Walmaster 3000As Mocha’s self-appointed ‘inventor’ and all round go to guy for things involving big manly tools it’s safe to say I like building things, tinkering with things and generally taking things apart and putting them together again in new and interesting ways, and with the recent move to our sweet new premises in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle I’ve managed to secure a space within the office dedicated to the meanderings of my mechanically motivated grey cells. A swift shopping trip later and Mocha Labs is born.

I also like a challenge, and it’s a good job…

“Look at this.” exclaims Joe (Morgan, director, deep thinker and tobacco smoker extraordinaire) gesturing enthusiastically at an image on his monitor.

“Cool!” says I.

After closer inspection what I initially mistook for a maniac balancing a very expensive camera over a lake on a weird looking skateboard for no apparent reason, reveals itself in actuality to be a DOP using a very nice German built ladder dolly.

“Actually that is quite cool”

“So we’re thinking of hiring in a track and dolly for this shoot we’ve got coming up in Huddersfield, but maybe we could get one of these instead.” Joe posits.

He’s right, a ladder dolly could be ideal, not just for the impending shoot, but for our longer term production needs. Lightweight, quick to set up and eminently portable when compared to a full size dolly rig.

After a swift visit to the manufacturer’s website and a sharp intake of breath on my part at seeing the rather hefty price tag a google recce ensued. There were other more budget friendly options available but none struck me as being sturdy enough for the long haul on a busy production schedule to justify their cost. The little grey cells previously alluded to began clanging about and hankering for my attention. I took another look at the photos.

“Well I could build one?!?”

The challenge then…

To design, source, build and have production ready a well functioning, suitably robust ladder dolly set up with all the trimmings for less than the cost of a days dolly hire with accompanying grip, in a little under two weeks, whilst juggling an edit with 5 hours of raw interview footage.

“Oh yeah and I want to do a vertical track!”

And that.

Much pondering later I settled on a one piece base plate of 6mm aluminium sheet to which I would mount a market hi-hat that could accept our existing head, with lengths of 40mm box section bolted on underneath to host the skate wheel runners and inline style outriggers.

With those specs, I thought, we could safely shoot the apocalypse and the sequel.

I wanted it to be adjustable to fit varying ladders so I would attach one runner along channels in the base to account for different widths and add removable brackets that would allow for another set of wheels to be fitted along the underside of the ladder to keep the rig locked down when operating off the horizontal.

Having put together some plans I realized there would be significant machining involved that was beyond the limits of Mocha Labs in its virgin state, so I sent the metals off for some tender loving CNC and set about tracking down the rest of the necessary goodies. A set of telescopic trestles to support the ladders and give scope for height alterations.  Sandbags, clamps and wedges for leveling and stability, and then the ladders themselves. (Now there’s a saga to rival Tolkien, ladders it seems are bloody hard to get at short notice when you’ve got specific criteria, but I digress.)

The nicely machined metal arrived back, a small eBay Christmas descended upon Mocha HQ and I set about furiously fiddling with nuts, bolts, wheels and spanners in the hope of achieving what I had confidently assured the Huddersfield pre-production team that I could several days earlier.

Take a look at these…

Now take another look but imagine a snappy, exciting A-Team style montage with a pumping orchestral rock soundtrack. Good isn’t it!

After much faffing and experimentation time got pushed pretty tight, but on the allotted morning the whole contraption was neatly strapped into a nifty trolley arrangement ready for its first days graft in the wild, with myself in tow as it’s designated handler.

As it turns out it was a great success, much to my relief as there’d been no time left after the build for a field test.

It offered us silky smooth, nearly 3m tracking shots in places too tight or just plain impossible to get a full size dolly rig such as through a window frame and in a small attic space with a narrow spiral staircase, and it could be rigged and ready to roll in just a couple of minutes.

All in all I was pretty pleased with myself. (Warm, smug glow envelopes author.)

And so, thus came the birth of the Walmaster 3000 , Mocha’s newest bit of home grown hardware,and the preferred choice of all discerning ladder dolly enthusiasts in the L8 postcode area, as recounted by me. ‘Cos if you don’t blow your own trumpet who’s gonna eh?