Documentary filmmaker Meghan Eckman’s “The Parking Lot Movie” proves that microcosms of Americana can be found in the most unusual of places.
“The Parking Lot Movie” is a documentary about a singular parking lot in Charlottesville, Virginia and the select group of parking lot attendants that inhabit its microcosm. Three years in the making, this documentary is a strange rite of passage for all involved. Themes receiving daily scrutiny and detailing include cars and license plates, capitalism, anger, justice, drunkenness, awareness, class struggle, entitlement, and working in the Service Sector. These all mesh together in the orbit of the parking lot attendant. Something as simple as a parking lot becomes an emotional weigh station for The American Dream. [Synopsis provided by SXSW]
Editor’s Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening in the Narrative Competition, Documentary Competition and Emerging Visions sections at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.
“The Parking Lot Movie”
Director: Meghan Eckman
Assistant Director: Christopher Hlad
Producer: Meghan Eckman
Associate Producer: Thomas Eckman
Cinematographer: Meghan Eckman
Editors: Meghan Eckman, Christopher Hlad
Music: Sam Retzer
Director Meghan Eckman on how she got started as a filmmaker…
I started off as a video editor. I quickly established a very meticulous routine for myself with the medium. The editing eventually blossomed into filmmaking. By editing video, it led me to an attraction to building a narrative and camerawork.
Eckman on “The Parking Lot Movie”…
I moved back to Charlottesville, Virginia after having lived in New York for 5 years. I had previously attended the University of Virginia there. Just a week after returning, I started filming “The Parking Lot Movie.” It came about when one of my friends – also a parking lot attendant- suggested that the parking lot where he worked was worthy of its own movie. It was this space where so many different people in the community converged. I began to frequent the parking lot with my video camera and started a filming routine. Of course – this is how it started out. But as most documentaries do – the subject matter became much more complex. Soon I realized that there was a multi-dimensional array of themes to explore.
My approach was to show up with my video camera and hit record. Generally, I kept my camera on record – I rarely turned it off. I relied on editing to sort it out later. I didn’t want to miss anything. If I turned off my camera, I could miss a valuable interaction between a parker and a parking attendant. I had to be filming all the time. I also knew that there would be things I would overlook while filming –you just can’t know what’s important in advance. The best thing I did was to just keep recording. I was also fastidious about logging all my footage and transcribing it within a day or two of filming. So now I have a huge binder with lines such as ‘John sits in booth. John takes ticket. John sits in booth. John takes money. Car drives up, etc ….’ I have over 150 hours of footage now, mostly of just this one location.
My biggest challenge was in the editing. It’s a parking lot – so there’s no built in narrative arc – I had to find that arc. There was also the balancing act of making a parking lot exciting for the duration of a feature length film, but also to convey the boredom of working in such a job without the film itself being boring. It took awhile to get there, but I think eventually we (co-editor Christopher Hlad and I) did it and I’m happy with the results. This project has definitely been the hardest project I’ve ever worked on.
Eckman on what the SXSW audience will take away from her film…
There’s just so many levels to it. I think it’s an entertaining film that has comedic qualities but it also leaves you thinking. I think that it has a wide range of appeal due to the cornucopia of themes that are established vis-à-vis the parking lot.
…and on films that inspired her…
Of course, “Clerks” and “Slackers” were big influences. I also really liked “Spellbound” and “Wordplay” as two documentaries that I felt were edited well, with a great soundtrack and great characters.