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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

BAMcinemaFest 2014: Q&A with Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn (L for Leisure)

Filmmaking duo Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn's second narrative feature follows a group of friends as they jet-set from one international locale to another on various breaks from grad school. Set in the early '90s and shot on 16mm film, L for Leisure is a throwback celebration of vacation at its laziest and sunniest. We checked in with Lev and Whitney to learn more about the four-year process of making the film, its incredible original soundtrack (released on cassette, in true '90s form), and their own vacations.

What are some creative and logistical challenges you faced while working on L for Leisure?

In planning L for Leisure we tried to design a film that would take advantage of our extremely limited means. We knew it would take a very long time to make, and we knew working with friends and lots of non-actors meant that we couldn’t expect everyone to make it to every shoot—let alone keep their haircuts consistent for years. Locations fell through, new ones (like Iceland) suddenly became parts of the film. L for Leisure almost describes the shape of all the surprises and setbacks we ran into. And it’s cool. We couldn’t have possibly planned for the movie to develop the way it did.

You were both kids during the years L takes place. What did you reference (films and otherwise) to recreate the appropriate looks and feel in the film?

Consciously? Almost nothing—Melrose Place maybe. But after the fact, we’ve been catching all sorts of things we unconsciously referenced. Once I (Lev) brought one of my old Love and Rockets comics to a shoot and Whit noticed we had the same set-up in that scene. And the “jeans fashion show” is basically a skit off The State we saw when we were kids.

Favorite early 90s slang expression?

We like how people used to always say things had "Turtle Power."

Best and worst vacations you’ve been on?

Best: last November, after four years of us spending all of our time off shooting the film, we rented a place with best friends in northern California and had Thanksgiving. It was actual pleasant L for Leisure mellow vibes, instead of stress-making L4L ones. Planning to do the exact same thing this year.

Worst: (Lev) uh... I had a weird spring break in Denmark once.

Tell me a bit about the soundtrack and the process behind it. Also: are cassettes cool again?

John Atkinson’s amazing and lush soundtrack is central to the film. We sometimes leave the story altogether to just jam out. We worked with John from the very beginning of the project. It was important to all of us that, like the movie, the soundtrack not be retro but instead selectively re-enact specific feelings and memories from the '90s.

Originally it was going to be a more "score-y" score, but as the film came together we shifted towards having it be a bunch of songs that could occasionally do score-y things—like lingering in place and echoing within.

And this gets to be a continuing process. We’re doing a release party for the soundtrack cassette the night after our BAM show, and there John will be performing live along with video loops we’re preparing. We’re excited to see how that works and to develop that more.

Cassettes cool? Really not for us to say.

What were some of your favorite films of the past year?

Aw man, we haven’t seen nearly enough films—like some of our good friends have made things we haven’t seen yet. THAT SAID: Mille Soleils (Diop), Reptilia in Suburbia (Harn), El Futuro (Carrasco), You and the Night (Gonzalez). All underlined and in bold.

What are you most excited to see in BAMcinemaFest?

They Came Together. David Wain has had a huge influence on us as directors. In 2003 when we were making our first movie we’d watch Whitney’s DVD of the Stella Shorts constantly. You can even see an echo of those shorts in the way L for Leisure is structured around a series of holidays. Not to sound like a kiss-ass, but it’s really between the Stella Shorts and seeing Chelsea Girls at BAM that set the path for our filmmaking.

L for Leisure screens in BAMcinemaFest on Wednesday, June 25 at 9:30pm.

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