After moving to Los Angeles from his native New York eight years ago, writer-director Marshall Lewy spent many weekends hanging out at his neighborhood farmers market in Silver Lake. He became intrigued by the idea of a sprawling metropolis where farmers markets come to life, bringing in fresh produce and unusual characters from farms that surround the nation's second-largest city.
The experience planted the seed for "California Solo," an independent movie about a former British pop rocker played by Scottish actor Robert Carlyle ("Trainspotting" and "The Full Monty"), who moves to L.A. to escape a troubled past. He works on an organic farm north of L.A. and sells produce at the city's farmers markets, where he strikes up a relationship with a struggling actress, played by Alexia Rasmussen.
Lewy's goal was to depict the city in a way not normally seen in movies by highlighting less familiar aspects of L.A. life, from buying produce at farmers markets to riding the Metrolink commuter train.
"It was a conscious choice to show parts of the city you don't get to see in films," Lewy said. "We wanted to give the city a natural, earthier look, in contrast to the artificial, slicker portrayals that you often see about life in L.A."
The film, an official selection at the Sundance and Edinburgh International film festivals, debuted in New York last week and will open in Los Angeles at the Landmark Nuart Theatre on Friday and a select number of other theaters in the coming months.
"This script really came out of my life in L.A. and what L.A. represents for me," said Lewy, whose previous movie, "Blue State," was filmed in Winnipeg, Canada.
With a budget of less than $1 million, producers had to cram a large number of locations, including Leona Valley and Culver City, into a short period of time — less than a month in June 2011.
"We shot 30 locations in 21 days," said Mynette Louie, producer of "California Solo." "It was crazy."
Much of the filming occurred within walking distance of Lewy's home in Los Feliz. A nearby mansion, recently acquired by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, depicted the home of a music manager.
The crew built a full-scale replica of a farmers market at Santa Monica and Sunset boulevards, just a few blocks from the site of the actual Silver Lake farmers market.
"We wanted to shoot at an authentic farmers market, but it was really difficult to control the crowds and the noise, so we just created our own farmers market on a parking lot," said Louie, owner of Syncopated Films in New York.
The organic farm where Carlyle's character works is set in Antelope Valley, but those scenes were actually filmed at Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark, a fourth-generation family farm in Ventura County that is a popular site for commercials and TV shoots for such series as "Criminal Minds," "NCIS" and "CSI."
The 120-acre farm has drawn about a dozen commercial and TV projects this year alone, said James Barker, general manager for the farm, which charges up to $5,000 a day to film crews, depending on the size of the production.
"It's a very small but valuable portion of our business," Barker said. The farm doesn't aggressively market filming, but gets plenty of business because of its proximity to L.A. Off California 23, the farm is within the coveted so-called 30-mile zone from West Los Angeles. Productions that shoot outside the zone must pay more to crews.
Another scene takes place at the Leona Valley Cherry Festival west of Lancaster. Lewy visited the festival during a scouting trip and was so impressed he decided to write the festival into his script.
"California Solo" also shot in the Sun Valley area, where Carlyle's character lives in a run-down apartment and records a podcast that recounts the tragic death of great musicians, and frequents a local bar, represented by Las Playas Bar on San Fernando Boulevard.
The Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum in Culver City served as a setting for courthouse and jail scenes.
"This was my first time shooting in L.A.," said Louie, who was recently nominated for the 2013 Independent Spirit Awards' producers award for "California Solo." "It was a great way to get to know the city."
The filming was not without logistical challenges, Louie said, citing high parking and location fees compared with shooting in New York. And there are other standard distractions.
"Of course it's difficult — getting through a take without a dog, a helicopter, a siren, a mad person, whatever it is — it was almost impossible sometimes," Carlyle said in news materials. But the actor, currently playing Rumpelstiltskin in the ABC series "Once Upon a Time," said he was grateful to play the kind of low-budget, independent film role for which he is known in Europe.
"It was nice to get this kind of experience here," said the Glasgow native. "I saw parts of L.A. that I've never seen before. That's been a bit of an eye-opener, in fact."
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