Wild Girl Waltz: Interview with Writer/Director Mark Lewis

Marl Lewis on the set of Wild Girl Waltz

The Squeerelist - Why did you make the unusual decision to choose 2 female leads to support your story?
Mark Lewis - I really wanted to do the small-town version of a "hang out" comedy, like Clerks or Dazed and Confused, but most films like that are very male focused. I felt by making the leads female it would be an interesting flip side to what people usually expect from these types of stories.

There is a background of romance in Wild Girl Waltz but it doesn’t take over the main topic which is Angie and Tara’s friendship. It is really enjoyable as the opposite often occurs in movies. Why was it important to you to show this special relationship as the core of the plot?
Two major reasons: First, I wanted to make the antidote to the typical male-bonding comedy, where you have two male leads that get all the funny lines, and they're saddled with a ball busting shrew of girlfriend that acts as a buzzkill that sucks the fun out of everything. Second, I wanted to do a female buddy comedy that didn't revolve around a wedding or them fighting over a man or some other romantic comedy cliche. I designed this story to let the women have the kind of comedy adventures that the guys get in a Kevin Smith or Judd Apatow film.

When you make a movie that is supported by - and only by -  3 main characters, the audition process is quite intense and stressful. You have to find a cast that has chemistry and you can't go wrong or the whole plot collapses. Tell us more about what you went through with this part of pre-production.
This is where time and patience are crucial. This script is all dialogue-driven. So, when you don't have masked killers or special effects to fall back on, casting is 100% the most important element. I gave myself close to five months of pre-production that was dedicated to internet searches and just going through one demo reel after another, looking for flashes of magic. When I found someone I was interested in, I had them do a video audition. After that, it was a roll of the dice and hoping that the chemistry from auditions would transfer to the screen.

Where did you find a gem and a riot like Christina Shipp - who plays Angie - to star in your movie?
She was a friend of one of the actors from my previous feature. She had done some commercial work that really blew me away with how natural and funny it was. And I figured if she could create a unique character in 30 seconds of screen time, imagine what she could do with 80 minutes. Actually, that was the case with all three of the main leads. I'd seen examples where they all managed to elevate material they were working with. That's what I look for: someone who could take what I wrote and make it even better, as opposed to just reciting it like a robot.

I feel like your movie addresses current middle class issues through the eyes of a young adult generation under a comedic cover. How personal is this story?
Very personal, but I didn't want to beat the audience over the head with a message. It's an entertainment first, but if you're looking for it, there is more under the surface about the monotony of the small town, 40-hour-work week existence, and the need to escape it. Even it's just for an afternoon.

Your plot is set in the New England countryside. It feels more like a bashing of the boring way of life of rural USA than its celebration. Do you have mixed feelings about home?
A bit. The older I get, the more I realize that the "nobility of the struggling American worker" really is a bunch of crap. Most of us are working towards something better or dreaming about something better. Even if it's just playing the lottery. There are a lot of broken dreams be it through lack of talent or lack of luck. And that discontentment runs through Wild Girl Waltz. Sometimes you just get high, get goofy and do some crazy stuff to forget about the big picture and dread of the future.

You shot your film in 8 days with a $10,000 budget. What were the specific challenges to take into consideration in order to complete your feature film in such a short period of time and on such a low budget?
Primarily, scheduling and casting. Finding locations that were visually interesting, but in fairly close proximity to each other helped with the scheduling. And casting actors with great talent and good attitudes helped in that we could blow through major scenes in three takes or less and move on to the next. If any of them were unprepared or didn't know their lines inside and out it could have taken twice as long as it did. Also, I fought the impulse to do extravagant camera moves or shots that were overly fancy. Those can be time destroyers. So, I really just concentrated on performances and the farm country locations that opened things up and were unique to the eye.

Any advice you'd like to share with the independent filmmakers out there?
In terms of a first film, I'd say: Aim high, but also realistically. Making any film at a micro budget level is a challenge, so I'd really avoid anything with heavy action sequences or a huge number of extras. It's way too easy for it to come off looking cheap. Also, don't underestimate the physical toll it takes on the body. We shot eight days in a row, and usually, by day three fatigue starts kicking in and it's real easy to get sick. You don't want an actor being fine for scenes four and six, but having a head cold in scene five. I know a lot of filmmakers like to turn their sets into a party atmosphere, but a little discipline improves the final product.

Learn more about Wild Girl Waltz at http://www.wildgirlwaltz.com/

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