In Night Drive, a comedy of errors unfolds after a ride-share app driver (AJ Bowen) picks up an intriguing young woman (Sophie Dalah) and quickly realizes that his passenger is about to keep him on his toes in some very unexpected ways. Night Drive recently celebrated its world premiere at Fantastic Fest 2019, and Daily Dead sat down with both of the film’s directors, Meghan Leon and Brad Baruh, as well as the cast – Bowen, Dalah and Scott Poythress – to hear about their experiences collaborating on Night Drive, how their tight-knit group came together throughout production on the darkly comedic holiday romp (yay for more Christmas-centric movies!), and more!
If we could start with you, Meghan and Brad, and talk about the story. It’s very ambitious, but it’s all condensed within this one night, so were there any unique challenges for you, in terms of hitting those narrative high points?
Meghan Leon: We knew we wanted to do something with AJ and Sophie and so we crafted the storyline around them initially. I don't drive. I just take Lyft and Uber everywhere and so, while sitting in the backseat, I’ve always thinking about different ways to spin that into something doable that the four of us could do together. That was the first thing that we came up with and we broke down the outline of the story together and we really just realized that it'd be cool to do a one-night hang out movie. We both like After Hours, which is one of those movies where everything starts snowballing and it just gets worse and worse and worse.
Brad Baruh: Meghan wrote great dialogue and a great script so we really did figure out that if we're going to go with a two-person movie, obviously in a car makes sense budgetarily, then it's about how much character development, how much interesting conversation we need to have before something needs to happen. It's those moments that were very much plotted out, so we tried to make sure it happened right at those key moments.
For the actors, what was the big appeal for you coming into this? Was it being able to work with these guys intimately? Was it the characters? Or was it just a culmination of all of those things?
Sophie Dalah: I think that it's nice to get to work with everyone here. I loved the script and I was excited about working with AJ, and I saw that it was a lot of just us talking, and we have great chemistry. It was just a lot of fun and it seemed like it was going to be a lot of fun to do.
AJ Bowen: Well, they let me be in the movie (laughs). But I've been fortunate to get to work with friends throughout a career, and with these guys, we’ve made a few movies together now. We all worked on Dead Night together and got to know each other on that and really enjoy it. We have really similar interests so we are those friends that you talk to about the same kind of movies; the ones that you laugh at that nobody else laughs at.
I remember we were talking about making an entirely different movie and that's one that we wouldn't have had the ability to make on our own terms. I think that we reached a point where it was like, "Oh, but you know what's really fun? Making a movie." The reason I mentioned that is because we talked about, "Okay. Well, we should do something and we'll just figure it out." And two weeks later, I had an email and Meghan had completed a script and that's amazing because that script is incredibly similar to what is on the screen.
Scott [Poythress] and I went to high school and college together. We worked on no-budget movies together and those movies, you're not really actors. You're a crew member that's in front of camera for the times that those characters have lines. But the part that I think Scott and I have always been interested in is behind the camera stuff too. On days that we're on movies that our characters aren't working, we're usually there on set, gripping. Hauling cable. When you do a movie of this size, we all wear more than one hat. It all becomes a truly collaborative experience.
Scott Poythress: Obviously we've been making movies for a long time together and I was a big fan of Dead Night, but I did not know Brad, Meghan or Sophie at all. I just loved the film. When AJ said there was a part for me I was in. This was before I even read it. And when I did read it, I was like, "This is going to be so fun." And it was. It was a fantastic experience working with these guys.
When you're making movies at any level, obviously there's a camaraderie, but I think particularly when you're working on the independent scale, everyone really has to band together. Do you you feel like that heightens the experience for you guys? Because you know that everybody's there for the right reasons.
Brad Baruh: I think accountability is a big part of it because when we're there and we have a very tight knit small crew, the decisions have to be faster obviously. But also, we have control over everything we're doing. You might be up against the wall budgetarily, and we might have a schedule issues so we have to be very, very specific on our coverage. Luckily Meghan's an editor too, so it helps us tremendously in terms of some foresight. When we're blocking a scene or covering a scene or doing whatever, she's got the editor cap on a lot of the times so we can say, "Okay, this we'll cut." And that seems to help us tremendously.
This experience was very much, "Let's get together, let's just make a decision, and let's go do it." From an artistic perspective, it's very freeing and awesome, but it comes with the challenges as well of just doing quickly without a lot of fire. As a group, there is something very freeing of being like, "We're not beholden to anybody and we don't have a large crew, so it doesn't become a thing where it's not so personal."
Meghan Leon: Everybody who was there wanted to be there and that's what was fun about it. Even when we had to do pickups of inserts or whatever later, a lot of the same people came to help us out and that was great.
For Sophie and AJ, did you guys work out a lot of those dialogue beats that you guys have in the car or was it all just natural? Did you guys get to riff at all or stick strictly to the script?
AJ Bowen: My creative process is when I receive a script, I rip out everything that doesn't have my character's name on it, and then I add a bunch of stuff that I think would be neat for me to get to do. What I was saying at the Q&A the other night that usually, on an independent film, at least the past decade or so, a script in many instances has become more of an outline for me. Where you know the basic idea of what you want the movie to do, but you don't know what the flourishes are. Those get discovered along the way, where a scene will start out being 11 minutes long and you're going to whittle it down to 90 seconds.
But those beats, we didn't discover the rhythm. That was Meghan. Meghan's rhythm. That rhythm and whatever the back and forth vibe was, was in the script and it was very, to me at least, very clearly in the script. It felt like there was a, creatively, like I said before, we have such similar interests and sensibilities that with Meghan's writing, I understand what her intent is with her work, and as an actor, I'm always trying to get at what the intent of the writer is and then support that.
But as it just started evolving, Sophie and I kept finding each other and finding beats in there and we just had a very easy sense of communication about everything.
Sophie Dalah: I totally agree with you. Really. I would sometimes just add my Australian accent touch to certain things, because of some words don’t always feel right. But most of what you see was written in the script and when I was reading with AJ the first time, it was just like us having a normal conversation. It was just a typical back and forth you’d have, and that’s when I knew we were doing something great.
Scott Poythress: What's interesting about this project is that I don't remember learning the lines. It just felt like I absorbed my lines. And even though this is the least amount of dialogue that I’ve had in most of the movies I’ve done, I also said more of the dialogue that was on the page in this movie than any other project I’ve ever done, because it felt so natural.