LAFF 2014: Exclusive Interview with Anthony Okungbowa and Director Amanda Marsalis for ‘Echo Park’

– by Gig Patta

In one of Los Angeles Film Festival’s LA Muse feature showcase, “Echo Park” is a romance story set in the cultured-rich neighborhood in Los Angeles.

From the script written by Catalina Aguilar Mastretta, the film tells a story about Sophie (played by Mamie Gummer) who tries to escape the perfect rich world of Beverly Hills into another simply neighborhood of Echo Park. She quickly befriends a British expat who is trying to sell his home to relocate back to London. As summer progresses, a certain romance compels the two to reassess their lives.

The movie is directed by Amanda Marsalis, a photographer who makes her directorial debut.

Latino-Review had an exclusive phone interview with director Marsalis and actor Okungbowa. Okungbowa joined in during the middle of the interview.

With the pair, we mainly discussed the Echo Park neighborhoods, challenges of being an independent film, links to the chracacters and Okungbowa’s return to acting after his stint as a DJ on The Ellen Show.

“Echo Park” makes its world premiere on Saturday, June 14, at 6:45 p.m. at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Read the interview below.

Latino-Review: Tell me on what attracted you to this script of Echo Park.

Amanda Marsalis: Well, it’s my first film. It’s a way on what attracted them to me. It’s perfect. The film takes place in my neighborhood and a story about a young woman. I couldn’t just believe it that somebody wanted me to direct this film. I can understand and relate to it. Even when I saw the title, I loved it. I said, ‘Excuse me? It’s in my neighborhood?” It was a story that I knew that I could tell.

Latino-Review: Since you’re from the neighborhood, what is so special about Echo Park? It’s for some of us who are not from Los Angeles, per se.

Amanda Marsalis: I wouldn’t necessarily say that Echo Park is more special than any other neighborhood. It’s just a neighborhood that I know well. It’s a neighborhood that Tony [Okungbowa] knows well. It’s just that I know how to tell the story, because I know [Echo Park] intimately.

Anyone instantly could tell a good story on where they are from. I that’s why I’m telling the story of “Echo Park.”

Latino-Review: How did you choose the locations around Echo Park? Are those places that you love to frequent?

Amanda Marsalis: They are, but also it’s that we’re an independent film. We were very lucky that places like Chango agreed to allow us to film there. Like Origami Records, I do go there to buy records. I do stop by there to get my coffee and my breakfast. Even the hills and Driftwood shown at the beginning of the film, a friend of mine owns it. There are a lot of our friends, both Tony’s and mine, really helped us make the film.

Latino-Review: Basically, these are real places. People could visit these places right now.

Amanda Marsalis: Yes, they are real places. There’s nothing in the film that is made up as far as locations.

Latino-Review: How did you get veteran actors into the film? Mamie Gummer and Tony Okungbowa are actors before and with you being a first time director.

Amanda Marsalis: Tony recruited me. And then I recruited Mamie. I was really passionate about telling this story. I had a clear vision and Mamie really liked the script. She thankfully trusted me and had fate in me. I was able to trust them too. Having to never directed before, I needed help from my actors as well. So they needed something from me and I needed something from them. It’s great to make a film on that you can really feel something.

Latino-Review: Did you always wanted to be a director?

Amanda Marsalis: To be honest, I would say yes. I always wanted to be a director. But, if someone ask, “Hey, if you wanted to direct a feature film?” I probably would’ve said no. It’s just because I live in Los Angeles and I didn’t want to be the umpteenth people out there who wanted to be a director and didn’t know how to be a director.

I am a photographer and I really love my photography. I’ve been passionate about that my whole life. Even being a director has influenced and changed my photography in many ways. I didn’t understand what’s going to happen and I was super-excited. It’s a major growth that’s happening.

Latino-Review: The child in the movie is also a photographer. This makes it even more relatable for you, right?

Amanda Marsalis: I do shoot a lot of Polaroids. Those are the things I’ve added to the film. It’s something I’m very comfortable in telling.

[Anthony Okungbowa joined in the interview conversation at this point.]

Latino-Review: Let me circle back real fast for Tony, what makes this movie so special and what makes Echo Park so attracted to you personally?

Anthony Okungbowa: First thing is that I actually live here. A lot of the stories are based on people that I know like the characters of Mateo and Elias, who are based on my neighbors. The neighbor is an incredible guy. He lived in the neighborhood for all of his life. His parents are Mexican immigrants and he works hard. Whenever you see Latino men who looks like him, people thinks of gangs and violence. The guy is very smart and loves his wife who really wants to make things work.

So I thought it would be a good thing. I spoke to Catalina, the writer, about it. Hence, we came up with that character in the script.

Echo Park is changing every day. While it’s an incredible place to live today, it’s incredible due because it’s a melting pot of culture. The people should be respected as individuals on who they are and what they bring. They are part of the culture that exists in Echo Park.

Latino-Review: I was talking to Amanda about her passion for photography. The child is basically a photographer himself with the Polaroid. You are a DJ in real life and your character produce music and used to work in a music store. Could you talk about that?

Anthony Okungbowa: We decided to look at on what parts of ourselves we can add into the movie. Amanda decided photography. I decided music. It was how it worked out, because the character related to a lot of my English friends who are vinyl junkies. It something already here so we decided to put it in.

Latino-Review: What was the most difficult thing on this project?

Amanda Marsalis: I would say it’s an independent film so we have limited time. Once we started, it was a marathon that you never came up for a breath.

Anthony Okungbowa: That’s pretty much it. It’s a cry from filmmakers. It’s the limited resources since you can hire certain locations for a certain amount of time. We could have a place for hour or shoot for a number of days. Those are the biggest challenges for most filmmakers. Besides that, it’s really nothing else out of the ordinary.

Latino-Review: For you Tony, do you miss DJing on the Ellen Show? I know you were an actor before and you going back to your acting career.

Antony Okungbowa: Yeah, I do miss it sometimes. One of the things I can tell you about it, there’s nothing that the contact between you and live studio audiences can be substituted. That said, I’m also doing something that I absolutely love. The thing is that the door is always opened to go back to what I did. A couple of weeks ago, I went back to say hi and make an appearance to promote “Echo Park” on the show. I do miss it, but this is something that I want to do.

Latino-Review: For Amanda, there are very few female directors in the business. Did you find this very challenging and would you like to direct again?

Amanda Marsalis: I can’t wait to direct again. I have no second thoughts about that. I don’t know anything else about being a female and a female director. It’s really about choosing the people who you are working with. They are there to respect you and your ideas. It’s about being supportive of your vision, your opinion and your talent. It’s much the case for every director—male or female.

But, I am very proud to be a female director and to be in that club now.

Latino-Review: Just out of curiosity, are you guys neighbors? [Laughter]

Anthony Okungbowa: [Laughter]

Amanda Marsalis: We actually live a few blocks away from each other.

Anthony Okungbowa: We do live pretty close. It’s just a few blocks away from each other that we can walk to.

Latino-Review: Is that how people around Echo Park actually meet? They walk on the streets and say hi to each other? And then after some time, you guys know each other?

Anthony Okungbowa: To me, absolutely. I recently got a dog and walking around a lot more. I met at least thirteen new people.

Amanda Marsalis: There are a lot of people around that I meet that’s from the neighborhood. Sometimes I would hang out with some friends elsewhere and we would like to go back to the neighborhood for dinner or something. It’s a bit of a home turf.

Anthony Okungbowa: For sure. It’s a comfort zone.

Latino-Review: For other filmmakers out there, would you encourage them to film in Echo Park?

Anthony Okungbowa: Don’t give our secret, because we want to keep this place for ourselves. [Chuckles] No. There are so many places here with amazing sceneries. There are many great works of arts and sceneries from bridges to the hills. It’s an incredible neighborhood.

Amanda Marsalis: I would encourage to film in all of Los Angeles though. That’s one of the nicest things about being part of LA Muse in the Los Angeles Film Festival. It’s encouraging filmmaking in Los Angeles. That’s an exciting thing to be part of.

Latino-Review: Thanks for this interview. Good luck with the world premiere of “Echo Park” at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Anthony Okungbowa: Thank you.

Amanda Marsalis: Bye!

“Echo Park” makes its world premiere on Saturday, June 14, at 6:45 p.m. at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Source: Latino-Review

Interviews, Film, LRM Exclusives Athony Okungbowa, Amanda Marsalis, Echo Park