Sollers Point is the second film to complete production with a dreameGGs investment. Baltimore writer/director Matt Porterfield’s story is about Keith (McCaul Lombardi), an ex-con under house arrest with limited options already, in a Baltimore industry town where the factory left with its jobs long ago.
After premiering at San Sebastian Film Festival, where The Hollywood Reporter reviewed it, Sollers Point played as part of AFI Fest’s film festival in Los Angeles. DreameGGs attended a screening where Porterfield and Lombardi spoke after the film. Look for Sollers Point in theater in 2018.
Q: How did you cast McCaul and what made you want to be involved in the film?
MP: This was my first time working with a casting director. I worked with Jessica Kelly out of New York. That was exciting. She introduced me to all this talent. It was my first time really working with a fully professional cast. A number of supporting roles were people who’d maybe done a little bit of acting in Baltimore, but Jessica helped me. I was grateful because I got to see Marin Ireland. This guy found me. Actually, credit goes to my producer, Alexandra Byer who turned us onto Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, though it hadn’t been released. You were in that. I really like her work. You had a great look and then I found out he was from Baltimore which was serendipitous.
ML: I had actually just gotten the script when I had gotten home from Honey. My manager called me and said that there’s a script floating around about a kid from Baltimore getting out of prison with a Baltimore director. So he sent the script over and it was shocking to see all the direction in the script were streets I grew up on. So reading that initially, I was like I gotta work with Matt on this movie just for one, because it’s showing pride in our home city of Baltimore which we’re very proud of. Just the character, I thought it would be really interesting to dive into the mind of somebody getting out of prison, so I did.
Q: Do you still live in Baltimore?
ML: I don’t. I’ve actually lived right down the street for the past seven years, since I was 19.
Q: Matt, you still live in Baltimore, right?
MP: Born and raised. I went to school in New York and lived there for a number of years, but Baltimore most of my life.
Q: What is it about Baltimore that makes you keep telling Baltimore stories?
MP: I feel like I could have a career making films in Baltimore. It’s not exhausted. I feel like I haven’t exhausted it. I learn a lot about the city and the people through the process of filmmaking which is I guess why I set out to make my first film there. I was living New York at the time but everything I was writing was set back home. It’s a diverse city, a city of neighborhoods. Maryland, the state itself, is diverse geographically. People are really cool in Baltimore, really friendly. It’s a great city to shoot in. It’s a great city to live in. It’s rare that you walk down the street, pass somebody they don’t start a conversation and that’s not everywhere. We really talk to each other, we look out for each other. I mean, it’s got its problems for sure but a lot of those are institutional problems, like a lot of American cities.
Q: Is it challenging as a filmmaker to get experienced crew in Baltimore?
MP: No. There’s not a huge crew base. The one that is there, they work on House of Cards, series that come to town.
Q: What was it like coming home to Baltimore to work?
ML: Going home to film was crazy. I never really expected to be making a movie in Baltimore. I just flat out didn’t expect that. Especially right now in my career. But, it happened and it was amazing. It was cool. I was seeing a side to Baltimore that I knew, but the area we were filming in is like five miles from where I grew up but I didn’t know anything about this little community. So it was cool to dive into there and get to meet people in the community and do character research on the community and live in the community and work with the community.
MP: I had a similar experience because I’d made a couple of films in the neighborhood where I grew up but this is a little different, on the water. It was a neighborhood built by Bethlehem Steel, kind of on the edge of the city. Strong maritime tradition and there’s also an interesting film tradition there. People like John Waters, television producers like David Simon have done such amazing work in and around Baltimore.
Q: What inspirations or touchstones were you looking at?
MP: The only literary source material I’d say I drew from was some of the prison writing by this guy Peter Nathaniel Malae. He has a great collection of short fiction called Teach the Free Man. There’s a couple stories in there that felt really connected to Keith’s character. I don’t know if I gave it to you to read or not. Once I realized as I was writing that it was kind of a road movie for me, then I had the logic. I still think about it that way. I’ve always loved that genre. That’s not just because he’s in the car a lot, but it’s very linear. He stops along the way and meets all these people which is what I love about road movies. You meet all these interesting characters.
Q: What were some of the road movies you like?
MP: I really like Kings of the Road by Wim Wenders. I really like Penelope Spheeris’s Dudes. That’s a classic. We’ve got Wild at Heart by David Lynch, certainly a road movie.
Q: Is there a generational theme about how booming it was for the previous generation and how far it’s fallen?
MP: You hit it. That is a big part of the film and something I was really interested in exploring, in this neighborhood in particular as I said, built by Bethlehem Steel, which is dormant now. At its peak, employed over 30,000 people. Now, there’s still some manufacturing happening there but probably less than 1000 employees. It wasn’t just Bethlehem Steel. There was a textile industry. Then you had Crown Cork and Seal, General Motors, all this is gone. My grandfather worked for Bethlehem Steel seven years. For my generation, opportunities are very different than they were for our grandparents’ generation for sure. And this area that was built by the Steel [company] and annexed from the city proper, it’s just not that close. It’s not that convenient. There are no jobs but there’s all these middle class families, once were middle class families, fathers, breadwinners, great jobs. Working for Steel was a great job. It was hard but you got paid well and you got benefits. A lot of these guys didn’t get their pensions when the mills closed. It really devastated that community and then you also have the introduction of crack cocaine, drugs, the prison industrial system. So there’s all these things that reverberate and I wanted to touch upon them in what was ultimately a character study, but try to touch upon some of these larger themes. I was lucky because both my parents were teachers. They prized education and I had access to really good education, but otherwise I grew up in a neighborhood just like that on the North side.
Q: Does the poem tattooed on your chest have a special meaning?
MP: Yeah, that’s the one tattoo we kept I think. We had to remove a couple.
ML: I guess in our heads, going through hair and makeup, when we came to the decision what to cover and what not to, it looks like a bible verse. So I think we just kept that just to save time. It’s a poem I wrote when I was 17.
Q: What is the significance of the title?
MP: That’s a perfectly valid question. It’s a street, not even a place. That place is Dundalk/Turner Station is the specific neighborhood where we shot. It’s a street that runs through there. And then to confuse things more, the site of Bethlehem Steel was called Sparrow’s Point. Anyway, I made a couple films the titles of street names, Hamilton, Puddy Hill so I was like okay, we’ll stick with this. I didn’t want to call it Turner Station because that is a specific neighborhood. Though we shot there, I didn’t want to say that this was a representation of that neighborhood. That neighborhood has its own history. That’s where Henrietta Lacks was living when she went to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Oprah just shot the film An Immortal Life about her recently down there. That’s where the creator of Elmo was born. It’s a really strong community and we skirted the community and shot a little bit there and shot a little bit in the surrounding areas but it’s just a street name.
Q: What about the lady who sold meat?
MP: That’s a real thing. It happens in the bars in my neighborhood. That bar is literally a five-minute walk from where I grew up. John Waters shot in that bar, The Holiday House, in A Dirty Shame. That’s where there’s that crazy burlesque show. Mostly regulars that we brought out that day except the woman selling meat. Now, when you go to that bar and some of the other bars on this Hartford Rd. corridor, you’ll often find people coming in with bags of lotion, shampoo, and meat. What they do is you buy the meat on your credit card, and then you don’t pay your credit card, and then you bring it to the bar and you sell it. So those were tenderloins, pork tenderloins. I’ve bought filet mignon at, not that bar, but another one. The final thing I’ll say about that scene is that’s my dad getting propositioned. That was a fun day. It’s just a biker bar, definitely.