10 February 2012

Day 2 of Brea Grant's BEST FRIENDS FOREVER

It takes about 30 seconds out on the plains of West Texas at sunrise to understand why Willie Nelson wrote so many songs about them. To call the colors "stunning" would be an understatement. It reminds me a little of when I drove through Montana earlier in the year, only it's more vibrant somehow. Maybe it's the scope you get from the big windshield of the grip truck. Or maybe it's something different about the humidity in the Texas air, but it's hard to fathom the sunrise until you see it first-hand. As we drive to set, it's just twenty minutes of Phil Matarrese and I with our jaws on the dashboard.

Today we're shooting at a different picnic area, one that's up against a hill overlooking miles and miles of nothing.

There aren't very many characters in BEST FRIENDS FOREVER other than our two leads, but today we're filming a scene where they encounter three hipster (played by Kit Williamson, Alex Fernie, and Alex Berg). Their characters are kind of assholes, to put it lightly.

We set the 12x12 back up with the unbleached muslin and then Phil puts Billy MacCartney and I on a project involving some more muslin. We're going to be bouncing light around a lot with some 4x4 foam boards, but Phil isn't happy with the light he's getting from them. So he has Billy and I create a dirty muslin for him. Basically, we cover it in reddish dirt. This sounds really easy--dump some dirt on a cloth and you're done. But, the ground is completely dry. It'll make the muslin dirty, but not dirty enough to make a difference. You really have to grind it in. So what you end up with is Billy and I standing on a 4x4 cut of muslin, scraping our sneakers on it over and over again like we're trying not to track mud through the house, making sure the dirt is really in there. Then, we gaff tape the muslin to one side of the foam board and just like that we've got another option for bouncing a dirtier light.

The 12x12 has to go inside a rock formation where the main action of this scene is taking place. It fits, more or less, but it's really windy out and there's a worry that if the wind whips in through the rocks just right, it'll turn into a sail and potentially hurt someone. There's no room to drive in a stake, so Phil and Ellie Ann Fenton come up with the idea to tie it to a picnic table on the other side of a boulder, effectively using the boulder and the table (which has been cemented into the ground) to keep everything safe.

Then, it's time to do a stunt.

Robbie Corbett, our stunt man, is something of a parkour expert, and in-between showing Vera Miao and one of the Alex'es the steps of their stunt, he'll randomly hop up a rock wall, just because. The run it over and over again--quarter speed, half speed, a little faster each time--while they figure out the best place to put the landing pad mattress among a pile of rocks.

With something like this, normally you'd shoot it over and over again until you got it perfectly. You'd shoot the rehearsals, everything really. Maybe even the half-speed stuff to see how it reads on camera. But BEST FRIENDS FOREVER has to be a little stingy because we're shooting it on real, actual film. Super 16mm, to be exact.

I've never actually worked on anything other than digital before. It's pretty cool.

And this is not a big budget film, by any stretch of the imagination. So conserving film stock is of the utmost importance, even more so when you consider that we're at least 3 hours from any airport in West Texas. If we need more film, it's not going to be easy to acquire.

So we rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. Brea Grant's not in this scene, so she can take more of a normal director approach, and the camera team has a handicap they've rigged up to record from the Super 16 camera as a video assist for Brea to watch playback on. They tweak the blocking until everyone's happy and then it's time to burn one. It goes smoothly, so the process is repeated for all the coverage.

Meanwhile, Billy and Ellie Ann are building some dolly track for a shot later in the sequence, staying ahead whenever possible. For some reason, our dolly doesn't have a normal push bar, so Billy has decided to construct one out of a bunch of gobo heads and arms. It's kind of like the Rat King of gobos.

Speaking of disgusting creatures, this picnic area has the most aggressive flies any of us have ever seen. At lunch they're everywhere, and they don't give a fuck what you do. Swat at them and they don't even move. You can kill dozens of them if you want. Hell, Billy even manages to get one to stay on his finger and shoulder, like a pet bird. It's weird and a little bit creepy.

And then comes the picture car.

The picture car didn't start earlier today. That took awhile to fix while everyone was setting up. And now it won't start when we need to shoot with it. Thing is, we need it to run on camera. We can't just have this car conveniently sitting in the right spot every time it's in the film. It need to move. We need it to be able to drive in and out of shots. Mike Myers got it to run, but it's proving to be a little more finicky for us.

Eventually Shannon gets it to work and we're able to film the scene. A bunch of books get dumped on the pavement. The car works (sort of), and we're done.

We drive back as the sun goes down. It's beautiful, although it doesn't feel as fantastic as the sunrise. Maybe we're just tired.

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.