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By Lucas McNelly | October 13, 2011

Yesterday, there was a car parked on the street near craft services. In and of itself, this is not unusual. Craft services is on the sidewalk and we’re shooting in a neighborhood. Still, we have “No Parking” signs and all of the cars on the street are supposed to belong to the production.

But this one… well… this one stands out.

It’s not in anything approaching good shape. The trunk is totally gone. The seats are nearly gone, and it’s been painted God knows how many times. Also, I think there’s stuff glued to it. It probably shouldn’t be parked there.

Except it’s in the movie.

It’s an Art Car, which means exactly what you think it does. And where does one find an Art Car? At church (where else?).

The story (if I’m remembering it correctly) is that our Production Supervisor Jim Charleston spotted the car in a church parking lot and knowing the film needed a picture car for some punk rock characters, tracked down the owner. Simple as that. Sometimes the Art Department and Props go to great lengths to create something unique and sometimes you find it in the parking lot of a church. You never know with these things.

In the story the car belongs to Michael Freiburger and Ian Lesage, two punk rock non-actors who show up to pick up Jacob Wysocki and Matt O’Leary’s characters. Where the production found them, I have no idea, but they’re pretty much perfect. They show up in their own clothes (which are better than whatever we would have given them), ready to go. And they’ve brought their own chess set to play in-between takes. Why a chess set? Because f**k you and your stereotypes, that’s why a chess set.

I’m projecting that last part, but the chess set is real.

But they’re still non-actors, and non-actors carry with them a lot more risk than actors do. The reasons are often obvious, a non-actor can be flat-out terrible or just become really aware of where the camera is, taking a person that looked authentic in pre-production and turning them into something completely different on camera. That’s where it really helps to have an actor-turned-director at the helm. A director like Matthew Lillard will have a better idea of how to pull a performance out of a non-actor than, say, someone who started as a writer. They have a more intimate knowledge of the process and, therefore, a better idea of what’s going through that person’s head.

So it’s interesting to watch how Matt’s approach changes. Like most good directors, his approach changes from actor to actor. The way he talks to Jacob Wysocki is different from how he talks to Billy Campbell. But there’s a shift with Michael and Ian. He spends less time trying to get in their heads and more time trying to make them comfortable. After all, you want them to be natural. There’s no point in overcomplicating things.

All week we’ve drawn interest from the neighborhood, but now we’re filming outside with big lights on at night. Out come the lawn chairs. Out come the kids. Someone gives them a quick primer on the importance of being quiet while the camera is rolling and Matt takes time between takes to run over, sign autographs and take pictures.

Jim Charleston says it best (I’m paraphrasing): “We want to be good neighbors,” and he’s absolutely right. Basically we live here for X number of days and everything a production can reasonably do to keep their neighbors happy will pay dividends. And even if it doesn’t, it’s good karma. It’s the right thing to do.

It’s our final day at the location and except for the fact that whoever’s driving the Art Car isn’t so great at driving a stick and a couple of us have to push the car for every take, it goes smoothly. At hour 10 of production (around 11pm), the producers make a Starbucks run. Honestly, there are few things better on a film production than a coffee run at 11pm when you’ve been shooting outside for 10 hours.

Except, of course, for wrap beers. Nothing beats a wrap beer.

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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