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 opinions.

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 etc.

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 a problem.

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.