Most films I work on don't have a picture car, in the usual definition. Sure, there's cars in the film, but it's quite often the director's car, or at least the car of someone working on the production. But a real, actual picture car? Rented from a company that rents such things? Almost never.
Actually, scratch that. Never. It's never happened. I think.
Here we've got one, but not just any car, but the car from WAYNE'S WORLD. The actual car. If you want to see a bunch of jaded crew members getting instantly giddy, tell them they're leaning up against a iconic vehicle that was in a film they grew up watching. It's the filmmaker version of being in Oprah's audience.
Thing is, the car won't start. At all.
Which is how you end up in the freezing cold of dawn's first light in Marfa, Texas with four women attempting to fix a 1976 AMC Pacer while four men watch, completely helpless. Best Boy Grip Billy MacCartney offers to call his Dad, but no one's sure how helpful that'll be.
It's quite the sight--four men (five if you count Lonestar purring at our feet) watching four women try and fix a car. Shannon Deane sets her sound gear down to hold open something under the hood while Key Grip Ellie Ann Fenton revs the engine.
Or, to quote Gaffer Phil Matarrese, "it's kind of hot".
Eventually they get it started and we load the car back on the trailer so that the grip truck can tow it to the location.
Marfa is a small town. And while it can be tricky to film in a small town way out of the plains of West Texas, you can easily drive 20 minutes (or less) in any direction and be in the absolute middle of nowhere with nothing in view for miles. It's beyond desolate, which is perfect for BEST FRIENDS FOREVER, an apocalyptic road movie. The less we can see, the better.
We start off my shooting at a sparse picnic area at the intersection of three highways. We pull in the grip truck and a bunch of cars, but there's nothing to hide them behind for shooting, so Phil talks to DP Michelle Lawler and Brea about which direction everything will be looking to start the day. It's one of those locations where at various points we're going to want to see in every direction, but moving cars and gear is a major hassle, so if we can shoot everything that goes in one direction first, we can re-load the truck and move everything over to the other side of the picnic area.
It's a small thing, but a reassuring one nonetheless. It shows that people are thinking more than an hour ahead.
For BEST FRIENDS FOREVER, I'm the Best Boy Electric. We've got a G&E team of four people: Myself, Phil, Billy, and Ellie Ann. We start unloading the truck. There's a lot of sun so Phil wants to break out the 12x12 bounce as our primary lighting trick. It's versatile, accomplishes a lot, and doesn't require any electricity, which is important, because we don't have any.
We get to work setting it up and I get a crash course in tying knots that I didn't get in the 2 days I was in Boy Scouts. I know what you're thinking: how do I still not know how to tie the correct knots? I don't know. I'm bad at knots. My father has shown me at least 50 times how to change the oil in my car and I couldn't tell you any of the steps beyond figuring out how many miles I've driven since my last oil change. My brain just doesn't work like that, I guess. But I can tell you small details from this Red Sox game I went to in 1996. By the way, if you get the right seats at a game, you can really see a knuckleball dance.
It's pretty windy, so we drive a stake into the ground and tie the bounce to that. Or, we tie it to whatever is nearby that isn't moving, whatever is the combination of easiest and safest. Mostly we just move that around, as needed. There's not a ton we can do with sun in wide-open spaces other than bounce light and flag as needed.
After a bit, Stacey Storey shows up with a RV she acquired somehow to serve as our mobile green room (and bathroom facilities). The story behind it is suspicious, in a Jerry Springer sort of way, and if I'd written down more details, I'd recount it here.
As the day moves along, we have to move the grip truck and the RV to the other side of the picnic area. Most of the things we've got out are on wheels and the rest get temporarily ratcheted down so nothing breaks.
There's a bit of a stunt involving falling on a mattress (the mattress I slept on last night), and the normal battle against the fading light. We wrap and pack up the truck as the sun sets, cracking open some cans of Lonestar in celebration. And when we get back to the house, Lonestar the cat is there to greet us.
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.