Filming in LA On A Tight Budget

December 1, 2016

March 28th at 7:15am: Our flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles International has just landed. Begin the countdown. My cinematographer Mark Melchiorre and I have slightly less than 24 hours to finalize the details of our shoot which includes: arrange a van, pick up equipment, turn in our permit application to the LA film office, secure the final details of our rooftop location (note: I have never seen this rooftop except for a few bad cell phone photos.), eat, build camera, try to catch an hour or so of sleep and roll right into our 5am call time for the first day of production on the Mount Holly, “Stride By Stride” music video.

Getting an Uber out of the airport was impossible since the cab drivers’ union blocks them from coming into the arrival section. So we hop in a cab driven by the oldest cabby in LA, who literally drove with both feet. He would hit the brake and the gas at the same time causing a surge of acceleration and power braking, throwing our camera equipment and our stomachs every way possible. We finally arrive 20 minutes later to our destination, the Dragon Fly Inn. A quaint little hippy house in a rough part of downtown where we were presented with a $75.00 cab fare and greeted by our new housemate Stan, a mid 60’s flower child to say the least. He tries to be friendly and helpful opening the trunk to our cab, not knowing the dramatic travel experience the luggage faced when of course the one case that should never fall crashes to the driveway at his feet. My eyes dart open in disbelief, the camera! Here we are… Welcome to LA.

After loading into our bedroom and checking through the camera gear to be sure everything was working properly and not damaged we were invited to sit at the kitchen table with our host and play 50 questions. We were starving and eager to get to work but neither of us wanted to be rude. After hearing their life stories about being an accountant and breaking away to a self-sustaining lifestyle, we politely excused ourselves from the table and hit the streets to find food. Luckily LA has a ton of options for vegans like Mark so we found a nice place and ate some ground up grasses and straw. With our bellies full from grazing we finally hit the hay.

LA’s film office is exactly what you would imagine: a crowded waiting room, phones ringing off the hook and people pacing back and forth trying to get the permit to shoot their passion project. The one thing I could not believe was how helpful they actually are. They sent me all of the applications and put me in touch with someone from the HOA to contact all of the neighbors and inform them about our shoot. This was all included with the $800.00 permit for a two-day shoot. However, what was not included or mentioned was the $1500.00 fee for a fire martial they are telling me is required by law since we are shooting on a rooftop. I think it was at this point I realized I would be working for free as I went over the dwindling budget in my mind.

So, permits are in, we are allowed to shoot and next we pack the van with all of the basics: C-stands, apple boxes, sound blankets, a curved track with a doorway dolly, etc. We drive out to our location in hopes to load in a day early. We meet the man who runs the building who insists on a check immediately even before we discuss all of the details. He shows us to the rooftop when we realize there is no elevator access. Welcome to the locations department! I wish we could have afforded you. To gain access to the roof one must take the freight elevator to the 3rd floor then climb two flights of stairs in order to arrive on the roof. So we inspect the freight elevator. I hit the button and we wait… and wait, and wait. The door finally opens revealing an intriguing man, shrouded in mystery, whose name I can no longer remember. He greets us with a smile and a friendly wave and we get in the elevator, he pushes some buttons and we descend to the street access. He asks what time we need to get back in tomorrow. I tell him our Crew Call is scheduled for 6am. Of course, he doesn’t usually come in to work until 9am. Great! We load in.

Filming on a Rooftop in LA

It turns out that 24 hours is not a lot of time in LA: Day 2! 5am came very fast as Mark and I left our B&B and set out to pick up breakfast and coffee (production lifeblood). We arrive and the band is there, and thankfully so is our elevator operator. Turns out the mystery man is also a stand-up guy. We push the last of our gear into the tight freight elevator. It took about 9 trips to get everything up. The band set up their full stage kit, followed by all of our art, G&E and camera equipment and not so far later a 20’ jib with remote head. We got our first shot off at 7am; a little later then I wanted but still pretty impressive all things considered.

We moved very quickly through the narrative pieces of the story to get into the performance coverage. We choose to shoot at higher frame rates, mostly around 36 fps and sped the song up to match the performance so we could have a nice slow motion effect while keeping pace with the song. The band handled the speed really well. And besides the footage looking cool, it actually helps from a logistical standpoint because you’re covering the song faster allowing more time for setups. We had a very small but amazing team. Dan Watch who helped assist camera also assisted with just about everything else, and the band’s good friend Austin was a huge help and we quickly turned him into a full-fledged dolly grip. Everything was running smoothly until the one thing that never happens in LA happened… it rained. It never rains in LA until you’re on a rooftop with limited time and budget. But it only lasted for a half hour and we continued our day and captured everything we needed.

Camera Crew on Rooftop

We wrapped the roof location, loaded everything down the two flights of stairs to the freight elevator and was promptly greeted by my mysterious amigo who insisted on an additional $50.00. It was worth it. Anything to wrap us out fast so Mark and I could get some rest before day three.

We were now facing a 2-hour drive to Laguna Beach to rest before our second day of shooting. We were supposed to crash at the lead guitar player’s house (Nick) but only stayed for about 45 minutes before realizing we needed our own hotel room pronto. Mark started showing signs of the flu and became very ill that evening. As they say “the show must go on” and at 2am it became the sick Mark show. His temperature was through the roof and he was experiencing every horrible flu symptom imaginable. We eventually were able to fall asleep and get a few hours before returning to our van and driving an hour to start day two of production.

On the way to set, we made a much-needed stop at the Rite Aid for Mark to receive medical attention, basically buying every over the counter flu medication available. He pushed through and ended up shooting a 12 hour day with minimal rest. We were even able to shoot some additional coverage. The band and their manager were ecstatic and Mark and I were ready to rush to LAX for our red-eye back to Philly.

Filming on a Rooftop

Mark slept on a bench in the terminal while I met some other weary travelers and we all enjoyed a few pints before boarding our respective flights. Somehow Mark and I made it back intact, a full music video in the can.

Post production was enjoyable, Mount Holly and the record label loved the video. Mark and I had a fantastic experience shooting and editing Stride by Stride and we met some great people along the way, rekindled some old cross country friendships, and created a really fun music video.

P.S. I called the owner of the rooftop to thank him for a great location. He appreciated the call. I made sure to also ask him to thank the mysterious elevator operator. Turns out he doesn’t have an elevator operator…
M. Night twist!

Written By: Nic Reader – Owner / Creative Director

Nicholas Reader

When not creating awesome stuff Nic spends his time in the woods and on the water. Being such an avid outdoorsman helps keep him stay trim and tight.