In the original planning for A Year Without Rent, I wasn’t supposed to leave the country. It just wasn’t in the budget. And sure, there were jokes about A Year Without Rent 2: Europe, especially when it became clear that a lot of our Kickstarter backers were overseas, but I didn’t think anything would come of it. A pipe dream, if you will.
So when Zahra Zomorrodian (@fnafilms) asked if I’d consider coming to the UK if a production flew me over, the answer was obvious.
That’s how I ended up in Newcastle upon Tyne, serving as gaffer on a film where I can barely understand what a single member of the cast is saying.
There’s two things that you’re going to want to know about this before we proceed: 1) the gaffer is the person on a set who, among other things, is in charge of electricity; and 2) Electricity in the UK is different than in the US. I know absolutely nothing about the British electricity system. I even forgot to get an adapter so I could plug things in.
Having an American gaffer on a British film isn’t exactly an ideal situation. It might even be downright stupid.
But first, an introduction to James DeMarco’s THE STAGG DO. Despite the fact that he lives in Newcastle (which British Customs didn’t believe for a second I was going to for holiday), James is actually a Masshole, born and raised in Massachusetts. He moved to Newcastle after meeting Zahra when both of them lived in LA. THE STAGG DO is something of a spin-off from their long-gestating project PISSHEADS, which is about these people in the Northeast UK called Geordies (holy shit, my spell check recognized that) who speak in an accent that’s virtually impossible to understand. This one actor, Pob, I can understand maybe 10% of what he says. Maybe. In this spin-off, basically it’s “Pissheads go camping”, which involves a quest to find a strip club. Only, most of it takes place in the woods.
There’s nothing like not being sure how to plug something in to assure the rest of the crew that you know what you’re doing, but that’s exactly what happen, oh, 5 minutes after we get to the first location, a bar. Luckily, everything else goes smoothly, and we’re in and out pretty quickly.
From there we head to a farm, where we’ll be for most of the rest of production. Two days, then several nights.
Things go pretty smoothly for a bit. A flex fill here, some traffic noise there. But then the sun comes into play. If you remember, on FAT KID RULES THE WORLD we had all sorts of methods to block the sun. Here, we have none. Well, maybe not none.
The farm is actually one of the larger prop houses in the area. There’s at least 4 barns full of weird shit. So we start digging around and find a large white tarp buried under a pile of stuff that hasn’t moved in years. But, when you use the eyelets to attach it to c-stands, it creates a type of shade for the scene. Thing is, it’s kind of like a sail. The c-stands aren’t all that strong and we don’t have a lot of weight to put on them in case the wind picks up, so someone has to hold each one of them down at all times.
But hey, it works. We get the shade we need. And it only falls once. And the sound guy is just fine, thanks for asking.
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.