LA Film Fest 2014 Interview: ECHO PARK Director Amanda Marsalis

Valentina I. Valentini, Contributing Writer
Anyone who doesn't live in Echo Park (an eastside Los Angeles city-burbia-ish type enclave where everyone dresses cooler than you) doesn't get Echo Park. I don't live in Echo Park. Which is why I knew I needed to watch ECHO PARK, a sleepy and sweet love tale of the girl (Mamie Gummer) from the right side of the tracks who meets the boy (Anthony Okungbowa) from the wrong side of the tracks, and eventually realizes it's where she belonged all along (Anyone remember CRY BABY??) 

At LAFF we got the chance to get some questions answered from the first-time feature director Amanda Marsalis before their added screening tonight:


TwitchFilm: In the director's statement you say an email 'just came to me, asking me to a direct a feature,' but we all know that's not the nitty gritty of it. With Hollywood there has to be some sort of story behind the story. What's yours?

Amanda Marsalis: I was introduced to the producers [Eric Hayes and lead actor Okungbowa] through the author Rebecca Walker [an American writer who was named by Time Magazine as one of the 50 future leaders of America]. I had photographed Rebecca many years ago for her forthcoming book. We remained friends, we're both fans of each other's work, and she is friends with my producer Eric Hayes' wife, actress Robin Lee. Robin and Eric asked Rebecca if she would suggest anyone to direct the film, and she recommended me. Eric Hayes sent me the script without even knowing that I lived in the eponymous Echo Park! I loved the script, met with Eric and Anthony, we all hit it off and I signed on to direct.
 
Without having to go into specific numbers, what was the budget like and were you constrained by that? Was it private equity, or Kickstarter or something else?
 
It is an indie film so I would say we had to be creative with our resources. I am sure every film is constrained by their budget no matter how large it is!

How much did you work with writer Catalina Aguilar Mastretta, if at all, to form the script to what we saw on the screen?
 
I did not actually meet Catalina until after the film was wrapped. She was away directing [her first feature] film [The Hours with You], which she'd also written. There were changes from the original script to the final product, but the essence remained the same.
 
How did you mange to cast Mamie Gummer? She's spectacular in this, as always.
 
Thanks so much. She was amazing. The film's costume designer Zoe Buck is an old friend of Mamie's. Zoe passed the script to Mamie, and then Mamie and I hit it off. The rest is history. 

Were there certain things that you knew you just had to get when going into production?
 
I knew how I wanted the film to look before I knew anything else. Given that the film's title is ECHO PARK, the one thing that could not be compromised was shooting the film on location in Echo Park.
 
Tell me about something you did have to compromise on, and what came of that.
 
I wanted to shoot one scene at Echo Park Lake, but it had recently reopened, and there was moratorium on filming. I was really upset to miss having a scene at the lake that feels like the heart of Echo Park. We moved the scene to the Los Angeles River, and I ended up still loving how it turned out.

What do you hope the audience takes away from this? What do you take away from it?

I hope the audience enjoys the film and that they see something familiar in Sophie or Alex's lives, the questions they have. I hope that they enjoy the intimacy of the film. I hope they love the cinematography. It has been the scariest part of the whole process, releasing the film into the world after so much work and just letting it be. I've learned so much in the process, I'm not sure I even understand yet what I am taking away. I can't wait to do it all again though. 

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