If you were to ask me what day in the calendar year would be the one where people are least likely to be doing yard work, one of my first guesses would be the day after Memorial Day. I mean, who has that Tuesday off? I've had plenty of jobs where it was strongly implied that "getting sick" on the day after a holiday wasn't exactly going to be taken at face value.
But here we are, the day after Memorial Day, shooting outside in a quiet neighborhood in Newark, Delaware and there's got to be 15 houses around us either mowing the lawn, trimming bushes, or just hammering on metal. And the thing is, we can't see any of them. Every five minutes, Assistant Director Carolina Solano wanders off in search of noise. It stops. And then it starts up again from a different direction. Indie film whack-a-mole.
It's also hot out. Really hot. Like, 100 degrees and humid. I don't know if this is affecting everyone, but considering that I've just come from a string of cold locales, it seems awful. Also my body thinks the 8am call time is actually 5am, so there's that.
Anyway, we're outside. It's 100 something degrees out. Everyone in the neighborhood is making as much noise as possible. And we're doing a fight scene.
If you've never done a fight scene, here's how it works. You do the blocking first, obviously. That way everyone (actors, camera, sound, grips, etc) knows what's going on. Then you do it at quarter-speed, so the actors can get their movements figured out. The last thing you want to do is try and fake a punch for the first time at full speed, unless you want someone to end up with a broken nose. You work your way up from there to full-speed so everyone is comfortable. Even then, there's no guarantee that no one will get hurt.
Like any outside shoot, this one quickly becomes a race against the sun, as it climbs higher and higher in the sky, moving our usable shade down the side of the house, then across the lawn. We shift with it, cheating the action further and further away from the house, where the trees offer more protection.
Which is not to say that lead actor Cuyle Carvin doesn't have time to graze on some clovers. I had one. They aren't bad. Sweeter than you'd think.
While we've filmed outside, Christine Arboleda (who's functioning as pretty much the entire Art Department) has turned the living room into a set. It's kind of like those HGTV home makeover shows where they come in and turn your living room around on $20.
And because there's an airborne virus that must be contained, part of the set decoration involves putting plastic on the windows. But how to tape it? It's one of those things that involves endless discussion on a film set: what's best vs. what's narratively best.
Cuyle's character is a scientist and therefore would know that plastic tarp and blue painter's tape isn't going to create all that much of a quarantine. But, who has quarantine supplies in their house? Do you? It's a fine line of believability a film has to walk, and it's not really something you can outright win. Some people will point at the blue painter's tape and say it wouldn't work. Other people would point at proper quarantine supplies and question where they came from. You really can't win, so you have to commit to one of them and just sell it the best you can.
We have plastic tarp and blue painter's tape, which has the added advantage of not pulling the paint off the walls when we take it down. That's a pretty vital consideration.
The day is a long one--14 hours or so--and we're wrapping up, waiting for instructions on where people will sleep (there's apparently a town house across town some of us can stay in) when word comes down that production won't be providing dinner. Word of this spreads pretty quickly through the crew, most of whom were under the assumption that it would be provided and haven't eaten in 7 hours or so.
So the crew walks the half-mile to the only place in town any of us have been--the local bar. There's food there. And beer. And margaritas.
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.