Featured image: Sophie Dalah and AJ Bowen in Night Drive. (Courtesy of Night Drive.)
Ridesharing and Uber is one of the new aspects to explore in films after taxis with studio films like Stuber or even indies from this year like Drive All Night, The Toll, Pooling to Paradise or the newest rideshare entry with Meghan Leon and Brad Baruh’s Night Drive.
In the film, AJ Bowen plays Russell, a rideshare driver preparing for another night of work. A customer named Charlotte (Sophie Dalah) hops in and asks him to be his driver for the night, where they go to a house, Charlotte runs in and then comes back out and tells Russell to floor it.
There seems to be Collateral vibes here with her wanting Russell to be her driver for the night, though with this film Charlotte’s purpose isn’t entirely clear yet. That’s totally fine as their dynamic keeps things interesting; with some good laughs between Bowen and Dalah. I’ve always enjoyed Bowen’s work and he’s strong here as the “straight man” along for the ride. Dalah’s a delight here, too, leaving an impression with what she’s able to do with the dialogue. She makes this thriller have a lot of comedic moments, which are usually on the darker side of humour.
It all leads to a wild third act where the plot and the road there starts to make a bit sense, incorporating elements that are entirely unexpected and give an exciting flair to the proceedings and what helps make the film even more memorable.
I was able to speak (via e-mail) with the film’s directors Meghan Leon and Brad Baruh about their film. Meghan also wrote the film, edited and produced the film; and Brad also shot and produced the film. This conversation has been edited for clarity.
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest.com: Meghan, where did the inspiration for this story come from?
Meghan Leon: Brad and I knew we wanted to shoot something fairly contained with AJ and Sophie, so a rideshare gone wrong felt like a good jumping off point. I am one of the rare Angelenos who doesn’t own a car and relies on the kindness of strangers and rideshare services.
After hundred of rides in Lyft’s and Ubers, I realized it would be a disservice to not mine that part of my life. Naturally I’m nothing like Sophie’s character Charlotte, but I did enjoy flipping the dynamics around a bit. Typically, as a female passenger you’re very aware that you’re relinquishing a lot of control by being in a strange man’s car, so with Night Drive, I wanted to switch that up a bit and have Charlotte be very much in charge of the goings-on. Brad and I both love After Hours and felt like a “one crazy night” two-hander would be the way to go.
DP, Filmcraziest.com: Awesome, now with the dynamic between Sophie and AJ’s characters, was it ever hard for them to keep a straight face as Sophie’s constantly happy-go-lucky as Charlotte?
Meghan Leon: Sophie and AJ have a great rapport which has really translated well to the screen. They have a similar schtick in real-life, although Sophie’s considerably nicer and less diabolical than her character, Charlotte. They already had a great dynamic from working together on Brad’s previous film, Dead Night, so it seemed like they really just picked up where they left off. Having a small crew and a tight schedule is exponentially easier when you have cast and crew members who enjoy each other’s company and are able to roll with inevitable curveballs.
DP, Filmcraziest.com: I love Christmas, so I’d love to hear why you both chose to set this at Christmas time?
Meghan Leon: Brad and I also love Christmas (although Brad is a tried-and-true Halloween fan with an enviable legacy for incredible homemade haunted houses). Christmas adds a nice visual panache and helps inject pops of colour in a film that takes place almost entirely at night. We also discussed the juxtaposition of the happiness and hopefulness of the holidays with the craven adventure that Charlotte takes Russell on. Sonically, it was also fun to insert some sappy Christmas songs at opportune moments.
Brad Baruh: I really felt like holiday settings in movies are always a welcome addition and bring some instant connections with audiences. Also, as Meghan mentioned, it’s a really nice way to add some interesting lighting and some easy set dressing to a bar, building, or house… String lights rule!
DP, Filmcraziest.com: Speaking of the Christmas music, as it’s asked in the film, what are your three favourite Christmas songs?
Brad Baruh: Any three tracks from “Neil Diamond – The Christmas Album.”
Meghan Leon: Mine would be “Last Christmas” by Wham!, “Winter Wonderland” by Darlene Love, and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” by Ella Fitzgerald. I can also add that I really hate Manheim Steamroller.
DP, FIlmcraziest.com: Ha, great. Also, was any of the banter in the car improvised or was that mostly scripted? Like that Bing Crosby joke was hilarious.
Meghan Leon: Yeah, the dialogue was pretty much exactly as written.
DP, Filmcraziest.com: I was looking at your other work from you both and saw that you do some work with Marvel in the behind-the-scenes department. What’s that like?
Meghan Leon: As someone who is fairly ambivalent about comic books and superhero films, it’s surreal to know secrets about upcoming films and shows that people are chomping at the bit to know. We’ve been working with them since Iron Man 2 and they’re a blast to work for.
Brad Baruh: We’ve been very lucky to work with some amazing teams of filmmakers from a behind-the-scenes perspective. It’s like constant film school and your teachers are the best in the business. Getting the opportunity to watch and interview these people at work while they craft these spectacular, epic films is truly something special.
DP, Filmcraziest.com: For sure. And is there anything you learn from those projects that you take onto a film like Night Drive?
Meghan Leon: Although Night Drive is pretty much the antithesis of a Marvel movie, I think one common tidbit is to be flexible and expect the unexpected with a shoot.
Brad Baruh: Lighting tricks, lens choices… I always try to get a sense of the technical side of these mammoth productions. The crews are full of so many knowledgeable people that any opportunity to watch what they do and speak to them about their specific craft is priceless.
DP, Filmcraziest.com: That’s great. Fully getting back to Night Drive, I’d love to ask about that genre mishmash that comes in the third act. Does that change the tone or style of the direction at all, or was the intent still staying in that thriller, dark comedy sort-of lane?
Meghan Leon: We wanted to keep the tone consistent that when the turn happens, it makes it feel even more surreal. Personally, I was referencing Adaptation. because that’s a movie that goes in some wild places but always stays true to its dark and wacky self. Our score played a big part in that as well, masterfully done by Michael Joseph McQuilken. He helped us find a balance between the playful, and the deviant. (Plus there are some cool car-type sounds incorporated with the music: Turn signals, revs, reversing engines.)
Brad Baruh: We know tonal shifts can be difficult, but we really wanted to embrace the opportunity and go for it. By putting the most dramatic genre change where we did, I think the actors have firmly established who these two are and they remain very firmly rooted in the roles. It’s really a character driven film, so I think their consistent performances really help us through those transitions.
DP, Filmcraziest.com: Awesome, yeah I really enjoyed where the film went. Also, Brad, what was it like co-directing and then the cinematography for the film?
Brad Baruh: I really loved the opportunity to work with an amazing camera team and have the opportunity to actually operate the camera throughout production. With our small and effective crew, it was very fun to play with available light and let the streets of L.A. really paint the picture for us. It was also great collaborating with Meghan, knowing that she was always at the monitor and keeping us all in check made the whole experience more freeing and rewarding.
DP, Filmcraziest.com: And Meghan, what was it like for you editing the film?
Meghan Leon: Editing is my day job, so it was a no-brainer to cut the film. It’s really like doing the final draft of the script, and it helped keep the tone consistent. I think it would be strange to have someone else cut it, particularly since Brad and I already have such a shorthand and shared sensibilities. We also know what to push back on with each other and what to relent on. It allowed us to stay true to our shared vision.
DP, Filmcraziest.com: Ah, that’s great. Thank you both so much for taking the time to chat about your film ‘Night Drive,’ and congrats on the release.
Night Drive is available to rent or buy on most digital formats (with a list of options here).