By the Truckload, Part II
Life is good for Georgia's lighting and grip companies. From small operators to major players, the gear is moving by the truckload.
As Oz reported in the November/December issue, grip and lighting equipment providers in Georgia are supplying truckloads of gear to productions of all sizes shooting throughout the state. The brisk pace of business continues as more grip and lighting players reveal what’s been keeping them busy.
COMMANDER Masters Atlanta Production Scene
A full-service motion picture equipment rental company, COMMANDER provides camera, lighting, grip, motion control and underwater equipment to a wide array of customers. Marc Dobiecki, an IATSE Local 600 DP and self-confessed gear head, opened the company four years ago.
"I've always had an affinity for equipment."
“I’ve always had an affinity for equipment,” he says. “I had a lot of gear when I was shooting commercials. I finally came to the point when I said I’d have to stop buying it or formalize a rental company.” So he purchased a building and launched COMMANDER, which has enjoyed “steady, non-stop growth.”
The company owns “the freshest fleet in town,” according to Dobiecki. COMMANDER offers 1-ton, 3-ton and 5-ton lighting and grip packages for commercials, episodics and features. “Our 2018 Isuzu is a crew cab which is ideal for shooting as far afield as North Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and the Carolinas. You can load four people into the vehicle,” Dobiecki notes. “It’s the only G&E crew cab 3-ton in Atlanta.” A 5-ton lighting and grip package fills a premium Kenworth truck.
“I’ve customized the packages through my experience as a DP,” he says. “They are competitively priced but very crew-centric; the packages are beefed up with quantities of equipment that meet crew needs, which minimizes additional labor. I’m ex-military, so precision, uniformity and cleanliness of the COMMANDER gear is important to me.” COMMANDER offers a generous assortment of American and Modern grip gear and rigging. It has conventional fixtures plus the newest versions of K5600 Jokers, LiteMat, Litepanel and ARRI Sky Panel 30 and 60 LEDs. “We never have enough Sky Panels,” says Dobiecki of the popular fixture.
He’s been waiting for advances in LED RGB technology before he makes additional fresnel LED purchases, however. “A big shift in LED lighting is just around the corner so we’ve been sub-renting some fixtures in the meantime,” he explains. “We like to stay current with equipment. If I’m not purchasing equipment weekly, I’m not doing my job.”
COMMANDER also boasts “a great camera department,” which includes the new Sony VENICE camera systems, Angenieux and Zeiss full-frame lenses and Cooke anamorphic full-frames. “We jumped on the Sony Venice,” says Dobiecki. “It shoots Raw 6K, is compact and gorgeous.” He believes the company’s underwater inventory and knowledge is unrivaled outside LA.
This year COMMANDER has filled the lighting and grip needs of high-end corporate cinema, music videos, episodic TV and indie films. Projects include the features Hour of Lead, Levitation and Greener Grass and TV’s Saints & Sinners for Bounce and Pride and Prejudice: Atlanta for Lifetime.
“We’re growing every month,” Dobiecki reports. “We purchased our building to withstand the rigors of whatever might come our way. We’re the full-service camera and lighting and grip company that’s closest to the airport, and a lot of business comes to us because of that proximity.” Customers have also come to rely on COMMANDER as “solution providers,” he notes. “We don’t just fulfill an order; we look 360º at every job. Production happens at such a fast pace that clients need an extra set of eyes and ears to help them out. We look in all directions as far as clients are concerned.”
Danny Boy is Music to Customers’ Ears
Danny Boy Services, LLC offers lighting and grip support to corporate TV, broadcast sports, commercials, and producers needing EPKs for shows on AMC and OWN. It boasts a 3-ton Isuzu truck and a new Mercedes Sprinter van.
“The 3-ton truck fits larger shows and accommodates a crew of four or five grips and electricians. The Sprinter fits me and another crew member and is great for jobs that don’t require a 26-foot truck like interview shoots or downtown productions,” explains owner/operator and lighting director Dan Philipp. “The two trucks are busy every week.”
The 3-ton truck is “generously equipped,” he notes. “I like to have more equipment than I need so we offer a way fatter package than most companies. I’d rather bring a complete platform and use only what we need.”
The 3-ton package went out on a Delta image piece for a California agency, which shot for five days at the carrier’s airport facilities. “We do a lot of work with Delta and have used the Sprinter package for shoots in the mock-up plane at their training center,” Philipp explains. “This image piece is something that passengers see when they take off from Atlanta. The 3-ton package included ARRI Sky Panels and NILA’s Arina daylight LEDs. We’re hoping that HMIs will take a back seat to LEDs. With their lower impact and lower amperage LEDs have been a sea change for this industry.”
He points out that the Arina LEDs impressed the California-based DP on the Delta shoot; the fixture is also popular with broadcast sports. “For Delta we could plug it into an on-board circuit and get a screaming bright interior,” he says. “The Arina draws only 800 watts but has the foot-candle roughly equivalent of a 2500 watt HMI.”
Philipp sub-rented some gear for Delta as well. “PC&E was very helpful on this project,” he says. “The DP wanted a 1200 watt lamp for a daylight source pointing at the lens of his ARRI ALEXA, so we got an ARRI M18 HMI PAR. We also got a heavy-duty Fisher 10 dolly with a big slider.”
"You need to give the cameraman a smooth movement option - it helps sell the truck."
A national commercial from Atlanta agency DVI for Doosan trucks and heavy equipment, which aired during the playoffs and World Series, also used the 3-ton package. The spot shot at four locations in Atlanta, including Piedmont Park and spent one day each in Arizona and Jacksonville, Florida. Philipp used his 3-ton truck in Atlanta while he and his crew rented a 5-ton packages locally in the other states. “It was a very conventional Atlanta shoot with a lot of exteriors so we provided old school grip gear,” he reports.
The Sprinter typically goes out with Gray Saunders, “our best boy and my right arm for more than 15 years,” Philipp says. The 1-ton package has been deployed on Hooters and Edwards Pies commercials, Delta industrials, EPKs for The Walking Dead, and projects for Elevation’s Cartoon Network client.
“If a job requires the Arco camera dolly or needs a generator then we have to use the 3-ton truck so there’s still room for lights,” he explains. “Every successful owner-operator has to consider having a real professional camera dolly on the truck. You need to give the cameraman a smooth movement option – it helps to sell the truck. The Dana elevated speed rail dolly system is available on the Sprinter.”
Danny Boy offers a “huge buffet” of Fotodiox FlapJack bi-color LED edge lights and Jupiter circular battery-driven portable LEDs. “The industry is barreling headlong into LEDs, and these are the best for color rendering, brightness and softness,” says Philipp. “I want to avoid buying more HMIs. We’ve invested heavily in ARRI LEDs and plan to add to our complement in 2019, including the likely purchase of a C120 ARRI Sky Panel and perhaps more second-generation ARRI L series LED fresnels.”
Philipp looks forward to a continuing steady pace of business. “When an owner-operator has a full calendar that says something,” he notes. “We’ve made some good choices, and I think our contemporaries would agree.”
Versatile Get-A-Grip Atlanta Meets Myriad Needs
A full-service lighting and grip equipment rental house, Get-A-Grip Atlanta offers 1- and 3-ton van packages as well as audio gear, cameras, and gaffer and grip services. The company has moved into a new facility on the north side of town designed to provide more space for its inventory and a more convenient location for clients.
Although each customer has different needs, it’s often the case that “a producer and DP get off the plane, maybe with a camera, and I supply the camera support and everything else that’s not easy for them to bring,” says Mark Henderson, owner of Get-A-Grip Atlanta and co-owner of the Atlanta Filmworks Studio and Stages.
The 1-ton package is typically used for corporate projects and continuing jobs for WebMD, such as physician roundtables. Music videos, for artists like Janelle Monae and the Migos, often use the 5-ton van outfitted with bigger lights and generators.
"I supply the camera support and everything else that's not easy for them to bring."
The company’s grip inventory includes the Dana dolly and Matthews doorway dolly and track, while lighting fixtures include LEDs, HMIs, fresnels, Kino Flos, open face, Chimeras, Spacelights, Soft Lights, 1x1 bi-color Litepanels and 3x6-inch camera panels.
“Ninety percent of our jobs are like the corporate Hertz project we recently did for a Florida agency,” Henderson says. “I supplied all the lighting and grip gear and gaffer services; it was a 1-ton package-plus. They shot on location at the airport car rental center, which offers facial recognition for customers. For the two-day shoot we provided a 1-ton grip van plus 1x1 Litepanels, 4x4 Kino Flos, Diva 200s and a Dana dolly.”
Henderson served as DP for a corporate Allstate insurance project for which he shot interviews with the Panasonic Lumix GH4 camera, 1x1 Litepanels, a Diva light and a Zoom H6 mic.
Get-A-Grip Atlanta does a lot of work for FOX Sports, Henderson notes. In November the company supported a three-day shoot at Fort Benning where the FOX NFL Sunday show broadcast live on Veterans Day to celebrate the military installation’s 100th anniversary. To shoot B-roll footage of troops training and Abrams tanks on the move, Get-A-Grip provided a 1-ton van and 1-ton package featuring Kino Flos, Litepanels, fresnels plus gaffer and grip services.
Interviews for a biography of rapper T.I. required lighting and grip support, including cyc lights, Litepanels, Kino Flos and 6K Spacelights.
The company recently furnished gaffer services for a promo for the Wild ’N Out TV series shooting at Tyler Perry Studios. Get-A-Grip Atlanta also partners with still photographers. For award-winning pet photographer Mark Rogers from San Francisco, the company provided “tons of continuous lights, like stage lighting, which wouldn’t scare the animals,” says Henderson. He also provided 4x4 Kino Flos, Diva 400s, Mole-Richardson 10K fresnels, 6K Spacelights and cyc lights.
“The lighting and grip business has been steady,” reports Henderson. “The industry has changed quite a bit, but our ability to be versatile and service a lot of different-size jobs really helps us. In addition, AMC’s Lodge 49, starring Wyatt Russell, has been with our studio since we built it four years ago.”
New Deal is a Good Deal for Features and TV
From its Atlanta location, New Deal Motion Picture Grips offers grip packages and trucks to features and television. Its parent company, New Deal Production Services, LLC, is a lighting and grip provider in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“Since we opened in Atlanta in 2009 we’ve tripled our business and grip inventory, so we’ve found Atlanta to be a very comfortable place for us,” says President and CEO Ray Brown. “Our niche is grip equipment and grip rigging, and that’s proved to be a good recipe for us.”
New Deal has three 5-ton grip trucks in Atlanta along with three 48-foot production trailers with 10-ton grip packages. Among the equipment on tap are a range of Triangle jibs, from Junior to Super Plus models, which extend up to 40 feet; Aero 3-9-foot camera jibs; and Fisher 10 and 11 dollies. Typically, the trucks go out with Brown or one of his partners working as the key grip. And the fleet has had a busy year.
New Deal completed season three of the acclaimed Netflix series, Stranger Things, which as been a customer since its debut. “They used our 48-foot and our 5-ton, and we supplied equipment for the 2nd unit,” says Brown who served as key grip with partner Wes Bailey, who was one of the best boys. “It’s a very demanding production; the quality and caliber of the director and producer attached to the series are very high. And they’re not afraid to move the camera.”
New Deal returned for season two of the YouTube Premium series Cobra Kai, which used a 5-ton truck and 48-foot trailer. Partner Benny Smyth served as key grip. Reshoots for the movie Tag requested a similar truck-and-trailer package.
Brown is currently working as key grip on the 2nd unit of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories reboot for Apple, which uses the 48-foot trailer package. “Streaming content is trending big time,” says Brown. “Series for the streaming platforms fall squarely between big TV shows and big features: Their budgets support high production values.”
Although 2018 started “very slow by our standards” and Brown cites uncertainty about IATSE contract negotiations as a possible reason, he notes that New Deal finished the year “50 percent busier” than the prior year. “We’re confident that the Atlanta production business looks solid for the long term. We’re about to assess the market and its needs as we look ahead. But right now we’re in a good place.”
TPT Atlanta Fills Unique Role
Alex Shaddix, regional manager at TPT Atlanta (The Production Truck), calls the company “unique in the back house of production” with rentals to all the various departments involved in a production. Although TPT Atlanta does not carry lighting fixtures it offers lighting expendables and fills most grip equipment needs. “If we don’t have it in stock we can get it for you in a timely manner,” Shaddix says.
TPT Atlanta opened three years ago; its parent company as been in business in Los Angeles since 1997.
Atlanta customers are primarily episodics and features; the lion’s share of clients hail from reality television, including Iron Chef Gauntlet for Food Network, Wild ‘N Out for MTV, Forged in Fire: Knife or Death for History Channel, Mama June: From Not to Hot for WE tv, Love & Hip Hop for VH1, House Hunters Next Generation for HGTV, Iyanla: Fix My Life for OWN and The BET Hip Hop Awards Miami.
Feature films serviced this year included Between Worlds and Mary. TPT Atlanta also works with still photographers from across the country and with SCAD film students.
The company also supplied Now Screaming, Netflix’s Halloween promotion for its slate of scary movies. Shaddix notes that in the three years that TPT Atlanta has been open he’s seen a boom in content for streaming platforms. “We’ve seen customers with shows on Hulu, Netflix and YouTube,” he says. “We have so much entertainment at our fingertips now, and producers have found that it’s not feasible nor cost effective to shoot everything in one location in the country. Atlanta has such great diversity with our studio infrastructure and production support capacity. We don’t foresee the industry going anywhere but up.”
An indication of that, he points out, is that two years ago TPT Atlanta ramped down for the Christmas holidays, last year it slowed a little but this year it ramped up for a busy first quarter 2019. “Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta helps,” says Shaddix. “It will be an opportunity to roll out the red carpet for [industry professionals] who have never been here. We want them to see how cost effective Atlanta is and how we can take care of them. No matter what their needs, they won’t be scrambling for gear.”