15 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.