Chris Lowell ran a somewhat unconventional ship for his directorial debut Beside Still Waters, a highly personal, contained tale about childhood friends reuniting at a lake house years later. The Veronica Mars star shot on film, raised most of his budget by basically pounding the pavement and began each day by taking a bare leap into the lake with his cast outside the house where they shot. “It’s unbelievably, terribly unprofessional,” he tells EW, laughing. “But it was a great start. It really got us in the zone.”
So far, Lowell has had an interesting 2014 with the quick ascent and subsequent cancellation of Fox’s brothers in arms comedy Enlisted, the release of the fan-funded Veronica Mars movie, and now, the theatrical and VOD roll-out of his film, which he finished shooting in 2012 and boasts its own set of crazy ups and downs including becoming one of Kickstarter’s most successful projects after nearly tripling his fundraising goal. “I’m so excited I can hardly stand it,” he says. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve climbed mountains, I’m running the New York City marathon this year, but this? It was the most difficult thing in the world physically and emotionally.”
Part of that stress was likely due to the fact that he opted to shoot on film, blending 16mm, Super 8, and his own photography. “That’s sort of my realm. It’s where I feel most comfortable. As a photographer I shoot everything on film and it’s almost all black and white,” he says. “Film brings with it a sense of nostalgia and beauty, but, from a producing standpoint it’s a packed with headache and complete unpredictable obstacles.”
The jump to directing might seem out of the blue to the passive observer, but Lowell has sort of been ascending to this point his whole life. “I’d force all the kids in my neighborhood to be in plays that I wrote and starred in and directed like a complete egomaniac,” he says, laughing. “Then when I went to college, I originally went to study film at USC. It was always in my blood, I think. I really love the muscles that directing exercises that you don’t get from acting. With directing there’s this sense, albeit completely delusional, but a sense that if you just think it through enough and really focus enough and work hard enough, that there’s a puzzle there that can actually be solved. It’s a real rush. There’s a real sense of security.”
As a longtime actor, Lowell was also able to bring his own perspective and empathy to his directing duties. “I really wanted to talk to actors in the ways I wish directors would talk to me,” he says. “Actors have all these different techniques of getting where they need to be emotionally in a scene whether it’s method or Meinser Technique or they don’t rehearse at all and they just show up on the day and do what they do. I think about someone like Daniel Day-Lewis. He has to live in the character for a month before principal photography and everyone refers to him by his character name and that allows him to show up on the day and feel like he’s as prepared as possible and confident as possible to do his job. Then you’ve got someone like George Clooney who rolls in and is making practical jokes with everyone and knows everyone’s name and is just having a good time and nothing’s a big deal. And neither of those approaches are wrong, but the mistake that a lot of directors make is they decide, well this is how I direct. For me, the best thing to do is to acknowledge what kind of actor you have and then learn how to adapt.”
It’s an interesting time for Lowell, and he seems to be at a bit of a crossroads in his career. “I’m changing it up a lot,” he says. In addition to his photography and finishing up the extras for his movie, he’s also starring in a play in New York, which is something he’s been wanting to do since he moved there. “It’s definitely a new approach to just being a creative person and I love it. I think I’ll keep trying to experiment with as many mediums as possible. It’s kind of limiting to say that you only do films, or theaters, or television.”
He adds, “I always have to stay busy or I’d go completely insane. It’s nice having a set of extracurriculars because if I’m not feeling challenged or fulfilled by what I’m doing acting-wise, I can focus on my photography or writing. I just try to stay occupied to keep me from curling up in a fetal position on my floor and sobbing because of the fear of not succeeding. I think that’s just sort of the plight of being an actor.”
Besides Still Waters stars The Blacklist’s Ryan Eggold, Saturday Night Live’s Beck Bennett, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Brett Dalton, Erin Darke, Jessy Hodges, Will Brill, Britt Lower, and Veep’s Reid Scott. Tribeca will release it in a theatrical limited run on Nov. 14 followed by a VOD release on Nov. 18.