By Lucas McNelly | July 13, 2011

I was in San Francisco for a couple of days prior to this shoot (and prior to jetting over to Delaware), where I had the pleasure of taking in a screening of Sean Gillane’s first feature THE ANNUAL, a film about a couple that decides to date for exactly one year. It’s just about a perfect premise for an indie relationship film, and it was interesting to see how Sean used a lot of the places near where he lives.

Except that he didn’t live in that neighborhood then.

But he does now, and so we’re filming on the streets around Sean’s apartment. It’s kind of an odd application of the Auteur Theory, but I think it works.

If you’ve never been to San Francisco (or, at least this part of San Fran), it’s important to know that a lot of people park in private garages in what’s most easily described as the basement of their apartment building. What this means is that there’s 10 or so spots on each block where you have to keep the sidewalk clear so people can drive in to their parking spots. It also severely limits the number of places you can park on the street.

But say you’re trying to set up a dolly shot into a green screen on the sidewalk. You have to find a spot that works both for light, other background, and doesn’t block anyone’s driveway. It’s tricky. Plus, it’s kind of windy, which causes issues with the green screen.

The screen has to be pretty taut all the way across, which is harder near the middle of the bottom, so the solution is to wrap the bottom of the felt around a gobo arm and let the weight of the arm pull that tight. The weight also has the side benefit of fighting the effects of the wind.

Beyond the green screen stuff, a lot of what we’re shooting today is what Sean calls “multiples”. I’m not really sure what that’s going to entail in the end film, but essentially our actor (Cole Smith) will repeat the same action multiple times, each time in a different outfit. Of course, this involves him changing clothes pretty quickly in some pretty public places, sometimes just a shirt, but sometimes pants as well.

One such multiple is a dolly shot in a stairwell, a shot that’s been the subject of much discussion in pre-production. What we’ve got is an actor going down the stairs and the camera dolly’s across the stairwell. The camera (a 5D) is on a small wooden stand with a 20 pound weight on it (more weight on a dolly move can make it smoother). Under that are some skateboard wheels on normal skateboard trucks. Then, we’ve got a board with rails attached (to keep it from falling off). The big trick is how to best get the camera smoothly (and consistently) across the board, since we’re doing multiples. Not surprisingly, we end up tag-teaming a couple of different methods.

Will it work? We shall see.

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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  1. Great story guys. Do you have a picture of the skateboard track you built for the 5D? Luv to see it. Sounds like a great idea. Please get back to me.

    Film & Video Production

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