Husband-and-wife filmmakers Jack Lewars and Katie Hyde discuss the making of their independent film, which debuts at Zoetropolis in Lancaster on Saturday night.
The last time I saw Jack Lewars and Katie Hyde in person, I was standing in a field in southern Lancaster County waiting for a barn to burn to the ground.
The husband-and-wife duo were filming the dramatic climax to their independent film, Mount Joy, with Lewars behind the camera as director and Hyde on the screen as one of the stars, playing the character Alex in the movie revolving around a local band trying to make the big time.
That was the summer of 2012, and now more than two years later the couple is bringing Mount Joy to a local audience for the first time – featuring a VIP screening at Zoetropolis Art House in Lancaster Saturday night and a nightly showing at Penn Cinema in Lititz from January 16-22.
Since the finish of filming that summer, Mount Joy has made the rounds at movie festivals around the country, debuting at the prestigious Santa Barbara Independent Film Festival last January and garnering awards in other competitions. The movie got a favorable review in Variety magazine, with writer Dennis Harvey stating, “There’s a certain indie-rock authenticity and some real filmmaking chops to Mount Joy.”
Lewars, who graduated from Hempfield High School and now lives in New York City, says he’s excited to bring the movie to Lancaster County for the first time, with scenes shot in places like the Chameleon Club, the Mountville Inn and a number of cornfields. He’s also excited to see the movie debut on national pay-per-view cable this month.
I caught up with Lewars and Hyde from their apartment in New York where they were getting ready to go see Louis CK at Madison Square Garden.
Michael Yoder: Does it feel like several years since you started the Mount Joy project?
Katie Hyde: Yes [laughs].
Jack Lewars: It feels like a very long time.
KH: It has actually been a very long time.
JL: After this is over, I won’t be able to utter the words “Mount Joy” ever again [laughs].
KH: Yeah, we’ll have a reflex where we’ll kind of gag if we hear it. We’ve said it too much. We’ve maxed out on the number of times we’ve said “Mount Joy.”
MY: With the shows coming up in Lancaster County, does it feel like the final culmination of the project?
JL: I’m mostly excited that people are going to see all the places that they recognize. They’re going to get it the most, I feel like. I’m excited to see everybody’s reactions. They’re going to recognize every single scene in the movie and probably know right where it is. It’s going to be a good experience to see them and to finally show them what they all helped to make.
MY: How many of the local people who helped make the movie have had a chance to see the final product?
JL: Nobody has seen it yet besides a few close friends – just a handful.
KH: There’s a couple named Bobbie and Jack Thomas, whom we had never met in our lives, who drove up here for the CBGB screening in October. They found out about it on Facebook, and they’re going to be at the Zoetropolis screening, too. We’ve have good friends involved and childhood friends of Jack involved. But at the same time, there are people who find out about it and are super excited, which is really fun.
MY: How much work was involved to get Mount Joy available on pay-per-view on cable?
JL: It’s a lot of work as far as what the restrictions are – making sure everything’s licensed and everybody has contracts signed. Every song in the movie has to be licensed and signed off by five people, so you really have to go through and make sure your business side is really buttoned up.
KH: It’s a funny time where some independent movies are kind of whipping through and they’re able to communicate to cable platforms. Somehow we talked to the right person who represented us to the cable platform, and he said we’re his first legitimate independent movie. A lot of movies will call themselves “indie,” but they’re directed by Ben Affleck. We’re a true indie – there’s no celebrities involved, and we raised our own money. The company that we dealt with to get us on cable pitched us along with all the other indies, and we were the only one that got on. We feel like we’re really lucky to be at a time and place where we slipped through somehow.
MY: Did you make a conscious decision from the start to remain truly indie instead of looking for some marquee celebrity name to be involved in the project?
KH: We actually did consider it. It came up for a second, and we dismissed it because the movie is about an unknown band. And we ourselves were at the very beginning of being in charge of this thing, and we wanted to keep it on a playing field and a level where it felt really real. We searched high and low for the cast that we have and that we’re very proud of. But we never actually considered going for celebrity because of celebrity, which may or may not have made it exponentially more difficult in selling the movie [laughs]. In the end, we made the right choice. The cast is great.
MY: What was the biggest lesson you learned about movie making while going through the festival circuit?
JL: That they want named talent [laughs]. That is kind of a big deal when you’re shopping to a festival and going through the process. At every festival we did really well, and people really accepted the movie and liked it. But to get the sale or to get somebody to actually purchase the movie outright, you need a special combination of magic.
KH: If you’re going to festivals over and over again, from my point of view the important thing to do was to ask for reviews and quotes from people who have a following. You’re passing into celebrity in that sense. Variety giving us a review was a big feat. We had to try really hard to get that Variety reviewer into a particular screening at our premiere. That took a lot of focus and pull, but once we got that, it was like all of a sudden everyone’s like, “Oh, Variety said this about the movie.” All of a sudden the movie’s on the map a little bit more – definitely more than it was before. For me, the festival thing was trying to find good press.
MY: Did you ever expect that Variety would take an interest in the movie?
KH: No. It’s so funny. We had four screenings in Santa Barbara – three that were scheduled and one that was given to us because they kept selling out. The second screening that we had there, it was literally one of the best days of my life. I mean, yes, I married Jack and, yes, I had a baby. Those days are very special to me [laughs]. But this day, it was a sold out house, Variety was there, Ted Hope – he’s like a guru in independent film and I’ve been following him on Twitter for a decade – he was there in the theater to watch our movie. The cast and crew flew in, and it’s one of those moments where you’re just like, “Pinch me, pinch me. This can’t get any better.” But you learn not to expect much, and when things go well you’re like, “Oh, that’s nice.”
MY: Is there anything you would have done differently when you were starting the Mount Joy project that would have made it easier?
JL: We took some time to try and plan out as much as possible. You can only do so much organizing before you just have to go and make the movie. We planned and storyboarded, and once we got to a location we had to re-plan and re-storyboard because we hadn’t seen the place yet. We just kind of went with it. I think we had the perfect amount of planning and organization to get through it. Next time we’d like to do it with more money and luxury [laughs]. We really had to scrimp in some areas.
KH: The amount of favors that it took to make the movie, we’re pretty much indebted to everyone we know. And we won’t ever be able to repay everyone for what they have done. I fear that we might have enemies at the end of this because they’ll be like, “We gave you so much,” and we’ll be like, “Yeah, thanks – you and a million other people.” I asked everything of everyone to make it happen. We didn’t have millions of dollars like most movies have.
MY: What would you have done differently if you had millions of dollars to make Mount Joy?
JL: I would have beefed up all the departments on set.
KH: Yeah, we had one makeup girl for everybody. We would have had teams instead of one.
JL: We would have had more days instead of working people 14-hour days.
KH: We would have paid people for locations. Good’s Disposal loaned us a trash truck and loaned us a driver and paid for the gas for the two days we had the trash truck. We would have paid the Mountville Inn for multiple days for shutting down their business. We would have paid Tom Culton – the organic farmer – for the use of his barn. There are a lot of businesses that lent themselves and shut down their moneymaking day for us.
JL: But for our first true narrative, the way we did it was great. It was fun how everybody pulled together. And I think that’s why these screenings are going to be great. All these people who thought we were just out in their lawn or their cornfield acting crazy with 50 people are going to get to see why we were doing this.
Catch the hometown debut screening of Mount Joy at Zoetropolis (315 W. James St., Lancaster) on Saturday. Two screenings (7:15pm and 9:35pm). $10 general admission/$30 VIP. Click here for tickets.