Short And Bittersweet
Lawrence & Meg Kasdan Document the Final Days of a Diner in "Last Week at Ed's"

By Lee Valentine Smith

In an incredible career of filmmaking, director/writer/producer Lawrence Kasdan has been an integral part of some of the most beloved films of modern cinema. He is perhaps best-known as co-writer of "The Empire Strikes Back," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Return of the Jedi," and as writer-director of "Body Heat," "The Big Chill," and "The Accidental Tourist."

Known for modernizing iconic Hollywood themes in noir, sci-fi and western milieus, with insightful dialogue and searing social commentary, Kasdan's latest is an intimate tribute to a local neighborhood diner. Created with his partner Meg, "Last Week At Ed's" is a bittersweet tribute to a small West Hollywood diner as it plans its final week of business.

Since 1947, Ed's Coffee Shop, a traditional breakfast and lunch "hole-in-the-wall" served the fast-food needs of a core of diverse regular customers. But with shifting demographics and increasing competition from corporate chains, the independent eatery closed last year. The Kasdans documented the last few days of the establishment in a surprisingly short film that encapsulates the camaraderie of an indie institution.

INsite recently spoke with Lawrence and Meg Kasdan about the film which screened at the recent Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.

Tell us a bit about "Last Week At Ed's." It's a very personal, intimate project for you.

M: It is. We made it to memorialize a place we really loved. We found out it was closing a couple of months before it did close. We really didn't have any other motives except to memorialize a place we were really crazy about. We thought it was a place that should be remembered because it meant so much to us, to the owners and to all the people who worked there and went there over the years.

It was located in a busy, rapidly changing district of Hollywood, correct?

L: At North Hollywood and Robertson Boulevard, just south of Melrose. Yeah, the community had changed in that it used to be the center of interior design world in Los Angeles. Then the Pacific Design Center opened, which is a giant complex and a lot of the shops around Ed's Diner moved to the Center. So there was a disruption in the community. As real estate skyrocketed and different kinds of people were able to change the area, there was a little change in the clientele. It had previously been the design people who lived nearby and were part of the community. The community continued as the neighborhood started to change a little bit.

So you decided to document the final days of the establishment to preserve that feeling of community?

L: We were as surprised as the other clientele about the closing and we captured a lot of those reactions. In the film you can see their reactions to getting the news at that moment. People had found a refuge, a harbor or a safe place there, at a time when it's so hard to find those things anywhere in America.

What a great metaphor for culture change in general.

L: I hope you're right. That's how we discovered it to be. First we shot during the last week of the restaurant. Going in, you don't know how it'll be. Then as we worked on it for another six months, those were the themes that kept emerging.

Since you shot for a week, how much footage did you get?

L: I can't remember the exact amount, but it was hours and hours.

From that you cut it down to 39 minutes?

L: We did but there were some surprises for us along the way. Three seconds of someone's expression can tell a big story.

What were some of the biggest surprises you learned?

L: We'd been there over a period of thirty years on a pretty regular basis. There could be a person there you've seen maybe fifty time, but you didn't even know their name. People want to have a connection with the people they see quite often but so many times, you never make that effort to learn who they are. People are naturally shy, they want to protect their privacy and they don't want to be intrusive either. But when we stated shooting, it was really heartwarming how much people wanted to share their stories and their feelings about this event.

Ed's is a good example of the popularity of short films. People seem to be really latching back on to them - even though they've been around forever.

L: Right, I think that's because the streaming services have helped all documentaries and short films in general. There's a hunger for content. They don't all get sold to streaming services, of course. We haven't been sold to any yet, but I think it's opened up people to the idea of short documentaries and short films.

It must be creatively satisfying for you to make a decidedly small movie that doesn't have the happy meal hype to tie-in.

L: (Laughs) It's very satisfying for sure. The best part is that the people who've seen it react in an emotional way to it. We never tried to push that part. But I think the best part is that people recognize what you just said: everybody's got a favorite place like this and they feel bad if it closes up.

Let's talk about the creative process. You've been married for a long time and you've worked together for a long time as well. Both are major accomplishments. Is it daunting to work with your partner?

M: It's really not hard for us. We've done it for so long and our tastes are very similar. We defer to each other if one of us feels very strongly about something in particular. It's just not difficult for us.

L: We started working together forty years ago; maybe it's even longer now, I guess. Meg supervised the music on The Big Chill and just did a spectacular job. That [soundtrack] album was hugely successful and people still talk about it. Years later we wrote Grand Canyon together and we made Darling Companion. We've found that each time it's been very satisfying to work together.

Have your writing techniques changed over the years?

L: It hasn't changed too much for me. But what you're describing is what I think most writers feel. Some are able to overcome it on a regular basis, they get started at 7 a.m. and then stop at 2. Then there are others who do like me, and what you're describing, which is procrastinate endlessly. Because the start of writing is always difficult. It's a hump to get over. But once you are actually writing, it feels very satisfying and good. But the idea of writing is always intimidating.

So what's next? What's left to do at this point?

M: If there's something interesting, we'll do it. But I think at this point it's more important for Larry to continue working than it is for me.
L: It's like we were talking about age. When you reach this age, your perspective changes enormously. There's a kind of relaxation about your work in a way. Everything doesn't seem that monumental now.

But you've made big movies and small creative projects like Ed's.

L: Yeah, I've made big movies, I've made small movies. But when they come out, it's always a trial. But now, none of that seems so important anymore. Now it's about what are the pleasures of doing the process.

Before we go, we should talk about the whole Stars Wars phenomenon. It'll live on past twice our lifetimes at this point. But what was your initial take on the whole concept?

L: I had been trying to get into the movie business and I'd been writing for about seven years with no luck. Then suddenly, I sold two original screenplays. From those two sales and the profile they gave me, I was offered a chance to write Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I wrote that and when I'd finished it - George Lucas and I had gotten along very well - he said, 'I'm in trouble with the second Star Wars movie, will you come in and work on it?' That became The Empire Strikes Back. I had no expectations at that point, but now all these years later Star Wars has been a part of my life ever since.

But that's a major goal of any sort of art, that it carries on.

Yeah, that's the goal of movies - even ones that aren't as big as Star Wars, of course. When, all over the world, people come up and say, 'Oh you know that movie you made? Well it really meant a lot to me.' That's the real goal; that's pretty much all you could hope would ever happen.

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