Passenger Side, one of seven films in Narrative Competition at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival, is a “comedy of sibling rivalry and verbal one-upmanship.” The film, about two brothers on a “road trip” through Los Angeles, is written and directed by Matt Bissonnette—and stars his brother Joel Bissonnette, along with Adam Scott. Matt talks about his writing process, filmmaking, and the importance of film festivals in this Write On! Q&A.
Is there anything autobiographical in this film?
Nothing, no. Except in the sense that we are brothers. You take characters that you know and then impose stores on them, because it is much easier to make up a story than a person in my experience. Usually what I try and do is go with people that I know or sort of know—they seem more real to me. I find stories come and go. I make “em up, put people (characters) through their paces.
What is your writing process?
Get up at 8, turn on the computer by 9 finish by 1. That’s basically it. Have a cup of coffee.
How do you approach the blank page?
I think Hemingway said, “Finish when you still have a good idea, and start that one the next morning.” When I’m still thinking, I quit. By the time I come around the next morning, that other scene is already in my head and I just write it.
What was your favorite part of this project?
It was fun to write, but it was actually really fun to shoot. It was the easiest film I’ve ever done. The crew was really small and good. The actors were spot-on. We shot in 14 days.
The greatest challenge?
Shooting the driving sequences. We toyed with doing them in rear projection, but we didn’t have the finances to do that properly. So we ended up doing them green screen, which I am not really familiar with. But it turned out very good.
Do you have any advice for writers and filmmakers?
For writers, keep writing. And for would-be filmmakers, read a book or two. Not on filmmaking. War and Peace, something like that. Write more and read more. That would be my advice. And you don’t need to watch so many movies.
How do you like the festival circuit?
I’ve done it a couple times before. I enjoy it. It’s really nice to meet people and to screen your films for different audiences—that’s always a real pleasure—and see how people react. You see how your work plays with audiences and you get a sense see what people may be interested in or not interested in.
Operating in a medium that is very audience driven, which is this one. Obviously some aspect of it is your personal taste, but your taste has to correspond with other people’s interests. It’s not a solitary endeavor.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started making films?
There are a lot of obvious things like you need to pay attention to the finances. More than anything, if I went back, I think I would be more open to other people’s suggestions and be a better thief than I was early on.