The Parking Lot Movie: Filmmaker Interview

Posted on September 17, 2010

Filmmaker Meghan Eckman spoke to BTB this week about her film The Parking Lot Movie, which premieres on Independent Lens Tuesday, October 19th. The film will also be screened tonight in San Francisco at the parking lot across from The Good Hotel at 7 PM.

Congratulations on your film. Give us a little background on the movie and what inspired you to make it. 
One of my friends was a parking lot attendant at this lot and he suggested that someone make a movie about it. I volunteered, and showed up the next day with my video camera. Once we started filming, it became immediately apparent to me that this parking lot was very film-worthy. And once I started doing interviews with former parking attendants, I realized it needed to be a feature. The parking lot has great myths and lore attached to it. It’s legendary in Charlottesville. Once I started filming, I got to uncover why it was legendary and what made it so special.


Is this little parking lot in Charlottesville really a microcosm of America or, shall I say, humanity?
Yeah! The parking lot is a representation of a lot of aspects of American culture and car culture and when you watch the movie this becomes apparent. Issues that come up include class struggle, a certain expectation of convenience, entitlement. These are some of the larger themes. What’s exciting to me about this film is that it’s not just getting a lot of attention in the U.S. but it’s also receiving a lot of international recognition. It’s appealed to all different cultures. Really anyone who has a car and parks a car can relate to this movie. The parking lot attendants are really armchair philosophers. They have this particular vantage point where they observe society at large from their position. It helps that a lot of them are anthropologists, philosophers, and sociologists, and that they have this background that allows them to interpret the behavior around them. All kinds of people mix in a parking lot. You have people in service-sector jobs, more elite professionals, etc., so there are these culture clashes of people that really gives the parking lot an interesting social dynamic. 

Are you saying that if I arrived in a beat-up Saab vs. an automatic sports car, I might be treated differently? 
It’s not that superficial.  The attendants don’t just judge people based purely on their cars, but how people conduct themselves in the parking lot. They harp not just on the Hummers but the Prius drivers as well. But of course there are times when car stereotyping does occur…. 

We’re delighted to have the film on Independent Lens this year and even more delighted to be showing it off at the launch party this Friday night in San Francisco, on Park(ing) Day no less. Can you tell viewers why they should attend, other than the fact that it’s free? 
I think this is a film you walk away from and find yourself talking about it days later and you don’t know why. It’s a film that’s very unique. There really aren’t a lot of other movies on the subject and it’s really funny. I think funny documentaries are a rarity these days. Most of all, I love the characters. These parking lot attendants, this motley crew of personalities, were a joy to get to know and see how they see the world. As a director, I learned a lot from they guys while making this movie. 

Do you think the subjects of The Parking Lot Movie would attend this screening? In other words, would they spend time in a parking lot off the clock? 
Hell yeah! If they were on the West Coast, I mean. These guys hung around the lot anyway. They don’t need to be on the clock to hang out somewhere. I really think this is going to be quite an event for you guys in San Francisco! 

What do you tell young filmmakers who come to you for advice? 
Well, you’ve got to make a movie about something you really love because you’re going to be spending a lot of time and effort on it, so find something that inspires you. Then, do it! I picked up a video camera and hit record. Some people advise you to plan a budget and plan ahead but these days, you can do it on a low budget and all you really need is a camera and some editing gear. That’s my approach. Go with it. Do it. And then it kind of has a snowball effect where it kind of becomes what it needs to be on its own.


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