Throughout my career as an independent filmmaker, I’ve maintained two philosophies: write and produce what you know, and only what you feel you can manage completely autonomously. I’ve seen many filmmakers–to varying success–bite off far more than they can chew; producing high concept action/horror films for relatively no budget, relying on the “Robert Rodriguez” method of budget film-making, never realizing that you don’t need a huge budget when you’ve got Antonio Banderas & Salma Hayek on your side. Always work small-to-large, plan for the worst and expect the best. No film shoot goes without unexpected setbacks, so why give yourself more of a headache by setting unrealistic goals? You’re never going to make Gandhi for a budget of $100…but you can definitely make Kids for zero dollars.
Auto Shop was born out of a brainstorm. We had characters in mind but where should we drop them? The characters were simple archetypes: Abbott and Costello…Laurel and Hardy…a schlubby, but confident dimwit and a lean, clean cut, but not-at-all-confident straight man. At the heart of the story, we wanted to show a role reversal, of sorts, and turn the unlikable jerk into a sympathetic jerk, while turning the quiet fish-out-of-water into the bully. As the characters began to take shape, and the actors (Joe Zakrzewski & Chris Brooke) began to bring their own personalities in, we knew things were going well.
We decided on the setting of a full service auto repair shop because we’ve all had experiences and memories of the filthy and rustic aesthetic of the environment. We all have relatives who own auto shops; which would also make for a convenient array of options when scouting locations.
The story of Auto Shop is really just a series of crises of varying degrees, all culminating in acceptance of fate; an amoral tale of shirking responsibility until it becomes undeniable and unavoidable.
The film’s look and score was meant to give off a melancholy and bleak impression, sort of like the beginning of The Wizard of Oz if Dorothy never left the farm (wait…did she ever leave the farm? Nevermind. You get it). This was the purpose of the black and white. The environment of the auto shop also lends itself surprisingly well to that look, due to the fact that nearly everything in a garage is in grey-scale.
Growing up in Roxborough, PA (Northwest Philly) opened my eyes to an almost infinite array of film location possibilities. The original intent was to shoot at Nick’s Auto Service on Umbria Street, but timing didn’t work out in our favor. Ultimately, we went with Scally’s Auto Repair in Primos, PA who helped us out tremendously. Regardless, I have made it a personal mission of mine to shoot wherever and whenever possible within the Roxborough/Manayunk area in the future.
As a film-maker, I definitely enjoy shooting and editing things that I would like to see. And since I’m not directly the next Star Wars, my indie-movie sensibilities take me down roads like Auto Shop, where my favorite scene is a pivotal moment where one of the key female characters finally gets to speak–striking a down-the-line emotional blow to our main character.
Auto Shop was an undertaking that we all over-prepared for in every way but the ways that wound up setting us back. But the ordeal was a fun challenge, a great experience, and ultimately–a proud accomplishment. And we hope you enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed making it!
—Alex Gross (Director/Writer)