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Monday, 01 February 2010 00:00

The Dana Dolly

Written by  David Hurd
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Dana DollyThe Dana Dolly may have been designed for times when you want to do a six to eight-foot dolly move without a lot of setup, but I found that it works for most of the dolly shots that I need done. It has a solid design that’s both affordable and easy to use.

The Dana Dolly system consists of two brackets that attach to each end of two track pipes. The brackets hold the pipes securely, about a foot apart from each other. On the bottom of each bracket is a pin that fits into the top of a Low Boy Combo stand. For use on the ground or on top of apple boxes, you simply flip over the brackets so that the pins face up.

The dolly camera platform is a 17x14-inch “Skateboard,” with a hole in the middle for mounting your fluid head. It rolls on two 1¼-inch Track Pipes that are held in position by the brackets. This platform uses four sets of four special wheels, which roll smoothly down the Track Pipes. This simple yet functional design comes from Mike Hall, a key grip with over 20 years experience in all types of production. He tested and perfected the Dana Dolly while using it on over 1,000 production shoots.

The Dana Dolly is made in America using quality components. The platform is made of a special “Glastic” composite board that is waterproof and will never wear out. Your camera mounts on a Mitchell Mount that can take all types of camera heads via adapters that are included in the kit. The designer found that 16 special polyurethane wheels was optimum for smooth tracking, and I agree. My dolly shots turned out so smooth that when some other production professionals saw my footage, they asked if I had image-stabilized them in post.

I found the Dana Dolly system to be easy to use in so many ways. It works great in tight places, and has a small learning curve, a quick setup, and an easy reset after each shot. If you’re shooting in a house, all you’ll need is a 3x8-foot space for the dolly and the cameraman. You can also mount two platforms on one set of Track Pipes. This setup allows you to avoid having to use two tripods in a tight environment. One camera can get the wide shot, and the other camera can get the close-up shots. With both cameras on the same set of pipes, you can instantly truck left or right to line up a better shot. I found this setup to be very useful, even when using one camera.

When I was shooting a Q&A session for a TV show that just aired worldwide, the speaker was addressing a crowd of about 50 people. I put one camera in the back of the room for the speaker, and another camera on a Dana Dolly at the side of the room. As people in the crowd raised their hands to request a mic to ask their question, I dollied the camera until I had a clean shot through the crowd to the person asking the question. I never would have had time to pick up and move a tripod, and because I had to zoom in so tight, shooting handheld was out of the question. Later, for some nice B-roll of the audience, I slowly dollied up and down the eight-foot rails at their head level. The results were perfectly smooth and added a lot of production value.

Dana Dolly Photo courtesy of AZGrip Setting up the Dana Dolly is easy. I use two Manfrotto A1010CS “Avenger” Low Boy Combo stands. The A1010C stands each have one adjustable leg, which makes the job of leveling the dolly really easy. These are heavy-duty steel stands that can support the weight of the dolly system, and they’re only about two-feet long, so they are very portable. They also have a built-in receptacle with a knob to secure the dolly bracket to the stand, which allows you to lift and move the dolly with the stands connected.

I keep the Schedule 80 aluminum pipe attached to the brackets in the back of my van, and the platform, Fluid Head and stands in a road case. When I get to the job, I place the two Avenger stands about eight feet apart, pop the bracket pins into the stands, raise the stands to the proper height and level them. With the Track Pipes in place, I just set the platform (with the Fluid Head attached) on the pipes, mount my camera and start shooting. To change setups, I lift off the platform and camera and hand it to a grip. Then, with the pipes still attached, I have someone pick up each end and move it to the new location. The grip places the platform (with the camera still attached) back on the pipes, and with a little leveling I’m ready to go again. Compared to a traditional dolly system, this is really fast and easy.
The cool thing about this system is that you can take it anywhere. When portability is an issue (like when flying to a shoot), just take the stands and platform on the plane, and then buy some inexpensive 1¼-inch pipe from a local hardware store when you get to the location.

With the current state of the economy, the challenge is to add more production value for less money. I try to look at the return on investment for any new piece of gear, and the Dana Dolly quickly pays for itself. The whole Dana Dolly system costs less than what you would spend for just the track of a normal dolly system, and by charging your client $50 per day for the ability to have dolly moves on their project, the system will pay for itself in 19 days. That sounds like a great investment to me.
MSRP: $599 for the Dana Dolly kit; $40-$75 for aluminum, stainless steel or PVC pipe; and about $350 for a pair of Manfrotto A1010CS “Avenger” Low Boy Combo stands.   


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