31 December 2011

And then?

It feels like 10 years ago, but back when I came up with the idea for A Year Without Rent, I was struggling with some major shifts in my personal life, one of them being that I had no idea where in the country I wanted to live. It's a big country and when you're kind of hard-wired to be somewhat nomadic and already kind of floating around, the thought of just picking a place and getting an apartment and a lease and everything is kind of terrifying.

It also doesn't make a lot of sense.

So the thinking was that a year on the road would solidify a lot of things, all the while giving me a chance to scout out the various parts of the country I'd never really visited outside of maybe a layover in the airport.

Surely by then I'd know where I wanted to live.


You learn a couple of things on the road: 1) Being on the road is kind of addictive. 2) It's also exhausting. Also, living out of your car is a pain in the ass.

Seriously, it sucks.

But what's amazing about it is all the travel, all the people you meet, and all the real cool places you get to go. Think about it. You spend a year going from place to place, never spending more than a week or two in a location, always seeing something different, always experiencing something different. Then pick a spot where you'll spend several months or even several years. Even the idea of it makes my inner Mowgli revolt.

Still, it'd be nice to have a place to put my shit.

A Year Without Rent ends around the 20th of February where it started, in Purchase, New York on a short film by Mattson Tomlin. After that, I'll need to catch up on the mountain of work that'll surely be left. There's SXSW in March that I'll probably go to. Then a couple of films around the country throughout the year that I might be working on. One's in Montana. I'll probably be directing PAID sometime this summer and there's a couple of other things that I can't really talk about yet.

So…yeah. I don't know.

I'll need to find a source of income. I'll need to find a place to spend the times when I'm not going to be on the road. A home base, if you will. And I've got it narrowed down to something like 10 cities.

So I don't know where I'm going to live or what I'm going to do to pay the rent there. I know that when AYWR ends, my first step is to get drunk and pass out. After that, your guess is as good as mine.

22 December 2011

Music for UP COUNTRY

Above is the first 1:45 (ish) of my film UP COUNTRY, a feature film shot in northern Maine on the 7D for roughly $4,000. That's not a typo.

We thought we had a composer, but that's fallen through. We're looking for a new one. So if you'd like to take a shot at it, pitch us something using the video above to go by.

The film is the story of 3 people who hire a guide to take them fishing in the woods of northern Maine, then find themselves in trouble when the guide leads them out into the middle of nowhere and takes all their stuff.

As you can imagine, that doesn't go very well.

It's a small film, obviously, but it features great performances from Kieran Roberts, Jonny Mars, and Tyler Peck. And you can get an idea of how beautiful Dustin Pearlman's cinematography is from the clip.

If you have any questions, email me (lmcnelly [at] gmail) or ask on Twitter.

16 December 2011

Day 1 of Nicolas Citton's DECORATION

One of the questions I get the most in regards to A Year Without Rent is how it is I find these projects. I've covered it before (even if I am too tired to go look up the links right now), but it never hurts to repeat it, especially when serving as an introduction to a film.

Really, there's 3 popular ways. The first is the most obvious: I already know about the film. Usually this filmmaker is a friend of mine to some degree. This makes everything easier, as there isn't that awkward, "so what the hell are you doing?" stage. That's not to say it's a perfect system, but it's a simple one. The second is a film that submits information on the webpage. This is not as common as you think and sometimes leads to people submitting things that are, um, weird. Like, "they stumbled across the wrong webpage" weird. The third method is the old referral system. Basically, I work on a film with person A and they then call me up to work on project B. That's even easier than the first method, as they know exactly what to expect, as they've seen AYWR in action already.

If you're scoring at home (and I'm not sure why you would be), DECORATION is option 3. You might remember lead actress Cheryl Nichols from her supporting role in Paul Osborne's FAVOR. Cheryl gets my email from Paul, asks if I'd come to Arkansas. I juggle the dates around other stuff, and here I am in Arkansas. See how this works?

Cheryl's new film goes by the name of DECORATION. It is, to quote film's webpage, a film "formed out of necessity, in order to create the work that will outline our careers; in the spirit of experimentation, the pursuit of honesty and the search for a unique voice."

Practically speaking, what that means is that we're making a film in Story, Arkansas. Population: 89. You read that correctly. 89.

Well that's where they've been filming for the past 10 days or so. Today we're in Mt. Ida, a thriving metropolis of a couple of hundred people or so, to shoot a scene by the courthouse and, later, scenes in and around a grocery store.

We get to the courthouse and nearly all the parking spots nearby are empty. So we park a car, set up the camera, and shoot the front part of the scene where Cheryl gets stopped for drinking behind the wheel of the car. It goes pretty smoothly. But that's only the first half of the scene. The rest involves Cheryl's character being put in a squad car by Robert Baker. Only, the squad car the production is borrowing from the local police isn't anywhere to be found.

So, a handful of people jump in a car and go off to shoot something else. The rest of us hang out at the courthouse and watch the sun part the clouds and turn our previously overcast day into a sunny one.

That's not good. It's a bigger continuity issue than you think, bigger than just blue sky verses gray. Clouds provide a soft light. There's virtually no shadows and the light is pretty even, but sunlight is harsh and unforgiving. The shadows are easy to spot. You can shoot in both, of course, but where it gets tricky is when you try and pass them off as the same thing. It's hard to do well.

Plus, I'm not sure what the status is of the squad car.

An hour later, they come back and the decision is made to push the scene until later.

That leaves the scenes at the grocery store, and for those we need to wait for nightfall. First up is a scene in the parking lot where Key Grip Joshua Jones doubles as a supporting actor. The blocking of the scene is pretty simple, all revolving around the bed of a pickup truck, which in an empty parking lot means there's a lot of room to operate. This allows DP Stewart Yost to set up 3 different DSLR's, which obviously cuts down on the amount of takes we have to do.

It makes sense. Almost every shoot I've been on this year has had a DSLR just sitting around, mostly taking pictures of various things. So when you've got a situation where you can actually use it to, you know, get the movie made, why not do it?

Then, we're around the back to film a different scene. We walk by a dumpster that's got a weird blinking red light in a garbage bag. Twenty minutes later, when there's the need for something in the cab of the truck, suddenly we're tearing open a garbage bag for that very light. (Oh don't act like you wouldn't do it)

Finally that brings us inside. It's a couple of scenes, one on each side of of the store and a walk and talk along the back. The walk and talk is the interesting one. The way a lot of people do this is to put the camera on a dolly of some kind (or go handheld) and just stay in front of them. You don't even need to pay Aaron Sorkin any royalties.

Instead, what Nicolas has decided to do is film the scene as a series of shots from about 10 feet down the aisles as they move aisle by aisle, across the store, the camera locked down for each shot.

Meanwhile, there's a second camera more or less freelancing from where the Sorkin camera would be. My guess is they'll cut to that in-between each aisle shot.

At least, I hope that's what they 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.

13 December 2011


It early morning on the set of THIS IS OURS. Coffee. Eggs. Bacon. Bagels. All in all one of the better micro-budget film breakfast spreads. I'm not really awake when the DP, Jonathan Houser, asks me if I want a code for this iPhone app called Storyboard Composer. It takes me a second before I realize that I already have the app. I bought it long ago, when I first got my iPhone 3G. I remember it being the first app I actually spent money on, and it's still the one I've spent the most on.

It wasn't even that hard of a decision.


Basically what the app does is build storyboards using the camera in your iPhone. You take pictures, import them, and add whatever you need to the image to create the storyboard. Direction, movement, people, whatever. Put it in a Quicktime video with the proper pacing, export it to PDF, and there's your pre-visualization all finished.


The concept isn't all that complicated, one of those "why hasn't anyone else thought of this already?" sort of things. If you watch the DVD extras for AMELIE, you'll see Jean-Pierre Jeunet essentially doing the same thing. This app is a natural extension of that.

But wait, why does Houser have codes for a free copy of it?

Because he created the fucking thing. It's his app.

Really, this shouldn't be all that surprising. Innovation in film processes is always driven by filmmakers who see a need they can fill, something that they possess the skills to make more efficient. This is how grip equipment gets invented. Hell, it's how Kit Boyer ended up putting a plunger on a RED lens earlier in the shoot. It stands to reason that a filmmaker would be behind something like a storyboarding app, but even then you assume it's a filmmaker working for someone like Avid or Apple who came up with idea, someone who makes films on the side. Not a filmmaker who gets steady work in the field.

But here the creator is, sitting in a crowded kitchen in Plain, Washington, working on a micro budget feature. It's kind of weird.

After the shoot, we meet up for drinks in Seattle. Houser tells me some of what they've got planned for future versions of the app--an iPad version, syncing with various other things you use in pre-production--but mostly we talk about how people use it both in pre-production and production. A lot of filmmakers will keep it on their phone and only use it for more complicated scenes. Others will use it for everything. My favorite use that I hadn't considered? Using it in conjunction with your script supervisor. Take a picture of the monitor for every shot of a scene. Load them into the app, then play it back before you move on, if for no other reason than to make sure what you just shot cuts together. It's a hell of a lot easier than going back to that location, or re-setting all those lights. Or worse: getting all your actors back a month after you wrap for re-shoots. It's not even extra gear to carry around.

And then who walks into the bar? Wonder Russell. Sometimes the indie film world is bigger than we think. And sometimes it's a lot smaller.

Check out the app for yourself:


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 December 2011



Back when I lived in Pittsburgh, there was a yearly convention of furries. It was always big news, for all the reasons you can imagine, and because not a whole lot happens in Pittsburgh that isn't somehow related to a sporting event. The big convention center in Pittsburgh is downtown, across the river from where I used to live, so it wasn't uncommon to stumble across a furry on the way to Starbucks or on the way out of a bar on a Friday night.


Still, I can't say that really prepared me for the experience of working on a movie that's partly about furries. And it certainly didn't prepare me for making out with a tiger.


Don't judge me. It's partly your fault I'm here.

But before we get to that, let's talk about casting. THE HONEY COOLER is written around this, um, "character" in Denver. He does a bunch of stuff, but mostly he's one of those guys you meet at a bar and say to yourself, "man, I should totally put him in a movie." No doubt he's interesting.

He's also unreliable.


Director Ryan Demers and I have been sitting in Ryan's car for over an hour, waiting for this guy to come downstairs. He's awake. He's just doing whatever. Ryan's not all that surprised, as apparently this has been going on for the whole shoot, only today it's worse because it's the final day and what's he going to do? Fire the guy?

Obviously, it's unacceptable. The guy should be fired. But Ryan's right, he can't reshoot all the guy's scenes. He's fucked. This is why you check references. Because if you're repeating someone else's headache, then you fucked up in pre-production.

Eventually, he shows up. Hooray.


We get to the bar, over an hour late, and I put on my costume. Thing is, when you volunteer to wear an animal costume, that pretty much precludes you from doing much else. You can't really carry all that much, so once we're loaded in, I'm limited to shuffling around in a ridiculous outfit and taking pictures.




I'm playing a panda bear (like in LOST, if LOST took place in a dive bar in Denver) who plays pool with a tiger and then, in the next shot, is making out with said tiger on the pool table.

This is why I turned down the option to join SAG.

The eye holes in the panda head make it really hard to see what the hell is going on, which is great for keeping your focus on the pool table, but makes it really hard to see any cues. Still, I do my best to repeat my actions each take--a shot in the corner, pause, survey the table, line up a shot side pocket. Then, I make out with the tiger, which essentially just involves pushing our costume heads together and rubbing our hands on each other's backs. As far as making out on screen goes, it's either the most or least awkward way to do it.


From there we go downstairs into what, I assume, is the green room for when bands play. There's food variants of band names written on the walls and no one wants to sit on the furniture if they don't have to because God knows what's happened on them.


It's a quick scene, then we wrap the bar and head to the next location, where Ryan explains to me what the fuck just happened.


Then, to a public park, where we've got to film the second half of a scene they already shot. Only now there's a lot of fucking people where they need to shoot a bit of a stunt involving an elephant falling off a bike. We can re-block it, or we can start setting up and hope people get the hint. We do the latter and it actually works. People clear out. We get our stunt.


Really, we spend more time figuring out if we'll be able to get the shot then we actually do filming it. Things go as smoothly as you could imagine, considering that we've got the following: a public park, an elephant that needs to run his bike into some rocks and flip over the handlebar, a girl in a bikini he flies over, the actor who's eternally late chasing him, and the camera on one of those things you can ride behind a bike. Just…yeah. Controlled chaos.




And that's a wrap. I guess. I don't know. I'm so confused.

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 December 2011

Brendan Flynn's A WINDOW

The email from DP Connor Hair says the film is about a mime, kind of a riff on a French style. Fair enough. I'm a big fan of French films. Give me some Renoir, some Truffaut, some Godard, Jeunet, Attal, and I'm a happy guy. And if you're going to do a French thing, a mime is as good a start as any.

So what, in this French movie about a mime are we shooting? Is it a balloon? A scene in the park or on a street corner? Nah, we're shooting a rave scene.

I'm told this is atypical of the larger narrative, but I'm only here for one day. So…I guess we'll see when it comes out.

We're in this place called Underground Seattle. As I understand it, at one point Seattle was built below sea level. Obviously, this is not such a great idea and something they eventually rectified, building the current city more or less on top of the old one. But that old one is still there, kind of a museum to a lost city. Think Atlantis, but with guided tours and t-shirts.

Add to that our rave scene.

If you're going to shoot a rave scene, you need a couple of things, primarily a smoke machine and lights that pulsate and move around. In other words, not your normal Arri kit.

I mean, sure, you use the Arri kit (if you have one), but the special lights are really going to be your money makers. So what have we got?

Well, there's a couple of lights that are controlled by sound. As the beat changes, they change. Perfect for this sort of thing, where it turns what could be a super complicated light gag into something a lot easier. We've got a couple of those, all in different colors. But if you've ever used such lights, you know that they aren't super strong, certainly not strong enough to get picked up by a digital camera in any meaningful way.

Enter the smoke machine.

By pumping in a bunch of smoke and throwing a lot of light into that (kind of like how you'd film cigarette smoke), director of photography Connor Hair is able to get a lot more play out of the flashing lights, thus making them workable.

But when you're filming a rave in an underground city, you can pretty much try every trick in the book, like shining a projector through chicken wire.

Or you can get an interesting effect by playing a projector through a large plastic tube. Of course, that's not as easy as it sounds. First, the tube is far too long and we've got nothing to cut it with, so Rory Emmons does what anyone would do: he attacks the tube with a hammer. It more or less works, but now the tube has a pretty jagged edge on one side. He puts that one at the ceiling, with the flat one on the ground. Then, it's a simple matter of attaching a projector and DVD player to the ceiling, lining it up so that it shines properly through the tube (harder than you think), and filling the tube with smoke via the bottom. The tube holds the smoke decently, but it dissipates faster than you'd like, meaning we have to keep tilting it up to pump in more smoke.

Still, it looks cool.

Meanwhile, up on the street and in the dressing room, people are getting made up in crazy elaborate rave costumes.

Remember, this is a French film about a mime.

Once the room is set, it leads to an interesting visual. The room is pretty much a maze of boxes and fake walls, full of crazy lights and even crazier costumes, every corner containing a surprise. And then, around the final turn is a grip checking Facebook on his phone.

On my phone are several missed calls from unlisted numbers. It's 10pm on a Sunday. On my voicemail is a message from the Seattle police. They're at my car, which has been broken into. I take off running.

When I get back, we're full into the rave scene. Oh, and there's a guy twirling fire. But my car is full of glass. There's a window with a garbage bag secured by gaff tape and a police report to fill out. I stay for another couple of hours, but then, not being all that comfortable with the safety of my car, I figure enough is enough. I bow out early,

The rave is still going full-steam.

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 December 2011

Day 3 of Kris & Lindy Boustedt's THIS IS OURS

When you show up for the final couple of days of a feature film, you run into one of two situations. Either the production owes 10 pages and is in an absolute state of panic, or they're on schedule and pretty much stuff is just winding down. The former is pretty damned entertaining, but the latter is a lot less stressful.

THIS IS OURS is the latter. Bad for page views. Good for the final product.

Spend enough time on film sets and you can pretty quickly figure out the chaotic ones from the organized. People know where they should be. There's a sense of calm, of serenity (if that's possible), that infuses everything. Everything just sort of clips along at a steady pace.

Today's the final day for THIS IS OURS, and the bulk of it revolves around a scene next to the RV parked in the driveway. Plus, there's a stunt.

The scene is primarily between our two male leads, an argument that turns violent. For obvious reasons, I won't get into specifics, but basically it involves one character getting the shit beat out of him with the cricket bat we used the day before on the golf course. Sure, you can try and use the same cricket bat to hit golf balls and beat up an actor, but actors tend to be fussy about such things, no matter how many times you assure them that Brando totally would have done it. And clearly, you can't hit golf balls very far with a bat soft enough to hit anyone, although considering how far they actual did fly, that probably wasn't something to worry about.

Basically, you have to have two cricket bats--a real one and a foam one. That way you can accomplish both objectives. But where does one even get a cricket bat, much less a foam one? I haven't a clue. I'm guessing the internet? Which is probably why they only sort of match. The foam bat is at least 4 inches longer than the wooden one and the painting isn't the same. But that's kind of one of the great secrets about film props--it won't matter. They're in different scenes. The mind of an audience, having seen a cricket bat established earlier in the film, will pretty much fill in the gaps of any subsequent cricket bat they see later in the film and assume it to be the same one, assuming it's even remotely close. Think of it like a type of optical illusion. The mind, in a lot of ways, sees what it wants to see, assuming you let it. Switch something out mid-scene and you have to be damned close. Do it a couple of scenes later and the audience will make the connection without even realize they're doing it.

So we beat the shit out of Ernie. But even a foam bat has some weight to it. After a couple of takes, he's sufficiently bruised and in a little bit of pain. So for the reverse, Kris steps in to take the punishment. We shoot it, then Mark and Wonder jump in the RV, gun it up the hill and onto the road.

And that's a wrap on THIS IS OURS.

But that's not everything. The cast and crew has been living in this house for two weeks, so the next day, some of us (including a very hung over Marco Scaringi) have the task of cleaning out the house. It's just mountains of garbage, as this house doesn't do garbage pickup. So we empty the AYWR vehicle and use that to ferry garbage from the house to a nearby dumpster. We then clean the house, pack as much gear as humanly possible into the RV, and hit the road back to Seattle.

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.