27 March 2011


Jessica London-Shields

Wendy Jo Carlton's JAMIE AND JESSIE ARE NOT TOGETHER is one of those films that I really wish was filming during A Year Without Rent, mostly because I think it would be fascinating to work on a musical. Or, as Wendy Jo calls it, "a film with musical numbers". Either way, I think the process of the musical would be interesting from a production standpoint. [Similarly, it would have been a lot of fun to work on Gary King's musical].

So, when Wendy Jo suggested I come by while they were recording some music, I figured that was more or less the next best thing. Which is how I'm walking around Chicago, trying to find a recording studio. Could I drive? Sure, but I'm getting to the point where I'm not exactly looking forward to being in my car any more than I have to.

And, as usual, I have no idea where I am.

audio mixing

JAMIE AND JESSICA is most easily described as a "lesbian musical" (or, "lesbian film with musical numbers") and essentially what we're doing here today is overlaying some vocals over musical numbers. Think of ADR, but with singing.

Wendy Jo Carlton

Beyond that, I don't really know what's going on. I haven't read the script. I haven't even seen any footage other than what's available online. Really, my role here is "photographer". Easy enough. I can do that.

hug it out

After a while, a gay couple that functions as the film's Greek Chorus comes in to add their parts. Neither are actors (or singers), but they both have pretty fantastic beards, which I suspect is how they ended up in the movie. Sure enough, they're friends of Wendy Jo. But, hey, if you need a Greek Chorus for your film, of course you're going to ask your friends with fantastic beards. That's how these things work.

And so they attempt to record their audio.

You know that scene in AMERICAN MOVIE where Mark is trying to get Bill to record ADR? It's kind of like that, only with 10 takes instead of 50. The real shame of it all is that the isolation booth for dialogue/singing is way too small to get a camera in there. Believe me, I tried.

Check out the trailer, over on YouTube.

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

23 March 2011

Who Wants Free Beer?


I like to joke sometimes that you aren't really a filmmaker until you've had a ten minute discussion on set revolving around just exactly how much of a logo you can show before you have to pay for it. If you get it wrong, you can potentially screw yourself over pretty good. Sure, you can just put a strip of tape over the logo, or take it down, but that can just scream "cheap".

A lot of filmmakers have a creative method to this. They'll either find a narrative way around it, or they'll create their own "brand" of whatever. Kevin Smith does this a lot. Or you can try and get permission from a local company or whatever.

Of course, that's a hassle and, well, it's really time consuming. Plus, it might not work.

So that's why my ears immediately perked up when Phil Seneker told me that Brainerd Lakes Beer (@Spike_Pike) was looking to get in the indie film game. I knew they had worked with Phil Holbrook on making a limited-run beer to help promote his feature film TILT. But it's one thing to support the feature film in your community. What did he have in mind, exactly?

Tilted T-Ale

Well, here's what they want to do:

Recognizing that being the beer in a film is a pretty cool and low-cost bit of publicity (and probably that the type of people who watch indie films also tend to drink a lot of beer), they're offering to let filmmakers use their beer in their films, free of charge. That, all by itself, is pretty awesome. It's one less thing to worry about. [Note to future A Year Without Rent projects: I've got a case of the TILT beer in my car, so let's see how many places we can work it in. It'll be fun!]

But it gets better than that. Their beer might not be in your town (it probably isn't), so they'll send you a case for free. Yes, for free. That's their hope, at least. But don't come yelling at me if you live in some draconian state like Pennsylvania and you can't get beer shipped to you or whatever. Here, listen to Jesse tell you himself.

It's a beautiful thing for filmmakers, but it's kind of a fascinating move from a business perspective. This is a really small, up and coming craft brewery. What better way to increase demand for your beer than to place it in high-ish profile places around the country? It's kind of brilliant, if you ask me.

Not to mention, it's really good beer. Trust me, I drank a lot of it.

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

21 March 2011

Ego Fest Day 1

Important, sort of

Here's what I've learned so far: no matter where you are in the country, Brainerd is a long way away. Like, a really long way away. I'm told this is Central Minnesota, but who are we kidding? This is where they filmed FARGO. Thing is, I knew that but I was still under the impression that Brainerd was an hour or so outside of Minneapolis--until I looked at the map.

It's far. Really, really far.

My GPS took me around the Twin Cities, and I barely saw them. Then, the interstate turned into a divided highway, and for two and a half hours, the roads got smaller and smaller. The snow started reappear. Then suddenly I'm driving by a frozen lake so large I can't see the other shore.

1 of 10,000

FARGO, indeed.

And what the hell am I doing all the way up in Brainerd? I'm here for Ego Fest, one of the events on the calendar that brings the online film community together but, you know, in person. It's a rare chance to break free of the 140 character restrictions. Or, to paraphrase what Jake Stetler said, "it's really invigorating to spend a couple of days with so many like-minded people".

I hit Brainerd around 8pm and Phil Holbrook has me meet him at the Last Turn Saloon, a very cool bar where you're required to throw your peanut shells on the floor. Phil Seneker (A MUSING, MISSING ELIZABETH) is already there, working his way through the bar's New York themed drinks.

A MUSING poster

Phil and I are in the same hotel (a hotel room! My Own Hotel Room!!!), so we're pretty much carpooling around Brainerd all weekend. Friday's events start around 6pm, so the next afternoon is spent catching up on work and meeting Phil Holbrook for lunch. We do a few local TV interviews. And then people start showing up.

Meet the Press

Between this and DIY Days, I'm really working my way pretty quickly through the Twitter film community. Here in Brainerd are: Jake Stetler (@jakestetler), Julie & Jessica (@kingisafink), Phil Holbrook (@philontilt), Phil Seneker (@philseneker), Nathan Schilz (@StudioAlethea), Jim Vendiola (@kinosaur), Jeremy Wilker (@TWEAK), Rick Vaicius (@FlywayFilmFest), Jennifer Peepas (@JPeep), and many others.


The schedule is a pretty eclectic one, as you might expect from a shorts fest. The production value ranges from the very low to the very high. The first block ends with John T. Trigonis' CERISE, and John Skyped in for a Q&A, live from Jersey.

Phil Seneker (minus director David Spies, who got stranded in Seattle), closes the second block with a Q&A for A MUSING. [NOTE: Video to come].

Then, it's to the after-party for the real focus of the evening: the release of Brainerd Lakes Beer's "Tilted T-Ale", a beer made for and named after Phil Holbrook's upcoming feature film TILT (of which we got a nice sneak peek in the second block). And, man, is it good beer.

Tilted T-Ale

Tomorrow: a full day of Ego Fest. Stay tuned….

19 March 2011

18 March 2011

17 March 2011

15 March 2011

Day 3 of Mattson Tomlin's DREAM LOVER

Adam peels back the layers

To quote Mattson, "this was Jon's day. He saved us." That would be Jon Robertson, who was mostly missing yesterday. Turns out he was driving all over the place, finding us a new location to work as a frozen lake, seeing as there's been a bit of a warm spell the last couple of days and no one really feels comfortable going out on the ice. And who can blame them?

But he came through. He found us a field in a park. Combine that with the 4 fresh inches of snow that fell last night and you've got a pretty good lake substitute.

mattson looks on

maria cold

Oh but Jon wasn't done. Today's scene exists in two parts: Anderson (Adam M. Griffith) and Old Anderson (Adam M. Griffith). So essentially we have to film the first part of the scene, then Adam has to go through 1-2 hours of makeup to look old. Either we do that in a car (awkward), outside (too cold), or we go to Jon's parent's house, a handful of minutes away. And so we showed up en masse, pretty much unannounced and took over their house. Like most parents of filmmakers, they weren't all that surprised. They knew there was a production going on and they knew what "we might stop by" really meant.

Side note: there should be a support group for the parents (and significant others) of filmmakers. They can all compare horror stories and we'll, by extension, look less crazy when our families realize that compared to other filmmakers, we're pretty normal.

And so we took over their house. I watched hockey with Jon's father while transferring footage. We ate lunch. They dug out a box of hand warmers and passed them around. They even loaned our DP Filipp some boots. And Adam got his old makeup done. Then, back to the field, where we raced the sun.

mattson filipp and adam

Back on the soundstage, we filmed an improvised bit where Adam removes his makeup, and Maria Rowene did some acting under a spotlight. This film, more so than I thought from the script, really gives Maria a chance to show her range. Hell, just the opportunity to be a monster and a real person is a lot. If you're casting a film, she's definitely worth exploring.

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

Day 4 of Mattson Tomlin's DREAM LOVER

Maria Rowene

A question of authorship and culpability: if a director has you break a mirror, who gets the 7 years of bad luck? Is it the person who actually broke the mirror or the person who wanted the mirror broken? Does the bad luck even apply if the mirror was broken on purpose, to achieve a specific goal?

Side note: I wonder what the cashier at Target thinks when 4 guys buy 10 full-length mirrors and 2 cases of Red Bull. That can't be a normal day.

The mirror works like this: They have to be removed from the frames, which results in maybe 7 of them surviving undamaged (they're kind of cheap). The broken ones go in a pile. The rest are placed face-down on the floor, then epoxied to some wooden stands held down by sandbags and cans of paint. Meanwhile, Shane Sheely takes to the broken parts with a hammer in an attempt to test out an idea. So, if anyone is going to get the bad luck, I'd put money on Shane.

Shane's A-Rod impression

Then, it's a question of arranging the mirrors in a way to achieve a maximum effect while hiding the cameras and lights and crew and whatnot. Easier said than done. I'm the stand-in for this part. I'm pretty good at being a stand-in.

As you can see, there's a lot going into this. The mirrors have to be cleaned. In the end, we had to gaff tape the edges so they'd blend into the black background. All so Maria Rowene could step in and do her thing.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall

From there, we move across the street to a room with a really big red wall that, for some reason, proves incredibly difficult to photograph. We've been joined by Logan Bruner, who plays young Anderson. Logan is a Mets fan who makes me feel incredibly old by not even knowing who Bill Buckner is. This, of course, is like a knife in the heart of a Red Sox fan. How could he not be aware of such pain and heartache? Simple. It was over a decade before he was even born. Bloody hell.

Filipp & Logan

Logan & Maria

One nice thing about young actors is how much energy they bring to a production. Logan is either the most gung-ho kid around or he found one of the cases of Red Bull. For example, he doesn't mind running down a hallway in front of a motorcycle. In fact, he thinks it sounds like a really cool idea. And he's right. Maybe it's because the rest of us are older (and wiser?), but we're a bit nervous.

The motorcycle madness ends just before the building opens for the day. And that, is a wrap on DREAM LOVER.

11 March 2011

10 March 2011

09 March 2011

DIY DAYS (some thoughts)


Last year, I went to DIY Days at the behest of Pericles Lewnes. I was about to screen my film BLANC DE BLANC at Pericles' Annapolis Pretentious Film Society (side note: if you've got a feature you're looking to self-distribute, APFS is fantastic) and he was able to convince me to make a loop of the trip, going from Pittsburgh to Annapolis to New York and then back to Pittsburgh. I hadn't been to New York City in years, so it didn't take much to convince me.

If you've never been shepherded around the indie film community by a veteran who knows everyone, you simply must do it.

When I was scheduling A Year Without Rent, one of the first things I put on the schedule was DIY Days. It's a rather essential date in the calendar for people like me.

As usual, some of the most valuable parts of DIY Days happen outside of the conference itself. When you get that many creative people with that many ideas in the same room, you inevitably find yourself in a hour-long conversation in the hallway, only to realize you missed that one speaker you really wanted to see.

This year, I missed half of Ted Hope and Christine Vachon's "fireside chat" because I was having lunch with #scriptchat guru Jeanne V. Bowerman and filmmaker Brian Kazmark and the conversation went long. Jeanne is as compelling a conversationalist in real life as she is online, even without the tequila.

Jeanne comes prepared

Some thoughts on DIY Days, from the perspective of someone who's kind of familiar with all of this:

++ It was refreshing to see that last year's fear of social media was pretty much missing. Or maybe just those people were missing. Either way, it's nice to not have speakers hi-jacked by that sort of thing.

++ The live stream was great, as I was able to discuss a speaker with someone who was watching in another part of the world. Naturally, this happened over Twitter. I don't remember the live stream being that well executed last year (did we even have one?).

++ Lance Weiler's PANDEMIC is much, much cooler than the buzz I'd heard indicated. If you want example of just far transmedia can go right now, this is the project to check out.

And you probably already knew that Lance is the guy behind this event.


++ At the afterparty, I spoke for a while to Nicholas Diakopoulos, who gave a great presentation on the value of data, which sounds really boring, but it isn't. Of course, I have an unhealthy obsession with spreadsheets, so this was like catnip to that part of my brain.

Talking to him, I was struck by the simple fact that Nicholas doesn't really know all that much about the film process. At first, I was thrown, but then I thought about it. Why should he? We're not going to get better at what we do until we start listening to people outside of our community.

++ The speakers, as usual, were quite good. And maybe it was a little different, this being my second time around, but it just wasn't quite as "cool" as last year. Again, that could mostly be me. Still, it's a hell of an event, and a great chance to put faces to twitter handles.

Or, sometimes not.

08 March 2011

Sick Baby

The plan today was to start an editing pass on my film UP COUNTRY. And now, well, not so much.

07 March 2011

06 March 2011

A Conversation with Marty Lang

With all the talk lately about the value of screening your film as a work-in-progress for various reasons, I thought it would be interesting to sit down with someone who's recently done just that. And by recently, I mean very recently. As in, an hour ago.


03 March 2011

A Somewhat Typical Day in My New Life


One question I've been getting a lot (or, at least, has been asked a lot) is "what exactly do you do on these productions?". The thinking being that I'm sitting at craft services all day or something. I don't know. Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to take you through a day that more or less summarized a lot of different aspect of what I end up doing.

10am: Last night was a late wrap, somewhere in the vicinity of 1:30am, so our call is noon-ish. But, there's stuff to do before the call, and I'm sleeping on a couch in the gathering room, so whenever someone gets up, I'm up. At minimum, I'm awake. Kim Fletcher, our makeup artist slash embedded reporter is working on an article and interviewing the one actor who's name I didn't catch. The little bit of footage I saw of him last night was impressive, though. I get up, pop open my laptop, and spend a few minutes editing footage and photos.

11am: Veronica Nickel, our intrepid producer, is off making sure the vehicle that went into a snowbank yesterday is able to 1) get out of the snowbank, and 2) function. So the making of breakfast falls to me. Never fear, I'm given pretty good instructions.

nate ocean

Noon: Everyone is up and fed. Stuff needs to go in vehicles and the crew needs to go to the houses and cabins from last night to load out for the next location. (No one really felt like doing that in the freezing rain the night before was a good idea). So we head to the location, then get in a 4-wheel drive pickup and head down through the field to the cabins by the water. We're all riding in the back, and Andreas starts tells a story about a bunch of Frenchmen. I whip out my camera.


1pm: The cabin is full to the gills with gear, so we move it out into the truck. It's 20 degrees out and the wind is whipping around at 30mph. The cabin isn't insulated. You can do the math. It all has to go--c stands, sandbags, flags, stingers, speed rails, space heaters, you name it. It takes a couple of trips in the pickup, and we have to walk up the hill to then unload the pickup into the production truck. The walk back up is an opportunity to get some pictures of the landscape.


2:30pm: The gear is loaded. And other than the icy patch where at least 3 of us fell, it goes off without much of a hitch. And then a U-Haul gets stuck trying to go uphill. I get the camera out and head down to help push, but they've got it un-stuck before I get there.

3pm: On the way to the new location, Steven Harris, the Art Director, asks me to help him wrap out the cabins. Sure, I say, that's why I'm here.

Steven has a bunch of pictures of the location and we go to work taking our props and such out of the cabins and replacing them with the original stuff. This time, we have a hatchback. How he got it down that field is beyond me.

However, he's brought in some fantastic props--old typewriters, rotary phones. I get the sense that he spends a lot of time at antique stores and yard sales, looking for that one perfect prop. He's managed to turn this cabin, which is generally used as a summer hang-out, into something like a monastic retreat, the sort of place you'd go for a month to finish your novel.


3:30pm: Each of the cabins has a metal bed frame and a mattress in it. Only, at some point the production decided to swap them. So the mattress in cabin A has to go in cabin b (about 200 yards away), and vice versa. We're literally feet from the ocean and the wind is a-gusting. The mattresses have no straps to hold on to. Somehow we get them switched.

4pm: No, scratch that. The pictures don't look right. Steven stands in a spot where he sort of kind of can get a signal (clearly he doesn't have AT&T) and calls Lisa Myers. The mattresses need to actually go up in the main house. Fuck.

2 guys & a cabin

5pm: The cabins are wrapped. We go to the main house and wrap that, which is significantly easier. Move a few things around. Sweep up. Hang some painting back up. Take out the trash.

6pm: We get to the new location, where they're deep into the day. They've saved us a plate of food, God bless them, and we get to take a break. I pull out my laptop and download the photos from my camera.

7pm: Kit, the AD, calls for me. They need a stand-in for Richard. I'm about his height, so I'm a stand-in while they point lights at me. Audition the apple box, the diffusion, etc. I talk to Patrick as he fiddles with gels. One of my favorite things to do on these sets is to watch the DP and the lighting crew figure out how they're going to light the scene. On this project I haven't read the script, so I've really got no idea what the scene is about, so it's interesting to try and guess based on what they're doing.

7:30pm: Richard comes in and I sit on a spare sand bag behind a wall. I talk to Richard a little bit about yesterday's water stunt. He does his scene and then he's wrapped. Applause all around. Richard goes around the room and personally thanks every crew member by name for all their help in making his job easier. It's a really classy move.

8pm: And that's a wrap for the location. Time to load out all the gear. I'm a grip again (or something). It's incredibly dark out and I'm not entirely sure where my headlamp is. Apparently we're done early, so the wrap out moves slightly slower than normal. Getting out early is really a blessing after yesterday, which was easily the hardest day of the shoot.

The location is a loft in a barn and the owner, an artist and tool aficionado (among many other things) shows up. She's thrilled to have a film crew in her space and spends a good 45 minutes talking to the crew, showing them her work. She's got wood working tools from the early 1800's. Also, she has a swing in the middle of her workspace. She's crazy, but in an awesome way. Before we leave, she takes us over to her desk, where above it she's got 2 calendars of scantily clad women with tools. The story is that this calendar alternates two photographers. One year a man does the photos and the next year a woman does. She goes through the calendar, telling us why she likes the woman's photography so much more than the man's. And she's absolutely right. She just keeps his calendar on the wall as a contrast.

10pm: We're done and on the way back to the hotel. Stuff needs to come out of the car. And then, I open a beer. Time to start editing the day's photos.