Independent Lens: Interview with The Parking Lot Movie Filmmaker Meghan Eckman

October 14th, 2010

Attendant Tyler Magill in The Parking Lot Movie

The Parking Lot Movie tells the tale of a small parking lot in the town of Charlottesville, Virginia and the motley crew of attendants who work there.  The attendants don’t merely scoff at luxury cars and license plates, but also scrutinize and contemplate capitalism, anger, justice, drunkenness, spiritual awareness, class struggle, entitlement, and, of course, the plight of the service sector worker.

Here, filmmaker Meghan Eckman discusses her inspiration for the film, what motivated her to present the film on public television, and what the people in the film are doing now.

The Parking Lot Movie premieres on THIRTEEN on Tuesday, October 19 at 10 p.m.

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. 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.

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 on, 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 over 160 hours of material. I owe an incredible amount of thanks to Co-Editor Christopher Hlad – who really streamlined the project at the editing stage. Christopher Hlad’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, talk. That’s the spirit of the parking lot – is 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 likeable 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 exposé.

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 can (and should) be a whole movie about that. 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, for my experience in going to the festivals has inspired me to keep going – because I want to go back next year again to these festivals.

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? (This question is meant literally.)

Italian Pasta dinners.
Ripe pomegranates.
Deluxe sorbet.
UK-Style Fish and Chips.
Bacon. Lots of Bacon.
Blueberry Pancakes.

Can you give us an update on what the people in the film have been doing since filming ended?

We have quite a few characters in the film. Below is a summary of where the Parking Lot Attendants are now:
Scott Meiggs is currently a music promoter and songwriter and lives in North Carolina.
John Beers is a member of the band Happy Flowers and lives in Georgia.
James McNew is the bass player in the rock band Yo La Tengo and lives in Brooklyn ,NY
John Lindaman is Senior Librarian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Harper Hellems works as a coffee barista and is still an active Parking Lot Attendant.
Gray Morris continues to work in The Parking Lot.
Matt Datesman is currently working as a restaurant manager in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Patrick Baran is studying at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.
Nate Millington is pursuing a graduate degree in Geography of Urban Centers and the University of Wisconsin.
Mark Schottinger is currently attending Law School at the University of Virginia.
Dan Moseley is professor of Philosophy at UNC/Chapel Hill
Rick Slade is Chief of Science and Resource Management for the National Park Service in Georgia.
Tyler Magill edits philosophy journals and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Chris Farina continues to run The Corner Parking Lot, and has done so since 1986.