CFF Interview: Pretend We’re Kissing

The Canadian Film Fest has officially begun and today we have our second interview with one of the featured filmmakers. Matt Sadowski began his career as an actor and was even a Power Ranger at one point (I’ll let you do the digging for that one). Over the last decade, his interests have moved behind the camera, writing and directing several shorts, as well as the feature length documentary Don’t You Forget About Me, which was a love letter to John Hughes, the completion of which happened to coincide with the beloved director’s passing.

Pretend We’re Kissing is Sadowski’s first feature length fiction film, but there’s a lot of truth in this fiction. Dov Tiefenbach plays Benny, an awkward though not completely inept romantic who falls for Jordan (Tommie-Amber Pirie) after a series of romantic encounters make them both think fate is trying to tell them something. Most of us have had relationships that start out like something out of a romantic comedy, but in this “non-rom-com”, things stay a little closer to reality.

The film premiered at the Whistler Film Festival last December, and will be screening across the country next Wednesday as the second film to be presented as part of the Indie Canadian Film Series.

Dork Shelf: You already showed the movie in Whistler, how does it feel to bring it home? 

Matt Sadowski: The film is so Toronto-centric that this will be the true test, to see if people want to celebrate that. You know when you see someone that you know in a film it changes the way you watch it, so maybe this will change it in a different way.

DS: The protagonist is a bit of an every man, romantically at least. Was there anyone you showed this story to who didn’t have a similar experience to relate? 

MS: The funniest thing that happened with this film is that there was this fellow, who I would say is very charismatic and good looking and great with the ladies, who came to an early test screening. After the screening he talked about how much he could relate to Benny and I wasn’t expecting that. Benny is not an uber dorky guy like in the Napoleon Dynamite camp, but he’s also not Tad Hamilton from Win A Date With Tad Hamilton. So to have this guy who I would put in the Ferris Bueller camp, to have him be like ‘man I really identify with the self doubt’ and the questions that come in your mind about yourself in general, but especially when you’re interested in a girl and you don’t want to say something that gets you in trouble but you’re afraid of not saying it because that could get you in trouble too. He really related to that, so I thought that was really cool.

DS: Did you see the Benny character as a Woody Allen type? 

MS: That was a happy accident to be honest. I really like Woody Allen films. Certainly the films that I appreciate more in this genre are films that are from the 70s and 80s and a lot of those films that I like are Woody Allen films that are non traditional romantic comedies. They don’t have the tropes and cliches that have become to be known for the genre. Originally when I wrote the film, I was pursuing acting, back when everyone was like ‘if you’re gonna make it, you gotta make it yourself’. So I was going to write, direct and star in it. My casting director will tell you my initial emails would say ‘who out there is around 25 and looks like me’ and I had to hang that up right away. Other than when I’m slouchy and wearing an army jacket, glasses and my hat backwards, which is what I wear, I don’t think I look a lot like Dov who plays Benny. He does have a little bit of a Woody Allen thing going on, which worked great. 

DS: How did Zoë Kravitz become involved in the film? 

There was another actress that was attached to the film and three weeks before shooting she found out that her series got picked up for a second season. Zoe was on the list but there were other people I felt were more attainable, then Dov mentioned that Zoe crashed on his couch for a few weeks a few years ago. This is exactly what happened, she was supposed to stay for a weekend and it turned into a month (as she does in film). We’re two weeks away from shooting, of course I’ll lean on that chemistry. 


DS: Most scenes play out in long takes, does this make editing easier or more difficult? 

MS: The choices that we gave ourselves for editing were when do we cut into a scene, and when do we cut out, and which scenes stick. Generally if a scene wasn’t working for any particular reason, there weren’t a lot of options because there wasn’t coverage. Luckily it took me so long to make this film that in terms of script, we ironed out all the kinks. Doing the long takes definitely locked us into ‘best take wins’.

It was also an experience, at least for the first few audiences that saw it, to let go of how they’re trained to not even notice cutting. I saw this in Whistler, you keep on waiting for an edit or close-up, and when you don’t get it you have to go ‘okay, this is that kind of movie’ and it’s a different experience. You might not notice it but you can feel it. The feeling I wanted it to give was when you can’t look away when you overhear a couple having an argument or maybe getting together for the first time.

DS: That really comes to the forefront in the sex scene. 

MS: The sex scene is a really funny scene, and I thought everything came together on that, that’s also the scene where, because now I’ve trained you to know that there’s not going to be a cut, you can just tell how awkward this is going to get. Because you know it’s not going to cut early, you’re going to forced to watch this whole, awful mess. 

DS: What made you want to write, I won’t call it a ‘romantic comedy’, but let’s say a ‘relationship movie’? 

MS: The fall that I wrote this, I met the girl who is now my wife. That relationship felt different than all the others and I’d start to think about why. I was able to take a step back and look at how I fucked up all my previous relationships and use it. I never had the knowledge to know the difference. My wife inspired me to reflect on all that and find the story to tell. It’s not a story of a guy finding the girl he’s going to marry but it’s about a guy coming to the realization of how important all those screwed up relationships are to taking the next step. 

DS: Is this your response to ‘romantic’ films that pander to audience’s expectations? 

MS: Originally Pretty in Pink wasn’t supposed to end well, she wasn’t supposed to get together with Andrew McCarthy at the end. Then they tested it and everyone was really upset that she didn’t hook up with him after all that, so they reshot. I would have been satisfied with that, because sometimes it is about all that build up, then it’s like ‘alright, I’ve learned my lesson’. I don’t think anyone thinks those characters end up marrying each other, so why do they have to get together in the end? I wanted to write a film about spending that one magical day with someone, can you hold on to that? Should you hold on to that?  

DS: What lessons did you learn making this movie?

MS: I think I’m still a little too close to it. It’s kind of like a relationship. When this film is released, it’s like that relationship is over, so I’m going to have to move on to my next relationship, my next project. I won’t really know what I learned on this one ’til I’m in the middle of the next one. 

DS: Your last film lamented the death of the teen film, is that genre you see yourself ever tackling? 

MS: One of the reasons I made the documentary on John Hughes was because I felt I could never make a film as great as that. The film that I would make I’d critique too harshly, so I don’t know if would try and do that. The next flick I want to do is something a little bit darker, leaning more towards a heist movie. 

DS: If you could choose any director to direct your script, other than yourself, who would you choose? 

MS: Noah Baumbach. He to me is like my generation’s Woody Allen. If you read the first version of this script you’d realize how close it was to Richard Linklater, who I love. The film was way more of a lazy day with these two spending time together but it wasn’t funny. The more I wrote in what I find funny, the more in turned into a banter-y movie that fit more into the Woody Allen canon. I’ve always looked at this like a bit of a love child between Linklater and Allen, and maybe that love child is Noah Baumbach. 

What’s on your Dork Shelf? 

I’m a pretty die hard Back To The Future fan, so I have the replica license plate. The first day they released the Lego Delorean I made sure to get that. In my future plans I will own a Delorean. One of my next tattoos is probably the flux capacitor.

Watch clips from the film along with a video of our interview with Pretend We’re Kissing stars Dov Tiefenbach and Tommie-Amber Pirie