Using Skate Board Dollies

To use PCV pipe with skateboard wheel dollies you need a very flat surface. To work on bare ground and rough slopes you need rigid tube or pipe supported with ties.

It is not necessary to level a track or pair of PVC pipes if the surface is not level but lies in one plane. The tripod can be leveled to correct the horizon in the shot.

Actors can be panned with a longer lens on a tripod to look like a dolly shot, but this isn't always possible and is a more difficult move for the operator. A dolly can allow the camera much closer to the actors and wider lenses to get the same composition of the actors, but you also get a much wider shot of the background behind the actors. This may or may not be desired.

Actors should have the ability to talk and act naturally and not have to worry about their relationship to the camera or dolly. Expecting them to keep in sync with a dolly can effect their performance. It is up to the operator, assistant and dolly grip to free them of any camera concerns. For close-ups where the waist isn't seen a light pole like a fish pole can give the actor and/or grip something to gage his position to the dolly.

The best person to push a dolly is one with the experience to coordinate the dolly move with the operator to maintain the actors in a good composition. It helps if the dolly grip has a well-shaded monitor of what the camera sees.

Very slow short (3-4 foot) moves can be made better working on one's knees than standing and walking. Watching the ground move in relationship to the dolly helps make a smooth constant speed move. Make marks for the beginning and ends of the move.

Especially for small screen video, dolly or crane shots of scenic and establishing shots give them a 3 dimensional feel. The resolution of film on a big screen makes up for crane and dolly moves. On the big screen good moves make a good shot better. Dolly and crane shots take time, extra equipment and people to set up in most cases, but set-up can often be done without the actors. Sometimes the shot can be made with stand-ins in the right wardrobe and body language. Some actor's have a distinctive walk that is hard to mimic.

Rehearsing a shot and doing a lot of practice moves will always improve shots a lot. You can block a potential dolly or crane shot by viewfinder, but putting up the camera will show other often better possibilities. Moving some dolly track and crane bases can be a major job. Learning to block a shot by eye is a skill learned with practice not under the pressure of a full cast and crew waiting for the cameraman to set up a shot.

The feeling of speed of a dolly shot depends on the distance of the nearest objects to camera, the focal length, whether the camera zooms and the feel desired for the shot. An action picture would demand much different treatment than a romantic story shot in nature.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.