Interview with Mike Dorsey, Director of The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat

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You may remember us late last year writing a piece on a new documentary titled The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat by director Mike Dorsey. I’ve been back and forward emailing him, checking in on the project whenever I can, so I thought it would be a nice touch to hold a little Q&A session with Mike and get his thoughts on the project and the experiences he had whilst trying to film the story.

This is the fourth documentary from filmmaker Mike Dorsey, his documentaries and short films have been screened at numerous film festivals over the years. The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat is about a working-class government employee in the tiny desert town of Lone Pine, California, who asked world-famous modern architect Richard Neutra to design his modest family home. Neutra agreed, which led to an unlikely friendship that would last for the rest of Neutra’s life. Mike tells the story of this house, and its stunning desert setting, through interviews with the home’s original owner, Richard Oyler, actress Kelly Lynch, who currently owns the house, Neutra’s two sons, Dion and Raymond, and well-known LA real estate agent Crosby Doe.

I’ve been lucky enough to watch the full film, and to any architecture or design fan you’ll definitely fall in love with the house, the setting, and the general storyline. It’s very heartwarming to hear how the place was built from scratch and to see the old archive films of it being used and lived in for its intended purpose. You won’t be dissapointed! The film premieres in Hollywood on June 1st at the Dances With Films film festival, and it will be available on DVD via Amazon in the next week or two.

Scroll down to read the interview and to watch the trailer (at the bottom of this post). Other trailers can be viewed on Mike Dorsey’s vimeo page, alternatively like The Oyler House Facebook page to keep up with any news regarding the piece.


Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I am television producer for one of the Discovery networks in the US, and I make documentary films on the side. The Oyler House is my fourth documentary. My last film before this one was called “Lost Airmen of Buchenwald.” It aired on UKTV earlier this year.

How would you summarise ‘The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat’ to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet?

The Oyler House is about the relationship between an architect and his client. In 1959, my step-grandfather, who was a working-class government employee in the tiny desert town of Lone Pine, California (a lot of Hollywood’s great westerns were filmed there), asked world-famous modern architect Richard Neutra to design his modest family home. To his surprise, Neutra agreed. Thus began an unlikely friendship that would last for the rest of Neutra’s life.

What made you want to start this architectural journey? Was there a particular ‘eureka’ moment that led to the making of the documentary?

I had just finished my last film, and I was looking for a new project. Our family had been trying to put my step-grandfather and the Oyler House’s current owner, actress Kelly Lynch, in touch with each other for a while. We finally had a phone conversation and arranged for the two of them to meet up at the house for the first time. It was at that moment that I realized I needed to film it, regardless of how commercial the idea seemed.

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The views look absolutely spectacular in the film, what was it like being in The Oyler House and how did it feel to film such a architectural masterpiece?

There is something special about California mid-century modern homes. The moderate climate allows a freedom and openness that architects like Neutra wanted to experiment with. The front of the house looks fairly ordinary – the flat roof is really the only feature that stands out from the road. The amazing rock pool is in the front yard, but from the ground it just looks like a giant boulder. It’s when you get inside the house, and look out those floor-to-ceiling windows along the back at this stunning desert view that goes for 100 miles, that you realize the genius of these post-and-beam modern homes. Kelly Lynch says in the film that she watches people when they come into the house – they sit down and take in the view, and they’re suddenly calm and relaxed. I grew up in the American southwest, and I’ve seen a lot of deserts. But the boulders in the Lone Pine area are completely unique. They look like something out of a surrealist painting. And those two giant rocks in the backyard, and the way Neutra designed the house to maximize their presence, is completely unique.

The story is mainly about a hard working aspirational man who had his house built by one of the most important modernist architects of all time. Why do you think Richard chose to design this house for Richard Oyler? Mainly because of the site?

Neutra’s son Raymond says in the film that his father liked to build the smaller houses for clients with modest means. The value of these classic mid-century homes are so high today that I think we forget the original intent for architects like Neutra was to design homes, and create building materials, that everyone could afford. Neutra dedicated a lot of his time to searching for innovations that would benefit entire communities and cities. And I think they made a personal connection. The site probably helped, though!

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You did a fantastic job at structuring the documentary so that we get a rounded overview of the build and all the little details inside and outside. When you set out planning the piece what were the most important elements that you wanted to capture?

The view from the living room was very important. Some of the other unique aspects of the house, like the pool blasted out of the boulder, were priorities. We filmed the interviews with Oyler and Lynch first, so we made sure to cover the areas that they talked about. And then I was able to locate the old Oyler family 16mm movies, which showed-off the house as it was during the 1960s.

It must have been great to pick the brains of the likes of Raymond Neutra, Richard’s son, and also speak to Mr Oyler about the house that he loves and imagined. Were there any stand out moments?

Raymond and Dion Neutra are both, of course, incredibly knowledgeable about architecture and their father’s body of work. Dion still operates their architecture firm. Raymond told an incredible story that didn’t make it into the film about the two of them riding in the back of a car on a road trip facing backwards, watching some incredible flowers that had just bloomed, and his father had tears in his eyes. Moments later, Richard Neutra was at a payphone cold-calling a potential client that he wanted to work for. Neutra was both a sensitive artist and a savvy salesman. Kelly Lynch has maintained and restored the house to so closely match its original design and construction, that seeing Mr. Oyler walk through his old home, room by room, was like watching him step back in time. He said that looking out the windows in the living room was a view that he never tired of, that he could sit there for hours just drinking in what his eyes were seeing.

To finish off, how can people watch the full film and have you got any other design orientated films or ideas on the go?

This is the only design/architecture film that I have currently in the works, although I hope to revisit the genre again. The film premieres in Hollywood on June 1st at the Dances With Films film festival, and it will be available on DVD via Amazon in the next week or two.