What does a Dolly Grip do?
A dolly grip is a film technician considered part of the camera or grip and electric (G&E) department. They are primarily responsible for positioning and moving the camera dolly, a wheeled device on which the camera and camera operators are placed for certain shots. The dolly grip is essential in maintaining the smooth movements required in dolly shots, as any bump or jiggle can destroy a shot.
Dolly grips may have several jobs on a shoot, depending on the style and type of shots required. Some dolly shots make use of a dolly track, a metal grid laid out similarly to a train track on which the dolly is placed. If a track is required, the grip may be responsible for laying it out according to the shot specifications, as well as pulling the dolly across the tracks.
The camera crew is dependent on the dolly grip’s ability to hit predetermined marks for stopping and starting position. As the camera moves on the dolly, a focus puller must manually adjust the focus of the lens to keep the shot clear. If a dolly grip goes over their ending mark, the shot may be out of focus. Although there is sometimes time to place colored tape or other indicators to help the grip start and stop correctly, many dolly grips develop an innate sense of where and when to stop.
Some dollies include a mechanic or hydraulic arm that can be attached to the camera for certain shots. Often, the dolly grip, rather than a member of the camera crew, will be assigned to operate the arm. In some cases, the grip must not only move the arm but also pull or push the cart as well.
If no dolly is used for handheld or Steadicam work, a dolly grip may still find employment as a spotter for the camera man. Typically, they will guide the camera operator around any obstacles, keep them from tripping and prevent them from encountering anything that could damage the shot or cause injury to themselves or the actors. While other technicians can do this job, the dolly grip’s ability to move smoothly and assess distances correctly can make them an invaluable asset to this type of camera work.
Dolly grips possess a unique skill set that requires considerable training and a lot of experience. As such, good dolly grips are typically highly sought-after and well-paid. If you are considering a career as a film technician, the world of the dolly grip offers a good mix between camera and G&E work, and can be rewarding both creatively and financially.
A friend of mine back in college had to make a short film as a class assignment, so he talked me into helping with the technical side. I was everything from a boom operator to a dolly grip, although I didn't know what all that meant at the time. We couldn't lay down a proper dolly track, so I had to push the cameraman around on a desk with wheels. I did my best, but there was still a lot of shakiness we couldn't fix in post-production, let me tell you.
I think people forget that the technical crew on a movie set is still part of the creative process. It might sound like all a dolly grip does is push a cart down a set of tracks, but it's more complicated than that. The director wants each shot to have a certain rhythm. A fast dolly shot creates excitement, while a slow dolly shot creates drama, for example. The dolly grip has to know what the final shot should look like, so he can move the tripod dolly at the right speed.
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