12 January 2012

Day 3 of Nicolas Citton's DECORATION

We're up for a 9am shoot on a bridge. It's a small scene, meant to exist near the end of the film, so I'm not going to talk about it too much, other than to say we all drove out there and shot a scene near the water. The rest isn't all that important. Nothing complicated. Nothing exciting.

From there, we head back to the cabin we're all staying in for quick turnaround. The word that goes out is "10 minutes". Someone sits down. The TV goes on, and before you know it, we've been watching Skip Bayless talk about Tim Tebow for over an hour.

Skip Bayless really likes Tim Tebow.

I have no idea what the cause of the delay is.

Eventually, we pile in the vehicles and head back to Story and our primary location of Nooner's house. The second unit splits off to shoot some B Unit stuff.

As for me? Well, I'm being asked by the director to sit in the van. But, the sun is out and it's kind of warm out, so instead myself and Chris the sound guy find some chairs on the porch and sit there while they block the scene inside. I eat an orange and work on write-ups for other films.

It's not exactly a closed set. The director and actors are in there, of course. As is the DP and the grip and Jimmy, who's a hybrid grip/PA/whatever. Basically, everyone but myself and the sound guy. But whatever. I have work to do.

Eventually, the director comes out and asks if I could take some pictures of the area around the couch for continuity. It's a simple enough thing to do. There's a couch there and a bookshelf with a bunch of books on it. So I take pictures of everything and, as requested, start moving everything out to the porch. I pull the books out in stacks, being careful to keep them in order, the assumption being that we're going to want to reset the scene back to the original configuration. And while a lot of the books and magazines are scattered around the floor and coffee table, they're at least in distinct piles, and those that are on the bookshelf are in a specific order.

It's a little thing, but if you can pull 10 books off a shelf and keep them all together as you move them around, it saves time when you have to put them back. There's no trying to use photos to recreate the order. All you have to know is that this stack goes on the top shelf, over to the left. The rest takes care of itself.

We pull everything, stripping the area completely. But by the time that's finished, the director has gone ahead and done the same with the entire house.

There are no photos for the rest of the house. None.

They film the scene and then we have to reset the house for a night scene. But there's no photos, so when the time comes to see the parts of the house that aren't the general couch area, there's nothing to go by, other than the consensus memory of the cast and crew. Ever tried to remember every little detail about a room? It's not easy. People's memories conflict. Say you've got two framed images of birds. Was the cardinal the one higher up or the bluejay? How sure are you?

And sure it's a small thing, but those things add up. Flip one bird image and whatever. These things happen. But do it over and over again and it starts to pull people from your story. It becomes a drinking game, and when that happens, no one's going to be sober for your emotional third act.

What the production does have is footage from scenes previously shot in the house. But think of how time-consuming that is. You've gotta get out the hard drive and computer, boot it up, and search through all that footage, just to figure out if it was the cardinal or the bluejay on top. And that's a best case scenario. That's if you can find the footage you need, if it's nearby or, say, back in the cabin where everyone's staying.

This is why you get a Script Supervisor, because they'll be damned sure if it was the cardinal or the bluejay. Hell, they'll even tell you if it was hung straight. And it won't take them all night to figure it out.

And if you don't have the budget for the Script Supervisor? Well, then you make sure you get photos of the entire house before you start moving things.

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.

Day 0 of Brea Grant's BEST FRIENDS FOREVER

I've never really heard of Marfa, Texas until a couple of weeks ago, but apparently the place is mythical. Everywhere I've been--Wisconsin, Kansas, Arkansas, Dallas, Austin--I keep hearing the same thing: "Oh, you'll love Marfa."

I'm not really sure why.

Marfa is this tiny, tiny town in West Texas. The census bureau has the population at 1,900 people, which seems high. Real cowboy country. They shot THERE WILL BE BLOOD here, as well as NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, and the one thing 1st AC Brian Nelligan (who I picked up in Austin) try and figure out as we drive into town is, where the hell did they put everyone? They shot two decently big movies in the same town at the same time and there aren't exactly a bunch of hotels all over the place. Our theory is that Daniel Day Lewis just camped out near set in a tent that he made himself.

The first thing we notice as we drive through town is that the roads don't match up with my GPS, so it takes a bit of driving around to find the house we're looking for. I call the producer, Stacey Storey, but she's not in town yet, after some sort of issue with the grip truck breaking down on the way from LA. Apparently they're still in Arizona. We start shooting tomorrow.

We find some other crew people, and we all head to a bar to find everyone else. Introductions all around. Brea's there, along with AD John-Michael Thomas and DP Michelle Lawler, trying to figure out how to shoot the first day with a grip truck that may or may not show up on time.

Your first thought is that you'll have to cancel the day, or at least part of it, and no one wants to do that. You put yourself in the hole on day 1 and run the risk of spending the entire shoot trying to catch up. On the other hand, if the truck shows up late, you've got some real chaos on your hands, and that's not the best way to start a shoot either.

Eventually, the decision is made to turn day 1 into a prep day, which feels like the right call. The truck shows up with Stacey and gaffer Phil Matarese already exhausted from driving all night. And the prep time is helpful. Things need to be unloaded and sorted. Plus, it gives the various crew members time to get to know each other a little bit before the actual work starts. An opportunity to ease into things, if you will.

After an hour, we've completely taken over the yard and part of the street, which attracts the attention of a neighborhood cat. He starts looking around for food and before anyone realizes it, he's ripped into a bag of bagels and eaten part of one. I didn't even know a cat would eat a bagel.

No one knows where he came from exactly, but he's apparently been inside the house 3 times already.

Before long, he even has a name: Lonestar Bagels Sebastian III.

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.

04 January 2012

Day 2 of Nicolas Citton's DECORATION

Call time for my second day on DECORATION is 9:30am. I'm ready to go a little before then, call it 9:20. Call time comes and goes. Nothing happens. And by that I mean nothing. People aren't ready, and why should they be? We aren't moving.

10am comes and goes. People start to emerge. They make breakfast. Get coffee. The director has gone for a walk. It was like this yesterday too, but it being my first day, I chalked it up to an aberration. Now it's looking more like a trend.

When you join a production near the end, there's a period where you try and figure out the pace of things. Every production operates on its own speed (for better or worse) and when you join one mid-stream, there's an adjustment, kind of like merging onto the highway. The more times you do this, the easier it gets, and after a while you can sometimes tell before you even hit the on-ramp.

After a week or so, every production becomes what it'll eventually be, which is to say that things don't change all that much beyond a point. Sure, in the first couple of days, stuff gets addressed and things change, but eventually it all settles into a routine. Very little changes past that point. Crews know that. Hell, they're the first ones to figure it out and adjust accordingly. So if you're on a set and the call is 9:30 and no one in the crew is ready to go at 9:30, that probably means that call time is a myth. Grips aren't giving up a hour of sleep if you aren't going to be ready to go on time. They aren't stupid. A good way to see if something is an aberration or the norm is to see how the crew reacts. Or, you ask them. And then a pause is all you need.

So we finally leave at 11:08am (I know because I wrote it down) after a 9:30 call and head to the police station to shoot the other half of the scene we shot yesterday. This requires a car mount on a police car. Then, we wait while they drive around filming a scene. They come back and we re-mount the camera in a different spot on the car. Nothing crazy complicated, just a question of building the safest thing imaginable with what we've got on hand. The car mount is easy enough, because we've got one of those, but putting the camera behind the back seat is a little trickier. DP Stew Yost settles on a tower of apple boxes and sandbags, with the camera wedged in-between the top 2 sandbags and the director sitting next to it to ensure the whole thing doesn't tip over.

From there, we head over to the tiny town of Story, Arkansas where the house location is. In the story, our two main characters (Cheryl Nichols and Rick Dacey) return home from LA when their father dies back in Arkansas. This is his house, a tiny one bedroom structure on a hill. It's a building badly in need of repair, which makes it a perfect location.

We move some stuff around a shoot a couple scenes, nothing all that complicated. It starts raining and things need to be adjusted accordingly, but all in all, we get everything. We wrap around 6pm.

It's Stew's birthday and someone has bought him a pellet gun. The crew spends the evening setting up empty beer bottles. By morning there's a pile of broken glass on the ground.

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.