26 August 2011

Day 1 of Matthew Lillard's FAT KID RULES THE WORLD

One of the questions I get a lot on A Year Without Rent is "where do you find all these films?" Well…there's a lot of ways. Some of the filmmakers are people I have a pre-existing relationship with. Either I've known them for a couple of years or I've worked with before or I talk to them a lot on Twitter or whatever. But there's only so many of those projects to go around. The rest come in a variety of ways, but usually because someone heard about me via some channels, one thing leads to another, and I end up on a film set. That's kind of how I ended up back in Seattle. Sort of.

One of my biggest allies in Seattle is Wonder Russell (@bellawonder), the lead actress in THE SUMMER HOME and one of those people who apparently knows everyone in the Seattle film community. She'd been plugging the AYWR updates for THE SUMMER HOME, which caught the attention of Ben Rapson, the social media guy for a feature film coming to Seattle by the name of FAT KID RULES THE WORLD. Ben contacted me and after I explained to him exactly what it was I was doing, he ran it by the producers. And that's more or less how I ended up back in Seattle.

Simple, right?

Between then and the time I'm supposed to show up, my communication with the production is pretty spotty, so I'm slightly worried. Just how much do the producers know? What's this film going to be like? It's one of those strange situations where the film is already in production, so my arrival is obviously low on their lists of priorities, but still these are the kinds of things that serve as red flags before I show up.

I get to the building and can't really see anyone. There's an equipment truck parked on the street, but I can't really see anything going on. Then again, I'm pretty early. I spot a tent with food under it (craft services!) and they direct me around the corner to where the producers supposedly are. I turn the corner and there's an entire block of RVs and trailers. Holy shit, this film has a budget. I'm shown to the 1st AD Allison Eckert and Key Set PA Keri Owens. They know what I'm doing and proceed to take me into the building where they're filming and give me the tour of the production. I meet some of the producers, who all know who I am and what I'm doing (would you let me on your set without doing some research first?). It's a tiny set, just a 1-bedroom basement floor apartment that's being made to look bigger than it is.

One of the first things Allison and Keri ask is if there's a specific thing I want to do, but since my mission is to pretty much fill in the gaps as needed, I shrug and say that I'll help wherever they need me. So their plan is to rotate me around the different departments. For Day 1 I'm in the Art Department.

The Art Department has 3 people in it (plus me) and the primary job today is to dress the bedroom of Jacob Wysocki, the titular Fat Kid. The character is big into online gaming, World of Warcraft type stuff, so we're hanging posters of game levels and maps on his walls. The maps are made out of multiple sheets of paper that'll be taped together. It's a simple enough job, but you want to check to see just how they should be taped. Are these maps that the production has taped together to look like one big map? Or are these maps that the character has taped together to look like one big map? Because those are two completely different tape jobs. And maybe it's something that very few people watching the movie will ever notice, but it matters. All those little things add up.

Next, we have to arrange some Tabasco bottles in his room. Apparently the character is a big fan, as he's got bottles all over the room and a poster on the wall (bonus: Tabasco has signed off on the use of their product). All the bottles came in boxes, so someone has come up with the idea to take the bottles out of the boxes, thus doubling his collection. Then, we set up the computer to play a DVD that's just a collection of solid colors one could chroma key to. Somehow I get pegged as the computer-savvy person, which would be fine, but we're using a pretty old PC. It takes a few minutes to remember how to get a DVD to play in full screen in Windows, especially since the default media player refuses to do it. Later, when we'll shoot in there, my job is essentially to stay close by so I can jump in and put it back to the full screen mode, should something happen to it (and it does).

All the while, the production is filming in different rooms in the apartment, namely the living room. I'm in the living room, taking pictures during the slow moments, when director Matthew Lillard (yes, the actor) spots me and introduces himself to the new guy on set. I tell him who I am and what I'm doing here. His eyes light up in recognition, "Oh, you're that guy! Wait, I'll do something interesting…"

I love those types of responses. They're so much easier than the ones where I have to keep explain why I would do something like this.

Before Matt can do "something interesting", they're ready for the next shot and he's quickly to the monitor, talking to the gaffer about hot spots on the wall and whether or not that one shadow looks right. It takes about 10 seconds to realize he very much has a clear idea of how the film should look.

And that's maybe the most interesting thing he could possibly do.

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. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

20 August 2011

Day 10 of Paul Osborne's FAVOR

All through this production, I've heard tales of our "seedy motel" location, a place so vile and disgusting, they couldn't even bring themselves to put me up there. (And I've slept in a few pretty questionable places so far)

Today, we film there.

On the way there, the first thing I notice is that the neighborhood seems to be getting nicer the closer we get to the motel. Could it be that they're fucking with me? That it's some elaborate joke? We're driving through Burbank, which is a pretty nice part of Los Angeles, past steak houses and rather upscale shopping places and some trees that were probably imported from somewhere else.

And then, we cross a line. The wrong side of the tracks, minus the tracks. The real estate is maybe 1/10 the value it was 2 blocks ago, maybe less. Pretty quickly after that, we find the motel. It ain't nice. But what's most perplexing is that there's a really expensive Corvette parked next to Paul's car. It doesn't belong to anyone in the production, which means that someone who can afford a sports car is staying here. Maybe it has something to do with the recession.

Maybe it's Frank McCourt.

The motel is bad, don't get me wrong, but I expected worse. From what people were saying, I fully expected to find a dead hooker between the mattresses. This is just…shitty. I've slept in dirtier places. Still, dirty is dirty. Katie and Tiffany replace the sheets.

It's a pretty easy setup. Put a china ball on a gobo arm. Set up the soft lights. Wait.

There's a sexy rendezvous to film, which means a closed set. Then we reset the lights and films some scenes with Blayne and Patrick. Really basic stuff. Let the location do a lot of the work. Paul takes the TV out of the room, which has the dual effect of making the room look shittier and eliminating the reflection issue. A craft move, if you ask me. There's a lot of waiting next door in the staging area. We watch TV. Get some work done. Play a little UNO.

Katie gets all dressed up to be a dead body stand-in, since the actress isn't here. This means she has to lay on the floor, which sucks, but she is allowed to sleep, so that's something.

In the original schedule, day 10 was supposed to be the last day of the shoot. Somewhere along the way that changed (which is really standard) and it become the second-to-last day of the shoot. The problem is that I have another commitment for the new last day, as I'm due at the Film Courage Future of Film Curation panel (and screening of my first feature BLANC DE BLANC). But Paul's got a minuscule crew, so this becomes my schedule for day 10 & 11 of FAVOR:

6am: Wrap.
11am: Drive across town to LA Talk Radio.
Noon: Guest host (basically chime in every so often) and talk to this week's guest M.J. Slide.
2pm: Head over to Hot Pixel Studios to test everything for the panel/screening.
6pm: Screening of BLANC DE BLANC (also available on VOD).
8pm: Panel.
Midnight: Drive back to set.

They're in full swing when I get there. We're shooting exteriors, which are pretty easy at the motel, but still they can use all the help they can get.

We get the shots and get out early. And that is a wrap on FAVOR.

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. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

19 August 2011

Day 9 of Paul Osborne's FAVOR

Previously, on FAVOR: Paul Osborne drove us out into the desert with a shovel and told us to dig (what could go wrong?). Well, now we're back at his house for a day of filming (it's a scheduling thing).

The schedule calls for something of a shorter day (even by Paul's standards), and we're mostly shooting exteriors, so many of the lighting issues from the other day persist.

Mainly, when the shots call for action on the porch, it's more or less simple. The soft lights work, as the porch is covered and the light can bounce around rather than vanishing into the Burbank night. Add in the LEDs throwing light in from the flower bed, and the big issues basically revolve around shadows and reflections in the window. Nothing too complicated.

And that would be great, but there's one more point of action--the street. The shot is essentially this: Blayne Weaver drives his car to the front of the house and walks to the front door. Sounds easy, right? During the day it would be. But you can't just send Blayne into the darkness. People will (hopefully) pay good money to watch the movie and will want to see him (audiences…sheesh), so we've got to light it. Paul wants it to be a pretty wide shot, so it's up to us to make that work.

Remember, we have very few lights, and not good ones.

You'd assume the first step here would be to figure out the shot, but it isn't. Well, not exactly. You want to figure out the general camera POV. There's no point locking yourself into a shot until you know what you'll be able to light. In our case, we want the camera to be across the street, which will allow the lights in the house and the streetlight to act as practicals.

Next, the most powerful light we've got (a 1K LED) is going to have to work as a general light. In normal night scene, it'd be the moon. For a day scene it'd mimic the sun, but we want it to look like another streetlight. It goes on the only c-stand and we jack it all the way up. That'll give us a general wash.

We have to run power from the house, which is tricky, as we've got orange extension cords that the camera will see. So we have to hide them. This is pretty simple, as we just have to snake them as far to the side as possible.

Then comes the tricky part: lighting the lawn.

Paul's lawn is on a hill. A pretty steep hill. For obvious reasons you don't want to put a light on a hill. There's a couple of spots that are kind of flat, but most of them would most definitely be in whatever shot we could possibly use. We can put one of them on the far-left side of the lawn, which has two pretty level spots, and throw some light across the grass. This is now the left edge of our frame (and why we don't pick a shot before we look at lighting options). Whatever we do, that's as far left as we can go.

The soft lights are pretty useless here, but they can put more light in the house, which should spill out the windows a tiny bit. And even if they don't, the light will read better in the house.

Since we're going to want to see the car approach from the right (Paul's house is at the end of a dead end street, which is convenient for our purposes), we don't really have a right edge of the frame. That is, we can't exactly mimic what we did on the left.

But…there are some trees. If we put the other 500W LED on the pavement up by the porch, we might be able to hide it behind the tree. Best we can tell, that's our only place to hide a light on that side. So it kind of has to go there.

So far, it doesn't look terrible. It's pretty dark, though, so we take the small battery-powered work light, gel it orange, and hide that on the lawn itself.

By this point, we have a pretty good idea of where the camera is going to have to be, whether Paul wants it there or not. Aspiring directors take note. There will be points in your filming career, especially on low-budget shoots, where the lighting and camera people will tell you that this is the shot. Your first instinct will (rightly so) be to question that. But if they're sure, don't fight it. Chances are this is the only place the shot can be. They're not trying to usurp your directorial genius or vision. It's simply that they know for a fact that this is the only option you have. Have them explain it to you and go with it. You brought them onto the film to do a job. Be smart like Paul Osborne and let them do it.

That covers the lawn and the house. The only thing left is to light where the car will arrive. Sure, the streetlights will do a lot of that, but it could still use some help. We've got one more light: a 1000W work light, the type you'd buy at Home Depot. We used it in the desert and it comes out again here. We set it up and there's a problem: like most work lights, the light has a safety cage on it. Well, the cage is throwing a pretty distinct shadow on the trees. Some diffusion would take care of that, but we don't have any diffusion and I'm not sure we'd even want to diffuse it. We need every bit of light we can get. But the cage is screwed on. Sure there's a big sign on it saying that one should never, ever take the cage off. Out comes the screwdriver.

And we're lit.

But can Bunee Tomlinson, our 18-year-old Production Assistant from Oklahoma, explain to you why we're lit? Let's find out.

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. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

16 August 2011

15 August 2011

Day 7 & 8 of Paul Osborne's FAVOR

We're combining days here for the first time on A Year Without Rent for one very simple reason: nothing happened on day 7. Well that's not completely true. We filmed part of the movie. It wasn't like day 7 was a day off or anything, even if Paul Osborne said that some of us probably didn't need to show up. The plan was to put Paul, Patrick Day, and [actress] in a car and have them drive around. Basically, just car interiors. Not only did he not need us, but there wasn't exactly anywhere to put us.

But I've been doing this a long time, and I know that no day of filming ever goes according to plan. It's better to be available and not needed than to be needed and not available.

Which is how Joe Pezzula, Katie Schwartz, Tiffany J. Shuttleworth, our new PA Bunee Tomlinson, and I ended up sitting in an RV in a grocery store parking lot for hours upon end, playing UNO.

It's about as exciting as it sounds.

Every couple of hours the picture car would swing back through, but beyond that there wasn't all that much to do. Oh sure, we all brought work to do, but none of it got touched, which is kind of a shame, as it seemed like a pretty good opportunity to get a lot done.

I know what you're thinking: you need an RV for that? And you're right. We don't need an RV for that. A RV for that would be excessive.

Day 8 of FAVOR is a night shoot in the desert with practical effects (more blood!), a generator (ooohhh), and even a second PA. More specifically, we're shooting at Vazquez Rocks. You've seen things filmed there. GALAXY QUEST shot there, as did STAR TREK (both older variations and the lens flare-tastic J.J. Abrams reboot), and it's easy to see why. It's a stunning landscape, punctuated by the signature pointed rock formation.

Naturally, as soon as we show up, every single member of the cast and crew starts climbing up on the rocks because, let's face it, deep down we're all just little kids.

We have that same lighting setup, of course, only here we really need the extra power from the work lights. The first thought is to set up some 3 point lighting, but it becomes clear rather quickly that the desert is just going to swallow the lights up. But, if we cluster most of them in the same spot and use one of the 500W LEDs to throw in some fill, it more or less works. Add a battery powered light we've gelled to match the others and we've got something.

The generator, of course, is our source of electricity. The production has spent the extra rental money on the silent model. It's anything but. We wrap what we can find around it, but it barely makes a dent. Finally, we have to get a little creative in re-routing our cables until we can put the generator far enough away with enough things in-between it and us to muffle the sound enough. Then, since a generator won't last forever, we're on the clock.

It takes exactly no time for the dust and sand to get everywhere. Our lights are just powerful enough to light the scene, but they're really hot on the bumper of the picture car. We tweak, but it doesn't do all that much. Eventually, Paul just figures out a camera angle that'll frame out most of the issue. More often than not, if you've got a lighting issue that just isn't working, the best solution often involves re-thinking your set-ups. Maybe the camera can move 3 feet to the left and still accomplish exactly the same thing.

One of our scenes involves the actors digging in some dirt in order to [REDACTED]. Only, the people in charge of the desert do not allow you to dig in their dirt. You have to bring in your own dirt, and it has to be a specific type of dirt too (because a desert doesn't have enough dirt). You can imagine how annoying this is. We need maybe 3 wheelbarrows full of dirt--tops--but the smallest amount we can order ends up being enough to fit in the back of a pickup truck. That's a lot of extra dirt. We have one shovel (which is actually a prop) and no wheelbarrow (but we do have a plastic bin). This is why you always want a few extra people on set. The 2 PA's do most of the shoveling, but we all chip in a little here and there while doing other things. This is one of the big differences in scale of films. On a bigger film, there'd be a department doing this, but on a small indie everyone works on it, from a PA to the director. It has to get done.

Shooting in the desert proves to be a little more difficult, so Paul shoots slower than he has other days, but he's still on schedule. The guy's a machine. Part of me is impressed and part of me is terrified that we're going to end up not having nearly enough good footage. But, Paul's happy with what he's getting, and if he's happy than you have to trust he's getting what he wants. It's just, I can't remember a shoot where we wrapped early every single day. It's madness.

He does it again in the desert, and just as he calls "wrap", the lights flicker, then go out. The generator is out of fuel.

Maybe Paul isn't so crazy after all.

14 August 2011

Day 6 of Paul Osborne's FAVOR

The one big issue with using soft lights as your primary lighting source is that they don't do a whole lot when you take them outside. They're kind of by definition a blunt sword, and they don't put off a lot of light, so taking them outside pretty much just turns them into a practical light, and who has one of those paper IKEA lamps outside? So, to shoot outside, we have to turn to our other lights, 3 LED lights with stands (a 1k and 2 500's) that we can pretty much gel orange. We have no diffusion that I can find. We do, however, have some work lights.

You don't want to use work lights unless you absolutely have to.

Our goal with the LEDs is pretty much just to try and make them look like streetlights as best we can. Really, we just want some motivated light to make sure people can see what the hell is going on in the scene.

Luckily, our first scene is in the garage, so we can use the existing light (replacing a bulb here and there). And the garage itself is one of those garages that you can only get by having someone live there for a long time who loves to tinker with multiple projects and isn't such a fan of throwing things away. Not a hoarder, just a pack rat. There's even an old car in there somewhere. A really old car. It might have even been new when they parked it in the garage.

It's kind of perfect for Patrick's character. I can't even imagine how you would create a room like this from scratch.

From there we move outside, which really tests our lights. The 1k, as high as it will go and as close to the frame as we can get it, helps. But it ain't great. This is where you really want to direct light, to pull out some flags and some black wrap and really create some shadows. Kind of like this:

But that's not an option on a mass scale, and it doesn't fit well with the look of the film's interiors, so we do the best we can with the lights at hand.

The other issues at hand involve [REDACTED] being [REDACTED] and the inherent problem of attempting to do that without either actress actually being there.

Remember the old trick when you were a kid and you'd put pillows underneath your blankets so your parents would think you were in bed? You know how it never, ever worked, even though it worked so perfectly for Ferris Bueller? Yeah, it doesn't really work when you're trying to do it on a film set either. It looks fake. And that, of course, just won't do.

That's how we ended up taping Paul's teenage daughter inside a sheet and shutting her in the trunk of a car. The big issue being how do we hide the fact that Paul's daughter has a completely different hair color than the actress without it looking like we're hiding it for the sake of hiding it. Or how we had a 10 minute debate about just how much mud we should put on UPM Katie Schwartz's feet and how best to show it.

I can't even imagine what sort of porn film the neighbors thought we were filming.

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. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

11 August 2011

Day 5 of Paul Osborne's FAVOR

Joe is back!

When a crew is as small as the crew on FAVOR, you really notice when people are gone. Mostly because they film so many damned roles. Take Joe for example. Joe is primarily the boom operator. But he's also running power all over the place and setting up lights. And those are just his primary responsibilities. There are no extra hands. So when Joe's gone, there's a pretty massive hole in the crew. But now he's back.

One of the running themes of FAVOR has been the various injuries that have started to accumulate. A couple of days ago, director Paul Osborne slipped on some wet grass and twisted his angle. Seeing as he's the camera operator and we're mostly shooting handheld, a twisted ankle isn't so helpful. We've offered to help him run the camera, but Paul is resolute, gritting his teeth for the length of a take, then hobbling the rest of the way.

And today, as a result of yesterday's stunts, Patrick Day has a brand new accessory--a broken finger. Also, his back hurts. Pretty much everyone is starting to get a little injured on this film.

Today (well, tonight) we're shooting one of the final scenes from the film. Obviously, we can't talk about that much. So let's talk about where we're filming. The location is a house in the Valley, in an area called Chatsworth. Now if you're like me and you don't really know much about the various parts of Los Angeles, then you should probably know that Chatsworth is pretty much the epicenter of the porn industry. Go ahead, scroll down the Wikipedia link. It's a little factoid that has absolutely no bearing on the production, but I think it's good to give a little context of where exactly we are. It might also give some context into what the neighbors assume we're doing at 3am.

But what we can talk about is the value of a good art director. Ours isn't great. My first day on the project was the art director's last. Let's just leave it at that. Anyway, he put together some fake beer bottle labels for the production (even though they could have very easily used Brainerd Lakes Beer for this exact reason). The labels look nice enough. They have that micro-brew vibe about them and everything. The only problem is they have some rather well-drawn images on them. But where did they come from? Keep in mind that in the 20 minutes I talked to this guy, I explained the term "greek" to him twice. (Greeking, if you don't know, is when you do something to cover up a logo that'll appear on camera.) It's too late to try and get him on the phone. Do we shoot it and take our chances? We could, but pretty quickly the consensus becomes to greek the labels made by our Art Director. It just simply isn't worth the risk.

I'm pretty sure the other productions in the neighborhood didn't have that come up during filming. *rimshot*

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. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

10 August 2011

09 August 2011

Day 4 of Paul Osborne's FAVOR

There will be blood. Maybe. Or maybe not.

We're doing a practical effect where a character gets [REDACTED], thus leading to a lot of blood. Like, a lot of blood. What the special effects people have decided to do is wrap a pad around the actor's torso where the [REDACTED] happens. Then, you know, blood. As I understand it, there's a couple of ways you can do this. You can put a packet of fake blood in the spot and figure out a way to break the bag open at impact. You can cut around it so that the impact is off-camera and you add the blood later. Or you can feed the blood in from somewhere else, usually via a tube. We're doing the tube method.

4 bottle

All of the methods have their own strengths and weaknesses. For the tube method, for example, the challenge comes in trying to get the blood to show up at the right time. Think about it. You've got a tube that starts in an actor's clothes, which means it has to snake in from somewhere off-camera. That tube then runs to a spot that's safely out of the frame, where it's being held by someone who's feeding blood into it. That's a pretty long way for blood to travel on a schedule.

So you time it as best you can and you do everything you can to give yourself more time and more chances to get it right. You schedule lots of time around it, and it's generally a good idea to have as many copies of the article of clothing that's going to get bloody as possible. In our case, we've dressed the actor in a plain white t-shirt, the type you can easily get in bulk. We have, I think, 6 of them. That should be enough.

It isn't.

The blood comes early. The blood comes late. It comes in the wrong spot. It comes before we even start the scene, like an over-eager teenager. Before we know it, we've gone through all 6 shirts. So, like any good production, they call lunch. Then, laundry.

Today we're a bit shorthanded as well. Katie Schwartz our UPM is in Michigan at her sister's wedding and Joe Pezzula is at a different wedding. That means that I'm the sum total of the sound and lighting departments for the day (well, night). Cut to a couple of hours later and I'm holding a light in an angle our stands can't achieve with one hand and holding the boom mic with the other one. It's a little tricky. Actually it's a lot tricky.

Tomorrow Joe comes back. Thank God.

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. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

08 August 2011