California Solo – Interview with Marshall Lewy

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California Solo was recently released on DVD (read our 4-star review here). We caught up with its director, Marshall Lewy, to find out more about the making of the film.

For California Solo, like for your other films, you were both the writer and the director; how do you transition from one role to the other and which one do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy directing more, but I end up spending more time in the writing phase as I work on the script and try to get the elements together to make the film. I do rewrite and rework the script on set – sometimes I’ll be scribbling new dialogue the night before or the day we’re shooting a scene. But once casting, scouting, and pre-production begins, I try to create a separation between myself as the writer and myself as the director. I try to approach the script as though someone else wrote it. It sounds a little schizophrenic, but that’s how it goes.

You said you wrote the script in 16 days. What was the writing process of California Solo? Where did the story come from?

I had the idea in mind of this character who goes back and forth between a farm outside L.A, and the farmers’ markets that happen all over the city. I go to the farmers markets almost every weekend, and it seemed like an interesting character to base a story around, someone who is hiding out from L.A yet he has to come back for work once each week. It was an intriguing character, and I thought about various scenarios and problems he could get into for a few months, and then I thought of the immigration story and his need to stay in the US, and I felt like I had a plot for a movie. Once I started writing the first draft came very quickly.

The film ties many specific topics together, such as the immigration laws in the US and the Britpop music in the UK; can you explain how you came to integrate all these topics into the original script?

I can’t, except to say that somehow all these threads came together and tied up in a random ball around the character of Lachlan.

Indie filmmaking tends to be over-romanticized sometimes. Do you agree? What were the difficulties in the making of California Solo?

If you’re talking about the actual production, it actually is pretty romantic if you love movies. Getting to walk onto a set as the director and have a small army helping you fulfil that vision and all work together is a magical feeling. It’s difficult – we had a pretty smooth production for a small film, no major disasters to report. But it was still a lot of work to shoot a whole movie in 21 days. It’s just very stressful because – especially on an indie film – the realities of time, money, and weather are not forgiving. You have to roll with what you get, do your best, and hope you get good stuff.

As a filmmaker it seems that nowadays it’s not as difficult to make a film as it is to get it to an audience. What’s your personal experience of this?

Indie filmmaking is becoming simultaneously easier and harder to do. Yes, it’s cheaper than ever to grab a decent quality camera and some friends and make a modest film, but it’s harder than ever to find an audience because so many movies are being made. I think we’re in a transitional phase when filmmakers still find cachet in a theatrical release, but it’s simply not sustainable for the number of movies being made. California Solo premiered at Sundance and was well received critically and has had a very positive reaction, yet at least in the US a few dozen movies of the same size are dropped on audiences theatrically and on VOD. There are what seems like thousands of film festivals around the world. And except for a few breakout indies a year, they all start to run together. It is disheartening. But I think in the next 2 to 3 years, the process of distribution and audience-finding will find a ‘new normal.’

When you wrote the role of Lachlan for Robert Carlyle, what exactly made you choose him to portray your character? Was it hard to get him on board?

I’ve always been a fan of him as an actor, and I think he possesses this duality of sweetness and violence that I thought was important to coexist in Lachlan to make the character come alive. We’ve seen Carlyle as a sweet guy and as a hot-tempered villain, and I wrote a part where those two aspects could coexist in one character. When he first showed up for the shoot, he mentioned “Carla’s Song” to me, the Ken Loach film he’d been in, which I actually had never seen and I watched during pre-production, after I’d already wrote California Solo. I thought it was a great film. There are some similarities between his character in “Carla’s Song” and in “California Solo.” Also, he brought a lot of personal experience of hanging around with a lot of the most famous Britpop guys in their heyday that really helped flesh out Lachlan.

Can you tell us how it was working with him? Did you improvised a lot or were following the script?

Yes, there was some improvisation, and Carlyle did a lot of tweaking the dialogue to fit him better.

What are you working on at the moment? Can you tell us about your plans for the future?

I am working on a few new movie projects, including my next film, Exodus. And I’ve begun working with a new media company called Adaptive Studios that is looking at storytelling in all media from books to film to TV to the web, and how it’s evolving. It’s been a fun and exciting endeavour.

Thanks Marshall, we look forward to seeing your next film!

California Solo is out on DVD now.

Elisa was born in the small town of Udine, Italy, where she made her first short films. Aged 18 she moved to London where she achieved a degree in Film & Broadcast Production with her film "A Tragedy", based on William Shakespeare's "Macbeth". She recently pursued a Master degree in Screenwriting for TV and Film thus joining the group of struggling writers. Ssst! She's brainstorming.