I featured Orange Drive by Mark Lester in the last edition of Weekend Watching and I was really impressed by how effective the filmmaking was for a film that told the majority of its story from a single point of view.
If you haven’t seen the film already I highly recommend seeing it below.
So I emailed Mark a few questions and he was super prompt with his answers. This is what I learned:
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Orange County and moved to Los Angeles for undergrad film school at UCLA. I’ve been making movies since high school but only movies worth watching since a couple years ago. This year, I formed a production company with some friends called Beautimus. We make commercials, shorts, sketches, animations, TV shows, lots of things. I primarily work as a director/editor for our company. Also, I’m a Capricorn.
How did Orange Drive come into being, what was the idea that drove (no pun intended) it?
Orange Drive was the result of having to make a thesis film at UCLA and not wanting to spend a lot of money on it. The basic idea was to watch someone in a car during a transformative period in their life. I figured I spent most of high school in cars and I was usually the driver, so it would be fun to watch someone’s experience through this perspective. The car would stay the same, but all the people in the car with the protagonist would change until he’s by himself. Then I filled in the story around that idea.
How long did it take to make the film?
It took 3 days of shooting and 3 months of editing to finish the movie.
What camera did you use? And what lens?
I used my own Canon 5D MkII and Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L (set at about 28mm).
The Vimeo time stamp suggests that the film was uploaded two years ago; why did it take so long for the film to get discovered?
Yeah, I did upload the film two years ago and it’s awesome to see the recent surge in views thanks to the Short of the Week article. I think I’m lucky that it was discovered at all. I feel that if your short film is not a big hit at a big festival (or even if it is), usually you’re just left with new footage for your reel or resume. I’m glad Orange Drive, like everything, has a second life on the Internet. It died a quick death in the festival circuit.
Orange Drive had a bit of a festival run but nothing too noteworthy. I’m pretty used to festival rejection letters by this point. If anything, they just remind me I need to get better at filmmaking.
Run us through your process for making this film—did you have a precise script or did you know that you wanted to capture a series of moments that added up to significant moments in the lead character’s life?
Definitely both of those. I knew the whole thing would be a series of related moments, but I did create a precise script, which mimicked the eventual choppy editing style – only a line or two per scene. It was helpful to read the film the way it would be watched, so I could see if the idea could work at all. The script turned out to be twenty pages long and the film had to be twelve minutes max. On top of that, I pretty much left the camera running the entire three days of shooting. We’d shoot scenes driving from one location to the other – it was the easiest set since the camera never moved and there was virtually no blocking. After three days, I captured eleven hours of footage. A lot of necessary cutting was made, but a lot of improvised scenes and dialogue worked well in the final edit. All the actors are great improvisers, so we would do a lot of unwritten scenes when we had time. I have a ten-minute freestyle rap from the four friends that I always wanted to include somehow.
What was the story with the birds?
I swear the birds mean something. Maybe it is weird, but I wanted some freak accident to start off the protagonist’s journey, something unexpected and out of the character’s control. I think the story is about accepting depression and loss as a necessity to growing up. So by the end, when the freak accident happens again and the protagonist walks away un-phased, I hope he’s grown up.
Chris’s performance serves the film really well. How did you end up casting him?
Chris did an awesome job and was an amazing collaborator on the film. I’m lucky to have a bunch of talented actors as friends and Chris is one of them, so it was an easy choice to cast him and the rest of the actors in Orange Drive. I started making comedy sketches with Chris a few years ago at UCLA for the comedy group, The Wait List. Chris understood the point of the movie and helped write the year-long story of the protagonist. We even used Chris’s car, which he drove throughout high school, for the shoot.
What’s next for you? Are there feature filmmaking plans?
Always feature-filmmaking plans, that’s definitely the ultimate goal. I’ve been lucky to have a steady amount of filmmaking work the last couple years and even though I’m not in pre-production for a feature right now, I hope that changes in a year.
What is the best thing to happen out of the attention Orange Drive is getting online?
More than anything, I’m excited that so many strangers have seen the film and responded positively. People seem to connect to the nostalgia of the film, which is awesome since I hoped it would be a relatable story. Periodic validation lets me know I’m heading in the right direction in terms of filmmaking.
What do you do when you are stuck for ideas?
Read a book, watch a movie, play music. I think it’s hard to be stuck for ideas when there’s a great supply of inspiring work in the world…or even just on Netflix.
Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Even though it’s difficult, I think self-criticism is important for any artistic discipline. I bet everyone hopes to make a better film than their last, so improving your flaws to make that better film is important. That’s kind of a general statement, but what do I know, I’m still aspiring, too.