19 November 2011

With Our Powers Combined!

Well that was easy.

Well maybe not easy. Let's say it was "less hard".

Call today for BEST FRIENDS FOREVER was 3pm out on the desolate highways of Marfa, TX. Depending on where you're standing in Marfa, you either have 1 bar of cell reception or zero. Data is just as sketchy. Even if you have reception, it might not work. So for the last 10 hours of the "Save AYWR" Kickstarter campaign, I was more or less of a digital black hole.

But I was getting text messages. Lots of them from Wonder Russell, seemingly with every new backer.

Around 4pm, Brea walked over to ask how the campaign was going. I told her it was about $500 away, which was nothing. Last time we we're something like $5k away at the same point.

And then, around 5:30pm we had a company move. The text messages stopped. I couldn't get the Twitter app on my phone to work.

We took the grip truck to the production house to drop off the picture car, where I can usually get service. Nothing. Off to the next location--another desolate road on the other side of Marfa. Nothing.

Then, an hour and a half later, there were suddenly text messages from 12 different people on my phone. That could only mean one thing. Victory!

I put my phone away and went back to work helping set up the 12x8 frame and running stingers back and forth from the generator.

There was still a movie to make.


It's kind of fitting, really, that I would be so absent for the final push. A Year Without Rent was always conceived as a project for the indie film community, the "Film Courage community", as Sean Hackett likes to call it. The thinking was that if it could, in any way, bridge that digital divide between people flung all around the world, we'd all be better for it. I think that in a lot of ways, this campaign shows that we've accomplished a little bit of that.

The campaign stems from a week back a couple months ago where I gave Victoria Westcott a ride from Seattle to LA to speak on a couple of panels on crowdfunding. There's this perception of what AYWR is on the ground, I'm sure. Hell, I had very different ideas about what my day-to-day life would be. Maybe it looks more glamorous on the internet. Working on a Matthew Lillard film! Filming in the desert outside LA! Lunch with David & Karen! Drinks with Wonder Russell! Hobnobbing with KingisaFink!

It's kind of a grind, though.

Maybe it was the 8 hour drive on the first day. Maybe it was the fact that I hadn't eaten in a day and a half when I picked Victoria up. Or maybe it was the 6 different steps it took to save $10 on a hotel room, culminating with sitting outside a McDonald's in a small town in Oregon, stealing their wifi. But somewhere in the first day, she came to the conclusion that it was pretty ridiculous.

So she put this on her back. I gave her a list of people to contact and she did the rest. It took Marty Lang about 5 seconds to get on board. Sean Hackett too. I was there for those parts. And then I went back to work, counting on karma and a film community I'd managed to help as much as I could to make sure I didn't get stranded in Iowa with $3 in my pocket.

Everyone involved did a fantastic job. I'm more or less blown away by the response. I've gotten a few messages from Gregory Bayne commenting on how the campaign is a testament to the impact of AYWR. I think it's a testament to the collective power of a community of people who've decided to take matters into their own hands.

Speaking of which, Mr. Bayne has a Kickstarter campaign running for his newest project. I know he'd really appreciate your support.

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 November 2011

Day 2 of Kris & Lindy Boustedt's THIS IS OURS

The story of THIS IS OURS (as I understand it, not having read the script) revolves around 2 couples. The first, played by Ernie Joseph and Karie Gonia, are cultured and monied and established. The second, played by Mark Carr and Wonder Russell, are freewheeling in pretty much every way. They live out of an RV.

Today we're filming their introduction.

It's pretty simple. Ernie Joseph's character goes out for a run. He overdoes it, and gets rescued by Mark and Wonder in the RV. Easy. All we've really got to do is find a spot to shoot it on the roads near our home base. And since the woods are the woods, we pretty much have our choice of the back roads around here, which is all of them. Really, there's only 2 considerations: traffic and a place nearby to turn around the RV.

My thought is to send someone (i.e. me) down the road out of frame, to hold up traffic while the camera is rolling. It's the sort of thing you can get away with on a rural road, as you're really only stopping one or two cars at a time, and only for a minute or two. People are generally pretty understanding. We did this, for example, on THE SUMMER HOME and no one got hurt. But apparently, they've already tried it on this shoot and, well, let's just say they can't do it again.

So I guess the lesson there is, you might only get one chance on your shoot to break the law. Use it wisely.

The second issue is a little more practical. You can see from the pictures that these road are somewhat narrow with lots of really big trees on the side. An RV doesn't have a good turning radius. So you can just drive the RV past the frame, then turn around and do it again. Nor can you easily back it up like you could a car. So you need to find a spot where you can turn around easily and quickly in both directions, while still having the proper length of road for the wide shot.

We find it, sort of, and shoot the wide. But traffic is picking up, so we move to a different spot for the remainder of the scene (woods look like woods), which goes off without a hitch.

Then it's back to the cabin to shoot a scene with the RV in Ernie and Karie's driveway. It's not a complicated scene, in terms of blocking, but the light is too harsh. There's really no other place to put this vehicle, and it's kind of white, so the sun is bouncing off it and washing out pretty much everything. So DP Jonathan Houser naturally wants to put up some silks to cut down as much of the light as possible.

Enter Kit Boyer.

Kit stacks two silks in the same gobo head, which solves most of the problem, then throws up some frost. Only, the wind is creating too much noise (a silk is naturally quiet, but the frost make a crinkly sound), so Kit threads two bungee cords through an empty water bottle, which creates enough tension in the frost to cut down nearly all the noise. It works.

If you remember all the way back to yesterday, there was a discussion between Kris and Houser about how to shoot something on the golf course. Here's the scene:

Ernie and Mark are at a tee box, hitting balls. Ernie is dressed in business casual wear, hitting balls off a tee with a driver. You know, like you should. But Mark is dressed like someone about to head to a Phish concert. Oh, and he's hitting the balls with a cricket bat. Yes, a cricket bat.

You'd think that hitting a golf ball with a cricket bat is a pretty inexact science, and you'd be right. Most of the shots are veering very quickly to the right, in the direction of the houses just off the fairway. This begs the obvious question of whether or not we're going to break a window. We can't afford to break a window. We can't stop the scene, nor can we control the shots--at all. It's a short discussion, but it goes something like this: If you live close to a golf course, you have to assume that your window is in danger of being smashed. So, you either have that factored into your cost of living, or (and this seems more likely) you've got windows that can withstand a golf ball traveling at high speeds.

This seems logical.

Nothing breaks, and after a bit Mark starts to get better at sending the ball down the fairway. As the sun starts to go down, I grab the bucket and amble down the fairway to collect all the balls.

In the end, it turns out he never even got close to the houses.

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.

07 November 2011

Day 1 of Kris & Lindy Boustedt's THIS IS OURS

Early in A Year Without Rent, I was supposed to work on a film in Seattle that ended up falling apart. These things happen. A lot. But out of the ashes of that failure came two more films--THE SUMMER HOME, a short which shot back in April, and THIS IS OURS, a feature.

This rarely happens. Hell, when they talked to me about it way back when, I only half believed them.

But here we are, in Plain, Washington, shooting that feature film Kris and Lindy talked about on the set of THE SUMMER HOME.

THIS IS OURS takes place primarily in a cabin next to a golf course. It serves a dual purpose, as we're all sleeping in the cabin and it's the primary location for the film, which is exactly what we did on THE SUMMER HOME.

I arrive from Seattle an hour or so after call after getting a ride to my car from Brendon Fogle. It's a whole new team from the last film, with the only constants being Kris, Lindy, and Wonder Russell. Oh, and Falcor. I get the tour of the place, which is much bigger than it looks from the road and pretty easily holds everyone. Next to the cabin is a garage that serves as a holding area for gear. And there's a porch that overlooks a golf course. As far as places to make a movie go, it's a pretty nice one.

I'm on set for the last couple of days, so everything's already in full swing, clicking along. There's some rigging in ceiling to hang lights. Everyone's already exhausted. The usual.

There's always an adjustment period for stuff like this, where I come in as the new person. It takes a bit to actually work myself into the work flow. Even more so on this film, as things seem to going pretty smoothly. There's not a whole lot for me to do just yet. So I help carry some heavy stuff and take some pictures.

We film in the living room for a bit, then Kris, DP Jonathan Houser, and I go down to the golf course while they figure out how to shoot something that's on the schedule for later in the week.

Then, we set the living room for a night scene of a party in which, for some reason, Ernie Joseph and Mark Carr are wearing dresses. I'm not really sure why, but there you have that. It's that kind of film, I guess.

It's also, according to pretty much everyone, one of the most DIY shoots they've been on, due in large part to the ingenuity of one Kit Boyer, who when presented with a partial camera package for the RED, got creative. He made an eyebrow for the matte box with some cardboard, gaff tape, and a soda can.

But he also created something he calls "the plunge". It's, well, I'll let him explain it.

I can honestly say I've never seen that before. Fellow 1st AC's, the bar has been raised.

A side note: I've timed these posts to coincide with the THIS IS OURS Kickstarter campaign. So if you've got some spare change, consider sending it their way.

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 November 2011

Survival, Part II

Back in the beginning of September, I posted an update on the chances of AYWR surviving the year. It was a rough estimate, but it's actually turned out to be pretty accurate. Above is the exact same chart, but with an arrow indicating where we are now.

As you can see, the odds get a lot worse pretty soon.

Victoria Westcott kind of already knew that, but it became more clear when she rode with me from Seattle to Los Angeles to appear on a couple of panels, which is where her idea of the "Save AYWR" Kickstarter campaign came from.

Look at that chart again. Without some intervention, we probably don't get to 10 months (Dec 18th) and almost definitely don't get to 11 months (Jan 18th). To be honest, I don't know how much farther past the end of the next project we get (Dec 1st). There's a reserve built in where I have just enough money to get back to a safe house if/when the money runs out, mostly so I don't get stranded in Iowa with $3 in my pocket. I can see that point. I can also see the finish line. And, really, the question is which one people want to see me hit first?

When I developed AYWR, I talked to a number of people who know a lot more than I do about getting corporate sponsorship. They all pretty much agreed that it was the sort of project companies would get behind. For whatever reason, they haven't, despite the best efforts of several talented individuals (not me). At first, it was kind of annoying. But then I realized that a project like this wasn't going to get anything handed to it. The original Kickstarter campaign, despite all of its acclaim, has never once been publicly mentioned by Kickstarter. The media doesn't give a fuck about us (outside of our own media, which has so completely embraced the project). And why should they? It's a project built for the independent film community, fueled by that same community, and starring the people that make independent film so exciting. Since when has independent film relied on the kindness of corporations for permission to do something?

Fuck them.

We have a film community that we built with blood, sweat, and gaff tape. No one's going to swoop in and save the day for us. We're going to build up this new model for indie film the same way we build our films, working together despite really fucking steep odds. And, really, I don't know that we'd have it any other way.

If AYWR is going to survive, then it's going to survive the same way it was born, with an outpouring of community support. There's films left to work on. There's festivals left to visit and still some filmmakers to get on camera. It can end in a couple of weeks, or it can end on February 18th, 2012. It's entirely up to us and no one else.

So what if the old guard doesn't pay attention? We don't need them. This is our community, our movement. No one else's. They'd probably just get in the way.

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.

05 November 2011


The big news in the crowdfunding world is the U.S. House passing the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act. It was a rather overwhelming vote, which means that somehow Congress has found something Democrats and Republicans agree on. All by itself this is shocking. What the bill effectively does is open crowdfunding up to equity investments. Almost everyone thinks this is a fantastic thing.

Everyone except me.

SEC regulations aren't even remotely my thing, so I'm not going to pretend I fully understand what the bill means. Other people, smarter than me, can do that for you. They can tell you about what the new regulations would do, what extra paperwork it would inevitably involve. They can tell you more about that worrisome part where the individual states get involved. But I do have some idea how the film world works and some idea how crowdfunding works.

Let's assume for a minute that the bill allows you to sell equity stakes in your film via Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. That seems to be what everyone thinks it means. On the surface, this seems like a pretty good deal. As it stands now, people back projects for a variety of reasons, but essentially they do it to support an artist in his or her quest to create something. They don't expect anything in return, other than the promised perks. But imagine if they could make money on it. Wouldn't they be willing to give more? If there was a chance that they could get behind the next PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, logic dictates it would make it much easier to raise those funds. No one doubts that.

And really, that's kind of the problem.

People see dollar signs and their brain just shuts off. People need money to make their films and anything that makes that easier is automatically viewed as a good thing. I understand that. Money is a great motivator. But there's more to it than that.

The relationship between a backer and a creator is a unique one. The backers collectively give an artist the ability to create something on their own terms. The filmmaker then delivers that film and the strength or weakness of it determines whether or not the backers would be willing to support them again. Make a good film and the relationship continues. Make a shitty film and it probably won't. At the end of the day, it's the work that matters.

Contrary to what some people will have you believe, this relationship can theoretically go on forever. If the filmmaker keeps delivering the work and keeps engaging with those backers in a meaningful way, it stands to reason that the backer pool will get deeper over time. Someone with a track record attracts a bigger audience. You could have a director make an entire career's worth of films, all of them crowdfunded, completely free of any studio system or any interference from people concerned with how their film will fare in a marketplace.

That's never before been possible. And now it is. It's the hope that there's an actual future where indie filmmakers can sustain themselves with their work.

That's a really big deal.

Now add a profit motivation to that.

Money changes everything. Tell people they can make money off something and it becomes all they can think of. Instead of giving a filmmaker $50 and then watching from afar as they make the work, people take a more active approach to following the progress. After all, that's their $50, maybe their $100, maybe more. The entire expectation changes. They go from being benefactors to investors. And investors vote with their wallet.

Let's say your film has 500 backers. You now have 500 investors to keep track of. 500 people who, on some level, want your film to turn a profit. 500 people who all have different ideas about how to do that. In short, you're just like a studio filmmaker, only you have to answer to a lot more people and you have a lot less money to work with.

But in good news, it'll be easier to convince the guy you went to grade school with to give you $50. So that's something.

Really, I don't imagine for a second that Congress has any idea what the hell they're doing. And I'm sure the law will be littered with loopholes designed to help the 1% continue fucking us all over. I'm skeptical that this reform isn't more trouble than it's worth, and I don't really see the upside. Seems to me we're just tearing down the best opportunity to create a system for filmmaker sustainability in our lifetime. And for what?

One of the discussions Kieran Roberts and I have every so often about UP COUNTRY is how to best finish the movie. It's a common discussion that every film has. Our approach is simple. Since we have no investors and no one to pay back, we can do whatever we think is best for the film. We have final cut. It's 100% up to us. We have some interesting things in the film that we can do simply because of the creative freedom given by our Kickstarter backers. Or, as I say to Kieran, "if we can't do this on a $4,000 Kickstarter film, we'll never be able to." It's really a liberating feeling. It's not something I want to give up.

And maybe if those 108 backers were investors, that wouldn't change. I'm pretty stubborn, after all. But my gut tells me it would. I know it would muddy up the water quite a bit. I see meetings and large votes on stuff like the font of the title sequence and what festivals (if any) to submit the film to and really a bunch of nonsense that has nothing to do with making films. It's middle management. I used to work in middle management. It's neither fun nor productive.

Filmmakers don't need that sort of group think mentality telling them how to do their jobs. Not when the system in place has so much potential for greatness.

04 November 2011

Day 8 of James DeMarco's THE STAGG DO

Between Day 7 and 8 of THE STAGG DO was a day off. Being filmmakers, we obviously all got drunk the night before the off day, then spent that day hung over. This will surprise no one in the film world.

On the day off, I get up late and the house where we're all staying is mostly empty. Ben comes downstairs after a bit. Neither of us has any clue where people are, but things are clearly gone. There's no note. Nothing.


After a bit, Charlotte (our clapper) and Tina (our Art Director Assistant) come back. They seem to think that our former AD Jennifer Hegarty and our Production Designer Jen Saguaro have gone home to Bristol.

Again, there's no note. No email. Nothing.

So if you're scoring at home, our AD quit on Day 5, defected to G&E on Day 6, more or less disappeared at the end of Day 7, and then left town before Day 8.

Like I said, nothing on a film set happens in a vacuum, but…well.

Day 8 starts and still no sign of either of them. Zahra says they told her they weren't coming back, only it's not that simple. Jennifer has defected to G&E, which means that she's under me and Richy. I used to work in middle management. If you didn't show up one day without calling your immediate manager, you were pretty much fired. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but not telling the people you're working for that you aren't coming in, is kind of a bullshit thing to do.

But beyond that, it's really impressive to quit twice on a film shoot that only lasts 8 days. In the corporate world, they'd put you on the list of people to never hire again, which I'm guessing is where she is now for several people in the greater Newcastle area.

For Day 8, we're filming the wedding scene that the stagg do leads up to. Everyone's dressed up and the lighting is much, much easier. For one thing, we're inside, so essentially we're shining our big moon 2K (which is now a sun) through a window and using a kino bank to light the rest of the room. It's a tiny scene, just a couple of lines, then we move outside where it's overcast and threatening to rain (big surprise).

We've got the 2K going, mostly just to throw a little more light into the shadows, but that's pretty much it. The great thing about overcast skies is they provide a soft box that's ideal for filming. You can literally point the camera at something and be lit. It makes our jobs a lot easier.

It's a wide shot, with lots of moving parts. Since we look like shit from being in the woods, we aren't usable as extras, so other than running a few cables through windows, we don't have a whole lot to do other than just stay out of the way.

And so we do what any crew members do during down time: we work on a practical joke. Charlotte Bagshaw is easily the most innocent person on the crew. She's a student, working on her first film, and she's really too sweet of a person to be working in film. Like any crew member, she's been drafted into the cast, playing a bridesmaid. She's never acted before, obviously. So when this happened around Day 5 or so, Ben and I started talking about that one scene in an earlier draft where Pob has sex with a bridesmaid during the wedding. Tina picked up on it right away, as did Richy. The scene doesn't exist, but Charlotte doesn't know that. Around Day 7, I pull Pob and James aside and tell them about the joke.

On Day 8, Pob starts winking at Charlotte, says something about the big scene. Then James walks through the holding area and I ask him when they're going to film that. He pulls it off with a perfect deadpan and a wave of horror washes over her face.

"Guys, I'm only 18."

"That's kind of the point."

We also made her watch TRAINSPOTTING, so I'm sure we've scarred her for life. Proof: she's really excited to work on more films.

At some point during the day, I get an email from Jennifer that's intended as a "proper goodbye". I'm not going to run any of it here, as it's a private correspondence, but she'll have an opportunity to publish a counterpoint if she wants.

The wedding ends and we film a scene of Dawn, our host and trained opera singer, singing the musical portion of the ceremony, then a few cutaways of the cake made by fellow filmmaker Richard Purves and that's a wrap on THE STAGG DO (well, at least this portion of it).

Like any good Brits, we retire to the pub.

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.

03 November 2011

Day 7 of James DeMarco's THE STAGG DO

There's a lot of things you can do wrong as a film production, and if you've been paying attention to our coverage of THE STAGG DO, you'll notice that they've pretty much ticked off all the boxes, save one: we've had good turnarounds.

Generally, the rule in film is "12 on, 12 off". What that means is that a day's shoot shouldn't go over 12 hours and the crew should have 12 hours off before starting up again. The first one gets broken all the time in indie film, so much so that it's always a bit of a shock when a film goes the entire production without going over 12 hours. The turnaround, however, is a little better protected. Crewing on a film is a grind and people get exhausted pretty quickly, so the 12 hours to re-charge is pretty vital. It helps that usually the director and producers are just as tired as everyone else. There are reasons you can push the 12 hours. A big company move is one. Sunrise or sunset is another. But even then, 10 hours is a minimum before people start to get more than just annoyed.

Today's turnaround: 6 hours. Six hours is insane. It's flat-out dumb. The only excuse, really, is if you've got a location that's giving you a very small window to shoot, thus tying your hands.

A location like, I dunno, a strip club.

If you're going to make your crew shoot outside at night in the rain for days upon days until there's a near mutiny and then shoot the 7th day in a row on a 6 hour turnaround, a strip club is probably one of the only places you could justify shooting. Crews are mostly made up of straight guys and straight guys like scantily clad women. It makes them forget a lot of other things, like how exhausted they are. The concept isn't very complicated. And I know, it's horribly chauvinistic and blah blah blah, but these are people who've been put through the wringer, physically and emotionally. Plus, it's in the script.

Just the simple act of being inside is a nice change of pace. All the gear has a layer of dried mud on it (as do we) and smells a little like a wet dog (as do we). Whether or not this is an improvement over the usual smell of the place is up for debate.

We have a hard out, which means we're getting kicked out at 4pm whether we're done or not, so the first thing Richy Reay and I do is a walkthrough of the location, to gauge what gear we actually need. The rest can stay in the van, thus saving the time of loading it in and out. We settle on the kino banks and some of the redheads, and that's essentially it. But when we get back upstairs, the entire van has been loaded into the club. Everything. Stuff we don't need. Stuff that we couldn't even use if we wanted to.

Maybe it's because I haven't slept. Maybe it's because I've been wearing wet shoes for 4 days. Or maybe it's because I'm tired of people doing things without listening (or thinking), but I'm kind of pissed. I don't yell. Yet.

I look at Richy. "I swear. Sometimes I think Simon is the only one listening."

"Well, that's not fair," Richy says. "He's got professional help."

I haven't mentioned this yet, partly because the story of THE STAGG DO has been one of escalating tensions and failures and he doesn't factor into all of that, but Simon is deaf. Legally deaf. He's also one of our camera people. I've never been on a set with a deaf person before. Film sets involve a lot of talking without looking at people, so I kind of figured it'd be a challenge, but he's easily been one of the most attentive, competent people on the shoot.

How it works is he can read lips, but he's also got an interpreter to sign for him. This is kind of essential in dark, or when you're trying to talk and adjust a light at the same time, the sort of things where your natural actions don't lend themselves well to eye contact and lip reading. Think of being on a set. How much to talk to people without looking at them? Or without even being able to see them. A lot, right?

But Simon works his ass off. He puts himself in position to "hear" as much as possible, even volunteering to do help in other departments.

Which is all to say that when the deaf guy is the only person listening, that can't be a good thing.

It goes relatively smoothly, sort of. Well, compared to the stuff in the woods. Maybe it's just because everything is contained, instead of being flung across all creation. It's at least a little easier to find things. Of course, it's all in the wrong place, but it's easier to track down. There's not a lot to the scenes. A couple of nearly naked models. Some easy setups and we move across town to a house where 2 more scantily clad women appear, only they haven't been cast yet.

Enter Nick the runner, who goes around town during the strip club scene, literally trying to pick up women. And the crazy thing is he finds two, one of whom is an aspiring underwear model.

The scene is only a couple of shots, and we're done while it's still light out. Tomorrow's a day off, so the crew heads to a bar, where James buys drinks for all.

Spirits are finally picking up. Is that because there's beer and cleavage? Probably.

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.