31 October 2011

About that Kickstarter campaign

My Twitter feed exploded today, which must mean that Victoria Westcott and Marty Lang's somewhat secret project that I wasn't supposed to really know about must be live.

As I understand it, the original plan was to keep this a secret from me, to somehow do it while I wasn't paying attention, but I think they figured out that would be pretty much impossible. Over/under on how long it would take before I heard about it would be 10 minutes.

Plus, they kind of needed my digital rolodex to contact all these people.

So here's my involvement in the whole thing:

1. Victoria, who came up with the idea, ran it by me to make sure it had my blessing. It does, of course. Otherwise you wouldn't be reading about it.

The fact that AYWR faces long odds of survival has been well-documented. Anyone with half a brain knows that $12,000 isn't a lot of money to travel the country world. I'm grateful for all the help I can get.

2. I then gave her contact information and made some introductions with filmmakers she doesn't know.

3. I answered a couple of questions about AYWR, stuff like number of projects, miles travelled. Things like that. Also, I provided that graphic on the front, because I guess it's easier to just get it from me than re-create it.

Which is to say that if you have questions about the campaign, I probably don't know the answer. In fact, I probably know just as much as you do. That doesn't mean I'm not insanely thankful that people have taken up this initiative. The idea that people would do this pretty much blows my mind. I'll be obsessively refreshing the Kickstarter page, as I know there's almost no chance that I'll be able to resist.

It's kind of bizarre, to be sweating a Kickstarter campaign that's effectively yours, but at the same time isn't. There's this detached feeling to it.

My fingers are so motherfucking crossed, and I'm more thankful than you can imagine.

16 October 2011

Day 6 of James DeMarco's THE STAGG DO

It's easy to think of quitting as a singular action, a "fuck you" to whomever you feel has wronged you. After all, no one quits because they're slightly annoyed. There's a ramp-up where anger and resentment and frustration builds and builds and builds until the person just can't take it anymore. And then they throw in the towel.

I've done it on corporate jobs. It's fun.

But it doesn't happen in a vacuum. Sure, if you're a PA on a $20 million film, no one's going to care if you quit. Hell, they won't even notice. But if you're the AD on a micro? People will notice.

There's kind of sliding scale on these things, but the higher up you are on a film and/or the smaller the crew, the more of an asshole you are for quitting. Because no matter what may or may not have happened and who wronged who, quitting has a ripple effect on everyone else in the cast and crew.

Your job now has to be done by someone else (or a combination of people) who are already pretty busy doing their own jobs. So the workload of those people increases, but then they likely can't keep up with all the tasks required of them, so other people have to pick up their slack.

Chances are, those aren't the people you're mad at. It's kind of like shooting a rocket launcher into a hostage situation. Sure you'll hurt the bag guy, but there's a lot of innocent people in there too.

Not to mention the chaos surrounding the actual act of quitting.

But if you're the AD, who are you even mad at?

When I direct and produce a film, my motto is that everything that goes wrong, short of an Act of God, is ultimately my fault. Because, really it is. Almost everything that happens on a set stems from someone not doing their homework (or pre-production) and as the man in charge, that falls on me. The camera guy is a klutz and breaks a lens? Well, I'm the guy who hired him, so that's on me. The owner of the location gets mad and kicks us out? I didn't properly make sure someone was attending to his needs. It's overly simplistic, but it works. Thing is, that rolls downhill. If you're the AD on a film that's 24 pages behind schedule, that's your fault. Actors are late showing up? Your fault. The director isn't ready to shoot when the schedule calls for it? Your fault. It's really easy to bitch and moan about what's going wrong. It's a lot harder to take some responsibility for it, roll up your sleeves, and fix the fucking problem. All quitting does is pass the work on to other people.

We'll come back to this later.

As you've probably guessed, we had a defection on Day 5. Our AD has now joined the G&E team. It's a gesture, for sure, and there's always a need for more people to wrap wires and break down light stands, but it's still not what you want the AD doing.

But it's a short day with an even shorter turnaround, so that's really what's on everyone's mind. We're in the woods canopy where I previously tore down part of a tree. We've got to film a scene where the actors find a tree that looks like a cock and balls. The production had one made by a local person who makes props (not our man Eliot, who's done a fantastic job) and, well, it looks terrible. Really, really terrible. Even in a comedy, where it's supposed to be ridiculous, it's too much.

The decision is made that instead of a tree that looks like male genitalia, which could be hard to find, why not work with the trees God gave us? It doesn't take long before we find a tree with a hole in it that everyone agrees looks like a "fanny".

Apparently, in the UK, this has an entirely different meaning. You can imagine my confusion.

The light plan isn't hard, even if it does involve stomping through some pretty dense brush, but the issue is with the entrance. We've been in and out of here enough, and it's rained enough, that it's turned into pure mud. It's not safe. Neither Ben or I really want to start carrying heavy lights in through there. So we run cables while they put down some pallets and rubber mats to provide traction.

Once that's done, it's pretty easy. Producer Zahra Zomorrodian picks up the AD reigns and the day seems to run pretty smoothly. But it's a short day, and those kind of have their own rules about them. We're done and out of there while it's still dark.

And thank God for that. We have to be back on set in 6 hours.

That's not a misprint.

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.

13 October 2011

Day 5 of James DeMarco's THE STAGG DO

On Day 5, it stopped raining.

For the length of the production, the out-of-town chunk of the production (myself, Ben Moseley, AD Jennifer Hegarty, Production Designer Jen Saguraro, Tina Frank from the Art Department, Sound guy Xander McGrouther (replacing Paul Quirk, who was only available for part of the shoot), and 2nd AC in training Charlotte Bagshaw) are all staying at the house of filmmaker Dawn Furness. There's about a half a bar of Wifi there, if you stand by the window and hold your computer at an angle, and according to that it isn't supposed to rain on Day 5. It's even sunny out all afternoon and on the way up to the location.

And then we get there and it pours for about 10 minutes, which is just long enough to make everything wet, especially the tall grass in the field where Ben and I will be setting up the 2K. So much for dry clothes.

Today's challenge is to light a tree fort (yes, a tree fort) on the other side of the river, about 100 yards downstream from where we lit on Day 3. Downstream means closer to the barns, which is theoretically a good thing.

It also means we have to get the 2K across the river via a walking bridge the Runners have built out of pallets and other random wooden things they've found laying around. It's safe, but when you mix in the rain and the mud, it's not the ideal thing to carry a heavy light across. It needs to go down the hill to get to that, then up a hill and through a gate so that we can get it to the only place where it'll be able to hit the tree fort, and even then you're looking at a moon that's at best on the same axis as the actors.

Augmenting the moon is our usual assortment of Redheads, 2 on each side of the river, gelled green and pointing up at the canopy of trees all around the tree fort, the idea being that if you've got nothing but blackness behind actors in a scene like this, it looks pretty dull. But, some indication of foliage in the distance, blurry and out of focus but definitely there, adds perspective to the scene. If nothing else, it helps sell the illusion that we are in fact in the woods, which we actually are.

Think of it this way: there's no point in going to all the trouble of filming in the fucking woods if it looks like we might have shot the damn thing on a soundstage.

By this point, we've got this pretty well down to a science. It's not all that complicated. It's just a question of execution. The only hitch in the system is that today they want to put a practical in the tree fort, and even that is pretty simple. The hardest part is catching the extension cord as it's being thrown up fifteen or so feet.

We don't even have to flip the lights. Suddenly I've got a pretty easy assignment.

The problem is, there's not a whole lot to take pictures of. All the light is focused on the tree fort, and it isn't strong enough or big enough to hold extra people. Down below, at the base of the tree, is pretty dark.

Of course, that's only a small part of what's going on. While it's still light out and we're setting lights, it's obvious that something bad is about to happen. No one is happy, even more so than yesterday.

"Have you ever been on a film where the crew mutinied?" I ask Ben.
"No, you?"

It's to the point where it isn't a question of if things are going to fall apart, but when.

It's strange, because our G&E team is mostly out of the picture for all of this. We run around, setting lights and stringing cables while there's all this bickering and anger going on. We see it--you'd be blind not to--but it doesn't affect us all that much, really. It does, but it doesn't.

All through the shoot, the director has had to spend a lot more time than normal working with actors before the camera even rolls. They don't know their lines, for the most part and to call the working relationship between the actors, the director, and the production unprofessional is kind. It's the single biggest drag on the schedule. I can tell that no matter where I am in the woods, matter how far I am from the action.

On Day 5 they add a new actor to the mix. James has never met him. No one in the production has. They rehearse him, which by all accounts goes well, but when the camera starts rolling, he freezes. Completely. The production comes crashing to a halt.

He cannot function on camera. This is why you do your research before you bring someone on. It's easy to chalk an actor freezing up as something out of your control, but is it? If this person has acted before, then you should rather easily be able to learn about his stage fright with a quick phone call. And if he isn't, then why are you hiring a non-actor without at least meeting with him? Why are you hiring anyone without doing at least a cursory reference check?

And then the AD quits.

Jennifer Hegarty has been unhappy pretty much from Day 1. That's been obvious to everyone, but as the production fell further and further behind, she became more and more vocal in her displeasure, telling anyone who will listen how badly things are going, and even confiding to me things you shouldn't tell the embedded reporter on your set.

I don't want to get into the why because I honestly don't know. Nothing on a film set happens in a vacuum. Anyone who tries to tell you that the problems on a set are all one person's (or several persons) fault is either lying to themselves or trying to sell you on their own innocence. I do know that a very unhappy Assistant Director quit the film, and that spun everything into a panic. Suddenly people are doing damage control left and right. Richy Reay (the DP) asks me to take over for him as he and James go and "take care of some things", and suddenly Ben and I are in charge as we've got to figure out a scene that was supposed to take place in the tree fort, and now happens and the base of the tree, where it's completely dark. It strikes me that the best approach is to slide the moon over, throwing it at the tree trunk, and staging the scene in a way that the new actor is in silhouette, thus making his dialogue much less important (and really easy to replace in post, as needed).

So we go to work re-lighting the scene. The Runners start knocking down bushes and nettles in the way, Ben moves the 2K and I start re-lighting the canopy, basically trying to figure out how Richy would want this lit. By the time we're ready, Richy is back. He tweaks a few things and we set some branches between the actors and the lights to give some dapple. Then James come back and we shoot the scene.

I have no idea what transpired in that time frame. And I don't really care. As a journalist, I know my job is to cover the story, but I'm a filmmaker first. Priority one is getting the shots in the can. The rest is just things to write about.

When I get back to the barn, Jen asks if there's anything she can do to help out G&E. I put her to work organizing the gels. Fittingly, they've exploded into a giant mess.

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 October 2011

Day 4 of James DeMarco's THE STAGG DO

One good thing about a justified bit of yelling is that sometimes things get fixed. Gone are yesterday's flimsy garbage bags. Today we've got new, sturdier, blue ones. They won't fit over a light, but you can put the cable reels in them. And today we're a little more prepared for the rain, which is good because there's more of it. Also, the blue bags are much easier to see in the dark than black ones.

The new plan is similar but a lot simpler. One thing we discovered yesterday was that while the garbage bags with gaff tape certainly kept the reels dry, if you needed to get into them quickly, you were kind of fucked. You had to rip it open and re-bag it with a new bag, which isn't exactly the greenest way to do things. But as Ben Moseley points out, he's got reusable cable ties in his kit, which will work a whole lot better. So that becomes our new method. We can get in and out of the bags quickly and easily, which enables us to re-run cabling faster.

Also, there's more glow sticks.

The idea is that since it's dark out and everyone is running around, the glow sticks are a good way to mark things you don't want anyone running into. Every department gets their own color, but G&E (which is just me and Ben) have multiple colors because, well, we need a lot more glow sticks than everyone else does.

It's kind of tricky to judge the progress of a production like THE STAGG DO when you're the Gaffer. Most of my day involves walking around the periphery of the production, ducking in and out of the shadows, setting up lights, running cables, and mapping out the next location so that we can flip the set up as quickly as possible. In the middle of that is the production. I catch bits and pieces, mostly when I'm in the barn to get more gear or at craft services to grab some food and Red Bull.

But I know it isn't going well.

Tensions are high all around. The production is, depending on who you ask, anywhere from 10 to 24 pages behind. That's a lot. The AD is bitching about the Producers. The Producers are bitching about the AD. The crew is bitching about the cast. The cast is bitching about the Production. Everyone's bitching about the runners.

No one's bitching about the G&E team of Ben Moseley and myself, for a couple reasons. 1) We own our shit. We're organized and we're ahead of schedule. Part of that is because it's easy to get ahead when everyone else is behind. All you have to do is hold steady. But Ben and I are pretty much on the same page. We talk to the DP and we both pretty much know instantly what we've got to do. We've figured out our power limitations and we have a good handle on what resources we're going to need. It's just a matter of execution. But, 2) Being the guy who writes for Filmmaker Magazine changes how people approach you on set. Everyone wants to look good in print, so they're very cognizant of how they look in your eyes.

Or, as AD Jennifer Hegarty says, "I don't know why they'd invite you and your spotlight to this production."

And to be fair, this is a curious production. Before I even got on the plane, I knew we had a very truncated pre-production. But I didn't realize how much trouble we were in until I got there and James DeMarco mentioned that because of schedules, they hadn't been able to do any rehearsals with the cast, half of whom are non-actors. Obviously, that's bad. And it shows.

More on that later in the series.

As for the actual production part of Day 4, the little changed. It rained a lot and it was dark. Again.

The night starts in the field again, revolving around the tent that serves as our primarily location for the woods. We've moved the 2k all the way to the nearest part of the field to the barn (and spun the tent), which makes running electricity easier, but creates a slight safety hazard, as it's right on the edge of the walkway. But with a rope line strung with glow sticks, it's about as safe as you could expect.

After that, we've got to flip to a section of the woods to the left, nearer the second barn. It's a small little section of woods. There's some footpaths and a pretty heavy canopy. It's also under some power lines.

We've got to get the 2K in there, which isn't the easiest thing in the world, then jack it up to create a moon. But a 2K is pretty hot, and you don't want it pushing against trees because, even with all the rain, it could very easily catch some leaves on fire and then you're fucked. Also, the power lines are pretty low and neither Richy, Ben, or I are all that comfortable getting it directly under that, as bad things could happen if it gets too close. Like, really bad things. So before the sun goes down, we scout the area, looking for a place to put the lights. We mark those with glow sticks and while they're shooting the scenes around the tent, Ben and I work to pre-set the woods as much as possible.

Our goal: to turn it around faster than James is ready to shoot it.

We get the 2K in there and it needs to go higher than we planned, which means it starts to approach trees. There's not a whole lot of room to work with and our options are pretty limited in where we can put our moon, so I figure it's just easier to get rid of the branches. I jump up, grab a decently sized branch, and let the force of my weight plus gravity tear it off.

I dub this "The George W. Bush lighting technique". Or: "This is how we do things in America." It isn't, really, but I find it hard to pass up an opportunity to play the "America, Fuck Yeah!" card, even though I'm probably the least patriotic person you could ever meet.

But it works, which is the most important thing. We strike the green-gelled redheads we've pre-set and we get it turned before James is able to finish rehearsing the cast.

And that's it for Day 4. More time in the periphery. More darkness. More rain. More tension. My shoes are soaked and smell terrible. And we're farther behind than we were yesterday.

But there's still wrap beers. A beer at sunrise makes everything seem better. Or, at least less terrible.

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 October 2011

Day 3 of James DeMarco's THE STAGG DO

For the first time in A Year Without Rent, I took zero pictures. Yes, zero. You'll see 2 pictures in this post. Someone else took them.

But why? One word: rain. Well, that and darkness.

For the 3rd day of THE STAGG DO, we move to night shoots, and naturally we don't have nearly enough lights for what we need to do. Basically we've got to light the woods and a field with a 2k and 6 redheads, which are 800W each. Add to that the fact that we've got a limited number of extension cords, and basically that means that my day involves trying to figure out just how to maximize our lines so that we can power lights wherever DP Richy Reay needs them.

The extension cords are in drums that have power strips in the middle with either three or four plugs. So those kind of operate as hubs from which we can branch off of. So Ben Moseley and I have a multi-pronged approach where we try and get a hub as far out in the field as possible from the barns, which are roughly 50 meters away from the nearest place we'd put a light.

Each barn has its own circuit, only I have no idea how much power each of them can handle. They're older buildings, so the suspicion is that there's only one circuit per barn (there's two barns close enough). And there's the math. You want to divide the lights more or less evenly between the two barns.

Then, just when we get them all set up, it starts to rain. First it's just a drizzle, but it's enough to be worrisome.

Was it supposed to rain? I don't know. I can't use my cell phone in the UK.

The one thing I know about British electricity is that it runs at 240V, as opposed to the U.S., where it's 120V. That's a lot. You don't want to run into that if you don't have to, and we've got it running pretty much all over the place. And it's raining. I don't need to tell you how dangerous that is.

This is why we have Runners and PAs.

We've got garbage bags and we've got tape, so I give it to the runners and 1st AC James Grieves (on load from Richy) and have them cover all of our connections. Keep them dry. Keep them safe. Simple, right?

Five minutes later, I'm about to grab the barrel connectors on the 2k when I notice that the garbage bag isn't covering the barrels--at all. It's sort of taped above the barrels, sort of, in a half-assed attempt to look like it should work. Richy is standing a few feet away, so I call him over.

He curses and rolls his eyes as I yell for Jonathan, the runner who yesterday came up so clutch with the burlap sandbags. This won't work, I tell him. At all. We need to be able to keep the connections dry, so no water will get in there. None. Zero. I tell him I'll fix this one and then I'm going to start checking the other connections. If they aren't safe, then I'm going to start cursing at him like he's never been cursed at before. He's going to learn some new words. Go. Now.

Then Richy and I give them some extra time. Later in the evening, we're going to have to move a couple of lights and cables across a small stream and the biggest question of the day is how to do that safely and as quickly as possible. I've got a chart I made out the day before and we take a few minutes to talk about how we're going to do that and where exactly he wants the lights.


[That's my actual chart, sketched on the back of a call sheet. Yet another reason why you want to give your crew a physical call sheet whenever possible.]

Our AD Jennifer Hegarty is pretty concerned about the move across water. We've been talking about it for most of the shoot. My goal is to not only do it safely, but turn it around fast enough that it doesn't cost the already way behind production any time.

Easier said than done as 5 of our 7 lights are already working and we're using all of out stingers.

The conversation takes maybe 5 minutes, which I figure gives the runners enough time to have fixed the safety issue, or at least the safety issue at the spot closest to where I'm standing (because, really, that's the fair place to start looking). Richy and I walk over. What they've essentially done is taken some plastic, placed it over the face of one of these, and secured it with gaff tape in the shape of an "X".

Not exactly what we were looking for.

Richy calls over James, the director. He takes one look at it and, well, expresses his displeasure and pretty much gives me carte blanche to yell at them.

"You know, it's not even worth doing the film if people are going to get hurt," he says.

I yell for Jonathan. By now everyone has an idea of what's going on. And I let him have it with a string of profanities surrounded by the question, "are you trying to get someone killed?" He tries to make a joke out of it, which is a really bad idea, so I yell some more.

He's not happy. He shouldn't be.

Am I being unreasonable? Maybe. But the thing is that no matter how collaborative a film project is, there's a chain of command that operates much like the military. When the Gaffer tells a Runner or Production Assistant to do something (twice), then that damn well should be done better than you think it needs to be, especially when it's been made clear that the question isn't of quality but of safety. A film set can be a dangerous place. There's a lot of ways someone can get hurt. Even so, if you're a Production Assistant on a film, it doesn't even matter why someone is telling you to do something. You do it. If you think it's a dumb request, by all means ask for the reasoning and if the person isn't a total asshole (or isn't completely swamped), they'll tell you why.

Our reasoning here is pretty simple: IT'S FUCKING RAINING.

It's 240V of electricity. I have no insurance and I'm in Europe. I really don't want to get electrocuted.

The final solution is to place the drums inside a garbage bag and seal that up with gaff tape, which is a pretty obvious call, really. And maybe I should have suggested that from the beginning, but I thought the task at hand wasn't very difficult to figure out, so I'll take some blame for that. But not all of it.

Once we've got everything safe, Ben Moseley and I start working on setting the lights for the turnaround across the river. The river is probably 20 feet or so down a pretty steep banking behind the 2k. It's really small and, let's face it, not big enough to fish, but that's what the script calls for, so that's what we'll do. We have 2 lights not in play and a couple of gels, but not green ones like we need, so we go back to our grade school color lessons and start mixing and matching what blues and yellows we have to create shades of green.

Having done that, we set the lights. One goes across the river in the woods, more or less directly behind the 2k. It's about 30 meters in a straight shot, but we can't do it in a straight shot. We want to keep the wires out of the water (obviously), so we've set up a c-stand at the edge of the banking. Earlier in the evening, I put a glow stick on a tree branch across the river, and another one where the light would go. The theory is to string a rope from the c-stand to the tree branch and affix the wires to that, thus keeping it well above the water (and also high enough that no one accidentally runs into it in the dark). The other light goes on the side of the river we're currently on, but is down an even steeper banking where you have to hold onto tree branches to keep from falling. That's much easier and as soon as Richy let's us kill a light in the scene they're currently shooting, we'll grab that cable and run it down the banking.

The 2k is gelled blue and operates as our moon, so ideally all we'll need to do is spin it around. During lunch I've added a power strip to the barrel connectors by the 2k, so that we can more easily run power off it without overloading it. Earlier in the evening, we tripped the power, thus realizing that our circuits could handle 3000W each.

They finish the scene in the field well behind schedule. Knowing that James is going to have to rehearse the actors, I make a point of telling him that we'll be set up before he's ready. So, like, don't send them away.

I'm pretty sure he doesn't believe me. I probably wouldn't believe me either.

The second they're done, Ben and I kill the light, rip open the bags around the drums and run over to the river. It doesn't go as smoothly as we'd like when the rope gets all tangled up and we have to improv but we get it across the river. We're all ready to go when the bulb goes out in the redhead we just lit.

Besides that, we get it turned around in under 5 minutes. James has briefly sent the actors away, but brings them back to rehearse as Ben changes out the bulb. And it's a good thing because they finish the scene as the sun comes up.

As for the Electric Company? Well the powers that be decide they should probably wrap up everything. Ben and I bring in the lights and then share wrap beers with Richy while they collect all the cables and trash in the field.

They aren't too happy with that either. I don't blame them.

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.

06 October 2011


There's a point in every project where you have to either have to push all your chips in the middle or save them for a later hand. You can this at any point, but the quicker it becomes clear, the better everyone will be. You don't want to get all the way to the end and find yourself drawing dead or holding a pair of Jacks against a flush.

So I'm pulling the plug on UNTITLED LUCAS MCNELLY PROJECT.

Sort of.

After a long phone call with Marty Lang, it became evident that we can do this same film, in the context of A Year Without Rent, and do it so much better.

More on that later.

It's one thing to make a film in two weeks when you live in the city and have a team in place. It's something else entirely when you don't know the city at all. Can it be done? Of course. I have no doubt that we could have gotten this film made. Would it have been any good? Maybe.

But when people started dropping out due to scheduling, it became clear that we were going to be making it with a pretty rag-tag team of people. But even that isn't all of it.

I simply don't have the energy to get this film off the ground this quickly. I'm too fucking tired. AYWR is a grind. It's one thing to be part of a crew, but to compress an entire pre-production into this short of a time frame just isn't something I felt the fire to do right now. And more than anyone, I know what this sort of thing involves. And I just didn't want to do it.

That was probably it more than anything.

Apologies to everyone in Denver who put in work in these early days. Hopefully it wasn't wasted effort. If nothing else, I got to meet some really cool people in a town where I knew almost no one.

But all is not lost. Marty's still working on the script. We're going to bring the film back in a bigger, better, and more interesting way. It'll still be cool, and it'll still be fun, and maybe we can get some of those people back we lost. With a little more lead time, we can probably even get more of a wish list together.

The current theory: why do this now when we could do it at the end of AYWR as the last film in the project?

The whole point was to prove it could be done. And last night I realized I just didn't care. I've already proven it could be done. So let's prove we can do something else instead.

04 October 2011

Day 2 of James DeMarco's THE STAGG DO

Few things in micro budget indie film are easier than being the gaffer when shooting a field far away from electricity. There's really no way you can possibly be expected to get electricity that far, if for no other reason than the production probably hasn't rented a generator. And without a generator, no electricity. No electricity means no lights. If you're far enough out there, in a remote enough location, you can't even block the light. Basically, you can bounce it around a bit, but 99% of the time, that's it. You're limited to what you can carry and the whims of the "Great Gaffer in the Sky".

So you spend a lot of time shading your eyes, looking up at the cloud pattern, and trying to figure out what exactly the clouds are going to do. You want to know ahead of time if there's some dark clouds on the horizon that'll make everything a lot darker or, even worse, if the sun is about to come out, thereby negating that fantastic soft box you've given the DP.

The Great Gaffer in the Sky has some fantastic lights, but little concern for how they affect your film.

But other than looking thoughtfully at the sky, there's not a whole lot you can do. You stay near the DP, just in case he needs something, but mostly you just stay out of the way and every so often offer some encouragement when needed.

Even that isn't so easy. There's a common plant in the UK called the nettle. It's apparently all over the place. Hell, it's even listed on the call sheet. I've never heard of it, even though Wikipedia seems to think it's all over North America. I grew up in the woods of Maine, and I've never heard of it. People will tell you to look out for them, and for good reason. They fucking hurt. And I don't mean like bee sting hurts. I mean 6 hours later you can still feel it.

I'm told you can boil them into a tea, but I'm not sure why you'd want to. Although, this is the UK.

The scenes in the field are pretty simple, transitional dialogue scenes. A minimum number of set ups and then we're done. So we trek out to the field to find a good spot, with the expectation that the cast is right behind us.

They aren't.

But we have a few things we can do. We're still waiting for one of the camera guys, but then he shows up and still no sign of the cast. Ten minutes go by. Twenty minutes. People are sitting down in the grass. Eventually they make their way out to the location, but they're unrehearsed. Add to that the fact that it turns into a moving shot, with a handheld camera going backward on some uneven ground and you've got a scene that takes a lot longer than scheduled.

There's a truism in construction that once the crew stops working, it's difficult to get them started again. At least, that's what they say whenever I watch FLIP THIS HOUSE. Same thing applies on a film set. Once they've taken a break, it's hard to get them going again. It's just human nature. So time spent on rehearsal after the shot is ready is usually time wasted, plus the time wasted trying to get things back up to speed.

We finish in the field, then it's back to the farm, where a new problem has emerged.

In the story, the judge (Bill Fellows) is a pretty well-off guy and therefore drives a pretty expensive car. The production, doing their due diligence, found an Audi to serve as a picture car. Only to find out just before production started that Bill cannot drive a stick shift. (I'm told the stick shift is much more prevalent in the UK than in the US.) So they can't shoot footage of him driving, which will be tricky because there's several pages of the script that revolve around that.

What to do?

Producer Zahra Zomorrodian has something that sort of looks like green screen material in her car and DP Richy Reay is pretty sure he can key it all properly, so it's up to the G&E team of myself and Grip Ben Moseley to make that happen. And we have to do it outside.

Loyal readers of A Year Without Rent will recall how on Sean Gillane's CXL, we had to figure out how to rig a green screen on the windy sidewalks of San Francisco. It's the sort of thing that rarely comes up, but thank goodness it did because now I'm able to use the tricks we figured out on Sean's shoot and put them to use here, only on a much bigger scale. Oh, and we have about a quarter of the gear we need to do it.

But someone says to ask Jerry if he's got anything in his van. Jerry is the sound guy who shows up in a panel van full of gear. Sure enough, he's got a couple of light stands with a T-bar attachment that we can affix the top part of the green screen to. The bottom needs to be stretched down to the ground and held in place, but we don't really have anything to hold it tight uniformly all the way around the car. So we start looking around the farm for heavy stuff. We find some metal bars to help weigh it down and some very heavy grey things that are about 4 feet long and used in a parking lot to stop a car from going any farther. I have no idea what they're called. We have 3 of those and since we're really low on sandbags, they go on the c-stands.

We still need more sand.

By this time, Ben and I have commandeered the two runners and the 1st AC James Grieves to help. I'm in one of those spots where I'm holding something that probably won't stay up by itself when we run out of sand. I look at runner Jonathan Teggert and James and tell them I need more sand.

"We don't have any."
"Well, figure it out."

Five minutes later, they come back with a small (roughly 1 foot wide and 2 feet long) burlap bag filled with rocks. And you know what? It works. It actually works really well. Use a cable tie to cinch off the top and you've got a bag that's more versatile than a sandbag, and just as heavy. You can distribute the rocks as needed, perfect for wrapping the bag around the base of a light stand, and they're easy to pack up at the end of the shoot.

The whole green screen is stuff like that. One of the more DIY things I've ever done.

Then there's a wait for the actors to get rehearsed. We shoot one half of the scene, then the car has to turn around to do the other half. And, yes, we simulate the car moving by pushing up and down on the hood.

The final piece of the day is a dream sequence where a scantily clad girl pours drinks down our actor's throats. Smartly, it's the last thing we shoot. Almost like a carrot on a stick to keep people moving.

And that's it for day 2.

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.