30 April 2011

Jerry the Gerbil

Honestly, I'm not really sure what's going on here either, but they really wanted me to get video of it.

27 April 2011

Camden Printworks

sasquatch

You know the movie where the white kid from the country goes to the big city for the first time, only to see the bright lights have been replaced by urban blight, graffiti, old cars on blocks, and all sorts of frightening stereotypes? That's what it's like to drive through Camden, NJ, even on a Monday at 10am.

monkey

Camden, if you aren't aware, is pretty much the poorest, most dangerous place in the whole country, and has been for about a decade. It's not exactly the type of place a kid from Maine who went to private school spends a lot of time. So what am I doing there? Well, that's where our long-time t-shirt company is located. I'll let head honcho Adam Woods explain why:

The city of Camden, New Jersey is not without its problems. Consistently ranked among America's poorest and most dangerous cities, a quick googling of Camden, New Jersey, says it all. We're excited about Camden's potential for rebirth and we want to be a part of it. So far we're trying by paying between double and triple the prevailing local wage, offering discounted health insurance to our staff, emphasizing sales on American-made and fairly-made goods, and staying on the cusp of our industry's efforts to "go green."

So, they're good people.

orange

Adam Woods, in particular, has been one of my most ardent supporters. I used to write for a magazine he ran back in the day and Adam designed the t-shirt worn by Kieran Roberts in UP COUNTRY.

kieran inside camp

So when I was designing the Kickstarter campaign, Adam was one of the first people I contacted. He agreed to make our shirts for super cheap, so being in the area, I stopped in to see how that was going. Plus, we needed to start brainstorming what the A Year Without Rent shirt itself should look like. Sure, we could just put the logo on a shirt and call it good, but what fun would that be?



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. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

Hunting Sasquatch

We visited our friends, backers, and long-time t-shirt makers at Camden Printworks in Camden, NJ, and lived to tell the tale.

25 April 2011

One of the Greatest People in the World #4: Nina Gibbs

Nina Gibbs

Get Your Shit Together



Right now, I'm supposed to be in Tampa, Florida, working on a romantic comedy. Well, wait, that's not completely true. Tampa was just the Plan B that came together after the family drama in Seattle fell apart. So, I'm supposed to be in Seattle right now.

I'm not.

I'm once again in Pittsburgh, sleeping on the couches of friends and trying to plug the hole in the schedule. Again.

I know, I know, my frustration is seeping through a little bit. But, we're looking at 8 cancellations in the first 8 weeks of this project. Some of them are situations out of people's control. And some of them are because the production is apparently being run by chaos. It takes all kinds, I guess.

Our discussions with one filmmaker (who I won't name), was so nearly finalized, that I was simply waiting for him to confirm a pickup time so that I could purchase a plane ticket. The issue being what time they could spare a PA to grab me at the airport. That was the last I heard from that production. It's probably for the best, because the last thing I need is to be stranded at the airport.

I actually don't even know if they wrapped the project or what. Maybe they're all being held hostage by the Tea Party, and then won't I feel terrible? Eh, probably not.

Or when they aren't canceling, filmmakers are contacting us with emails like this:

"Hey, we're shooting this thing that sort of kind of sounds like a short tomorrow and would love to have you come by."

Of course, we don't really know where that is, or what time tomorrow. Is it 50 miles away? 500?

This strikes me as some pretty terrible planning, but "A Year Without Rent" is a pretty odd project, so maybe it's just us. And then I started talking to various actor friends of mine. Turns out they get this all the time. They'll audition for a role and not hear anything for a long time. Once they finally get cast, they get a vague sense of when filming might be, and then they hear nothing until the day before filming starts, at which point they're expected to drop everything.

Seriously, people? You know the boss in OFFICE SPACE who asks you to work during the weekend on Friday afternoon? You're that guy. You're Bill Lumbergh.

I know it's really great to be an artist and be able to sleep in and set your own schedule and be artistic, but if you're making a film, you're running a small business. Other people are relying on you to function in a somewhat responsible manner. These actors and crew members have lives. They're trying to fit your project into their other projects. They have to line up day care, maybe, or go to the doctor or, you know, live their lives.

You owe it to them to, at minimum, operate with some modicum of a business world approach. Set your shooting dates. Stick to them whenever possible. Keep your people in the loop.

I'm finding that, almost without exception, these films that sort of kind of exist in the air around the director's head have no Facebook page. Or, if they do, it has 15 fans. There's no Twitter account, not even a director's personal account. There's no webpage. Nothing at all that would indicate this movie even exists.

Obviously, there's no distribution plan beyond "get picked up by a distributor".

Maybe I'm cramming two different posts together here, but it's been pretty clear thus far that the more active the filmmaker is in social media, the more likely the film will happen and be a pleasant experience for everyone. I'm not really sure why that is. Maybe it's because the social media savvy filmmakers have likely raised their money via Kickstarter and therefore don't have to worry about an investor falling through? Is it because once you've announced to the filmmaking world that you're making a film, there's a lot more motivation to get it made? Or is it because you'd be a damned fool these days to be a filmmaker who isn't actively on social media?

I get business cards all the time, and I generally keep them in my pocket long enough to find the person on Facebook or Twitter. And then I throw them away. I have enough crap to carry around.

Someone (I forget who) told me the other day that if a filmmaker isn't easy to find on Twitter, they probably won't return their call. There's exceptions, of course, if the person has a pretty long list of credits on IMDb, but I can see where that comes from. If you can't be bothered to find and engage your audience, how well are you going to interact with your cast and crew?

From what I'm seeing, not very well. Communication is communication, after all. If you suck at it on a keyboard, you probably suck at it in person.

And you can try and cover that up with "oh but I'm an artist" all you want, but a bad boss is a bad boss. It doesn't matter if you live in a cubicle or on a film set. Being an artist doesn't give you license to make other people deal with your chaos. Or, at least learn to manage it.

Get your shit together. And don't even think about going into production until you do. Your film will be better for it.



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. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

23 April 2011

Sean Hackett's HOMECOMING

producer & director

I like to think of Sean Hackett’s HOMECOMING as being a sister film (brother film? cousin?) to my upcoming film UP COUNTRY. It’s an easy connection to make. Sean serves as a Producer on UP COUNTRY, as do the HOMECOMING Producers Tim & Mary Larson. We had the same Script Supervisor (Caitlin Mattis) and Art Director (Carly Larson), and feature mostly improvised dialogue. Hell, they were even shot on the same camera.

But beyond all of that, they really are quite different. An interesting example of the Auteur Theory, perhaps?

One of the most self-assured indie feature debuts I’ve seen in a long time, HOMECOMING stars Brea Grant (HEROES, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) as Estelle, an Army Medic on leave from Afghanistan who reunites with her high school friends Austin (Tom Fox Davies) and Owen (Sean Hackett). It’s a simple story, well-told. Hackett maneuvers skillfully around a litany of traps and cliches to plumb some very real emotional depths.

brea signs

Very clearly a labor of love, HOMECOMING features strong performances, nice production value, and some great editing, courtesy of Kate Hackett.

It’s not at all surprising that days after HOMECOMING debuted in Kansas City, Sean got an offer to direct another feature. And with any luck, we’ll be on set for that one too.

I saw HOMECOMING this summer in rough cut form, but thanks to a cancellation in our schedule, I was able to make my way up to Erie to see it fully-realized at the Spirit Quest Film Festival.

Of course, I shot some video of the Q&A. Enjoy.















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. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

22 April 2011

Q&A: Sean Hackett's HOMECOMING (part 5)

Fresh off an award for Best Narrative at the Kansas City Film Festival, Sean Hackett brings his feature debut to the Spirit Quest Film Festival in Erie, PA, which just happens to be something of a second home for him. Also, it's a first home for a lot of people who worked on the film. And a bunch of them are on the stage with him for a Q&A.

21 April 2011

Q&A: Sean Hackett's HOMECOMING (part 4)

Fresh off an award for Best Narrative at the Kansas City Film Festival, Sean Hackett brings his feature debut to the Spirit Quest Film Festival in Erie, PA, which just happens to be something of a second home for him. Also, it's a first home for a lot of people who worked on the film. And a bunch of them are on the stage with him for a Q&A.

Q&A: Sean Hackett's HOMECOMING (part 3)

Fresh off an award for Best Narrative at the Kansas City Film Festival, Sean Hackett brings his feature debut to the Spirit Quest Film Festival in Erie, PA, which just happens to be something of a second home for him. Also, it's a first home for a lot of people who worked on the film. And a bunch of them are on the stage with him for a Q&A.

20 April 2011

Q&A: Sean Hackett's HOMECOMING (part 2)

Fresh off an award for Best Narrative at the Kansas City Film Festival, Sean Hackett brings his feature debut to the Spirit Quest Film Festival in Erie, PA, which just happens to be something of a second home for him. Also, it's a first home for a lot of people who worked on the film. And a bunch of them are on the stage with him for a Q&A.

Day 2 of Dave Bullis' GAME OVER

dave

Day 2 of GAME OVER starts with the word that we have extras--lots of little kid extras. And that in the scene we're filming, they'll be chasing a guy dressed up like a gerbil. Does this invoke the old rule of never working with children or animals? Does it count as an animal if it's just an animal costume? I'm not sure. On the one hand, the person inside the animal costume can certainly take direction. But…that costume is a hassle. There's a lot of moving parts and some of them are held together by safety pins and gaffer tape.

The brave soul inside this costume is Vikram Joshi. He's got some experience doing stuff like this, but never before as a gerbil. I wonder how much that translates from costume to costume.

hardcore hindu

vicram

Then there's the kids. No one's entirely sure just how many of them will descend upon us (in my mind, they show up like locusts in the Bible). And I know that I said I'd do whatever is needed, but I'm really hoping that I'm not on little kid duty. I can handle one little kid, if they're related to me. But ten? Twenty? Not so much.

dark

The scene that involves the kids exists outside of our contained set. The plan is to do a company move over to a local Blockbuster that's now shuttered, where we'll film a sizable chunk of today's footage. But like most plans, that changed on set. Moving that many people that far just didn't make a ton of sense when we were in an area that could maybe work as a faked exterior. Eventually, the production settles on a seemingly closed office complex across the street. It makes sense. Vikram's gerbil costume isn't exactly easy to get in a car, so he can walk. Plus, we're closer to our base, which is always helpful.

Of course, we have no permits (and didn't for the original location either) but, hey, that's indie film for you.

eric

The scene is such: Jerry the Gerbil rounds a corner, running pretty much in slow motion (not from a tech standpoint, but a "this costume makes it impossible to run" standpoint). He's followed by a hoard of screaming children who seem hell-bent on destroying him. They gain quickly and at the last minute, Jerry throws a bunch of tokens on the ground, thus distracting the little monsters so he can make a getaway. We've got 2 cameras running. Easy enough, right? Except, on the first take Vikram trips over his massive feet. He goes tumbling. The rubber tread of the foot rips off. Thankfully, he's ok. The rest of it is pretty uneventful. We wrap the children, and we trek back across the street.

dave brian gerbil

And then, we come back to film a couple more scenes. It's around this time that the production more or less grinds to a halt. Between takes, an actor takes a break in a car and someone (name withheld) drives the car back over to the green room without anyone releasing the actor. That halts things for a good half hour.

On almost every production, there's a day when people start to mentally check out for the day. You see this a lot on construction sites when something prevents people from working. Once the work stops, the crew is mentally gone. Sure, you can get them back, but it takes some doing. Today was a day where they didn't come back, and I'm not sure a whole lot of effort was put into attempting to rectify that.

resting

It was, to put it bluntly, a bad day. Tempers flared. Communication broke down. Almost nothing went according to plan.

Having finally finished the outside scenes, we went back to the set, only to discover that props hadn't been greeked and the banner announcing the launch party of the "M2" game system was actually for the "M3". Apparently no one had bothered to check. Things had spiraled. One problem was that the layout of the location, with a green room far enough away from the set to provide a nice sound buffer, had also served to completely disconnect the two halves. The left hand had no idea what the right hand was doing. So something as simple as telling makeup that an actor was needed in 10 minutes resulted in that actor showing up in 20-25 minutes. Such things add up. Meanwhile, we have PAs standing against a wall, texting their friends.

And, honestly, I'm not sure what my role is at this point. How much of this do I film? How much of it can I even capture effectively. It's not like there's a Christian Bale moment. It's more of a death by a thousand razors. These things happen to the best of us. There's no use pretending they don't. Near the end of the day, I was walking down the hallway with one of the crew members and we were talking about how badly the day was going. I somewhat innocently said "The problem is we don't have an AD on this set". To which he replied, "I'm the AD". I looked over at him. "Then you need to start fucking yelling at people."

This is where it would have been really helpful to have a camera crew following me.


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. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

I Slept Here #13: Erie, PA

Erie, PA

19 April 2011

Greyhound in PA



You know it's not your normal bus trip when the driver asks you to help him carry the bumper of a semi-truck into one of those old malls that no one goes to anymore.

Q&A: Sean Hackett's HOMECOMING (part 1)

Fresh off an award for Best Narrative at the Kansas City Film Festival, Sean Hackett brings his feature debut to the Spirit Quest Film Festival in Erie, PA, which just happens to be something of a second home for him. Also, it's a first home for a lot of people who worked on the film. And a bunch of them are on the stage with him for a Q&A.

18 April 2011

One of the Greatest People in the World #3: Jennifer Blyler

Jennifer Blyler

An Erie HOMECOMING




Fresh off an award for Best Narrative at the Kansas City Film Festival, Sean Hackett brings his feature debut to the Spirit Quest Film Festival in Erie, PA, which just happens to be something of a second home for him. Also, it's a first home for a lot of people who worked on the film.

16 April 2011

Via Chicago??

What do you do when your last gig was in Philly, your car is in Chicago, and you think you have to go to Florida?

14 April 2011

Day 1 of Dave Bullis' GAME OVER

operation

There aren't a whole lot of moving part to GAME OVER. Much like CLERKS, it exists almost entirely in a small store, the story revolving around the lives of the people who exist in the world of this store and the immediate surroundings. Being a TV show, this makes sense. It makes everything more or less self-contained.

Well, I'm guessing that's the case. I haven't read the script.



It's a small set, but it's on a parcel of land that's pretty well removed from a lot of stuff, which makes it a lot easier to operate. There's a large basketball court where we can keep gear and rooms in the back where the unneeded cast and crew can relax without having to worry about talking too loud and ruining the sound. Pretty much we have the run of the place. It's a big building that doesn't really seem to be doing anything other than this, which is nice.

basketball

Call is 7am and we load in, which takes a bit. The crew is about the size you'd expect. We start filming around 11am. The first scene revolves around the store's chief gamer Trey (Robb Stech) berating a kid who's trying to play some video game, and then being too cool to deal with a customer. So, yeah, it's a lot like CLERKS. Robb improvises the scene quite a bit, which is effective, as it adds a freshness to the dialogue. Plus, it tends to get better reactions from the other actors.

don't look at me

I'm not sure why I'm so surprised that CLERKS is a template for something that takes place in a video store. It's a pretty easy series of dots to connect. Maybe I'm just surprised that we're still so thematically beholden to a rather mediocre indie from 15 years ago that wouldn't have a shot in hell at finding an audience if it came out today. It just strikes me as a pretty terrible starting point for your story, especially when you consider that CLERKS itself is sort of based on "The Divine Comedy". Why not go back into the original source and work from there? It's kind of like basing your love story on TROMEO AND JULIET instead of, you know, Shakespeare. I dunno, it seems like you really limit yourself with that approach.

Just a pet peeve of mine.

camera

The real highlight of day 1 is the early stages of Kenneth McGregor's performance as Jim, an older store employee who sort of exists on his own wavelength. Think Kramer, without the caffeine. It's always fascinating to watch an experienced actor work, and this is one in full control. He knows his character and, beyond that, he knows the other characters and works to make the other actors better. It's what you think of when you hear the term "actor's actor". It's a joy to watch him work. And even more importantly, he's damned funny. You probably remember him from X-MEN. He was Magneto's father.

You don't meet a whole lot of actors that make you want to write something for them specifically. He's certainly one of them.

meet the kids

Coming up in Day 2: something called Jerry the Gerbil. And a shitload of little kid extras.


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. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

12 April 2011

Filmmaker Magazine

Yes, the rumors are true. I'm writing a monthly column for Filmmaker Magazine that differs from the normal blog posts run here and everywhere. I'm very excited. Scott Macauley and I figured out an angle for it a little bit ago in a bar (where else?). So go, read the column. It's decently good. More importantly, it furthers our goal of introducing talented indie filmmakers to a larger audience, which is really what this is all about. Anyway, here's a taste.

But so far, the most rewarding part of the experience has been seeing first-hand just how amazing the film community can be when given the opportunity. I feel like I’m very much being taken care of and everyone has been really excited to have the help. Because, really, have you ever been on a low-budget film set that couldn’t use an extra set of hands to do basic stuff like carry c-stands and hold that extra bounce board the DP just decided was absolutely essential? Of course not, and that’s what I spend a lot of my day doing. Well, that and driving. I spend a lot of time driving.

Read the rest here.

And much thanks to Scott for letting me write for one of my favorite magazines.

Prequel to Dave Bullis' GAME OVER

beta access

A traveling tip from me to you: let's say you have to get on a train that leaves at 7:20am and you've been up drinking until 4am. Find some Red Bull and just stay up. I know you think you're very responsible and will surely get up in an hour or so, but you won't. You'll end up waking up at 6:51am and panicking when you realize that you never did get around to packing the night before.

Fun fact: did you know that depending on where you are in Pittsburgh, you can get from a dead sleep in an apartment to your seat on the train in 24 minutes? It's true!

Anyway, the train took me to Philadelphia, where I managed to get in the wrong car before finally being whisked to Aston and Sun Center Studios, the location for Dave Bullis' GAME OVER.

slate

GAME OVER is in name a TV pilot. The plan is to shoot this pilot episode and shop it around to networks and such. That's Plan A in the sense that every indie film you work on would really like to get into Sundance or one of the bigger festivals. Of course, you've got to have a fallback plan in place. Theirs is to turn the show into a web series. A pretty reasonable Plan B, if you ask me.

I don't know a lot about the series going in, other than the fact that it's about "the worst video game store in the world". Off-topic, that's more than I know about video games themselves. (But I will kick your ass on Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo. Don't even try.)

I arrive the day before and they're putting the finishing touches on the set. My first task is to take some magic markers and greek out video game cases in order to hide faces, logos, titles, basically anything that could get the production in legal trouble. There's probably 200 of these that still need to be done, so there's no way I'm going to finish in time. The plan is just to swap the finished ones around as needed.

funstation

From there, it's over to Neumann University (never heard of it? Me either) for a production meeting with the world-famous Leah Cevoli. It's around that point that I realize I haven't eaten all day. I've also had very little caffeine and no alcohol. This is Philadelphia. Shouldn't they be handing out cheesesteaks when you get off the train?

I get easily distracted when I'm hungry and tired and holy shit, they have cases of Four Loko here. Must. Resist.

Where was I? Oh right. Tomorrow we start on GAME OVER. Call is 7am. Must sleep. But first, an actual conversation:

Dave Bullis: "Sorry my car's a mess. I've kind of been living out of it lately."
Me: "That must be a hassle."
Dave Bullis: "Yeah" [beat] "Oh," [Laughs] "I completely forgot who I was talking to."



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. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

10 April 2011

09 April 2011

#EgoFest Q&A: @Kingisafink (part 1)



Our series of Q&A's at Ego Fest continues with the lovely ladies of @Kingisafink. Julie and Jessica screened their short film WIGGLE ROOM, which is another in their Kinky Cuties series.

Watch the trailer!

I Slept Here #10: Somewhere in PA

Amtrak

GAME OVER



Finally, a project that didn't have to cancel on us. We're in Philly for Dave Bullis' GAME OVER. It's a TV pilot revolving around the employees in the "worst video game store in the world".

06 April 2011

When the Schedule Implodes



In the early stages of planning this adventure, we knew that one thing we'd face is the fluidity of indie film schedules. Because, let's face it, even big-budget films change shooting dates all the time. And with indie film, it's even worse, as you're often forced to work around some really random scheduling quirks. So we knew from experience that people would end up canceling, or having their schedule change. These things happen.

Of course, we didn't quite anticipate this much shuffling.

In the first 5 weeks, we've had 6 projects either move or vanish on us. Some of them have shifted their dates and we've been able to pick them back up. Dave Bullis' series GAME OVER being one such example. They're up next--in Philly--and provided I don't get any bad emails today, I'll be getting on a train tomorrow morning to head over there.

Others, like Victoria Westcott's LOCKED IN A GARAGE BAND, had to reschedule, but rescheduled into someone else's dates, which creates what I guess you'd call a good problem, but it's a problem nonetheless.

And some, like the film I was supposed to be working on this past week in Minneapolis, have been postponed and/or cancelled, which pretty much means that the money went away and if it comes back, the film will happen. It sucks, but that's the reality of the situation.

But when a project cancels, where does that put yours truly, your couch-surfing hero? Well…in limbo.

One of our expectations was that in the wide, wide world of indie film, there's always something happening. Or, as Phil Holbrook said, "I figured you'd be overwhelmed with projects" (so did I). And so the thinking was that:

1) Yes, schedules would shift all over the place. We knew that. But we didn't think we'd have so many. Are we just "running bad", as they say in poker? Maybe. But maybe not. There's really no way to tell.

2) How hard would it be to fill in a day here and a day there? Especially if we had more projects than we knew what to do with? Seemed like it would be pretty easy. But we've had a lot fewer than we thought so far (although, that's certainly picked up recently). Couple that with more cancellations than we anticipated, and you've got lots of gaps in the schedule.

3) The stuff we've been able to find that could fill in the schedule hasn't been all that feasible. Could we fly to, say, LA and do a day on something? Sure. But our budget simply can't swing the cost of a flight vs. that amount of time. Now, if we need to fly to LA for 2 weeks, that makes a lot more sense, but we have to be careful that we don't stretch our budget too thin. No one benefits from that. Maybe part of that is timing. I was in Chicago for a couple of days recently and was kind of surprised that I couldn't find anything that was filming for a couple of days. And we had some pretty well-connected people asking around. And now, of course, there's something in Chicago, but it conflicts with the Philly shoot. So it goes.

It becomes a domino effect. We've tried to schedule smaller stuff (1-3 day commitments) around bigger stuff (features, mostly) in that general section of the country. But when a big project goes away, it makes it really hard to justify driving 2,000 miles for a smaller thing. So when one thing gets cancelled, it makes everything around it that much harder. Sometimes we can fill dates at the last minute, but often we can't.

So what happens when we've got a week to kill? Well, this week I got on a plane and flew to Pittsburgh, which is one of my "safe" spots where I can just show up at someone's door and crash for a couple of days, no questions asked. That sort of fall-back plan has been more valuable than I thought it would.

Which is not to say that the week I've spent adjusting my blood-alcohol level hasn't been productive. I've been able to catch up a little (mostly on my sleep). I helped a friend of mine shoot some video for his job. I spoke to some MFA students at Chatham University about the project and the various ways that filmmakers these days have to network and utilize social media to help tell their stories. And we may have lined up a cool thing or two that could pay off down the road, but I don't know if I'm allowed to talk about that yet. So it's been quietly productive, you could say. But probably the most value has come in the opportunity to recharge my batteries a bit. I was starting to run out of steam for a minute there.

MFA Students

And if I remember correctly, the schedule is pretty solidly booked until mid-June or so. Cross your fingers that it stays that 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. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

Marty Lang's RISING STAR Screening

NOTE: I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and just realized I never finished it. Whoops.

Gary and his fans

When Marty Lang told me a couple of weeks ago about the rough cut screening of RISING STAR, I figured he was talking about a small affair--10-15 people in addition to the cast & crew, some box wine, surveys, that sort of thing. But, as the date approached, it became more and more clear that wasn't the case. My first clue was the fact that there'd be trailers of fellow indie films (which is something that if you aren't doing at your screenings, then shame on you). Then, a rumor that Gary King might show up (He didn't. I think he's hiding from me.). [EDITOR'S NOTE: He was not]

During production, RISING STAR worked out a pretty interesting deal with the Mark Twain House in Hartford. They were allowed to film there essentially for peanuts. In exchange, the Mark Twain House would get to screen the first cut of the film, and keep all the box office. This is exactly the sort of mutually beneficial thing filmmakers love. Plus, this is a venue that has a pretty consistent group of donors and patrons--low-hanging fruit for filmmakers, as Miles Maker would say. It's exactly the type of audience a guy like Marty wants to find.

Alec & Marty

I hit Hartford around 3pm the day before, and we immediately jumped in Marty's car and headed down to Rhode Island to, you know, finish the rough cut. The editor, Alec Asten (who someone should cast next to Pericles Lewnes in a buddy comedy) was kind enough to let us add his house to the trip, although he was really more interested in hearing more about Mattson Tomlin's "monster sex scene". He had heard the Film Courage interview (it seems a lot of people from RISING STAR did) and was incredibly interested in how this whole thing was supposed to work. Who isn't?



They finished up the edit around 6am, slept for a couple of hours, and then it was back to Hartford. But, as we were testing the DVD, word came in that the screening had sold out. Who the hell sells out a rough cut screening? In Pittsburgh I couldn't get people to come see Sundance films for free.



The screening, which ended up having an overflow crowd of the cast & crew in a second theater (which ALSO sold out), went off without a hitch. The principles did a Q&A which seemed to be pretty informative for them, as there were a couple of points where the audience was nearly 100% in agreement. And afterward, we did a little debriefing with lead actor Gary Ploski and Marty Lang.





Up next, we head back to Maine, where we'll visit with Andrew Brotzman's NOR'EASTER. As I write this, I'm on a ferry, heading to the island of Vinalhaven. Don't worry, I stopped at L.L. Bean on the way up. I'm definitely going to need some better gloves for this one.


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. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

The Last Thing Pittsburgh Needs is a Superhero




Yesterday, it was announced that the final BATMAN movie would film in Pittsburgh. Most people in the city think this is a good idea

I lived in Pittsburgh from 2003 until early last year, during which I made a bunch of shorts of varying quality, a highly-regarded feature, and organized a failed screening series. I'd estimate that over the course of that time, I probably contacted the Pittsburgh Film Office 10 times about various issues like permits, cast calls, crew calls, etc. The sort of basic stuff that all filmmakers do.

I was once able to talk to a person. No one ever returned a phone call. My experience with them was not unique.

And keep in mind that this was prior to the city's recent run of getting Hollywood films to show up in town. For most of the time I lived there, nothing big was happening. Nothing was happening at all.

Talk to any theater actor in the city worth a damn and they'll all tell you that if a production has a chance to bring in an actor from Chicago or New York City, that actor will get the part every time. Sure, they'll audition local talent, but they'll never be considered. They want to be able to say they have out of town talent, even though most of those actors they bring in are terrible (trust me, I've sat through a lot of these plays). You wouldn't cast these people to be the waiter with no lines in a micro-budget film. And you certainly don't want them as the lead in your play.

Basically, the city of Pittsburgh is like a lot of smaller cities in that there's an inferiority complex at play. The idea is that since they aren't New York or Chicago they can't have nice things. Or something. But whereas a city like Austin or Charlotte has built a vibrant film community, Pittsburgh has not. There's a lot of theories as to why (geography is one of them), but Pittsburgh is not a city all that interested in developing its own talent. It's much more interested in bringing in Russell Crowe for a few weeks to make a movie that pretty much everyone agrees will be terrible.

Thing is, there's a lot of very good, very talented people in Pittsburgh doing some fantastic work. The Film Office should be focused on seeing if it has the next Chris Nolan, or should at least put forth a little bit of effort toward making their life easier. But they won't. They'll continue to chase Batman movies that'll be fun for a little bit. Lots of people will get to be extras. And then in a couple of years, when another city out-schmoozes them for a bunch of superhero nonsense, there will be nothing left and another generation of talent will have given up and moved elsewhere.

It's a shame, because there's a lot of potential there. But they don't need Batman. They need a swift kick in the ass.



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. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

04 April 2011

Q&A: Jeremy Wilker (part 2)

We ran Part 1 of Jeremy Wilker's Q&A the other day, and now here's part 2. It involves hockey, old people, and the difference between making a documentary and a narrative film.

01 April 2011

Q&A: Jeremy Wilker (part 1)

At Ego Fest, Jeremy Wilker (along with KingisaFink) did a Q&A. It was long, so we'll present it in segments. This is part 1 of Jeremy's Q&A.