grips boys are the butt of a lot of film industry jokes because they're the brawn rather than the brains of the film industry. That said, considering these guys often have to understand technical things like velocity to weight ratios and other stuff I have no hope of understanding, they can't be too stupid.

My note: While gripping is not exclusively a male job, in a line of work  that involves as much muscle as this it's rare to find a female grip.

"But what do Grips do?" I hear you wail.

Put very simply, the grips department is responsible for everything underneath the camera. So while the camera team work on the camera itself, the grips are in control of everything that moves or supports the camera - legs (tripods), dollies, jibs, cranes, tracks and other camera mounts.

Put even more simply, their job is to push, pull, mount and hang stuff.

The head of the department is the Key Grip. Aside from supervising where the camera goes and how it moves, he is often also responsible for safety around the camera.
According to one website I visited, the name Grip comes from old circus terminology. Since I don't know much about circuses, I can't comment.

The key's chief assistant is the Best Boy. As with the Lighting Department, the Best Boy is the most senior assistant. On larger shoots and feature films, he also handles the logistics and paperwork for the team.

On our smaller shoots we often only have one key grip and one assistant, but the more complicated the equipment, the more assistants will be needed. For example, to build a length of track, level it across often very uneven ground, and assemble it (including loading on the very heavy crane weights) requires a great deal of labour.

Question: Why was the dolly invented?
Answer: To teach grips how to walk upright.

While reporting to the Key Grip, the Dolly Grip works closely wth the camera department. His role is to move the dolly (see picture below) or crane on which the camera is mounted and to ensure it runs smooth and level at all times.

Dolly in motion - from

Rigging Grips are the guys who assist lighting with preparing the next set-up by setting the lights, rigging scaffolding, hanging black-out cloth etc. However in the UK, where union rules are very specific about who can do what, this is handled exclusively by the lighting team.

There are a whole bunch of other specialists involved in mounting and/or moving the camera, which we'll look at next week. [Warning: it may get a little technical.] And if you have any questions, just ask.

For a great insider's view of being a grip, here's a fun blog post.

And finally, for some light relief for anyone who's made it to the end of this post, here's a whole bunch of film industry "how many people does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" jokes.