Devon is a dangerous place

Written by

Andrew Millar


April 12, 2007

I always used to think that people who were accused of being accident prone were just unlucky or clumsy. I thought they might just be victimised. I thought they might be convicted by statistics or that you just noticed their injuries because you were aware – like when you were going to buy a Volvo you suddenly become more aware of them on the road.

I thought accident prone meant misunderstood.

Until I worked with great bloke called Devon.

Devon was a freelance camera grip we used for commercials from time to time.

He was always putting a drill bit through his hand, flattening fingers with various sized hammers, breaking bones and generally damaging his body. He once rolled up to a shoot with his head in bandages. A tree had snapped in two on his property. He wanted to clean up the top section of the tree but it was still attached. So he picked it up with the scoop of his tractor and began driving around the tree. Instead of tearing the top section off, he was simply winding it around like a clock spring. Eventually, it let go, spun around and launched a pine cone, which hit him in the temple and knocked him off the tractor. He came to, just in time to see it drive off into his dam.

Devon was a Grip. Grips supply all the machinery and rigs for camera moves. Or not move as the case may be. And Devon, like all the other Grips I’ve worked with, had a truck full of tripods, tracks, trolleys and cranes that all contribute to the production value of the commercial. These trucks are wonderlands of ingenious bits and pieces – some expensive bits made by Panther, Miller and Manfretto. And others are simple and clever homemade gizmos that add to an efficient shoot. Because the catch cry of every film shoot is always ‘time is money’. And every little detail is worked out in advance to make sure nothing goes wrong.

The most important feature of a shoot is the call sheet. It provides everyone with detailed instructions of where they need to be, what time they need to be there and what they’ll need once there. And if a crew needs to move location during the day there is often a map.

Big shoot or small, there is always a call sheet.

A commercial we were shooting for a local pump manufacturer was a low budget production, and we did have to move locations during the day.

Devon packed his truck systematically for the move. Everything had a place and there was a place for everything – including his dolly – a metre square sized platform on large rubber wheels that you can set a camera tripod on and wheel it around for tracking or moving shots. Devon’s dolly lived on the roof of his truck, on a little pack rack above the cabin.

As we prepared to move, the director pointed out that we were to travel a short distance to the freeway. He reminded people to look at their maps and note that the entrance ramp presented two choices – one to the left and one to the right. And although we were ultimately travelling off to the right, we must take the left ramp. Not the right ramp, the left. As it was a little tricky everyone agreed to follow the Director as a convoy. Everyone, including Devon.

You can imagine our surprise when, as others were buckling seatbelts and warming engines, Devon sped off down the road.

We assumed Devon knew the way or thought we’d find him parked a few metres down the road, waiting. However as we moved off towards the ‘on’ ramp and the left hand exit, we were perplexed to see Devon turn right onto the freeway.

We had the rest of the crew following us, so all we could do was take the correct left road and hope that Devon would eventually find us.

The Director and I became rather anxious. Did Devon think the shoot was over and therefore he was heading home? Or did he lose his call sheet and would end up hopelessly lost?

I suddenly remembered that the call sheet also contained all of the crew’s mobile numbers. I called Devon, hoping for a reasonable explanation. But all hope was dashed when it simply rung off.

10 minutes latter we all arrived at the second location and waited patiently for our missing Grip to arrive.

Eventually he rolled into the car park and emerged red, sweating and looking very sheepish.

Here’s Devon’s tale:

““I don’t know why I took the right road but I was only 100 metres down it when I realised. I tried to stop, thinking I could reverse back but as soon as I touched the brakes, the dolly shot off the roof and began to run down the road. I parked the truck and jumped out in pursuit of the dolly. The dolly was heading for the freeway and I was gaining on it when I suddenly had the impression that I was not the only thing chasing the dolly. I turned to see the truck gaining speed behind me on the ‘on’ ramp. I forgot to put the handbrake ! Distracted, I missed the chance to grab the dolly which now sailed down the outside lane of the freeway. I took off after it at full speed followed by the truck. We all changed lanes and we were heading for a small hill where the speed slowed to a point where I got one foot on the dolly and, in a kind of reverse skateboard manoeuvre, stopped the dolly and then turned to stop the truck that had just crested the top of the small rise. So there I was, one foot on the dolly, one on the verge of the freeway and two hands on the grill of the truck. Breathing with great difficulty. If I took my foot off the dolly to secure the truck it would have crossed the median strip into oncoming traffic. If I rescued the dolly, the truck would have done the same. And that’s when my mobile rang.… Sorry I couldn’t take your call. You understand, I was busy.””