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LAFF | America Unrolling Outside: “Passenger Side” Director Matthew Bissonnette

LAFF | America Unrolling Outside: "Passenger Side" Director Matthew Bissonnette

Saddled with his own frustrations, the last thing Michael wants to do is spend the day driving his recovering addict of a brother Tobey around Los Angeles. There’s too much history between them, and Michael has his doubts about his brother’s sobriety. Nevertheless, he agrees to pick Tobey up, but when a morning of harmless errands turns out to be an all-day commute from one end of Los Angeles county to another with each stop more mysterious than the last, Michael demands to know what exactly is going on. When he gets his answer, he realizes his day just got a lot more complicated. [Description courtesy of LAFF]

“Passenger Side”
Narrative Competition
Directed By: Matthew Bissonnette
Executive Producers: Adam Scott, Corey Marr, Matthew Bissonnette
Producer: Corey Marr
Screenwriter: Matt Bissonnette
Cinematographer: Jonathan Cliff
Editor: Matthew Hannam
Cast: Adam Scott, Joel Bissonnette, Robin Tunney
Canada, 2009, 85 mins

[EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling International Spotlight and dramatic and documentary competition directors who have films screening at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival.]

What initially attracted you to filmmaking and how has that evolved since starting out?

There were a number of films that made a big impression on me when I was young, “Quadrophenia,” “The Harder They Come,” “Rude Boy,” “Oliver!,” to name just a few. I’ve always had a real love for movies, but I was much more interested in books and writing and sitting in a room in front of a typewriter. When I got into filmmaking, the thing that struck me was the collaborative nature of the beast, and how much it seemed like a carnival. The more I do it, that tends to be what I enjoy, aside from the obvious pleasure of trying to photograph your dreams .

How did the idea for your film come about and what excited you to undertake the project?

In the spring of 2000, a friend and I drove my old Toyota Camry wagon from Los Angeles to New York City. I made a video of the trip, “Long May You Run,” which chronicled the dynamics of two old friends, stuck inside an automobile, with a box of mixed tapes, while America unrolled outside. That experience got me thinking about interior dialogues and exterior images, and I’m often thinking about brothers. All of these things eventually led to writing the screenplay. Obviously to fans of indie rock, I lifted the basic conceit from the song “Passenger Side,” by the band Wilco, which concerns itself with one friend driving another, who has had his or her license suspended, around for the day.

How did you approach making the film, and were there any pivotal moments of learning during the life of the project for you?

I approached it head on, which, in this life, with a few notable exceptions, is usually the correct strategy. There were no pivotal learning moments. Though one evening I was driving out of Los Angeles toward Joshua Tree, and it occurred to me that Bruce Springsteen was right, there is a darkness on the edge of town.

What were some of the biggest challenges in making the film?

The big challenge was how, on a limited budget, to make a movie that is set in a small static space (the car) feel visually dynamic. My answer was to get out of the car and have dialogue play over pictures. Goddard did this well, and quite a lot, “Two Or Three Things I Know About Her” is a good example. There is a bit in “Manhattan” where a whole scene plays in voice-over as a car drives down a New York City highway, which I always liked. Finally, Terrence Malik is an absolute master of this gag. Anyway, the basic idea was create a sense of movement and visual variation while two guys sat in a car and talked.

Are there any interesting anecdotes from the shoot?

One day the tailpipe broke on the picture car. We were far from a garage, and time was of the essence. Jonathon Cliff, our trusty director of photography, was able to repair it with a beer car and some gaffer tape, a display, that would put Angus MacGyver to shame.

What other genres or stories would you like to explore?

I’ve always wanted to make a film based on Moby Dick, and recently a friend’s eight-year-old son suggested it be told from the whale’s perspective, and that sounded like a pretty good idea.

What other projects are you looking to do?

There is a bunch of stuff in the hopper, all which I’d like to do. Off the top of my head, I’d like to go shoot a movie in Japan.

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