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SxSW 2017 Interview: CALIFORNIA DREAMS director Mike Ott

California Dreams at SxSW 2017
by Jason Whyte

THE PITCH: From acclaimed director Mike Ott comes the new documentary feature CALIFORNIA DREAMS presenting five unique individuals in pursuit of a big life change. Through auditions set up in small towns across Southern California, the film shows genuine characters with big Hollywood aspirations who, for various reasons, have never had the opportunity to pursue it. No matter what the end game is, whether it's fame, love, or a fleeting shot at immortality, this bitingly funny film reveals the strange and entrancingly hypnotic grip that Hollywood has, in some way or form, on everyone.

I spoke with Mike prior to SxSW about the film which plays at the 2017 Conference.

I hear you are back at SxSW this year! Tell me about what you have had here in the past, and your favorite aspects of the city.

I had a short film here some years ago called A. EFFECT. Austin has a magical feeling that is hard to describe. I have been to the city a number of times and it has the energy of a big city but still an element of a small town vibe, that is a mix I find very appealing.

So how did you get into this filmmaking business?

I went to Calarts for film and afterwards was trying to get a film made through the usual system which I found super depressing and frustrating, so I changed directions and made something on my own.

How did CALFORNIA DREAMS come together for you?

I think it came together like every project does, with some luck, good timing and a lot of work. This was a film we shot over two years so it was always coming together and at the same time on the verge of falling apart.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

Getting the chance to create is probably the greatest high I can get and with this film it was shot with my best friends so that always kept me motivated. On-set I smoke far too many cigarettes.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

I think it was super challenging to stay focused on the film since we were doing it over such a long period of time and it can be tough to keep people motivated/involved. The most rewarding moment was getting to work with Mark Borchardt.

I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie and how it was shot!

We shot with the Alexa. The DP is one of my best friends so we have a very close working relationship. We don't do a lot of talking about our approach beforehand, we are very in tune with each others ideas and aesthetics.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?

The main subject of my film will be there for the Q&A and he is always a big hit with the audience.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next?

We have more festivals coming up after SXSW, so should be a long year of traveling.

If you could show your movie in any theater outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

Well, the lead in my film is obsessed with Finland and seems to think he will meet the woman of his dreams there, so I think I would have to pick Finland in honor of him.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive during a movie, like talking or texting?

Once in grad school I was dating a woman who would kick the chair in front of her in the theater if the person was talking. I would steal her approach.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Don't take any advice from anyone.

And finally, what is the greatest movie you have ever seen?

Probably WENDY & LUCY as it was a very important moment for me. It had a lot to do with where I was in my life and found is very inspiring to get going on my next film.


Saturday March 11th, 2:45pm (Alamo Lamar B)
Tuesday March 14th, 10:45am (Stateside Theatre)
Friday March 17th, 12:00pm (Alamo Ritz 2)

Follow CALIFORNIA DREAMS online on Instagram!

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview as part of our coverage of SxSW 2017. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2017 SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas taking place March 10-18. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/10/17 06:58:41
last updated: 03/10/17 06:59:56
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