We had the honor of sitting down with Chris Lowell and Mohit Narang while they were in town for the Atlanta Film Festival. Chris and Mohit’s film Beside Still Waters premiered at the festival last Saturday night to a packed out theater. We personally loved the film, and highly recommend you guys check out the Kickstarter information at the bottom of this post – so that you all can see the film as well!
FanBolt’s Interview with Chris Lowell and Mohit Narang
Are you excited for the Atlanta premiere tomorrow night?
Chris Lowell: Yes, we are very excited. I think, for me, this is probably going to be the most emotional screening we’re going to have, only because, well… It was already going to be so emotional, because it’s a film that is so personal to the two of us, but even more-so now, because Atlanta is where I grew up. I have family members driving in from all parts of town and all parts of the state. I’ve got my old high school teachers who are going to be there and friends that I grew up with that are going to be there.
I feel like seeing all of those people, all of that support, local homegrown support, is already just so, kind of moving. On top of that most recently we launched this Kickstarter campaign where we needed to raise $63,000 and we raised over $75,000 in the first 2 days. Now we’re on day 4 and we’re at almost $80,000. That already, that makes it even more emotional, because now we actually know that we’re going to be able to distribute the film. It’s just like a really, it’s kind of, it makes me happy that it’s happening around this moment.
Mohit Narang: Yeah, because so much of the genesis of this story is kind of here, yeah.
Chris Lowell: Yeah, it’s sort of inspired by Georgia, growing up here.
It’s based on the lake house you grew up in, right?
Chris Lowell: Right.
I assume you probably would have wanted to film it here in Georgia anyways, even if there wasn’t the tax credit, but did that play a role?
Chris Lowell: Well that’s exactly, so that was it, that was what we were doing. We were shooting it in Georgia, period. We were going to shoot it for $1,000 in our lake house, but then my folks sold the lake house so we lost that option. Even then we were really, really campaigning to shoot here. It was a matter of the incentive. Our film, to budget was too small to get the incentive. That was it, that was kind of the death knell. Having said that we just finished writing our 2nd film and it’s going to be our principle goal to shoot in Atlanta, if we can.
How did you decide on the cast for the project?
Chris Lowell: Oh great question, alright, here we go!
Mohit Narang: Yeah, okay, one of my favorite things to talk about.
Chris Lowell: Mo and I watched every single reunion, ensemble, one-location movie that exists, and there are a ton of them. We watched all the good ones, whether it’s The Big Chill, or Return of the Secaucus Seven.
Mohit Narang: Diner.
Chris Lowell: Yeah, Diner, and we watched all of the bad ones. There’s a lot more bad ones. We really tried to, knowing that we were making a film in this vain, we were really trying to not only see what worked but see what didn’t work, so we didn’t make those same mistakes. One of the things that we found to be very consistent is, if you had a cast full of celebrities, then immediately as a viewer you are taken out of the moment. Immediately you see it and you say to yourself, “You’re not old friends. You’re from this TV show and you’re from that movie and I’m not buying it.”
Mohit Narang: You have these associations with them from other places.
Chris Lowell: On top of that, more often than not with celebrity, those big name actors who are doing a smaller project, they are flying in the night before they shoot, they’re leaving the morning they rap. The entire time their reps are trying to shoot them out as quickly as possible. We just decided we weren’t going to have any of that. Also, not to mention, none of those actors audition, it’s just offer only. You never know if they have any chemistry, which is pivotal for a story like this.
We just decided that every actor who is going to be in our film was going to have to audition, it didn’t matter how big or small they are. They were going to have to commit to rehearsal time, and they were going to have to commit to run a picture. They were going to be there every day, no matter what. There were definitely a couple higher up actors, big name actors who were attached at one point or another who, once they started falling into those tropes of, “Well we need to get them out for certain scheduling.” We just pulled the plug. We’re like, “Nope, we’re going to move on, sorry.”
I think we ended up with a group of people, with a cast that, as far as I’m concerned is the crowning achievement of the movie. Their chemistry together is so paramount; It has to work. If they weren’t as compatible as they are the film would just collapse, because it’s all about their friendship.
Mohit Narang: Absolutely, yeah. The friendships extended way beyond the screen. We’re still good friends with all of those actors.
Chris Lowell: Yeah, that’s the best thing about it. Because it was a film about friendship we felt, when we were casting it, we needed to cast people who could conceivably be our friends. What’s amazing too is when we casted them they were kind of nobodies, and now it’s kind of insane the exponential growth they’ve had in their careers. Beck is on SNL right now. Beck is my freshman year roommate in college. I had to beg to get him in the movie, and he is one of the best things about the film.
Mohit Narang: Right. Brett is on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
Chris Lowell: Yeah. We love this cast and they are our very good friends.
You hadn’t written and directed before this project, right?
Chris Lowell: Right, this is the first.
How was that for you, the transition from in front of the camera to behind the camera?
Chris Lowell: It was great. I was really nervous that it was going to be terrible, or not terrible but conflicting. I had this fear that I was going to be watching the actors saying my words and just wish that I was in front of the camera saying my words, like, “I know how to say it better than you, I wrote the…!” I thought I was going to have that struggle going on and that absolutely did not exist. I loved it so much in fact that on the 2nd or 3rd day I remember thinking to myself, “I may not act anymore.” I just loved it, I was having that much fun with it.
I think what I’ve learned is, it’s a completely different muscle group. It’s nothing… The joys, the high you get off of directing is entirely different than the one you get off of acting. With acting, so much of it is out of your control. Especially with a performance. You rehearse it a million times, sometimes you decide for yourself, like, “Okay, it’s great in rehearsal.” Then you show up on the day and maybe because you didn’t sleep well last night, or you’re feeling rushed on set or you get into a fight with your girlfriend on the way to work. There’s so many factors that could throw off the performance. You literally have no idea what you’re going to do until you’re doing it, which is really unsettling.
With directing there’s this sense, albeit delusional sense, but a sense nonetheless, that if you plan it out just right that you can actually control the space. When you’re doing the casting process it’s like, “If I put this actor with this actor it doesn’t work, but with this one it does.” It’s like a puzzle you can actually solve, which is a really rewarding thing to feel after a decade of sort of stumbling through the woods.
Would you do it again?
Chris Lowell: Oh absolutely. That’s what I’m saying, we’re already on number 2.
Mohit Narang: We’re making our 2nd film.
Chris Lowell: It’s in my blood, it has definitely become something that is as important to me as acting.
With Kickstarter, did the success of Veronica Mars kind of play into your decision to do a Kickstarter with this?
Chris Lowell: There were a number of reasons, yeah. Mo and I are very traditional in terms of the way, our approach to making films, at least for the 1st one.
Mohit Narang: The way we originally raised money for this was, we sat in people’s living rooms and pitched this film to them, like flew around the country doing that. It was kind of classic, indie filmmaking.
Chris Lowell: Grassroots funding campaign. A lot of it was old school. We shot the movie on film, which is like unheard of. For us that was always the only way to make movies, was sort of the traditional way to make movies. Really the way this Kickstarter thing came about was kind of against our will. We were terrified of doing it. With Veronica Mars that show was on the air for 3 years. The fans have been chomping at the bit for the 7 years in between. When it happened it was just a groundswell. Obviously, they were trying to raise $2,000,000, we were trying to raise $63,000. It’s crazy because it has kind of become the little league version of the Veronica Mars movie in so much as, we met our goal in the first day and a half. Now we’ve passed it, now we’re 125% past our goal, which is great because frankly we need every dollar we can get. We’re still a long way from…
Mohit Narang: That was the funny thing. It was our Hail Mary. We set the $63,000 we were trying to raise was like the minimum we needed to barely push our film out the door. We expected it to come down to the final hour.
Chris Lowell: That’s what’s so funny. Now we have this insane Kickstarter campaign which is so content heavy. We’ve got like crazy videos and funny cameos, and questionnaires and stories, and all of the stuff that we’ve been shooting, anticipating that we’d be releasing once we hit certain milestones. We’ve already passed all those milestones so now we’re trying to figure out what more. It’s great because we still get to release all this crazy content.
Mohit Narang: Hopefully everybody who has shown their support already and everybody who will join our campaign, we can show them, really include them in what it means to be a part of this film.
Chris Lowell: What’s really fun about this is when it came time to do prizes. Most people it’s like, “You get a script, you get a DVD, you get a t-shirt.” We wanted to be like, “Okay yeah you get a script, but it’s a script that Mo and I have written all these crazy stories in the margin of.” It’s not just like, “Here’s the script.” It’s a t-shirt that we designed. It’s a DVD but it’s also a DVD that has got the first student film I made with Beck when we were freshmen in college. It’s photography from the actual house. Now we’re selling literally strips, you can buy a strip of film from the movie.
Mohit Narang: A piece of the film.
Chris Lowell: We’re really trying to make it these kind of, epic…
Mohit Narang: We want people to be a part of this, basically. It’s such a personal thing to us and we want to thank everybody along the way.
Chris Lowell: To feel like it’s a personal thing for them too.
I imagine with the prizing, because you’re doing videos and stuff too, like personalized videos, right?
Chris Lowell: Right.
How long is that stuff realistically going to take? For Veronica Mars, you guys had to sign like 6,000 posters, right?
Chris Lowell: 5500. [Laughs]
Mohit Narang: When we were planning these videos we were like, “Yeah maybe like 10 people will buy them.”
Chris Lowell: Right, right. For example one of them is a personalized whiskey slap. Now I realize we sold out of those. I guess I’m going to get slapped 50 times now. I’m not looking forward to that.
Mohit Narang: We have until December.
Chris Lowell: Yeah but it’s going to be… I mean honestly, so many of these prizes are things that I’m just flattered anybody would want in the first place. My photography is something I take such joy and such pride in, printing my photos in general. I love selling my work so to me it’s like, yes it’s going to be a bit of an undertaking to make all these prints for people, but I’m happy to make them. I would want to do it anyway.
We tried to think of things like phone calls to fans who raised a certain amount of money. I would want to call them regardless to thank them.
Mohit Narang: Already we’ve been frantically going down our backers list and trying to text, e-mail, call everybody to thank them how incredible they’ve been over the last week.
Do you guys thing that in addition to raising money that Kickstarter – it is almost a good advertising platform to get the word out about the film.
Chris Lowell: I think, in a way that is as effective and as big an asset as the money that is raised. Veronica Mars for example. Until the Kickstarter campaign when I would say that I was on Veronica Mars, 1 in 10 people have actually heard of the show. Now it’s like a buzzword, everybody has has heard of it, even if they don’t necessarily know… Everybody knows Veronica Mars now.
Honestly, the thing that’s going to be the biggest advantage for us with the campaign that we’ve launched is not… I mean, obviously the money is paramount, but even more important is the fact that we can now go to our distributor and say, “Look what we did in 1 day.” There is an audience for this film, let’s get it into more theaters, let’s get it into more spaces. That alone is so powerful. It’s free PR, it’s like you’re running a press campaign and a fundraising campaign simultaneously. It’s kind of a beautiful thing.
It’s all encompassing. I think even us knowing that it was going to be overwhelmingly difficult and a lot of work I don’t think, we still had no idea how much.
Mohit Narang: Yeah, it’s really kind of taken over our lives, in the best way.
Chris Lowell: It’s me, Mo and our friend Kenny who is a genius. It’s Kenny’s campaign, he’s the one who really designed it.
Mohit Narang: To be frank, Chris and I are pretty inept when it comes to new technology.
Chris Lowell: Technologically inept, yeah. Kenny is just, he just like lives it.
Mohit Narang: It’s like the scene from Zoolander, with a lot of new technology. It’s just like us, “In the computer?”
Chris Lowell: “In the computer?” We say that to ourselves a lot.
Mohit Narang: Kenny knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s done this stuff before. He actually ran one of the 1st Kickstarter campaigns way back when if you had a problem with your tech support you just called the founders. He has been instrumental.
Chris Lowell: It’s really just the last few days have just been the 3 of us, on our computers trying to keep up with this crazy influx of support. It’s been good.
Mohit Narang: The support, yeah. Last Sunday we shot this thank you video for $20,000, being like, “We will need to post it in a couple weeks, it’s good for us to be prepared.” Then we hit that mark in the first 12 hours.
Chris Lowell: We hit it in the first like, 8 hours. It’s like, “Okay I’m posting this,” then as a joke…
Mohit Narang: Chris tweeted, “If we hit like 40,000 by midnight we’ll put up another fun thank you video.” It became really evident by like 6:00 that we were going to hit it by about 8:00.
Chris Lowell: Then I was literally sitting in Beck and Jessy’s apartment with Mo and I was like, “Hey we need to shoot this right now.” Which is why they’ve been…
Mohit Narang: Yeah we’re just really trying to make everybody feel like, empathize how much we…
Chris Lowell: Feel our appreciation.
Mohit Narang: Yeah, appreciation.
Chris Lowell: Really, honestly that’s the biggest message we’re trying to convey now, is just how thankful we are to people for believing in us.
Well, I have to ask you about the Veronica Mars premieres and parties, because I went to the premiering after party in New York and it was so much fun.
Chris Lowell: Yeah it was…
Chris Lowell: We had a blast.
I have to imagine that it was as much fun for you guys as it was for the fans. You seemed like you were having a blast.
Chris Lowell: Well, I’ll say this. I think there’s a way to make that, like really miserable. There’s definitely a version of actors out there who are being told, “I have to what? I have to sit and take pictures with the fans? I don’t want to do that.” I think all of us on that movie were so grateful for being given the opportunity to make the film, and we all legitimately love each other so much that it’s not an obligation at all. That was just an amazing party. I will be honest with you, that was my favorite party. That night was the best night. Mo was there.
Mohit Narang: I was there.
Chris Lowell: I don’t know if you were there by the time we all got up on the, started dancing on the bar.
Chris Lowell: You were there at that moment? Yeah, it was… We got a little crazy. [Laughs]
Mohit Narang: It was a good time.
Chris Lowell: It was a blast. Ryan Hansen man, that guy is just… He’s the best. He was a cheerleader in high school, he and his wife, I’m not kidding. He loves doing standing back flips. I was waiting for him to do one the other night, I’m not kidding, but it was too packed for him to do one.
Take part in the Kickstarter campaign for Beside Still Waters!
The campaign is already over $100,000 out of a $63,021 goal with 28 days still to go! Take part in the campaign at Kickstarter!
Photo Credit: Yale Zhang – Doobious.org