Introduction to DV Dollies
I built my first riding dolly in about 1964 while shooting a documentary for
the USIA with Carroll Ballard. I made an electric motor drive so I could make
moves as a one man crew. The film got an Academy nomination, but Carroll lost
the award to a Vietnam War documentary. We lost the war too. I build a silent
model with rubber wheels for a movie I shot for Roger Corman and then came skate
boards and the skate board wheel dolly. I wasn't the first one to use skate
board wheels or the 45 degree wheel design, but built and used a lot of them.
We manufactured dollies and track in the 70's.
Today there are many dollies out there with different price tags to justify
the wonderful incorporated features. I go for basic function and here are my
1. A simple dolly can work just as well as a complicated one if you know how
to use it. Wood is quieter than metal for the platform, but looks less "professional".
Plywood and pipe can be obtained almost anywhere in the world and all you need
to bring are 3 or 4 trucks with wheels. (Trucks are what holds the wheels in
position and attach to the platform.)
2. The operator riding on a dolly can make much better moves than walking behind
it. You can make better moves with longer focal lengths and KNOW what you are
getting. It is hard to judge a shot if you are walking. Some great shots can
be made "blind" (not watching the viewfinder) if you are not zooming,
panning or tilting. Great scenic or establishing shots can be made with two
smaller pipes or even a ladder for track.
3. To operate well and keep your body from effecting the smoothness of a dolly
the operator should sit on something well attached to the dolly. A clamped or
bolted down box works well. The box can double for carrying cribbing, wedges
4. PVC and any flexible track, while cheap and readily available, only work
on flat surfaces. Rigid track with ties is necessary anywhere else.
5. Use the longest lengths of track possible to avoid joints that are always
6. For heavier weights, staggering the 4 wheels reduces bumps when going over
track joints. For 8 wheel trucks for really heavy dollies, make sure each wheel
has equal weight on it. Use very strong trucks.
7. Motor drives are possible for one-man crews and smooth small moves. Makita
14 volt drills can move a small dolly. They will accelerate and run smoothly.
One wheel can be driven best near the operator.
8. Circular track is magic. PVC can be bent and attached and even not attached
to a flat surface. Aluminum and steel pipe/tube can be bent in many cities to
very accurate dimensions. See Curved Dolly Track.
9. Cranes can be attached to dollies, but only if you know what you are doing.
Cranes are more dangerous than dollies. The tripod or base of the crane has
to be well attached to the dolly and the dolly has to be heavy enough so it
doesn't tip over when pushed. You get leverage that can lift a wheel off when
pushing the tripod up high.
© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.