On Set with “Uncle John” Part I: Wisconsin

Towards the end of August I started working on the production of Uncle John, an indie feature being shot in Wisconsin and in Chicago. I got brought on as 1st AC and the whole experience was really fantastic. Because we spent time shooting in two different states, I’m breaking the post into two parts. I’ll cover the 10 days we spent in Wisconsin in this first part.

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The film was co-written by Erik Crary and Steve Piet, who also produced and directed the film. Erik and Steve were great to work with and their ease on set allowed for the entire crew to perform their jobs to the absolute best.

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The day before production started I drove up to Lodi, Wisconsin (just short of a 4 hour drive) where we were shooting and got settled into the hotel. I tried to get to sleep early since we had an 0500 call… that didn’t happen, I was too anxious. So the morning rolled around and I met the DP, Mike Bove (@bovedp, mikebove.com), down in the lobby to load up the camera car. Part of why I was so anxious was because we were shooting on the Arri Alexa. I’ve done some work with the Alexa, but was still nervous going into the shoot.

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Day one was probably one of the harder days. We all met at the hotel lobby then caravaned to the location. Once everything was unloaded and prepped we did some quick shooting around the farm, but then headed to the quarry to shoot the bon fire. It was hot, we had a fire going, and trying to keep a good flow of SxS cards and batteries was tough. Our only power supply was a 15 minute round trip from the quarry to the farm. There were a few times when I panicked about the battery situation. But, we pushed through and managed to get some great footage.

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Day two started the jokes. On the first day everyone was still feeling each other out and learning how the set was going to function. By day two, we had already hit our groove, and the joking commenced. I think everyone on the crew was glad for it. This set had one of the highest crew morale of any set I’ve been on. Because of the limitations of the production, we were working with a small crew; which left us without a dedicated gaffer. Luckily one of our PA’s, Mike Denruiter (@MacMackles), had a fair amount of experience and became an invaluable asset. He completely rose to every task we threw at him.

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By day three everything was clicking really well; and any leftover anxiousness I had about ACing the Alexa had completely faded away. We shot out on the lake that day, and the morning was absolutely beautiful. Towards the end of that location Joe Rubin, the associate producer and my classmate, and I ended up paddling a rowboat for a good hour. As weird as it sounds, I had a blast doing that. The rest of the day we spent back out at the farm. We got to know that location REALLY well.

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Day four was more of the same. But half way through the day we were looking for a way to relieve tension off the battery shark fin for the camera. Our camera PA for Wisconsin, Portia Danis (@darthportia), jokingly pulled out a roll of toilet paper. I ran with it though and came up with the Broaster Version 1. Basically I just wrapped the roll in duct tape. It worked really well though.

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Day 5 was more of the same. But day 6 just happened to be my birthday. I’ve never spent my birthday on set before, so this was an interesting experience. We shot out at a diner that day, and the physical production was pretty smooth. The best part of the location though was right as we were wrapping they started $1 pie! Nothing makes a wrap go quicker than a nice slice of pie.

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Day 6 also marked the last of our morning calls, starting on 7 we were moving into split schedule (overnights). So regardless of my birthday or not we were planning on heading down to Madison after wrap to get some drinks. Being my birthday was just an added perk that meant I could buy myself some scotch and not feel bad about it.

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Moving into day 7 Mike was really nervous. The biggest lighting setup we had was that night and everyone was really uneasy about the night. Production brought in a local gaffer for the night and he was an immense help. Unfortunately we still had plenty of issues to troubleshoot: blown fuses, bad stingers (extension cords), and a heavy shooting schedule. The entire crew was really professional and we pushed through to still get some amazing footage.

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By day 8 the Broaster V1 was starting to look a little thin and I wanted to get something a little more substantial… enter Version 2… With the big lighting setup beyond us we had plenty to laugh about about it made the night fly by. The amazing scenery of the farm really lent well to the breathtaking sunsets we were treated to. Production went by pretty smooth.

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Day 9 was supposed to be the wrap in Wisconsin, and although the night went pretty smooth (aside from a short battery and card terror), we needed to add on the 10th day. Day 9 was pretty uneventful, but going into day 10 we lost our 1st AD, Phil de Santi (@filzarro), which was a big hit to the amount of joking, and organization, on set. The first part of the day we shot the closing bon fire. Mike, Steve, and I made the trek up and down the quarry a few times to get all the coverage, but it was worth it. We picked up a lot of what we missed from day 7 because of the lighting issues, and we wrapped in Lodi on Friday, August 30th.

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The next morning I woke up and made the drive back to the city. Loretta and Zero were sitting on the couch waiting for me, we spent the weekend lounging and playing around. Because of Labor Day we had a very welcomed 3 day weekend before we moved into the Chicago portion of the shoot.

Overall Wisconsin was pretty great. It was a lot more scenic than I imagined it would be. And even with any of the difficulties we faced in shooting, I would gladly work with this crew, in these locations, again. Stay tuned for part II… the Chicago leg of production.

Open the panorama pic ? for full effect.

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On Set With “Uncle John” Part I: Wisconsin

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