Day 3 of Nicolas Citton’s DECORATION by Lucas McNelly

We’re up for a 9am shoot on a bridge. It’s a small scene, meant to exist near the end of the film, so I’m not going to talk about it too much, other than to say we all drove out there and shot a scene near the water. The rest isn’t all that important. Nothing complicated. Nothing exciting.

From there, we head back to the cabin we’re all staying in for quick turnaround. The word that goes out is “10 minutes”. Someone sits down. The TV goes on, and before you know it, we’ve been watching Skip Bayless talk about Tim Tebow for over an hour.

Skip Bayless really likes Tim Tebow.

I have no idea what the cause of the delay is.

Eventually, we pile in the vehicles and head back to Story and our primary location of Nooner’s house. The second unit splits off to shoot some B Unit stuff.

As for me? Well, I’m being asked by the director to sit in the van. But, the sun is out and it’s kind of warm out, so instead myself and Chris the sound guy find some chairs on the porch and sit there while they block the scene inside. I eat an orange and work on write-ups for other films.

It’s not exactly a closed set. The director and actors are in there, of course. As is the DP and the grip and Jimmy, who’s a hybrid grip/PA/whatever. Basically, everyone but myself and the sound guy. But whatever. I have work to do.

Eventually, the director comes out and asks if I could take some pictures of the area around the couch for continuity. It’s a simple enough thing to do. There’s a couch there and a bookshelf with a bunch of books on it. So I take pictures of everything and, as requested, start moving everything out to the porch. I pull the books out in stacks, being careful to keep them in order, the assumption being that we’re going to want to reset the scene back to the original configuration. And while a lot of the books and magazines are scattered around the floor and coffee table, they’re at least in distinct piles, and those that are on the bookshelf are in a specific order.

It’s a little thing, but if you can pull 10 books off a shelf and keep them all together as you move them around, it saves time when you have to put them back. There’s no trying to use photos to recreate the order. All you have to know is that this stack goes on the top shelf, over to the left. The rest takes care of itself.

We pull everything, stripping the area completely. But by the time that’s finished, the director has gone ahead and done the same with the entire house.

There are no photos for the rest of the house. None.

They film the scene and then we have to reset the house for a night scene. But there’s no photos, so when the time comes to see the parts of the house that aren’t the general couch area, there’s nothing to go by, other than the consensus memory of the cast and crew. Ever tried to remember every little detail about a room? It’s not easy. People’s memories conflict. Say you’ve got two framed images of birds. Was the cardinal the one higher up or the bluejay? How sure are you?

And sure it’s a small thing, but those things add up. Flip one bird image and whatever. These things happen. But do it over and over again and it starts to pull people from your story. It becomes a drinking game, and when that happens, no one’s going to be sober for your emotional third act.

What the production does have is footage from scenes previously shot in the house. But think of how time-consuming that is. You’ve gotta get out the hard drive and computer, boot it up, and search through all that footage, just to figure out if it was the cardinal or the bluejay on top. And that’s a best case scenario. That’s if you can find the footage you need, if it’s nearby or, say, back in the cabin where everyone’s staying.

This is why you get a Script Supervisor, because they’ll be damned sure if it was the cardinal or the bluejay. Hell, they’ll even tell you if it was hung straight. And it won’t take them all night to figure it out.

And if you don’t have the budget for the Script Supervisor? Well, then you make sure you get photos of the entire house before you start moving things.

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.