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Sundance ’10 | “Bass Ackwards” Director Linas Phillips on His non-Road Movie Road Movie

Sundance '10 | "Bass Ackwards" Director Linas Phillips on His non-Road Movie Road Movie

Director Linas Phillips is back with a new feature, “Bass Ackwards,” screening in Sundance’s new NEXT section. He previously directed and starred in the documentary “Walking to Werner,” which screened at HotDocs and the Austin Film Festival, and he also has a few acting credits under his belt. His latest follows a man, played by Phillips, driving a ’76 VW van across America. The film, however, isn’t mired with the “tired mechanics of a typical road movie.” Sundance beams that “his utterly original, lyrical, and visually exciting adventure has such a light touch that it quietly sneaks up and tugs you into an overpowering appreciation of being human.”

When humble Linas, kicked off of his friend’s couch and spurned by his lover, finds a forgotten van on a llama farm outside Seattle, he begins lurching east with nothing to lose. Slowly, the road eases him out of his relentless longing and into the moment. As his encounters with enigmatic characters take on subtly transcendent qualities, his shame and discomfort at being alone gradually give way to self-acceptance and connection. The dented, off-kilter vehicle, which valiantly, amazingly endures the journey, becomes a colorful metaphor for the human condition—our tenacity and hopefulness always tinged with imperfection.” [Description provided by Sundance Film Festival]

“Bass Ackwards”
NEXT Section
Director: Linas Phillips
Writer: Linas Phillips
Cast; Linas Phillips, Davie-Blue, Jim Fletcher, Paul Lazar
Executive Producer: Mark Duplass
Producer: Thomas Woodrow
Cinematographer: Sean Porter
Editor: Linas Phillips, Brett Jutkiewicz
Co-Writers: Davie-Blue, Jim Fletcher, Sean Porter, Paul Lazar
103 minutes

Phillips on his career changes…

Hello, I’m Linas Phillips. I’m a performer and filmmaker. I studied acting at New York University, but after graduating I fell into working with special needs kids to get by. I made a short video with a sweet boy who had a lot of trauma from all the surgeries he had undergone where he got to pretend to be the babysitter and I acted as the kid who had to be told what to do. Seeing him watch the video was so moving that I kept trying to make videos, often trying to recapture that sort of ecstatic therapeutic redemption quality to them.  Five years later I’m finishing my third feature length film, “Bass Ackwards.” 

Making a film based on a Craigslist ad…

I was partly inspired to make “Bass Ackwards” to say something about a bad relationship experience but also because I got an email from my friend, Todd Rohal, with a link to a Craig’s List ad about a VW van for sale that had been cut in half.  Todd said I should buy it as a joke and then I called him up a few days later with the title in my hand. I worked very organically on the beginning of the script with Davie-Blue, who plays my girlfriend, and Sean Porter the film’s Director of Photography.

Then when I brought in other characters that my character meets on the road, I wrote for the specific actors in mind and based certain aspects on their own lives. The blend between fiction and reality was very loose at times.  For example, I played a character who was lost and moving cross-country and in reality I was actually moving back to New York City with all my belongings packed into the belly of the tiny VW van.  We had a very loose script at times. Often it was very instinctual work between me and the Sean, the DP.

Once, our VW broke down after driving all night and we had to wait for a tow truck until dawn so we pulled out the camera and improvised a quick scene of me waking up in the van, and it made it into the final cut. But at times this loose approach was pretty stressful. For example, I thought Todd would act as the other main character and because we were filming so much on the fly, we didn’t realize until it was almost too late that casting him wouldn’t be tonally right. It was as if I wasn’t even aware how dark the beginning of the film was even until after we shot those scenes. 

Luckily, another collaborator and Friend, Jim Fletcher, was able to move some rehearsals around in New York and flew out to Wisconsin for three days to act in “Bass Ackwards.” Jim’s involvement really helped create a solid storyline for my character in the film. And, although it could be frustrating at times to work in such a loose way, I do feel that it gives the film a very non-pushy feel in regard to what it’s saying and I think audiences will enjoy and appreciate it. 

Plugging “Bass Ackwards”…

“Bass Ackwards” is a story that most everyone can relate to. It’s about someone re-finding their way. It’s exciting for anyone to see that happen, even to a fictional character because it can remind them that they have the possibility of more hopeful and exciting soulful experiences on the horizon, whether they’re driving a VW van across the country or meeting a strange old man while waiting in line at the supermarket. 

Phillips on his influences and his next moves…

I think with this film my fascination with John Cassavetes shows a bit. I love how it seems like he’s having these little moral meditations/arguments with himself in his films. It’s almost something that makes them clunky – this desire to want to teach something.  He seems obsessed with philosophies of living and love and I think deep down my film is a reminder to love one’s self. I’m also a very big fan of Werner Herzog, especially his film “Stroszek,” which definitely had an influence on me while making “Bass Ackwards.” It’s a strange yet endearing road movie. The main actor is a non-actor and it really shows in the best way. Its authenticity is radiant and I tried for that a bit while making this film.

My next film is called “Rainbow Time.” It’s about the life of a mentally handicapped man named Rimas and is kind of a buddy movie, in a sense, because Rimas forms a bond with a new social worker who indulges him by helping with a fantasy of making a TV show called, ‘Rainbow Time.'”

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