After finding professional success and recognition, people often have trouble accepting the fact that their dream wasn’t meant to last forever. They often turn to drugs and alcohol, and/or become reclusive in their pain as they struggle to overcome their pain and loss of achievement. Lead character Lachlan MacAldonich does just that in the new independent drama ‘California Solo,’ which is now playing in select theaters nationwide. The film, which was written and directed by Marshall Lewy, emotionally chronicles Lachlan’s reclusive lifestyle after losing his dream job and family, and must find a way to fix his life before it’s too late.
‘California Solo’ follows Kachlan, (played by Robert Carlyle) a former Britpop rocker who has settled into a comfortable existence in the farm country just outside Los Angeles. During the day, he works on an organic farm and travels regularly to the city’s farmers’ markets to sell produce. But at night, he records ‘Flame-Outs,’ his podcast that recounts the tragic deaths of great musicians. The only spark in his life is Beau (portrayed by Alexia Rasmussen), a struggling actress and amateur chef who shops at his Silver Lake farmers’ market.
One night, Lachlan gets pulled over for a DUI, which brings up his past drug offense and threatens him with deportation. His only hope of staying in the U.S. is to prove that his leaving would cause “extreme hardship” to an American citizen spouse or relative. So he contacts his estranged ex-wife and daughter, raising past demons that he must finally confront.
Lewy generously took the time to talk about writing, directing and shooting ‘California Solo.’ Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how he came up with the idea for the movie; how he specifically wrote the character with Lachlan with Carlyle in mind; and how the film’s low budget helped with the scope and message of the story.
ShockYa (SY): You both wrote and directed ‘California Solo,’ which follows Lachlan MacAldonich, a former Britpop rocker who now works on a farm. Where did you come up with the inspiration and idea for the film?
Marshall Lewy (ML): Well, the idea really started with farmer’s markets-I go to a lot of them in Los Angeles. I started off imagining a character who works on one of the farms outside of the city, who maybe used to live in Los Angeles back in his hay day, and still maybe comes in once a week to work there.
From there came the idea for this character that really started to fuse with Robert Carlyle. He’s a Brit, a former musician, who’s maybe hiding out a little bit from his past. So it kind of grew from there.
SY: Speaking of Robert, he stars as Lachlan in the drama. What was the casting process for Robert like-why did you decide to cast Robert in the lead role in the film?
ML: Well, I wrote the movie for him. I didn’t know him, but I wrote it with him in mind. It helped to have his voice in my head as I was writing the character, so he was really my first choice.
As far as getting him involved, I approached him through his manager, who read the script and past it along to Robert. I think Robert really responded to the part, both because of the emotions behind it, and the fact that he had a lot of personal connections to this kind of character. He knows a lot of the famous Brit pop and rock stars from that time period, from when the character was supposed to have been famous. So he really connected to it on that level.
SY: ‘California Solo’ was named one of the 10 Best Music Films of the 2012 Sundance festival. What kind of music influenced you when you were writing the script, and how did you decide what music to feature in the movie and on the soundtrack?
ML: Lachlan is part of the Britpop movement. Britpop is a period of music from the early-to-mid ’90s, mostly in the U.K. The most well-known musicians from that time were Oasis and The Verve. Lachlan fictionally comes out of that scene.
So when I was writing the script, I listened to a lot of Britpop music. I really loved that whole era of music. When it first came around, I was in college at that time. I visited some friends in Ireland, and came back with CDs full of all this Britpop music that isn’t as well known in the United States. So I listened to it all the time when I was writing the script, and I had it constantly in my headphones. So that kind of provided the inspiration.
In the movie, the only Britpop song you hear is from his fictional band, The Cranks, which was supposed to be their big hit. We wrote the song with a Brooklyn-based band, Violenf. We worked together to come up with a new song that sounded like it had been written in the mid-90s by The Cranks, which I made up for the film.
SY: ‘California Solo’ was an official selection at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and it has also won several accolades, including Best Narrative Feature, at the Woodstock Film Festival. What was your reaction when you heard the movie was chosen to play at the festivals, and when it started winning the awards?
ML: Well, the big one is Sundance-that’s where we premiered the film. When you make an independent film like this one, the big question is, where is it going to premiere? What’s going to be the launchpad where people see it for the first time? As an American independent filmmaker, you’re usually hoping that it’s Sundance. When I found out I got in, it really was the fulfillment of a life-long dream of mine, as a filmmaker, to have a film premiere there.
Then, after that, it was great to have played at Woodstock, which is a film festival that I really love. I actually had a short film that won an award at Woodstock, back in 2005. I had a really great experience there. I just love that film festival.
Then, to also play at film festivals all around the world has been a great experience. We played at the Deauville Film Festival in France. Then I went, and Robert Carlyle made an appearance at, the Edinburgh International Film Festival in Scotland. It’s also played in Spain and India and Israel and Sweden. The idea that my film is playing all around the world in these places, to these audiences, and hopefully connecting with them, is a great thrill.
SY: How have audiences been reacting to the film at the film festivals? Have you been receiving positive reviews?
ML: Yeah, I think it’s been pretty positively received. I think it really rests on the shoulders of Carlyle’s performance. It’s something that people all around the world can connect to. It’s been generally well received. People have come up to me on the streets in these towns in Europe, and tell me how much they like the film. That’s really gratifying.
SY: Like you mentioned, ‘California Solo’ was filmed on an independent, limited budget. Do you think having a limited budget limited what you could shoot and include in the film?
ML: I think no matter what your budget is, there are always going to be challenges. I wrote the film with the idea of making it a low budget. In many ways, it does fit the budget that we made it at, in terms of its scale and scope.
But the biggest thing you can get with money when making a film is time. We shot the film in 21 days, which means you’re moving pretty quickly through the script. That’s always a challenge-in a perfect world, you want as much time as possible.
SY: If you did have a bigger budget, would you want the option to have more time for shooting?
ML: Yeah, if I had more money, the first thing I would get is more shooting days. The second thing would be to pay the crew more. (laughs) The third thing would to get the locations that I wasn’t able to get, because we couldn’t afford them in Los Angeles.
SY: Before writing and directing ‘California Solo,’ you made your feature film writing and directorial debut with the 2008 romantic comedy-drama ‘Blue State.’ Why do you enjoy writing the scripts for the films you direct? Do you think working on the script helps you in your directorial duties once you begin shooting?
ML: I think it definitely helps to be a writer-director. I’ve always been so connected to the material in every way. Everyone working on the movie knows they’re working with one creative vision. I would love to direct something that someone else wrote, and I have also written scripts that other people are going to direct. So I’m happy with any formulation.
SY: As an actor, you appeared in the Independent Spirit Award-winning film ‘Funny Ha Ha.’ How did acting in that independent movie influence your own directing and writing?
ML: I had a really great experience working on that. I’m not really an actor. (laughs) The director of that is Andrew Bujalski, and he often uses people that he knows, who aren’t professional actors. The most acting that I did was in high school and college.
But I had a really great experience. ‘Funny Ha Ha’ was the first mumblecore movie, and Andrew was someone I knew from Harvard. For him to go out and make this little movie for no money with his friends, and A.O. Scott later named it one of the most important films of the 2000 decade, was great. So to have been a part of it, and then have it turn into a phenomenon, was definitely inspiring. The success of that film is based on its honesty.
SY: efore shooting ‘California Solo’ and ‘Blue State,’ you also wrote and directed several short films, including ‘Future Imperfect’ and ‘The Benefits of Drinking Whiskey.’ Do you have a preference of making short films over feature films, or vice versa, and what lessons did you learn from your short films that you applied to your feature films?
ML: Yeah, definitely, you learn a lot. There are certain things that are unique about feature films, but making short films is the best way to practice everything that it takes to make a movie. If I was just graduating from college or film school today, I would probably be making short film after short film, and posting it online for people to see.
SY: Speaking of college, you received your MFA in directing from Columbia University, where you studied with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Kalin, Israel Horovitz and Eric Mendelsohn. How did your studies at Columbia influence your filmmaking style today?
ML: I think I really didn’t know what I was doing before I went to Columbia Film School. I had some great teachers there, and some great classmates, who are still some of my closest friends, and are my most trusted eyes and ears. So just to have a couple years to really engross myself in film, and watch movies I’ve never seen, and learn the language of film, was great. I really liked Columbia.
SY: Before you began making your own films, you worked as a set production assistant for Woody Allen’s 2002 romance comedy, ‘Hollywood Ending,’ and you also worked on Al Pacino’s 2000 drama ‘Chinese Coffee.’ What did you learn from both Woody and Al when you worked with them, and did their directorial styles influence your filmmaking style at all?
ML: Well, I don’t want to oversell it, I was a production assistant on movies they directed. I was mostly watching what they did, and I definitely went out of my way to be as close to the camera as possible. I really did learn from those experiences how movies are made professionally. Like in the case with Woody Allen, he runs such an easy-going set. I definitely learned from that.
SY: Are there any particular writers or directors who influence your style?
ML: Yeah, Woody Allen is one, and I like Alexander Payne a lot. Also, Steven Soderbergh is another one.
SY: Do you have any writing and/or directing projects lined up that you can discuss?
ML: Well, there’s one script I wrote, based on a New York bestseller, ‘Born to Run.’ I wrote the adaptation for it, but that’s for someone else to direct, Peter Sarsgaard.
I’m also planning on writing a new movie, ‘Exodus,’ which I’ll be shooting next spring. It’s a thriller set in the Caribbean.
Written by: Karen Benardello