What was your filmmaking background before making The Loneliest Road in America?
MARDANA: Before the film, I used to be a production assistant at a commercial production company in Hollywood, Believe Media. There, I spent most of my time grabbing lunch for the owner. Every once in a while, I would get to work on set. I had made shorts in college, but nothing of significance.
Where did the idea come from?
MARDANA: It came from the actual road. Highway 50 is literally called the loneliest road in America. I used to travel this road on my way to and from college. Every time was always a weird experience for me. The towns on this road were/are almost abandoned.
I’m a pretty avid mountain climber and one summer my father and I climbed Arc Dome in Nevada. Before the climb, we stopped at Tonopah for some supplies. It was a massive empty town. I spoke to a young girl my age at a hardware store. She told me that ten years ago, the population was 15,000. When I was there, it was around 1,000. At that moment, the image of the modern day ghost town was burned into my brain. This reminded me of the more recent corporations that had moved their factories down to Mexico: Payday, GM, etc. GM left Flynt, and we all know what happened to that town (thank you Mr. Moore).
What was the writing process like?
MARDANA: It started off like a lightning bolt. I was trying to sleep one night, and for some reason I couldn’t. I got out of bed at 3 am and did some laundry. My brain was shooting all over the place. So I went on a hike at about 4 am (My old house was at the base of the Hollywood hills). I put on a iPod and heard this song that I never heard before. It was Cat Power’s cover of “Yesterday is Here.” It was one of the best moments of my life. I came down the mountain feeling a little crazy. I went to a café and busted out the first fifteen pages of the script before going to work. From then on I would hike and write in the morning.
How did you fund the film?
MARDANA: Family, my mother and my lead actor’s parents. My mom considered it her grad school tuition. Colin Day’s parents took the executive producing role very naturally. They are in charge of selling the film.
What sort of camera did you use for production and what were the best and worst things about it?
MARDANA: We used the RED camera with Cooke s4 lenses. The camera is amazing during the day. It looks very similar to 35mm film. The best part about it is the ability to keep shooting without reloading the camera. Our opening scene was actually a 20 minute shot! We cut it to show the most beautiful parts of the jeep driving through Glenwood Canyon.
The camera is not so good at night. It introduces a lot of digital noise. But the good people at Red have fixed it with their new Mysterium X sensor. Now it shoots better at night than film.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
MARDANA: That’s a hard question to answer. I might think that I have made a smart decision, but someone else might think that I was idiot. Personally I think the decisions should be made before production. Production is simply the execution of the grand plan. Whether the decisions are smart is up to the majority of viewers.
There was one really dumb thing that Tony, my DP, and I planned. We shot a night scene in the car while driving. And we lit the actors eyes up and strapped a camera in front of them. They could barely see anything. We were lucky to be alive, once that was over.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?
MARDANA: Do your own post if you don’t have much money. Nothing good is cheap in this town. Most good deals are not deals at all because you’ll end up re-doing everything yourself. I ended up coloring the film at the end of the day after we dumped thousands of dollars into a post house. It pays off now since I’m coloring commercials now.