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By Lucas McNelly | October 12, 2011

I come from a basketball family. My Uncle Dale was a 3rd team Parade All-American and once beat Bill Russell at HORSE. My younger brother coaches at Medomak Valley High School and started for a team that lost one game in two years. I was a 4-time all-star guard. Or, to put it more cleanly: the men in my extended family have produced more state titles than children.

My ex-girlfriend used to call me “the Al Bundy of Maine”.

So you can imagine my reaction when I realized we’d be spending most of the day filming on a basketball court.

But first, there’s a bit of filming to do in the apartment. And for that I’m helping our old friend Dan load up a pickup truck with enough gear to cover whatever we might need–sandbags, c-stands, 12x12s, and so on. For a day exterior you aren’t so much going to create light as you’re going to control the existing light provided by “the Great Gaffer in the Sky.” Either you’re going to be bouncing it to fill in shadows or you’re going to be keeping it from creating shadows. Direct sunlight is harsh and unforgiving. Cloud cover is better. But if you can’t have clouds, you have to figure out ways to diffuse the light, and the sun can be a lot of light to diffuse.

Today is kind of sunny and kind of cloudy, which is a pain in the a*s because you have to bring everything.

The truck loaded, we head over to the school where we’ll be shooting, but we’re early so we have to circle the block a couple of times (something about children being in the way). It turns out we’re really early–too early, in fact–and can’t set up anything for another twenty minutes. Out comes a soccer ball to kill time.

Even apart from the company move, it’s a hectic day. We’ve got visitors. Kristin Kreuk from SMALLVILLE is here (one of our producers, Rick Rosenthal, directed several SMALLVILLE episodes). And then, for reasons I never did catch, Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet from LOST) is on set.

They’re hard to miss because it’s all anyone is talking about for at least a hour.

All the while, the actors are preparing for the basketball scene. It’s a 3 person scene between Jacob Wysocki, Dylan Arnold, and Billy Campbell. I show Dylan how to spin a ball on his finger after he sees me doing it, and rebound a little while they warm up.

The scene involves the 3 of them shooting around, with some intentional misses in the script. After the first take several of us realize that we’re probably running the risk of the camera being hit by a stray ball, so 2nd Assistant Camera Coty James stands on one side of the camera and I stand on the other for the expressed purpose of grabbing the ball before it does any damage to a pretty expensive piece of equipment.

As the scene progresses, I stay nearby, either grabbing rebounds to speed up the filming or guarding the camera. I even end up jamming my thumb, which brings back all sorts of high school basketball memories.

The clouds go away half-way through the day, so we bring over the 12×12 on a couple of these things to negate the sun. It’s on wheels and, like anything on wheels, it can kind of get away from you once it picks up some momentum. I look up and I’m heading right for Elizabeth Mitchell, but thankfully she scampers out of the way when I yell “Points!”.

F**k. Can you imagine?

An old man decides to stand in the background and watch the filming, so Production Supervisor Jim Charleston gives him a newspaper so he’ll at least look like he’s doing something else (we have neither the manpower nor the permission to block off the entire area).

You can feel, in stretches, the relief of the crew to be shooting outside after so long in such a cramped environment. The impromptu soccer game has something to do with that, but just the ability to be able to spread out a little bit and get some sun is a nice change of pace. Matt, as usual, sets the tone. So what if he misses a bunch of free throws and loses a bet? Bill Russell missed some free throws. Just ask my uncle. I almost injured an actress who isn’t even in the film. Nobody’s perfect.

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.

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