The email from DP Connor Hair says the film is about a mime, kind of a riff on a French style. Fair enough. I'm a big fan of French films. Give me some Renoir, some Truffaut, some Godard, Jeunet, Attal, and I'm a happy guy. And if you're going to do a French thing, a mime is as good a start as any.
So what, in this French movie about a mime are we shooting? Is it a balloon? A scene in the park or on a street corner? Nah, we're shooting a rave scene.
I'm told this is atypical of the larger narrative, but I'm only here for one day. So…I guess we'll see when it comes out.
We're in this place called Underground Seattle. As I understand it, at one point Seattle was built below sea level. Obviously, this is not such a great idea and something they eventually rectified, building the current city more or less on top of the old one. But that old one is still there, kind of a museum to a lost city. Think Atlantis, but with guided tours and t-shirts.
Add to that our rave scene.
If you're going to shoot a rave scene, you need a couple of things, primarily a smoke machine and lights that pulsate and move around. In other words, not your normal Arri kit.
I mean, sure, you use the Arri kit (if you have one), but the special lights are really going to be your money makers. So what have we got?
Well, there's a couple of lights that are controlled by sound. As the beat changes, they change. Perfect for this sort of thing, where it turns what could be a super complicated light gag into something a lot easier. We've got a couple of those, all in different colors. But if you've ever used such lights, you know that they aren't super strong, certainly not strong enough to get picked up by a digital camera in any meaningful way.
Enter the smoke machine.
By pumping in a bunch of smoke and throwing a lot of light into that (kind of like how you'd film cigarette smoke), director of photography Connor Hair is able to get a lot more play out of the flashing lights, thus making them workable.
But when you're filming a rave in an underground city, you can pretty much try every trick in the book, like shining a projector through chicken wire.
Or you can get an interesting effect by playing a projector through a large plastic tube. Of course, that's not as easy as it sounds. First, the tube is far too long and we've got nothing to cut it with, so Rory Emmons does what anyone would do: he attacks the tube with a hammer. It more or less works, but now the tube has a pretty jagged edge on one side. He puts that one at the ceiling, with the flat one on the ground. Then, it's a simple matter of attaching a projector and DVD player to the ceiling, lining it up so that it shines properly through the tube (harder than you think), and filling the tube with smoke via the bottom. The tube holds the smoke decently, but it dissipates faster than you'd like, meaning we have to keep tilting it up to pump in more smoke.
Still, it looks cool.
Meanwhile, up on the street and in the dressing room, people are getting made up in crazy elaborate rave costumes.
Remember, this is a French film about a mime.
Once the room is set, it leads to an interesting visual. The room is pretty much a maze of boxes and fake walls, full of crazy lights and even crazier costumes, every corner containing a surprise. And then, around the final turn is a grip checking Facebook on his phone.
On my phone are several missed calls from unlisted numbers. It's 10pm on a Sunday. On my voicemail is a message from the Seattle police. They're at my car, which has been broken into. I take off running.
When I get back, we're full into the rave scene. Oh, and there's a guy twirling fire. But my car is full of glass. There's a window with a garbage bag secured by gaff tape and a police report to fill out. I stay for another couple of hours, but then, not being all that comfortable with the safety of my car, I figure enough is enough. I bow out early,
The rave is still going full-steam.
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.