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By Lucas McNelly | July 5, 2011

It’s so stupid, but one of my favorite things is when a grip or DP uses a c-stand to hold a branch. I have no idea why, but it strikes me a damned cool. Maybe because it’s such a lo-fi approach to getting something pretty specific, or maybe it’s because the angles of a tree branch are just something that cannot be faked. Well, I guess it could be faked, but what would be the point? It’s such a DIY approach that harkens back to the days of just shooting with what was laying around and making it work.

Plus, it’s fun.

So that’s what we’re doing, trying to put a c-stand in a bush, with all sorts of branches clamped onto it, so we can get a cool shadow on Whitney Kirk as she points a gun at someone. Or, to quote grip Dane Williams (as heard in the above video), “I wonder what the neighbors think now.”

The premise of the scene is this: Cuyle Carvin’s character is gone (and so is Cuyle, gone back to New York for a couple days), so the interplay is between Whitney and Sally Greenland, an Australian actress who plays Cuyle’s sister.

In good news, every lawn in the neighborhood has already been mowed this week, so we don’t have many sound issues.

After the outside shoot, we’re upstairs in the space that was previously the green room for the cast and crew. It’s never fun to shift the green room, people get settled there and things get kind of spread out, but when you’re limited in space, that’s what you have to do. But what we’ve got is essentially two green rooms. One is a general staging area and one is dedicated to wardrobe and makeup. Guess which one is harder to re-set? The big debate then, is how best to do this. One school of thought is to re-set everything, but AD Carolina Solando and I think this is not such a great idea.

Finally, Carolina comes up with a solution where we can make the first room look like the second room. It’s a really good fix, and like all good fixes, it’s easy to execute. So easy that we’re all surprised no one thought of it earlier. We run it by director Brian Kazmarck and once he makes sure that can actually work, we have a plan. And even better, it’ll save us at least an hour of work, which is vital on such a tight schedule.

And in that modified second room, yours truly is playing the role of “soldier in boots”, which ends up being more complicated than it sounds. In the scene, Sally Greenland’s character is hiding under a bed when a pair of boots walks by. It’s a basic scene–you’ve seen it before–that really quickly conveys an emotion the audience can latch on to. But there’s questions: how do soldiers wear their boots? Do they tuck in the pants? No? (According to Google, the Air Force requires it, so we go with that.)

I kid with Brian that I need motivation for my character, but in the end, it turns out I do. There’s walking, and then there’s walking with purpose. And then there’s walking with a specific purpose. I have to hit a pretty tight mark to frame my feet against Sally’s head, but the carpet is in enough of the shot that we can’t spike the floor. So I’m using a monitor, which is kind of reversed. I miss the mark more often than I hit it, but eventually we get it.

This is why I’m not an actor. God forbid I actually have to say lines of dialogue.

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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