30 September 2011

Day ? of UNTITLED LUCAS MCNELLY PROJECT?

I spend a lot of time looking for projects. Well sometimes I do and sometimes a couple in a row will just fall into place, but mostly I search projects out, or at least make sure people know that we've got openings in the schedule. I think it's important to make it clear that we'll go work on any film, provided it makes sense for what we're trying to do. There's no minimum (or maximum) budget I'll work on. I've done a little bit of everything. Still, it's time-consuming and annoying to hear that so many projects are falling apart or trying to get started. And, hey, I'm not doing anyone any good sitting in Starbucks, killing time.

Well, actually right now I'm sitting in a hotel room in Denver. Don't worry, budget nazis, someone else is paying for it.

Sometimes, when I have trouble finding a project, I get a little annoyed. Like this:

Screen shot 2011-09-30 at 4.42.09 PM


Nothing. (And I've been looking for something for days.) But then Paul Osborne replied:

Screen shot 2011-09-30 at 4.41.32 PM


And then, holy shit, all hell broke loose.

Within 20 minutes, Joe Shapiro (ZOO, etc) had offered to edit it, Wonder Russell wanted to be in it, and Paul was trying to figure out if he could talk his wife into letting him come to Denver (no luck). Thing is, I've done this before. Nothing beats the frustration of projects falling apart and scheduling nightmares quite like the "fuck it, let's make a movie" ethos.

Also, there's the "if no one else wants to make a movie, I'll do it myself" approach.

Plus, it's a good story.

So we're kicking the tires. We have no story. No script. But we've got actors trying to figure out how they can get to Denver. There's a murderer's row of people who've offered to help from out of town.

Worst-case scenario it turns into a total clusterfuck. But, still, that's more interesting than me sitting in a Starbucks, right?

Stay tuned.



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.

I Slept Here #50: Pasadena, CA

Pasadena, CA

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 September 2011

How to Get a Positive Write-up on A Year Without Rent

The other day, a prospective film asked me in not-so-many words what it takes to get a good or bad writeup in the A Year Without Rent series. Obviously, he's worried that I'm going to show up and take some small little thing and blow it out of proportion. I don't do that, but fear is fear.

That got stuck in my head, so I came up with a list. And seeing as the series is going to turn ugly pretty damned soon, this is as good a time as any to post it.

1. Hire Good People

UP COUNTRY isn't really one of our projects (well, the production part, anyway), but we had one really, really inept crew member. He shouldn't have been anywhere near the set. Luckily, he was at the bottom of the totem pole, but I've seen producers who shouldn't have been anywhere near the set. It happens all over the place. And it isn't always because they're inept. Sometimes they just can't handle the job. Sometimes their personality clashes with the people they're supposed to be working with. Whatever the situation, these are things you (and I) should be figuring out in pre-production. Check references. Ask around. You can learn a lot about someone by talking to people they've worked with.

2. Do Your Homework

You don't always have to do storyboards. Lots of filmmakers don't. You don't even necessarily need a shot list. Or a script. But, dammit, you have to know your story. You have to know what you want and how to get it. Otherwise, you're just floundering around on set. It looks weak. And when you look weak, the sharks will find you. And when the sharks find you, I write that shit down.

3. Feed People

Seriously. Fucking feed people. There should be a craft services table with healthy snacks on it. And meals. Real meals. On-time. If you're shooting on location and the crew lives on location, then you are responsible for all 3 meals. A hungry crew is a grumpy crew. It takes very little to turn a grumpy crew into an angry crew. You don't want an angry crew.

As for beer: wrap beers are a good idea. On-set beers are a bad idea.

4. Call Sheet

The crew should have a call sheet before they wrap for the night. At bare minimum, a call time that's clear to everyone. Don't assume word will get around. People like to know if they have to be up at 6am or 10am before they decide if they want to start drinking.

But, seriously, a call sheet should have more information than you think it needs. The schedule. The scenes to be shot. The weather. Directions to crew parking. The crew is going to carry it around all day, so give them all the information they need.

5. Communication

Things will go wrong. The schedule will change. When it does, tell people. The people working on this film with you aren't your employees, they're your creative partners. Treat them as such. The crew probably knows before you do that you aren't going to make your day. What they don't know is how you're going to adjust. So keep them in the loop. If you know that you're going 3 hours over the scheduled wrap time, it's a good idea to get everyone else's buy-in. If they say "no", then they're the bad guys. If you don't ask, you're the bad guy.


You'll notice that none of these things have anything to do with your budget. Well, the food does, but if you don't have the budget to feed people, you should be making a smaller movie. This is almost entirely a list of things that involve organization or being a good boss. Management 101 stuff. And it's in your control, whether your budget is $1,000 or $1,000,000. And, really, if you can't do these things, you shouldn't be surprised when things fall apart. Because they probably will. And you definitely shouldn't be surprised when I write about your production being a disorganized clusterfuck, even if it doesn't seem like that to you.

But if you can handle that (and really, it's a pretty basic list), you shouldn't be all that worried. If you really do the work, I'm going to write about that. So man up (or woman up) and get on the schedule already.







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.

Dawn Mikkelson on SMOOCH

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 Dawn Mikkelson

dawn

AYWR on SMOOCH

When I first learned that Lucas and A Year Without Rent was coming on set of “SMOOCH”, I was in complete shock. As a proud backer of A Year Without Rent, I loved the idea, but had no clue how to get Lucas on set, based on the nature of documentary film. Generally we have very closed sets, given the intimacy we need in order to make average people feel comfortable with our camera. But this film was different.

This was the first public shoot I’d ever done for a film and it was an experiment. We were beginning what has turned into a global series of Public Forgiveness Shoots (we intend on holding these on all 5 continents . . . interested in hosting one???), which ask random people off the street to share their stories and perspectives on forgiveness. Would people even talk with us? We hadn’t scheduled individual interviews, so these were patrons of an Art Crawl, expecting to just view art and maybe buy a necklace. Would Lucas leave with a story of us failing miserably in our attempt to collect forgiveness stories from complete strangers? Sometimes you have to take the risk.

And then there was the situation of living arrangements. Sure, you can stay at my house . . . presuming you’re okay with sleeping on the world’s oldest couch, encrusted in dust and pet hair, and using the basement shower because our bathroom is currently out of commission. Glamorous. Luckily his low-key demeanor and apparent lack of pretension prevented me from completely imploding.

The next morning we were up early and loading into the basement storage unit of a St. Paul apartment building. We really know how to pick locations!

I have to again explain, I have NEVER had anyone on set before who wasn’t a part of a 1-3 person crew for my films. Having the low-tech nature of our work revealed to the film world was a bit intimidating. So why did I say yes to having Lucas on set? I share his belief that film happens wherever you are and that you can make great work in Minnesota or Wyoming or Kansas . . . It’s about the power of the story. I also thought that documentary filmmakers needed some representing in A Year Without Rent coverage. We’re the nerds of the film world and it’s rare we get included in cool stuff.

Okay, back to the story. So his blog post of the day is pretty accurate. It’s a challenge to talk people into following you into a scary storage unit to share their deep dark stuff on camera with complete strangers who will then edit your words and broadcast it around the world online and in a film. Just writing this I think, “why the heck would anyone do that?” But they did and as we learned that day and continue to learn at every public shoot we’ve had since, the stories can blow your mind. I am past the point of counting the number of times I’ve hear someone say that they haven’t shared this story with ANYONE until today. But there’s something about documentary that can serve as validation that your story matters. Someone is interested in your story, your opinion, your emotions. That is what happened when Lucas and A Year Without Rent visited our set.

Highlights of that day can be seen on the Official SMOOCH YouTube Channel and more specifically in this video http://youtu.be/P3u0R9KowAI



The story that Lucas blogs about by saying, “ You could feel the film exploding all around the room” is the woman who talks about the unforgivable and saying that forgiveness feels like she’s “giving up my right to scream at you and say ‘NO’”.

We have released a handful of stories on our YouTube Channel that have come out at subsequent public shoots, but not hers. The details of her story are currently only known to myself, Lucas and my two interns, Heidi and Monte. Why? Lucas was right, the room did explode. We also wanted to give her the time to consider what she had shared with us and the possibility of reconsidering her participation. (To date, she has not asked us to withhold this footage, but we wanted to give her a bit of time before we went live with it.) The story was that powerful. Ultimately, it will likely end up in the final cut of SMOOCH, rather than our YouTube Channel as one of many stories that illuminates the challenge of forgiveness and complexity of pain.

I’m thrilled that Lucas and A Year Without Rent was there to document that moment. Although it was unexpected, it was not a surprise for anyone who makes documentary film. What I am continually reminded of is what we saw that day, that we all have stories to tell and sometimes it just takes a random person in a storage unit to ask the right question and that story emerges.

On a side note, Lucas was a perfect houseguest and never once mentioned the shabby couch or scary basement shower. Cause he’s a professional.



Dawn Mikkelson has directed a number of feature-length documentaries, including GREEN GREEN WATER, which you may have seen on PBS. She lives in St. Paul and her couch isn't as bad as she'd have you believe.

28 September 2011

I Slept Here #49: Beverly Hills, CA

Beverly Hills, CA


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 2 of James DeMarco's THE STAGG DO



Few things in micro budget indie film are easier than being the gaffer when shooting a field far away from electricity. There's really no way you can possibly be expected to get electricity that far, if for no other reason than the production probably hasn't rented a generator. And without a generator, no electricity. No electricity means no lights. If you're far enough out there, in a remote enough location, you can't even block the light. Basically, you can bounce it around a bit, but 99% of the time, that's it. You're limited to what you can carry and the whims of the "Great Gaffer in the Sky".

So you spend a lot of time shading your eyes, looking up at the cloud pattern, and trying to figure out what exactly the clouds are going to do. You want to know ahead of time if there's some dark clouds on the horizon that'll make everything a lot darker or, even worse, if the sun is about to come out, thereby negating that fantastic soft box you've given the DP.

The Great Gaffer in the Sky has some fantastic lights, but little concern for how they affect your film.



But other than looking thoughtfully at the sky, there's not a whole lot you can do. You stay near the DP, just in case he needs something, but mostly you just stay out of the way and every so often offer some encouragement when needed.

Even that isn't so easy. There's a common plant in the UK called the nettle. It's apparently all over the place. Hell, it's even listed on the call sheet. I've never heard of it, even though Wikipedia seems to think it's all over North America. I grew up in the woods of Maine, and I've never heard of it. People will tell you to look out for them, and for good reason. They fucking hurt. And I don't mean like bee sting hurts. I mean 6 hours later you can still feel it.

I'm told you can boil them into a tea, but I'm not sure why you'd want to. Although, this is the UK.

The scenes in the field are pretty simple, transitional dialogue scenes. A minimum number of set ups and then we're done. So we trek out to the field to find a good spot, with the expectation that the cast is right behind us.

They aren't.



But we have a few things we can do. We're still waiting for one of the camera guys, but then he shows up and still no sign of the cast. Ten minutes go by. Twenty minutes. People are sitting down in the grass. Eventually they make their way out to the location, but they're unrehearsed. Add to that the fact that it turns into a moving shot, with a handheld camera going backward on some uneven ground and you've got a scene that takes a lot longer than scheduled.

There's a truism in construction that once the crew stops working, it's difficult to get them started again. At least, that's what they say whenever I watch FLIP THIS HOUSE. Same thing applies on a film set. Once they've taken a break, it's hard to get them going again. It's just human nature. So time spent on rehearsal after the shot is ready is usually time wasted, plus the time wasted trying to get things back up to speed.



We finish in the field, then it's back to the farm, where a new problem has emerged.

In the story, the judge (Bill Fellows) is a pretty well-off guy and therefore drives a pretty expensive car. The production, doing their due diligence, found an Audi to serve as a picture car. Only to find out just before production started that Bill cannot drive a stick shift. (I'm told the stick shift is much more prevalent in the UK than in the US.) So they can't shoot footage of him driving, which will be tricky because there's several pages of the script that revolve around that.

What to do?

Producer Zahra Zomorrodian has something that sort of looks like green screen material in her car and DP Richy Reay is pretty sure he can key it all properly, so it's up to the G&E team of myself and Grip Ben Moseley to make that happen. And we have to do it outside.



Loyal readers of A Year Without Rent will recall how on Sean Gillane's CXL, we had to figure out how to rig a green screen on the windy sidewalks of San Francisco. It's the sort of thing that rarely comes up, but thank goodness it did because now I'm able to use the tricks we figured out on Sean's shoot and put them to use here, only on a much bigger scale. Oh, and we have about a quarter of the gear we need to do it.



But someone says to ask Jerry if he's got anything in his van. Jerry is the sound guy who shows up in a panel van full of gear. Sure enough, he's got a couple of light stands with a T-bar attachment that we can affix the top part of the green screen to. The bottom needs to be stretched down to the ground and held in place, but we don't really have anything to hold it tight uniformly all the way around the car. So we start looking around the farm for heavy stuff. We find some metal bars to help weigh it down and some very heavy grey things that are about 4 feet long and used in a parking lot to stop a car from going any farther. I have no idea what they're called. We have 3 of those and since we're really low on sandbags, they go on the c-stands.



We still need more sand.

By this time, Ben and I have commandeered the two runners and the 1st AC James Grieves to help. I'm in one of those spots where I'm holding something that probably won't stay up by itself when we run out of sand. I look at runner Jonathan Teggert and James and tell them I need more sand.

"We don't have any."
"Well, figure it out."





Five minutes later, they come back with a small (roughly 1 foot wide and 2 feet long) burlap bag filled with rocks. And you know what? It works. It actually works really well. Use a cable tie to cinch off the top and you've got a bag that's more versatile than a sandbag, and just as heavy. You can distribute the rocks as needed, perfect for wrapping the bag around the base of a light stand, and they're easy to pack up at the end of the shoot.



The whole green screen is stuff like that. One of the more DIY things I've ever done.



Then there's a wait for the actors to get rehearsed. We shoot one half of the scene, then the car has to turn around to do the other half. And, yes, we simulate the car moving by pushing up and down on the hood.



The final piece of the day is a dream sequence where a scantily clad girl pours drinks down our actor's throats. Smartly, it's the last thing we shoot. Almost like a carrot on a stick to keep people moving.



And that's it for day 2.




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.






Nice Things

This project has a tendency to be a never-ending stream of me talking about stuff, so it's nice to hear from someone else for a change. Namely, one of our backers.

From the beginning of the Kickstarter campaign, this has been a project that's relied on the kindness, generosity, and just general involvement of the backers and audience, whether it be in getting the campaign off the ground or fixing a window or just supplying a place to sleep.

So it's great to hear some feedback from one of the backers that have been there since the beginning, filmmaker Leilani Holmes.

I honestly didn't think twice about becoming a backer, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it, the people and projects I’ve gotten to know about (and to know), the lovely photographs, well written, sometimes almost poetic, articles and insights plus the daily throwaway banter of twitter comments and humour that happens along the way. For me, there’s a vitality to the work that has gone beyond all the other projects I’ve backed. It’s hard to put into words why it’s such an important project but I feel that in time, and with more examination, this unique multimedia view into independent filmmaking really is important, not just interesting, and the things we can learn from it are salient. It’s rare that such a broad experience of behind the scenes filmmaking is available from a single source that is, while respectful to the films, also objectively observed rather than from the PR versed mouths of the makers themselves. There’s definitely something savoury to me about that.

Read the rest

.

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.

27 September 2011

Why the MAN-CHILD campaign isn't as good as you think

Someone broke the record for biggest narrative film on Kickstarter. This is fantastic news. I want to say that right off the bat. Congratulations to Koo for rallying the troops and raising the bar. I couldn't be happier for him and if he wants me to bring A Year Without Rent to the production, I'd be more than happy to do so.

But first, I'm going to play Devil's Advocate here because I think it'll be helpful for campaigns going forward.

The campaign isn't very good.

It's not a bad campaign, but it ain't great. And it certainly isn't the sort of campaign you'd expect to break the narrative record.

There's nothing unique or innovative or even all that creative in the campaign. Look at the perks. Basically, what you're getting is the standard list of perks that pretty much every campaign gives you, plus frames of the movie that relate to how much you gave. But even that isn't new. Lemonade Detroit already did this (and is doing so still).

This is a movie about basketball, and there's really nothing in the perks that reflects that. But the pitch video (if memory serves) has a high school basketball photo of the director. He could have easily made copies of that and signed it for, say, a $10 perk. The point being, there's a hundred different things the campaign could have done that would have been unique to that project. But it did none of them.

At last week's Filmcourage panel (which you can purchase audio of at the link), Indiegogo's Adam Chapnick gave some numbers on what successful campaigns do. I don't remember the exact numbers, but part of it was giving updates. I think 30 was the consensus sweet spot for a 60 day campaign. And that seems about right. An update every other day is keeping people involved without being a hassle.

Joke and Biagio's seminal campaign for Dying to do Letterman gave an update for something like each of the first 15 days of the campaign, and all of those contained something they were giving away, be it advice they found helpful or graphics for use in your campaign or a video of them crying.

The point being, the updates keep people engaged. Not to mention, there's good karma involved in giving stuff away for free (more on that later).

MAN-CHILD has 9 updates and only 7 of them during the campaign.

I thought that was kind of strange. How does a campaign with no updates, boring perks, and a pretty basic pitch video break the narrative record? So I ran some numbers of the first 11 notable film campaigns that I thought of (click on the chart to make it bigger).

Screen shot 2011-09-26 at 9.40.08 PM

I think it's pretty self-explanatory, but here's the key:

$$: Actual money raised
Goal: the goal, duh.
%: the % above the goal the campaign went
Backers: # of backers who gave money.
$$/Backer: the average donation level of each backer.
Likes: Facebook likes, as indicated on the Kickstarter page. This is a little tricky, because I don't think the like button has always been as prominent as it is now.
$$/Like: the average donation amount per "like"
Ratio: Likes/Backers.

I think the Ratio is the important number here. A big function of a Kickstarter campaign is the idea that it provides free publicity for your project, building an audience while you're still making the film. The backers become your evangelists, spreading the word for you because they feel some connection to your project. The good campaigns create the most buzz. The best campaigns convert that buzz into backers.

The gold standard here is Dying to do Letterman and TILT. A ratio in the 3's strikes me as a pretty perfect balance. Over 5 is too high. Under 2 is too low. If you have a massive Kickstarter rally, it's going to inflate your numbers here a bit (see: AYWR and Locked in a Garage Band), but the inverse isn't necessarily true. BLACK ROCK blew past it's goal in days and has a ratio of 2.39. They pretty much could take the foot off the gas pretty quickly, which kept the ratio lower than it should have been.

It's kind of like baseball. A solo home run is great, but it isn't something you want to rely on. Putting runners on base and driving them in with base hits is. A ratio in the 1's probably isn't sustainable. A ratio above 4 means you left money on the table.

So how the hell did he do it?

Enter Koo's not-so-secret weapon: No Film School.

For years, Koo has run this website, which gives away a shitload of free advice and resources for indie filmmakers. There's really a staggering amount of stuff on there. He gets something like 500,000 page views a month. Scroll through the comments of the campaign and it becomes pretty clear that this was a case of Koo's audience giving back. The project could have been anything. They saw someone who'd helped them time and time again and saw this as an opportunity to return the favor. That's it. Good karma.

But that's not everything. Consider this possibility: the high goal number.

He went for the narrative record. It's a big number. $115,000. And he got there pretty effortlessly with a bad campaign. I know a lot of people were watching the campaign simply to see if he could break the record. They weren't spreading the word or backing it for various reasons, but they were watching.

In the final days, I had a couple of conversations with those people and we pretty much all agreed that this was going to be a campaign that went to whatever level the goal was. If he'd asked for $40,000, he would have gotten that. It happens to a lot of campaigns (see the chart).

So I think the lesson here is this:

You can ask for more money.

And that's a scary thought, because no one wants to come up short. But that goal number gets people's attention. They're drawn to it. If Koo had run a good campaign? He could have gotten $150,000, easy. Maybe $200,000.

The growth of crowdfunding is off the charts (so says Adam), but our campaigns aren't scaling up with them. There's more people to find. 2,000 backers isn't really all that much, if you think about it. Translate that to Box Office and that's, what, a $20,000 gross? That's not very much. This time next year, we could be talking about projects that raised $500,000 with 10,000 backers and a ratio in the 3's. It's possible. We just have to think a little bigger. And we have to run good campaigns. All the tools are there. The audience is there. Who's going to find 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.

People in Shirts: Richard Purves

When people get a shirt, we ask them to take a picture. Sometimes they do.

Richard Purves is the Arch Slave Driver at Nonsense Factory Films in the lovely, sunny city of Newcastle upon Tyne, where it only rains 9 days out of 10. You can find him on Twitter at @n0nsensefactory.

Richard Purves


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.

I Slept Here #48: Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles, CA


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 September 2011

People in Shirts: Jamie Calder

When people get a shirt, we ask them to take a picture. Sometimes they do.

Jamie Calder lives in Ottawa, where he writes screenplays, does web development, and defends Kevin Smith against my rants on Twitter. You can find him on Twitter at @jamiecalder

Jamie Calder


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 September 2011

People in Shirts: Kevin Fox

When people get a shirt, we ask them to take a picture. Sometimes they do.

Kevin Fox of Kevin Fox Films is a cowboy and filmmaker. He makes cowboy movies, which we talked about at length here. Find him on Twitter at @KevinFoxFilms.

Kevin Fox



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 1 of James DeMarco's THE STAGG DO



In the original planning for A Year Without Rent, I wasn't supposed to leave the country. It just wasn't in the budget. And sure, there were jokes about A Year Without Rent 2: Europe, especially when it became clear that a lot of our Kickstarter backers were overseas, but I didn't think anything would come of it. A pipe dream, if you will.



So when Zahra Zomorrodian (@fnafilms) asked if I'd consider coming to the UK if a production flew me over, the answer was obvious.

That's how I ended up in Newcastle upon Tyne, serving as gaffer on a film where I can barely understand what a single member of the cast is saying.



There's two things that you're going to want to know about this before we proceed: 1) the gaffer is the person on a set who, among other things, is in charge of electricity; and 2) Electricity in the UK is different than in the US. I know absolutely nothing about the British electricity system. I even forgot to get an adapter so I could plug things in.

Having an American gaffer on a British film isn't exactly an ideal situation. It might even be downright stupid.



But first, an introduction to James DeMarco's THE STAGG DO. Despite the fact that he lives in Newcastle (which British Customs didn't believe for a second I was going to for holiday), James is actually a Masshole, born and raised in Massachusetts. He moved to Newcastle after meeting Zahra when both of them lived in LA. THE STAGG DO is something of a spin-off from their long-gestating project PISSHEADS, which is about these people in the Northeast UK called Geordies (holy shit, my spell check recognized that) who speak in an accent that's virtually impossible to understand. This one actor, Pob, I can understand maybe 10% of what he says. Maybe. In this spin-off, basically it's "Pissheads go camping", which involves a quest to find a strip club. Only, most of it takes place in the woods.



There's nothing like not being sure how to plug something in to assure the rest of the crew that you know what you're doing, but that's exactly what happen, oh, 5 minutes after we get to the first location, a bar. Luckily, everything else goes smoothly, and we're in and out pretty quickly.

From there we head to a farm, where we'll be for most of the rest of production. Two days, then several nights.

Things go pretty smoothly for a bit. A flex fill here, some traffic noise there. But then the sun comes into play. If you remember, on FAT KID RULES THE WORLD we had all sorts of methods to block the sun. Here, we have none. Well…maybe not none.





The farm is actually one of the larger prop houses in the area. There's at least 4 barns full of weird shit. So we start digging around and find a large white tarp buried under a pile of stuff that hasn't moved in years. But, when you use the eyelets to attach it to c-stands, it creates a type of shade for the scene. Thing is, it's kind of like a sail. The c-stands aren't all that strong and we don't have a lot of weight to put on them in case the wind picks up, so someone has to hold each one of them down at all times.



But hey, it works. We get the shade we need. And it only falls once. And the sound guy is just fine, thanks for asking.




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 September 2011

People in Shirts: Marty Lang

When people get a shirt, we ask them to take a picture. Sometimes they do.

Marty Lang is the filmmaker behind the upcoming film RISING STAR. He lives in Hartford, CT and can be found on Twitter at @marty_lang.

Marty Lang


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.

Connecting Flights

I drop my car off at Phil Seneker's house because Phil has a pretty big driveway where a car can hide for a couple of weeks easily. He's got something he's got to shoot in Seattle, so he drops me off and I take a series of buses to SEA-TAC airport, so that I can catch my 3pm flight to London.

Simple, right?

I get to the airport around 1pm and when I go to check in, the monitor on the kiosk says I can't check in for another 2 hours. But my flight is in 2 hours.

That can't be good.

I pull out my computer and pull up my email, only to discover that the flight is tomorrow at 3pm, not today. Fuck.

How the hell does this happen?

Well, first of all: I really have no sense of time and space anymore. I'll often forget what city I'm in, even what time zone, and I don't even travel all that much. Well, I do, but it's not like when someone's on a book tour and they spend 20 days a month in airports. But I've never been good at days of the month and stuff like that, and in a project like A Year Without Rent you start to exist in your own little world, and that world doesn't have traditional days of the week.

So you don't know what day of the month Tuesday is, and when the person picking you up at the airport sends you a tweet to the effect of, "Have a safe flight", you pretty much assume that today is your flight.

And when it isn't?

Well, you find a place to crash for the night. Somewhere closer than Phil Seneker's house, which is pretty far from the airport. So I call my friend Joe Shapiro, who worked on FAT KID RULES THE WORLD. I've stayed at his place before and he lives really close to the light rail that takes people from downtown to the airport.

Only by now it's 2pm and Joe is on set. Wrap will be something like midnight. My car is far away. I have luggage. It's a lot of time to kill on a tight budget.

I take the light rail back. I have my ticket for the way out and in Seattle they kind of operate on the honor system where if they check and you don't have your ticket, you're kind of fucked. I sit by the doors and three quarters of the way there, I see one of the guys who checks the tickets get on, so I jump off. That puts me in what appears to be Chinatown. I'm a couple of miles away from where I need to be, so I start walking. With luggage.

Basically, here's the situation: I'm on a really tight budget with AYWR, like pennies on the dollar of what you'd normally spend. I have blog posts and articles to write (like this one), photos to edit, videos to edit, a feature film to edit. All sorts of stuff. More than you think there is. There's no reason for me to not be busy. So a perfect situation is to find a coffee shop with free wifi where I can buy a coffee for $1 and stay there for hours. The longer the better. So I pull out my phone and figure out which direction I need to go.

It being Seattle, I find a Starbucks pretty quickly, so I sit down. Only, it's only open until 5pm. Still, that's pretty good. I get a little bit done and move on.

Joe tells me I should check out the Seattle Library, but that's only open to 8pm. Still, it helps. It gets me closer and kills time. After that, I find a Barnes & Noble that's open until 10pm. There's a guard at the door who gives me a really weird look when I walk in with my suitcase and my backpack, but I tell him my flight got delayed. I'm not sure why. He doesn't really care.

After Barnes & Noble, I'm pretty much starving. I haven't eaten anything all day, so I start looking around for some cheap food.

A lot of bars will have a small plates special late at night where you can get food pretty cheaply. But it's a kind of tricky thing to figure out. Some of it is filling and some of it is really just going to make you more hungry. Sports bars are best for this sort of thing. They tend to be open until 2am and their clientele doesn't have much patience for ridiculously small portions. So then it's just a question of walking around, looking at the menus and figuring out which one works. I find one. They have a burger option. Problem solved.

Then, figuring Joe is nearly home, I walk the couple of blocks to where he lives, sit down on the sidewalk, my back against his building, and hijack some wifi from somewhere.

I imagine I'm an odd sight--this guy with a suitcase and a MacBook Pro sitting cross-legged in downtown Seattle, but there I am. Some people stumble out of the bar across the street and I watch a guy around my age looking through the garbage for food.

It's a sobering bit of perspective. As much as I like to complain about things, at least I'm not that guy.

The next day, I get on a plane for the UK.



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.

21 September 2011

Day 8 of Matthew Lillard's FAT KID RULES THE WORLD



There's something strange about life on location.

When you shoot a film, you never shoot it in order. The chief reason being that it's never easy to load in and out of a location and location moves themselves are time consuming and costly, so you want to shoot all of the scenes that require a specific location all at once. Makes sense, right?

So what ends up happening when you've got a location that's in the film a lot is that you spend a lot of time there. And after a couple of days, a sense of belonging starts to settle in. The location becomes the production's home, for lack of a better word. You get used to the place. You get to know the neighborhood (and the neighbors. And you even unpack, sort of.

And this happens really quickly. Like in a day.



But then, eventually you have to move on to another location, and it just isn't the same. The rhythm is all different. Everything is in the wrong place. You can't find the bathroom. And where the fuck did craft services go?

Sometimes you can't even find the new location. Or, at least the road that leads to it. (Yes, I got lost.)

But I found it. Today we're filming in a abandoned wing of a hospital. I find hospitals weird enough by themselves, but an abandoned one? Creepy. There's all sorts of stuff in the rooms that's at the same time fascinating and off-putting.



We're shooting a couple of scenes using the hallways. A hallway, by definition, doesn't have a whole lot of room to set up lights. You can change out the halogen bulbs in the overhead light and you've got a little bit of room in doorways and whatnot, but there's not a ton you can do.



But logistically, the big challenge comes in coordinating extras. Sure, you don't necessarily need extras, but an empty hallway means something completely different from one with doctors and nurses wandering around, doing their thing. And that wandering takes coordination. That falls to Allison Eckert, our AD.



It basically works like this: Allison is standing behind the camera (and video village) on the walkie. There's extras in a couple of the rooms, and some of those rooms have PAs in them who are also on walkies. Down at the very end of the hall, there's a little alcove where we've hidden a light and more PAs. Also, me.

On action, Allison directs the PAs to cue the extras. One extra will have instructions to walk from room 5 to room 8. Another will walk down the hall half-way and pause to look at the chart outside a patient's room. Allison will whisper "go Lucas" into the walkie. I point to the extras and they do their thing. You get the idea.

On the scale of things we've done while I've been on this film, it's really pretty simple. There's a bunch of extras, which is always a little tricky, and it's a location move to a new place, but other than that, there's nothing crazy going on.



But, then again, I'm not there for the whole day. Tomorrow I fly from Seattle to Newcastle upon Tyne, over ye olde Atlantic Ocean and today's shoot goes pretty late. Not to mention I've got to get my car to Phil Seneker's house a half hour outside of the city and I don't want to be that guy who shows up at 2am. In reality, I wasn't even supposed to be on set today, but when I realized I could work in half a day, it was an easy decision. More content is better than less, right?

I make the rounds and say my goodbyes. Jacob Wysocki jokingly asks if we'll ever see each other again. The way the indie film community works these days, it's a pretty safe bet.



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.