mildred pierce zine

Meghan Eckman at SXSW, Mildred Pierce Parks for Free
March 15, 2010, 1:22 pm
Filed under: art, interview

Mildred Pierce fanatics will remember filmmaker Meghan Eckman from her appearance in the pages of Issue #3, talking about music, filmmaking, and the BIG PICTURE–as in, what is this thing called life, and how does one present the proverbial slice of it, filmically? And then do it with enough consistency to be considered an artist at it?

At the time of Mildred Pierce Issue 3,

Illustration from Mildred Pierce 3 by Erik Carter

Eckman was in the process of filming a documentary about Charlottesville, Virginia’s storied “Corner Parking Lot,” where, at the time, I was an employee. I remember being somewhat skeptical of how the concept could come across on film, but she pressed on, determined that the story of the parking lot reach the masses.

And lo and behold, not only has The Parking Lot Movie been completed, it just premiered as an official selection at this year’s SXSW Film Festival!! To boot,  Eckman and the film were featured on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.  I think that I, John B, one half of Mildred PIerce editorial board, am mentioned in the radio piece (although my voice does NOT ‘appear’ in the final edit as implied) and may even be featured in The Parking Lot Movie itself! I say “may” half joking because I haven’t seen any of the film yet! I am excited for the Virginia premiere on March 27th.  Congratulations to Meghan Eckman and The Parking Lot Movie–we knew her when. Read on after the jump for the full issue 3 interview, wherein Eckman talks noise music,  movies, 9-11,  and freedom!

Meghan Eckman taught me how to edit digital video many years ago back in college—a big moment in my life as an artist and (then) aspiring film nerd—but she doesn’t really remember that. And that’s okay; I’m over it, seeing as how she taught a ton of people at my school the same thing, and she was, at that time, on her way out of Charlottesville to the Big Apple. Seven years later, she’s back in the Ville, working on various exciting film projects, including a documentary about The Corner Parking Lot (full disclosure: I work there, so we didn’t talk about it here) and another doc in the pipe about the highly excellent noise/rock band, the Usaisamonster. In the interim time, she’s worked for corporate America, been to the Sundance Film Festival with the hilarious and poignant collage/short film Planet of the Arabs, and toured with the all-girl noise band Animental across the United States and Europe. Her most recent film, Road Does Not End, follows their 2006 tour across the USA, and casts interesting highlights and shadows on the music and culture emerging from the contemporary American experimental and noise scene.
-John Bylander

How did you get into filmmaking?

When I was a kid I made home movies. My friends and I. And I would make spoofs of my friends. So lets say they’d leave the house and while they were gone I’d take their video camera and get all my friends together and do fictional plays about my them. Like one of the plays was called The Multiple Personalities of Melissa about my friend Melissa. And I did a skit detailing every single one of her moods that she’d go through. And they weren’t the most flattering either. The “PMS” Mood; The “Bitchy” Mood; The “I’m All That Mood”; and we had one that was the Nice Melissa. And she came home and she was in a bad mood already, and we put that on for her, and she ended up taking the car, running away, going and staying with her grandmother for three days. It was supposed to be funny but I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But I did a lot of movies with my friends. I thought I was gonna be a mechanical engineer, and I actually applied to college to be a mechanical engineer. And then I was told–this was so stupid, I don’t know if I should even say it–but I went to an astrologist and she said I should be in communications. And I didn’t really buy the astrology thing but it did made sense because all I ever did was make movies and write stories and I never really, like, took apart electronics in my free time.

So changing was probably the best thing I did. And then I came to [University of Virginia] and they didn’t have any film program, so I kindof…had to teach myself everything, and then I had to teach everyone else who wanted to learn, and that was really good for me.

You came along during that time when digital video first started to catch on. What was that like?

It was amazing! In the beginning, I was doing tape to tape. And the machine would keep rewinding back and recording over all my edits. I was screaming in the middle of the library!! So when computers came along, I was excited. And then when I was teaching [the editing software] Final Cut 1, in the beginning, I insisted that everybody learn tape-to-tape before they learned the digital. Because what would happen was, people would get so caught up in the effects and filters and they would make a video that had no content—that was just cool effects. And that pissed me off! Its about the content, its not all about the effects!

So, I know you went to New York after school, and that you weren’t making enough money…

Oh, I  made money!

Oh you did?

Yes! When I said I wanted to leave, they offered me a lot of money to stay. In the end, I was working for a company making corporate videos. I thought that was good to learn, but I didn’t think it was good to stay.

So, when and where did Planet of the Arabs, the film that you went to Sundance with, come in? What’s the story behind that film?

When I first moved to New York, I met a Palestinian artist named Jackie Salloum. And she politicized me–when I moved to New York I didn’t have many friends, she was one of my first friends–and she taught me about Noam Chomsky and Edward Said, took me to political rallies, got me in that whole world. And she wanted to be a filmmaker, and I happened to know how to make movies, so it was a good friendship.

Planet of the Arabs happened after September 11th. We were in New York City for September 11th. And the news media that came out after that horrified her, in particular…

Why was that?

Because statements were made like, “Coming from a person who respects life”– undermining statements. Like, they would imply that the Arab nations did not value human life. So it was subtle things to the rest of the world, these small ways that Arabs were dehumanized, but to her and later, to me, it was glaringly obvious.

And if you were Arab and you were doing anything that was calling into question your patriotism, you were in big trouble. So we started recording the news and documenting how Arabs were being portrayed in a really negative way.

What the movie is based on is a book called Reel Bad Arabs by Dr. Jack Shaheen, who analyzes over 1000 movies with Arabs in them. And of those 1000 movies, Twelve were positive, about 52 were even handed, and the other 900 or so were negative. And that was shocking. So we took the research that he did and we went to Blockbuster and Hollywood, got those movies, did a montage and put all those clips that showed Arabs together into one piece. It was things like True Lies, Delta Force, Back to the Future— things that you don’t really question.

Yeah I had forgotten about that. I couldn’t believe that!

The Back to the Future? Yeah, the funny story behind that is, Jackie is Palestinian, and growing up, that was one of her favorite movies, but at that same time that movie made her feel bad that she was an Arab, and bad about herself.  And that was, like, one of the key reasons she wanted to do this piece.
Its about this being politically correct about so many things except for Arabs, and you can pretty much get away with calling them anything–camel jockeys, sand niggers, having stereotypes of them being terrorists or dumb or oil mongers. The list goes on.

You guys took this film to Sundance. What was that like?

That was amazing. First let me say that when we were editing it we had no idea how it was gonna turn out, and it was three allnighters that we spent in the computer lab, and we just figured it out together and we were high-fiving each other left and right! And we put heavy metal down–that was my idea, I was very  into heavy metal at the time, so I wanted slayer in it, songs like that…and that really drove it. And it was really quick, once we knew where it was going.  And so we were so shocked, because Sundance called us and asked us to submit it. They really wanted to show it because it was relevant to the times–and it wasn’t preachy, it was fun.

Alright. So, in addition to the filmmaking thing you are simultaneously working on music and performance art or is that a different era?

You know how you have those checklists of things you wanna do in your lifetime? And one of my things on my checklist was I wanted to be in a band. And although its not my passion I’ve since learned, it was very exciting. A lot of people who are in bands are in bands for a long time before they get to tour, and play their instruments for a long time before they’re in a band. Most of my friends are in bands so I pretty much got the backdoor in. So I picked up a guitar, practiced, barely knew how to play my instrument, and joined the band Animental. And then we only spent one month– music boot camp–writing songs, doing a performance and then we went on tour around the country. It was something ridiculous, like 31 shows in 32 days. We took two months off, decided to do it again around Europe, still could barely play my guitar. I mean, learning onstage–Its embarrassing, and hard, and awkward, and sometimes it works. We’re a very polarizing band–you either love us or hate us. We had people who loved us because we were very fresh. We tried rap, we tried dance.

And we toured with USAisamonster in Europe. So I was on tour but I was also making a movie about USAisamonster. For me, going on tour was a tool for making movies. It was a means to an end. I don’t think I played music just for music’s sake. But it was a cool project because Animental was all women. Almost all the bands I know are all boys. And its annoying! Where are the women?

What about the other band members?

They’re still doing it, Barbara Schauwecker and Sara Shapouri. I’m really glad I got to do the tours but I need to focus on making movies cuz that’s my passion.

The Animental movie, Road Does not End –it’s like a tour documentary, but so much of it doesn’t focus on the band. It’s a good tour movie, and its got a really positive message, I feel like.  I was impressed by that because so much of the language about the noise and stuff–they wanna make it sound like the most horrific, ball-draining, earwax-melting, face-shattering music of all time. But your documentary had guys in that movie like the guy in the all sequin jumpsuit singing all weird–

Alexis Gideon, oh, he was my favorite!!

Yeah, and so many women, and so many people trying to do, like, fun things with their music. Like there was a lot of costumes, a lot of , like, showmanship and that’s something that I feel is way missing from experimental music. Did you whittle it down to that? Was there a lot of dudes in t-shirts?

No, that tour was pretty full of amazing independent artists who were doing rad things. It’s a really cool experience to go on tour. It’s a good way to dip your foot into the water.

You guys did that interview with the guy from Smegma. That guy seemed smart…

He was very polished–I think he was used to being interviewed! They’ve been doing it for more than 30 years and their still rocking. They still like to get high all the time and talk to people like me. And we identified with them a lot as far as being loose and not being rigid. And they make films too! So they were very cool.

And I had one more question about the film. I wanna talk about that band Faggot from Minneapolis, who starts off the documentary.

They’re the most amazing band ever!! (Laughs)

Whats the story with those guys?

Yeah that’s pretty shocking about my movie. That’s why I can’t show that movie to my parents. Faggot is a band that likes to scream out AIDS and talk about abortions. And really is a wild punk band. They usually have a dancer who is wearing bikini underwear and gyrating up on stage!

Are they gay? Are they all gay?

No. just the lead singer Tim Carroll was gay and the rest of the band members were straight. The name Faggot came from…Tim went through a lot of hell; he had a really hard life. And the name Faggot came from him trying to desensitize people, because he was called a faggot a lot. And he was attacked–I think he was beat up–for being gay [ed. Note: another article states, his friend was beaten to death in front of him for being gay]. And this is kind of his way of hey, in your face, yeah, I’m a Faggot, fuck you.
You know, you find the biggest freaks not in New York City–actually, in New York City they can be pretty tame–you find it in these towns where they feel like there’s something to rebel against.

So the USAisamonster movie–how do you see that taking shape?

With  the USAisamonster, I want it to be like a huge poem with their music going throughout. They’ve been a band for ten years, and they started the pudhouse which was  a music space in Charlottesville. It was a space that, when bands came to town, Tom [Hohman] and Colin [Langenus] would feed them and give them a place to stay. Tom and Colin are very connected to this noise network…and it’s a really beautiful community.


Yeah! Everyone’s kind of connected and does favors for each other and helps each other out.  It’s a whole lifestyle. Everyone tours and they see the world, and they all have each other and they do it really cheap.

Where do you see yourself going with this movie making thing?

I plan to make movies forever. You know, I used to worry about money but I don’t anymore. At some point in New York, I was working doing corporate videos and I knew I desperately wanted to quit my job. Because I was working on a fourteenth floor office looking down on Union Square–and so miserable. I had a leather chair, nice computer, health insurance, and I was looking at the punk kids hanging out in Union Square–soo jealous of their lives. And I said, “I gotta figure out how not to need all this money.” And I learned how not to spend money. If anyone who reads this learns any lesson, learn how not to spend money. Once I got that, I realized, I could make my movies. My plan is to have a business where I edit for other people, but the majority of my effort is gonna be making my own movies. And I plan to make movies forever.

1 Comment so far
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Nice! Love Eckman, love her film trailer, and I love the advice she gave me at Charlottesville’s Assembly (a salon-ish gathering the second Sunday of every month at The Bridge.) Whoo-hooo Megan!

Comment by Leeyanne

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