Meghan Eckman on the Making of The Parking Lot Movie

October 15, 2010 by Brooke Shelby Biggs in

The Independent Lens blog sat down with director Meghan Eckman over the summer to talk about the process of creating The Parking Lot Movie, which premieres Tuesday, Oct. 19 on PBS (check local listings). Our colleagues at Beyond the Box blog will host a live chat with Eckman on Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 2 PM ET. Post your questions here and we can forward them on to her for the chat.

What impact do you hope this film will have?
I would like people to think more on the notion of entitlement. By entitlement I mean the belief that a person deserves certain privileges in life by default. I hope this film can make people more aware of some of their assumptions. I would like for the film to manifest discourse about the service sector, the American Dream, car culture, entitlement, social manners and social etiquette, and the brilliant business model that Chris Farina has created with his parking operation. Ultimately, I want the audience to have an enjoyable experience that leaves them thinking.

What led you to make this film?
This parking lot is legendary in Charlottesville, Virginia….

It has great myth and lore attached to it. Over the years, many people have talked about making a movie about this particular parking lot; however, I was the first person to actually do it. I personally was unfamiliar with The Corner Parking Lot before I began the project. A friend and parking attendant suggested that his parking lot would be a good subject for a movie. I showed up the next day with a video camera. Once I started filming, I really began to understand that it truly was an exceptional place and a very deserving subject.

Watch the full episode. See more Independent Lens.

What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
The biggest challenge in making this film was in editing. The story didn’t have a built-in narrative arc so we had to create one, or the feeling of an arc, while editing.
There was a staggering amount of material due to the fact that my strategy was to record everything and sort it out later. We ended up with more than 160 hours of material. I owe an incredible amount of thanks to my co-editor Christopher Hlad, who really streamlined the project at the editing stage. Christopher’s role was essential in creating the final product.

How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?
It helped that I was friends with one of the parking lot attendants. So the first few times filming, I filmed when he was working. I tried to make my video camera secondary, or in the background. I would just set it up in the parking lot and let it record. In the meantime I would hang out and talk. That’s the spirit of the parking lot — hanging out with your friends. So I felt I was just hanging out with them and happened to have a video camera. The parking lot attendants are such likable people that, over time, forming friendships was easy. Of course, there were a few times when things were tense and people didn’t always want to be filmed, but I think that after enough time had passed, they knew I was serious about this movie and that I wasn’t going to make an expos√©.

What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?
What I really miss is that I couldn’t talk about the characters that frequent the parking lot because it was too peripheral to this movie. There could (and should) be a whole movie about them. There is such a strong history there and so many collective stories — I sometimes think there should be a whole mini-series about the stories that have gone down in the parking lot.

The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
I think having my first feature be this successful is a great motivator for me. Also, my experience at festivals has inspired me to keep going, because I want to go back next year!

Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
My goal with this film is to have the largest audience possible. Public television has an incredible audience, and a highly intellectual one — an audience that I think will basically appreciate this movie.

What are your three favorite films?
Clerks and Slackers were big influences in terms of being character driven. I also really liked Spellbound and Wordplay as two documentaries that I felt were edited well, with a great soundtrack and great characters. Christopher likes Easy Rider and Scorpio Rising.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
My advice is to be careful in taking advice from too many other people. Follow your intuition and conviction.

What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film? We’re serious. What kept you going through the process?
Italian pasta dinners, ripe pomegranates, deluxe sorbet, UK-style fish and chips, bacon — lots of bacon, and blueberry pancakes.

Brooke Shelby Biggs