31 August 2011

Andrew Brotzman on Nor'easter

It occurred to me recently that A Year Without Rent was missing an opportunity by not letting the filmmakers we profile speak for themselves. So, we're in the process of reaching out to our alumni and giving them a chance to talk about their productions, un-edited. Think of it as a point/counter-point, if you want.

by Andrew Brotzman

andrew & kit

AYWR on NOR'EASTER: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

John Waters’ famous question to directors – were you always bossy? – always gets a laugh, but does it miss the point? To me, filmmaking is an effort to control one’s environment rather than one’s coworkers. Even if the director seeks chaos, my favorite aspect of my favorite films, it’ll eventually be the kind chosen by the author, the director, the selector, whatever. What someone did or didn’t do always strikes me as incidental to what was finally controlled.

There are so few benchmarks of objective failure or success in life. More commonly, we’re able to observe our progressions as measured against fixed objects. The day I was asked, without notice, to teach a form of algebra I’d never understood in high school, and pulled it off – that was a day I was sure the years spent in front of books and computers had done my brain some good.

The beautiful encapsulations of others’ experiences on film are fixed, too. We have access to them whenever we like, in whatever order we like, in whatever context we like. They are ours. But we change around them, and as years pass and experiences accumulate, we’re given opportunities to wrestle with our slippery, shifting relationships to the ideas and experiences, not just the decisions of craft, that are inside each film.

This year I directed my first feature, Nor’easter. It’s about a young priest struggling with his faith and the enormous problems he causes by trying to do simple good in his small island community. His doubts and fears show him that very little is in his control. In making the film, I’ve had to face up to the fact that my desires, my fears, and the violence that exists between them are rooted in the same understanding.

Faces, The Thin Red Line, The Sacrifice. I’ll watch them again and again, forever. The hours spent are worthwhile because what I know about these works changes with each viewing. Not just in terms of the decisions their selectors made, but in terms of my own life.

Finishing the edit of Nor’easter a few weeks ago was, like turning over the shooting draft of the script, anti-climactic. I watched it, and there it was, very similar to what I’d seen since the beginning, only now tuned as well as my editor, David Lowery, and I knew how. I hopped on a plane to New York to start the color correct, finished the color correct, then turned around for L.A.

On the way home, I watched There Will Be Blood for the first time since shooting my own picture, and realized, to my horror, that I now understand why Daniel throws Eli in the mud. I don’t refer here to the narrative or style, but why, from Anderson’s position, it had to be in the film. Immediately, I knew the ground had shifted under my feet again. The joy of knowing Anderson’s control that much better was mine to keep, but it had arrived as a vision of myself aged six months more.

Andrew Brotzman has directed a number of short films, including MY MOM AND DAD and DARJEELING. He's from Maine, which is a good indicator of how awesome he is. NOR'EASTER is his first feature film.

30 August 2011

Day 2 of Matthew Lillard's FAT KID RULES THE WORLD

I often describe the lighting kits on indie films as "5 lights and 4 c-stands". It may be an Arri kit or a couple of LEDs or even some work lights from Home Depot, and it might even be 6 lights, but the concept remains--there's never as many as you'd like, and chances are you can't even use all of them properly. So you can imagine how exciting it was to walk on the set of FAT KID RULES THE WORLD and discover an entire truck full of lights and grip equipment. And not just a pickup truck someone had borrowed, but an actual equipment rental truck. I haven't seen one of these since all the way back in February when I spent a few days on Andrew Brotzman's NOR'EASTER. That feels like a lifetime ago.

You see, I took the DIY path to directing. I made a (terrible) short (no, you can't see it) in which I literally spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to work the camera. I made more shorts after that, slowly adding more and more stuff, until the time came when I realized I was going to need a crew. I directed a feature before I even worked as a crew member. My experience with lights and grip equipment is limited to what I've used, which is the basic "5 lights and 4 c-stands", hence the excitement about getting to use all these other things. It's kind of like Christmas.

For Day 2, I've been assigned to the truck and the tutelage of Dan Misner, the Best Boy Grip. Dan's based out of Boise, but works all over. In a couple of weeks he's going out to Fargo for a shoot and has stories about working with Peter Jackson's crew in New Zealand just after they finished the LORD OF THE RINGS films. Him: "I've never seen a crew so in sync. Someone would drop something and someone else would catch it before it hit the ground."

Our first order of business is to black out the windows in the street level apartment. My thinking is we'll put up a shitload of duvetyne, but first we've got to build a tent around one of the windows so they can put a light in it later.

In the photo, you'll notice that wall isn't ideal for attaching things. Sure you could tape it up there, but you wouldn't have a whole lot of confidence in that holding all day. For an hour or two? Maybe. But all day? No chance, especially not in Seattle, where it'll probably rain. Instead, Dan affixes a 12' bar to the wall with clamps and we attach the top of the tent to that. It's nothing all that complicated, it's just the sort of thing that those of us in the DIY world never have. But why? It's not expensive. It won't fit in a car, but there are ways to transport it. There's a million different ways to do it, none of them difficult.

I have my theories, but I'll save them for a later date.

Dan's pretty sure today's going to be a slower day in the truck. This is neither our first or last day in the location. Nearly all of the gear that'll be used in the apartment is already in the apartment and will stay there overnight.

For all practical purposes, our day will consist of 2 parts. Part 1 is daylight. But we're shooting all night interiors, so it has to be dark inside. Ergo, we black out the windows. That's done. Part 2 comes after it gets dark, but we have a couple of hours to get ready for that.

Until then, we organize, the priority being to have everything where we need it, so that when we need it, we can get it quickly. This gives Dan a chance to train me on the various pieces of equipment. Some of them I'm really familiar with, some not so much, and some I've never used before in my life. It's instructive, especially for someone like myself who's never actually been trained.

We know from the call sheet generally what we're going to have to do tonight, and even over the next couple of days, so the goal is to get ready for that as much as possible. Sure, you can assume there will be changes and tweaks and a few moments of sheer OMG PANIC, but that doesn't mean you can't be ready and make educated guesses based on the information at hand.

Night falls and we're ready. Using the schedule on the call sheet (and confirming over radio with people inside), we're able to break down a window as soon as it's no longer in play, so from the outside it all looks seamless. And that's, essentially, your goal when you're working away from the epicenter of shooting. They should have no idea what the hell you're doing. If the director (or the DP or the actors) becomes aware of what's going on in your part of the film's universe, then that can't be a good thing. Chances are you've fucked up. If you've got the equipment and the information, you should be two steps ahead of the camera at all times. They've got enough to worry about without having to make sure you're doing your job.

And from what I can tell, Dan's good. He makes it all look effortless. We're so far ahead, I have plenty of time to take pictures through the windows, which makes for a unique way to watch a production. I feel a little bit like Jimmy Stewart, minus the broken leg. And Grace Kelly.

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.

Your Film Here

Screen shot 2011-08-30 at 10.29.02 AM

That, generally speaking, is our schedule for the next 2 months.

Nothing is ever set in stone in the indie film world, but here's what we know.

I'll be in Seattle, working on a film until September 7th.

Assuming Phil Seneker hasn't given away my car, I'll then be heading toward Los Angeles. I'm speaking at an event on September 17th with Victoria Westcott and Marty Lang.

After that, the next thing that's completely set in stone is the Flyway Film Festival in Pepin, WI (that's "C", for those of you who are bad at geography) on October 20-23.

What would make my life soooo much easier would be projects that are more or less on the way. Denver, for example. Or Kansas City. Or Vegas. Or San Francisco. You get the idea. Will I go to Atlanta? Or Berlin? Sure. But it'll be tricky.

So, get on it. Let me know when and where I should point my car.

Free publicity for your film. You'd be crazy to not take advantage of 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. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.

29 August 2011

I Slept Here #40: Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

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.

26 August 2011

Day 1 of Matthew Lillard's FAT KID RULES THE WORLD

One of the questions I get a lot on A Year Without Rent is "where do you find all these films?" Well…there's a lot of ways. Some of the filmmakers are people I have a pre-existing relationship with. Either I've known them for a couple of years or I've worked with before or I talk to them a lot on Twitter or whatever. But there's only so many of those projects to go around. The rest come in a variety of ways, but usually because someone heard about me via some channels, one thing leads to another, and I end up on a film set. That's kind of how I ended up back in Seattle. Sort of.

One of my biggest allies in Seattle is Wonder Russell (@bellawonder), the lead actress in THE SUMMER HOME and one of those people who apparently knows everyone in the Seattle film community. She'd been plugging the AYWR updates for THE SUMMER HOME, which caught the attention of Ben Rapson, the social media guy for a feature film coming to Seattle by the name of FAT KID RULES THE WORLD. Ben contacted me and after I explained to him exactly what it was I was doing, he ran it by the producers. And that's more or less how I ended up back in Seattle.

Simple, right?

Between then and the time I'm supposed to show up, my communication with the production is pretty spotty, so I'm slightly worried. Just how much do the producers know? What's this film going to be like? It's one of those strange situations where the film is already in production, so my arrival is obviously low on their lists of priorities, but still these are the kinds of things that serve as red flags before I show up.

I get to the building and can't really see anyone. There's an equipment truck parked on the street, but I can't really see anything going on. Then again, I'm pretty early. I spot a tent with food under it (craft services!) and they direct me around the corner to where the producers supposedly are. I turn the corner and there's an entire block of RVs and trailers. Holy shit, this film has a budget. I'm shown to the 1st AD Allison Eckert and Key Set PA Keri Owens. They know what I'm doing and proceed to take me into the building where they're filming and give me the tour of the production. I meet some of the producers, who all know who I am and what I'm doing (would you let me on your set without doing some research first?). It's a tiny set, just a 1-bedroom basement floor apartment that's being made to look bigger than it is.

One of the first things Allison and Keri ask is if there's a specific thing I want to do, but since my mission is to pretty much fill in the gaps as needed, I shrug and say that I'll help wherever they need me. So their plan is to rotate me around the different departments. For Day 1 I'm in the Art Department.

The Art Department has 3 people in it (plus me) and the primary job today is to dress the bedroom of Jacob Wysocki, the titular Fat Kid. The character is big into online gaming, World of Warcraft type stuff, so we're hanging posters of game levels and maps on his walls. The maps are made out of multiple sheets of paper that'll be taped together. It's a simple enough job, but you want to check to see just how they should be taped. Are these maps that the production has taped together to look like one big map? Or are these maps that the character has taped together to look like one big map? Because those are two completely different tape jobs. And maybe it's something that very few people watching the movie will ever notice, but it matters. All those little things add up.

Next, we have to arrange some Tabasco bottles in his room. Apparently the character is a big fan, as he's got bottles all over the room and a poster on the wall (bonus: Tabasco has signed off on the use of their product). All the bottles came in boxes, so someone has come up with the idea to take the bottles out of the boxes, thus doubling his collection. Then, we set up the computer to play a DVD that's just a collection of solid colors one could chroma key to. Somehow I get pegged as the computer-savvy person, which would be fine, but we're using a pretty old PC. It takes a few minutes to remember how to get a DVD to play in full screen in Windows, especially since the default media player refuses to do it. Later, when we'll shoot in there, my job is essentially to stay close by so I can jump in and put it back to the full screen mode, should something happen to it (and it does).

All the while, the production is filming in different rooms in the apartment, namely the living room. I'm in the living room, taking pictures during the slow moments, when director Matthew Lillard (yes, the actor) spots me and introduces himself to the new guy on set. I tell him who I am and what I'm doing here. His eyes light up in recognition, "Oh, you're that guy! Wait, I'll do something interesting…"

I love those types of responses. They're so much easier than the ones where I have to keep explain why I would do something like this.

Before Matt can do "something interesting", they're ready for the next shot and he's quickly to the monitor, talking to the gaffer about hot spots on the wall and whether or not that one shadow looks right. It takes about 10 seconds to realize he very much has a clear idea of how the film should look.

And that's maybe the most interesting thing he could possibly 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.

23 August 2011

Day 6 of Sean Gillane's CXL

I almost never read the scripts for these projects. Not because I don't want to, but simply because it isn't practical. On probably half of them I don't even get a script, so that makes it easy. But on the rest I'm usually only there for part of the shoot, and I just don't have time. My days are pretty full and given the choice between reading a script and getting caught up on these blog posts, I'll pick the latter.

When you work on a film where you haven't read the script, you spend a lot of time wondering what the hell is going on. Turn on a movie half-way through and you get the same effect. Often I'll assume a supporting actor is the lead, simply because the first scene I see revolves around them (sometimes the film doesn't know either, but that's a different blog post). After a while it becomes something of a game to try and piece together the rest of the story based on some very limited information. Try it sometime. Turn a movie on randomly, watch 2 minutes, pause it, and see how much of the rest of the film you can figure out. You can probably figure out more than you think.

But when Tamara Larson, the Art Director, shows up with boxes and boxes of plastic dinosaurs, you start to think that maybe this is a script you should have read. I've been on this film for 6 days now and had no clue there were dinosaurs in it. No clue. I knew the main character changed a lot over the course of the film, but dinosaurs? Really? I don't even mean it as a criticism, just a surprise at what's happened.

Also, there's new characters. I'm so confused.

For the first part of the day, we're filming in the living room, which has been turned into some dinosaur-friendly, eco protester war zone. It's really startling the difference between today and yesterday.

It's always interesting to watch an Art Director go to work, especially on a zero-budget shoot where you know they've got clearance for almost nothing. So you've got to cover stuff without making it look like you've covered it. Nothing looks worse than a strip of black tape strategically placed over a logo. You can't show the logo. Coca-Cola (or whoever) isn't going to be impressed that your film is giving them free publicity, so you can either greek the logos with your own thing, or you can cover them. The general rule of thumb is that you can get away with showing 40% of a logo without getting yourself in trouble. There's logos in real life, after all. Thus enters the fine art of hiding a logo without being obvious about it. A popular approach is to drape something over it--a shirt, for example--but you can't make it look bad. Should there be a shirt there? Is the shirt obviously covering a logo? Does the shirt itself have a logo? Now try and do that in an entire room, and if you think there's half a chance that the image or logo or whatever might possibly be a problem, you cover it. Hell, if you aren't 100% sure, you cover it. Don't risk it.

On CXL, there's a built-in advantage in the script where the character employs spray paint in their work, which makes covering things that much easier. Channel your inner Banksy and problem solved.

From the living room, we move to the hallway, where Sean wants to severely minimize the amount of light coming in the window. That's easy enough. Black some of the windows out and put screens in other places and viola.

And then, we're in the bathroom. Sean's bathroom is pretty small and we've got to figure out how to get a light in there with enough room for Sean to shoot a couple of setups. It's the eternal dilemma in filming. Filmmakers love setting scenes in bathroom for multiple reasons. It's where a character can be their most private and vulnerable and exposed. So it's a natural fit. But they're a nightmare from a technical standpoint. The light in a bathroom is always terrible--harsh and unforgiving and shitty--and the space is always so small that it's difficult to get a camera in the room effectively. You can't exactly put in dolly tracks. Hell, you usually can't even fit in a tripod. But lights? Sure you could try and attach the light to the ceiling, but all we've really got is some c-stands. It ain't gonna happen.

So what to do?

Enter Katherine Bruens, one of the good producers, the kind you want on set. She comes up with a solution using some shelves she's produced from somewhere. She lays them across the sides of the bathtub, her only concern being whether or not they'll slip, the two smooth surfaces against each other. She then puts a c-stand on the shelves, weighing them down with more weight than you'd normally need in this situation, the theory being that the extra weight will keep everything in place. And you know what? It works. We get the shots. The shelves don't break. They don't slip. No one gets hurt. Victory.

Even the dinosaurs survive the day.

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.

22 August 2011

Day 5 of Sean Gillane's CXL

When we last left Sean Gillane and his merry band of San Francisco pranksters, they were shooting green screen footage on the street, guerilla filming at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, and generally trying to stay one step ahead of the law. In the meantime, I went to Los Angeles to work with Paul Osborne. But the schedule, as it sometimes does, took me back through San Francisco. Knowing that CXL was designed to shoot in chunks, I got ahold of Sean to see when they were filming next. As luck would have it, the next shoot dates coordinated perfectly with my trip through town.

And that's how CXL became the first repeat film in A Year Without Rent. A person could win a lot of bar bets with that little bit of trivia. Of course, if you managed to find someone who cared enough about A Year Without Rent to wager on it, they surely will have read this.

There's something disorienting about coming back to a project after some time on another one. You recognize everyone, so there isn't that day where you have to explain to everyone what exactly it is you're doing. The familiarity is nice. You've even shot in this location before, so you know where everything is.

Sort of.

Because there's still that other film that you just worked on. Was it all a dream? Did you really drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back? How long were you gone? Is this Narnia?

Everything has changed, but everything is the same.

Which is maybe why I spent 5 minutes looking around Sean's apartment for the china ball, only to realize that this film doesn't have a china ball. And why I spent another 5 minutes at craft services trying to find one of the Vuka Energy Drinks we had in Los Angeles. I liked them. Why are they not on this shoot?

It's not so much confusing as it is mildly disorienting, which is somehow worse. There's just enough coherence to trick you into thinking you know what's happening.

But let's talk about the day.

For every film in A Year Without Rent, I'm sure to ask the filmmakers beforehand for some parameters of what they don't want seen. This almost entirely becomes a spoiler question. I usually say that I obviously don't want to reveal your big plot twist, but if two crew members get in a fight, then that's obviously a different story.

CXL probably has the most interesting thing on their "don't show this" list (so far). All I can say is that it's a striking visual that is a massive spoiler and the first thing you'd want to put on the poster. You can probably guess how much of a dilemma that puts the production in. On the one hand, you want to protect your movie and the viewing experience for your audience, but the thing you most need to hide very well may be the thing that draws in the most audience. It's like if you made SE7EN for $50,000 but still had Kevin Spacey in it. Hide Kevin Spacey and you fuck up your marketing. Promote him and you spoil your movie. You can't win.

Still, it's a good problem to have.

But today we're shooting a bunch of that spoiler stuff. It looks really cool and the process behind it is pretty awesome and essentially perfect for one of these blog posts.

There came a point in the day where I said to Sean, "hey, I'm just going to start taking pictures of this and not run them because you're definitely going to want them later."

That struck everyone as a good compromise. There's plenty of time to figure out what to do with them.

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.

20 August 2011

Day 10 of Paul Osborne's FAVOR

All through this production, I've heard tales of our "seedy motel" location, a place so vile and disgusting, they couldn't even bring themselves to put me up there. (And I've slept in a few pretty questionable places so far)

Today, we film there.

On the way there, the first thing I notice is that the neighborhood seems to be getting nicer the closer we get to the motel. Could it be that they're fucking with me? That it's some elaborate joke? We're driving through Burbank, which is a pretty nice part of Los Angeles, past steak houses and rather upscale shopping places and some trees that were probably imported from somewhere else.

And then, we cross a line. The wrong side of the tracks, minus the tracks. The real estate is maybe 1/10 the value it was 2 blocks ago, maybe less. Pretty quickly after that, we find the motel. It ain't nice. But what's most perplexing is that there's a really expensive Corvette parked next to Paul's car. It doesn't belong to anyone in the production, which means that someone who can afford a sports car is staying here. Maybe it has something to do with the recession.

Maybe it's Frank McCourt.

The motel is bad, don't get me wrong, but I expected worse. From what people were saying, I fully expected to find a dead hooker between the mattresses. This is just…shitty. I've slept in dirtier places. Still, dirty is dirty. Katie and Tiffany replace the sheets.

It's a pretty easy setup. Put a china ball on a gobo arm. Set up the soft lights. Wait.

There's a sexy rendezvous to film, which means a closed set. Then we reset the lights and films some scenes with Blayne and Patrick. Really basic stuff. Let the location do a lot of the work. Paul takes the TV out of the room, which has the dual effect of making the room look shittier and eliminating the reflection issue. A craft move, if you ask me. There's a lot of waiting next door in the staging area. We watch TV. Get some work done. Play a little UNO.

Katie gets all dressed up to be a dead body stand-in, since the actress isn't here. This means she has to lay on the floor, which sucks, but she is allowed to sleep, so that's something.

In the original schedule, day 10 was supposed to be the last day of the shoot. Somewhere along the way that changed (which is really standard) and it become the second-to-last day of the shoot. The problem is that I have another commitment for the new last day, as I'm due at the Film Courage Future of Film Curation panel (and screening of my first feature BLANC DE BLANC). But Paul's got a minuscule crew, so this becomes my schedule for day 10 & 11 of FAVOR:

6am: Wrap.
11am: Drive across town to LA Talk Radio.
Noon: Guest host (basically chime in every so often) and talk to this week's guest M.J. Slide.
2pm: Head over to Hot Pixel Studios to test everything for the panel/screening.
6pm: Screening of BLANC DE BLANC (also available on VOD).
8pm: Panel.
Midnight: Drive back to set.

They're in full swing when I get there. We're shooting exteriors, which are pretty easy at the motel, but still they can use all the help they can get.

We get the shots and get out early. And that is a wrap on FAVOR.

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.

19 August 2011

Day 9 of Paul Osborne's FAVOR

Previously, on FAVOR: Paul Osborne drove us out into the desert with a shovel and told us to dig (what could go wrong?). Well, now we're back at his house for a day of filming (it's a scheduling thing).

The schedule calls for something of a shorter day (even by Paul's standards), and we're mostly shooting exteriors, so many of the lighting issues from the other day persist.

Mainly, when the shots call for action on the porch, it's more or less simple. The soft lights work, as the porch is covered and the light can bounce around rather than vanishing into the Burbank night. Add in the LEDs throwing light in from the flower bed, and the big issues basically revolve around shadows and reflections in the window. Nothing too complicated.

And that would be great, but there's one more point of action--the street. The shot is essentially this: Blayne Weaver drives his car to the front of the house and walks to the front door. Sounds easy, right? During the day it would be. But you can't just send Blayne into the darkness. People will (hopefully) pay good money to watch the movie and will want to see him (audiences…sheesh), so we've got to light it. Paul wants it to be a pretty wide shot, so it's up to us to make that work.

Remember, we have very few lights, and not good ones.

You'd assume the first step here would be to figure out the shot, but it isn't. Well, not exactly. You want to figure out the general camera POV. There's no point locking yourself into a shot until you know what you'll be able to light. In our case, we want the camera to be across the street, which will allow the lights in the house and the streetlight to act as practicals.

Next, the most powerful light we've got (a 1K LED) is going to have to work as a general light. In normal night scene, it'd be the moon. For a day scene it'd mimic the sun, but we want it to look like another streetlight. It goes on the only c-stand and we jack it all the way up. That'll give us a general wash.

We have to run power from the house, which is tricky, as we've got orange extension cords that the camera will see. So we have to hide them. This is pretty simple, as we just have to snake them as far to the side as possible.

Then comes the tricky part: lighting the lawn.

Paul's lawn is on a hill. A pretty steep hill. For obvious reasons you don't want to put a light on a hill. There's a couple of spots that are kind of flat, but most of them would most definitely be in whatever shot we could possibly use. We can put one of them on the far-left side of the lawn, which has two pretty level spots, and throw some light across the grass. This is now the left edge of our frame (and why we don't pick a shot before we look at lighting options). Whatever we do, that's as far left as we can go.

The soft lights are pretty useless here, but they can put more light in the house, which should spill out the windows a tiny bit. And even if they don't, the light will read better in the house.

Since we're going to want to see the car approach from the right (Paul's house is at the end of a dead end street, which is convenient for our purposes), we don't really have a right edge of the frame. That is, we can't exactly mimic what we did on the left.

But…there are some trees. If we put the other 500W LED on the pavement up by the porch, we might be able to hide it behind the tree. Best we can tell, that's our only place to hide a light on that side. So it kind of has to go there.

So far, it doesn't look terrible. It's pretty dark, though, so we take the small battery-powered work light, gel it orange, and hide that on the lawn itself.

By this point, we have a pretty good idea of where the camera is going to have to be, whether Paul wants it there or not. Aspiring directors take note. There will be points in your filming career, especially on low-budget shoots, where the lighting and camera people will tell you that this is the shot. Your first instinct will (rightly so) be to question that. But if they're sure, don't fight it. Chances are this is the only place the shot can be. They're not trying to usurp your directorial genius or vision. It's simply that they know for a fact that this is the only option you have. Have them explain it to you and go with it. You brought them onto the film to do a job. Be smart like Paul Osborne and let them do it.

That covers the lawn and the house. The only thing left is to light where the car will arrive. Sure, the streetlights will do a lot of that, but it could still use some help. We've got one more light: a 1000W work light, the type you'd buy at Home Depot. We used it in the desert and it comes out again here. We set it up and there's a problem: like most work lights, the light has a safety cage on it. Well, the cage is throwing a pretty distinct shadow on the trees. Some diffusion would take care of that, but we don't have any diffusion and I'm not sure we'd even want to diffuse it. We need every bit of light we can get. But the cage is screwed on. Sure there's a big sign on it saying that one should never, ever take the cage off. Out comes the screwdriver.

And we're lit.

But can Bunee Tomlinson, our 18-year-old Production Assistant from Oklahoma, explain to you why we're lit? Let's find out.

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.