An Interview with America Young about New Indie Film “Back to Lyla”

It’s always fascinating to hear from filmmakers on their approaches to their latest film, and that’s especially true with indie films. There’s no generic recipe to making a small budget film, so hearing from a director gives us insights into how we might tackle our own project.

America Young is a director, stunt coordinator, and stunt woman in film and TV, as well as animation and video games. Her film “Back to Lyla” was just released this week, on a variety of platforms. You can watch the trailer below, and buy or rent it on YouTube to watch the full feature:

Here’s the film synopsis: Discovering he might die soon from a bizarre health condition, Mark, an introverted, aspiring musician and his boisterous, estranged childhood friends, decide to embark on a road trip quest for closure with his effervescent high-school sweetheart, Lyla.

I asked America a few questions about the making of “Back to Lyla,” and I also asked producer Graham Ehlers Sheldon about the distribution strategy. You may know Graham from his posts and videos here on CineD, as well as his “Producing from the Front” course on MZed.

Interview with director America Young

Q: What drew you to Back to Lyla?

The script was the first hook. There was an intelligence, humor and heart that spoke to me. A fresh way to tell a universal story. The second hook was Gonzalo Martin and Maria Jose Michelucci. Their passion and warmth was contagious. Having worked in this industry for a while now, I have learned who you work with is the most important thing in the world. Making sure they are kind and trustworthy is everything.

Image source: “Back to Lyla” Trailer

Q: How do you shoot a road trip movie in 2021? (I’m assuming there were still major limitations with the pandemic, but did they also create opportunities to come up with creative solutions?)

We actually shot the film just before the pandemic hit. So we were VERY lucky with that! Our post was completed more slowly because of the pandemic and thankfully our post house, KO Creative, was able to pivot so we could continue to work remotely. ADR was our main challenge as most studios hadn’t opened up yet to actors in person so we had to deliver a portable “ADR system” to each actor we needed ADR from. They were such troopers being actors, technicians, and sound engineers at the same time! Then we would zoom with them to run playback and give direction.

Q: What were some of your highlights during the production?

I loved so much about making this movie it’s truly hard to narrow down to favorites. The cast and crew were all wonderful. We laughed a lot. It was a highlight to get to film in Los Angeles. It was a highlight to get to work with a Latinx led cast and crew. The “flashback” scene in the diner was so much fun to shoot.

Image source: “Back to Lyla” Trailer

Q: How did you find the cast for Back to Lyla? What was it like working with them?

Our casting director Brittanni Ward was a fantastic help with this. There were some actors that we knew before, I had worked with Charlie Patton, Big Dave Mattey and Dove Meir before, for example. Gonzalo also brought in people that he knew as well. Brittanni was great about maneuvering the actors we brought in with her reach of talent to find the best mixture of talent. Also, we so appreciated her commitment to diversity in all forms in casting.

The most important thing was the chemistry of our core group of friends so we did a specific callback just for this. We did mix and match sessions until we found one where all the pieces fit. Working with them was fantastic. Truly.

Indie film means moving fast and we often were able to use the first or second take of each of these actors. They brought gorgeous fully fleshed choices to every take. Plus, their chemistry was so great that there were several times we kept their improvising as well. We did a test screening of the film while in post. The best part of the feedback is that each audience member identified with a specific friend on very deep levels. They would write, “I’m definitely the Preston in the group.”, for example. That’s a testament to the writing and the actors creating such relatable characters.

Image source: “Back to Lyla” Trailer

Q: What sort of unique feel or look were you going for with the film?

There are two parts of this story. At the start Mark is searching for what he thinks he wants and then he realizes what in fact he is looking for. My DP, John Honoré, and I really wanted to visually show the difference of these two points of view for our main character.  So both parts have a different feel in camera movement and color.

The other thing I enjoyed playing with is that Mark’s illness causes hallucinations, the fun ways that can support our story in subtle ways. Plus exploring the idea that when you are grieving (whether it’s a break up or a death) memories don’t stay in the past, they force their way into your everyday life until you deal with them. So visually incorporating these memories into the present, past Mark and present Mark in the same scenes was a creative choice which led to in camera magic.

Image source: “Back to Lyla” Trailer

Q: There’s a bit of comedy, romance, and drama in Back to Lyla, but also some action. How has your work with action and stunts influenced how you approached this film?

For me everything serves the story, I learned this when doing stunts. Doing a cool stunt or having a cool VFX shot that doesn’t serve the story will feel empty. So that was our main focus with every department head. And this inspired a beautiful level of creativity from all departments leaving layered details and easter eggs that reveal rewatch after rewatch. Being authentic to the story and Mark’s journey also allowed us to weave effortlessly in and out of the different tones led by our brilliant actors.

“Back to Lyla” Indie Film Distribution Strategy

There are many paths for an independent film to reach audiences. In the case of “Back to Lyla,” producer Graham Ehlers Sheldon sought a combination of digital and cable/satellite releases. The film is available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, VUDU, and YouTube. It’s also available for cable and satellite customers with iN Demand, Verizon, AT&T, and DirecTV.

On the distribution strategy, Graham says, “We wanted to give ‘Back To Lyla’ the widest possible digital release and still leverage the great fan base of our lead actors to find that devoted indie audience. 1091 Pictures (formerly The Orchard) ended up being the perfect partners for us on this release”.

A big thank you to America and Graham for answering my questions about “Back to Lyla”! I hope you’ll get a chance to watch the film, and maybe you’ll take some of the lessons learned and apply them to your own indie film.

Learn more about indie filmmaking with MZed Pro

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What kind of questions do you have when you watch an independent film? Let us know in the comments below!

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