How to Use a Camera Dolly
A camera dolly is a great piece of film equipment to have on your set because it can be used to add production value to your movie by creating moving shots with smooth movement. However, a dolly shot only works when it is properly executed. If it is done wrong, then it can actually take away from the production's value. So, how do you properly use a camera dolly?
The Right Dolly
Getting the dolly shot requires you to have a dolly that can perform a job properly. The most advanced camera dollies are manufactured by the JL Fisher company. The Fisher 10s and 11s are the kings because they can perform complex operations with the wheel movements and they have a hydraulic boom arm so you can have a dolly move that also involves the camera booming up or down.
At the other end of the professional camera dolly spectrum is the doorway dolly. This dolly is literally a wooden platform with four wheels that can be pulled or pushed. A tripod with the camera is placed on the dolly. There is also room on it for the operator to stand. If you need more room there are side boards that can be added.
You could also build your own basic dolly. All you need is room for the camera and operator and a system to smoothly move it. That could be four wheels to be moved on a smooth surface or a system designed for track.
Step 1: Creating the Right Surface
In order for a dolly to work, it needs to be smooth. A bump in the dolly movement will be easily read on camera, and that would make the take unusable. If you're moving the dolly, then you should at least be moving it on a smooth surface, like a hardwood floor. If that's not available, then rent some 4' by 8' sheets of plywood to place down.
An even better option would be to have the dolly on track. When you have the dolly on track, you know that the movement will be smooth. Using track means that you have to have good material that won't bend, and you need to set it level. If the track is unlevel, then the shot will not look right.
Step 2: Moving the Dolly
Moving a dolly for a shot takes some skill. You need to start and stop the movement smoothly so that it's not abrupt. You also need to move it at the right pace for the shot as well. The operator of the dolly is just as important to the shot as the equipment itself.