Meghan Eckman's The Parking Lot Movie tells the story of the days in the lives of parking lot attendants in Charlottesville, Virginia. The entertaining documentary will be having its world premiere at this year's South By Southwest Film Festival. Cinematical caught up with Eckman and her Assistant Director/Co-Editor Christopher Hlad to offer you this preview of a film to look out for.
Cinematical:You have referred to the legendary status of the Corning Parking Lot in Charlottesville. Is it just because of its quaint existence within the community or have there been stories that set it apart from larger garages and operations?
ECKMAN: This parking lot has been referred to as a temporary autonomous zone, a liminal space – so there's a lot of lore and myth built up around it. But in reality, it truly is exceptional as far as parking lots go. There are so many stories regarding things that have happened there that I couldn't include in the documentary. It seems to be a space that attracts these outrageous situations – and I think it's in part due to the geographic location of the lot – it's located among bars within an affluent town – so you have a sort of class struggle at play as well as the bar college scene –both of which clash with the workspace of the parking lot Attendant. I can't tell you how many engaging stories had to be left "on the cutting room floor", and I can only hope to publish the interview transcripts down the road.
Did you investigate filming at other parking lots as a counter to that one? Perhaps one where the Attendants do the parking themselves?
ECKMAN: If you mean a valet parking lot – there isn't one like that in Charlottesville. If you mean the Corner Parking Lot Attendants parking in other parking lots, to the best of my knowledge, most of the parking lot Attendants featured in this documentary would not themselves pay for parking, ever. Many of the Attendants do not even drive a car. I could have investigated the 'other' in many ways – not just the 'other' parking lots, but also the 'other' world of the university students, the 'other' world of the parkers etc. However, I was primarily interested in and focused on exploring the world of the Parking Attendant in this particular parking lot. I wanted to keep my focus on them – and on their worldview. There were definitely temptations to sidetrack, for instance, I did an interview with a guy who lived in his car in the Corner Parking lot. He was a great, original character. I also at one point had a section about people who frequented the parking lot for hours on end. Though interesting chapters on their own, I felt they took away from the momentum of the film overall.
How much time did you spend with the employees before you started filming? Did you already have a mental outline of the film you wanted to make or did you just take a chance to turn the camera on for hours on end and allowing the testaments to form the story?
ECKMAN: The latter – I turned the camera on for hours on end. I really had no idea what I was getting into. In a way, I think that benefited me. Because now, after learning what it takes to complete a full-length documentary feature film – I would be pretty cautious before committing to a project. Ignorance can be bliss – and it was good that I didn't know what I was getting into. Otherwise, I might have to question the validity of making a feature length project about Parking Lot Attendants.
Every one of us have some form of a superiority complex and we tend to find the stereotype of philosophy students or dreamers with dead-end jobs looking down upon those who make up the service industry. Did you ever worry about a shift in judgment towards the Attendants? After all, we have all been parkers at one time or another and remember someone either being rude or trying to screw us.
ECKMAN: Of course, I think that's one of the themes that emerges from the film. Here the Attendants are judging the parkers for being caught up in social norms and whatnot – but yet the Attendants themselves are locked into a rigid worldview as well. Chris Farina – the owner – talks about how these Attendants often work at the Lot during a formative time in their lives. They work there as an in-between stage, before they know where they're going in life. So they have this luxury of casting the world in a particular flavor. But as they mature and progress, they can begin recognize the shades of grey in people. That's one of the themes – it's a coming of age story where you at first see the world in black and white but then eventually grow out of that rigid mindset.
HLAD: Well, actually Erik, I would first challenge your assertion that everyone had some sort of superiority complex. While this may be true for many people, it is no way an absolute. Americans, overall, do think highly of themselves, but often, in the service sector, or among the working class, this is not necessarily true. Additionally, many people are "beat down" or jaded, or lost, or depressed, and do not experience superiority per se. At the Corner Parking Lot, there is an explicit marginality at play among the Attendants. Marginality creates its own set of inherent problems anyway. The Attendants are always being judged and judging the parkers and those people who traverse through the Corner Parking Lot. So in a sense, like any job, judgment is constantly a multi-faceted issue. Citizens who frequent the Corner Parking Lot are usually always involved in some sort of judgment, whatever that might be, of the Corner Parking Lot Parking Lot Attendants. Those individual instances of judgment could take any possible form.
Has making the film made you think back on times when you may have had confrontations with parking lot Attendants or may have lashed out publicly or privately about their business practices?
ECKMAN: Not really. Honestly, I can't remember when I've lashed out with anyone in the service sector. I've always been really self-conscious about that customer-client sort of relationship.
Did situations at the lot ever take a turn that got out of control with a customer? Anyone ever get out of the comfort zone of their car that got too dicey to film?
ECKMAN: I filmed everything. There were things I didn't include in the final cut though. People too drunk to drive, drunk students being extremely lewd on camera, an angry guy having his car towed, stories of guns and gunplay. Definitely filming on weekend nights were the worst. When I was filming at the lot late at night, it seemed like everyone's drunk and everyone want to come up and talk to you because you have a video camera. Those were not fun times for me. I kept filming. Too dicey? There were tense moments definitely, but I just kept filming.
You actually have a lot of amateur and professional musicians that have cut their teeth at the lot. Are any of them going to be joining you at SXSW to either perform or promote themselves at the Music portion of the festival?
ECKMAN: Unfortunately not.
What are you hoping viewers at the festival come away talking about the film? Besides that they absolutely enjoyed it, of course.
ECKMAN: I want this to be a movie that is seen and becomes known –I want it to be a movie that people talk about and tell others about. I really want more than anything for people to see the movie. I know that doesn't specifically answer your question – but people can have their own interpretations or takeaways from the movie – once it plays for an audience, it's out of my hands. The movie will resonate with some people more than others. Ultimately, I want the audience to have an enjoyable experience that leaves them thinking.
HLAD: 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. We view the film as a multi-dimensional treatment of a parking lot, in this case specifically the Corner Parking Lot, and a celebration of the Corner Parking Lot Attendants and their lifestyles.
Meghan Eckman's The Parking Lot Movie will be showing in SXSW on Sunday, March 14 at 5:00 PM and have two additional screenings on Monday, March 15 (9:30 PM) and Friday, March 19 (3:15 PM). All showings will take place at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in Austin, TX and be sure to visit the film's website.