Chris Lowell on His Directorial Debut ‘Beside Still Waters’

“Beside Still Waters” was always going to be a very personal project for me. It’s my first film and it’s also a love letter to the place that I grew up and the people I grew up with, so finding the right actors to cast was incredibly important.

Prior to casting, my writing partner Mo [Narang] and I watched every single ensemble-driven film we could get our hands on, and it convinced us that movies like these live or die on cast chemistry. Our entire casting process was driven by this belief, and I could not be more proud of the actors we ended up with. Their chemistry is what makes our movie work. Period.

We were fortunate enough to work with amazing casting directors Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee, and Alison Estrin, who knew how to put together great ensembles with movies like ”Short Term 12” and ”August: Osage County,” and also had a knack for discovering new talent with films like ”Boys Don’t Cry” and ”Winter’s Bone.” We knew we wanted a cast of mostly unknowns. One of the things we’d noticed is that so many ensemble films were stacked with a bunch of celebrities who took the audience out of the story, rather than pull them deeper into it. We needed to believe that these actors really could be childhood friends. The only hitch in this plan was that talented unknowns don’t stay unknown for very long. Since we wrapped picture two years ago, our actors have been cast as the leads in hit TV shows, award-winning movies, and Broadway plays.

We made it a rule that every actor who was going to be in ”Beside Still Waters” would have to audition for the role, commit to chemistry reads and rehearsals, and be on board for the entire run of picture. It was important to us that we create as authentic an environment as possible on set, and we wanted actors who shared that goal. Everyone stayed in the house prior to shooting, rehearsing scenes, cooking together, playing drinking games, going skinny-dipping. They brought mementos from their own childhood to stash around the house, making it all feel that much more like the real thing.

Most of the actors were new to us, with one big exception: Beck Bennett was my freshman year roommate in college, and has been a close friend ever since. Today, he’s mostly known for his comedic work, but I also know him as a terrific dramatic actor, and I was so thrilled that I got to showcase that side of him. Some people have asked if the casting process was easier for Beck because we’re such close friends, but if anything I think I was tougher on him. I know how talented he is, so I really set the bar high. He cleared it easily.

Before we began production, Mo and I said to one another that, regardless of what happened during the whirlwind filmmaking process, we would at least get to take a victory lap on our cast. That’s proven to be true in so many ways. Their performances are nuanced, and genuine, and they’ve become some of our closest friends. We couldn’t have asked for more.