It’s 1am and I’m sitting by myself on the sidewalk at the corner of 3rd Avenue & Seneca Street, 4 blocks from set. The battery on my phone died an hour ago, I really could use a jacket, and I think someone was supposed to bring me lunch at some point.
I’ve been here almost 3 hours.
Why? Because there’s a light here–a 9 bank pointing straight up at the building across the street–and you can’t exactly leave expensive stuff unattended on the corner of 3rd & Seneca while drunk assholes and trannys and drunk trannys mill about. Not if you want it to be there when you get back.
Someone has to babysit it. And right now, that someone is me.
And let’s be honest: it’s a shitty job. It’s boring and you’re far, far away from the action (unless you count the activity on the street). It’s easy to start thinking what a bullshit deal this is, because no one wants to do it and there’s not much else to do except think about how bored you are.
But then you realize what an egotistic way of thinking that is. You aren’t that important. You’re there to help in any way possible, be an extra set of hands for a production wherever needed. Sometimes that involves using a rope to help pull a light up the side of a building. And sometimes that involves sitting on a sandbag and freezing your ass off. Neither of those things is inherently more helpful than the other, but one of them is cool. And so what if it’s keeping you from doing other, more fun things? That would just mean that one of the regular G&E guys would have to be doing this and couldn’t be doing something more important.
So you bite your tongue and suck it up like a motherfucking adult. It’s only for 3 hours and then Art comes back and you can get some food and charge your phone and put on a jacket.
And it’s not like you’ve had such a terrible day. The film is shooting all day in a parking garage and you’ve been on roof duty all day. That involves helping the grips every so often, and helping set up craft services and making sure people don’t park on the roof, since we’ve only got clearance to block off a couple of levels of the garage.
There’s something strange about being on the roof of a parking garage, listening on the walkie talkies to the commotion below. There’s extra wrangling, which means there’s never enough extras and keeping track of them is kind of like herding cats, especially when there’s scenes down on the street. There’s PA’s blocking off street corners to pedestrian traffic and from the roof it sounds like absolute chaos. People are yelling things like “I DON’T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT 2ND AVENUE!!”, but then when you go over to 2nd Avenue and look down, it looks totally calm and serene, which kills the entertainment value, so fuck that.
In reality, they’re probably just yelling because the traffic noise is really loud, but what fun is that? From the roof, it’s like listening to a great old time radio show. Down there, it probably isn’t nearly as cool.
As the sun goes down, the production starts to move up the parking garage, until finally we’re on the roof for the big scene that’s kind of spoiler-ish. But it’s a cool scene with dozens of extras and lots of vehicles and moving parts. There’s a lot going on.
Which is why it sucks to be 4 blocks away, sitting on a sandbag.
By the time I get back to set, things are in full swing. It’s really dark and everyone is running around, which gives me ample opportunity to take photos. I find Billy Campbell sitting in a car among all this, reading a copy of AMERICAN GODS. There’s a lot going on. Like, a lot. You help out where you can, but it’s hard to even figure out what needs to be done. It’s dark and a lot of people and things are in silhouette and often you don’t even realize that the person you’re looking for is 5 feet away.
I take a lot of pictures.
We shoot the big finale of the scene, which looks big and epic in person. On a monitor, over Matthew Lillard’s shoulder, you can see that it’ll be more so on screen.
You can see the buildings we lit, so none of that time on the street corner is wasted, which is always a good feeling.
Near the end of the shoot, I spot Matt sitting against a wall, looking over his shot list. It’s a nice photo, so I try and sneak over to get a good shot. He holds the shot list so it catches more of the light.
“I see you, Lucas,” he says, not moving his head.
“And yet you hold still. A pro.”
He motions to the shot list. “I see you. And yet I’m giving you fill.”
Then Art calls on the walkie. There’s some shady characters milling around. So I head back down to be a criminal deterrent. Sunrise is fast approaching, so we wait for a half hour or so and then start breaking everything down.
Back at the garage, everyone is breaking down the equipment. Jeremy helps out for a few minutes. Matt pitches in, grabbing what the grips will let him handle and getting it in the truck before someone drags him away.
He’s excited. It’s a big set piece of the film out of the way. And it looks like they got what they needed. He wants to do everything he can to get his film made. And I love that. It’s that same spirit and enthusiasm that drives someone to make a tiny little DIY film with a crew of three, just here writ large. Because dammit, that’s what got most of us excited about making films in the first place.
You hope it never goes away.
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.