Review Fix chats with director Bryan W. Simon who discusses the 20th anniversary of his film “Along for the Ride,” which is now available on Amazon. Detailing the creation process, as well as his future, Simon lets us know how the film helped make him the filmmaker he is today.
Review Fix: How does it feel to see this film available again?
Bryan Simon: It’s extremely satisfying. I was very proud of this film and of everyone who was involved in the making of it in 1999 and I am now. I’m sure that there is a tug of war inside every artist between wanting to move on from the past and not revisit it, continually moving forward, making more art. Yet you also hope that your art of the past doesn’t just die. It’s an interesting balancing act.
Review Fix: What lessons did you learn from it?
Simon: Great question and I actually see this as a two-part question. Then and now. Then the film and the shoot reinforced many of my core filmmaking beliefs. I had done a 23-minute short film previous to this, which you had reviewed for its rerelease a while back.
I shot that film in four days so this was completed just as rapidly.
Prep is everything. Once the train has left the station, there’s no going back or even slowing down. Pre-block for camera and actors. I preach this time and time again.
I actually believe it makes you more creative as a director, not less, because you’ve really thought through your shot designs and visual construction. I pre-blocked the whole film with my Cinematographer Denise Brassard. It would have been impossible to complete the film in less than two weeks if we hadn’t.
In addition, you can never be prepared for everything, but if you meticulously prepare for the obvious you’ll have plenty of time to improvise when needed or put out any fires that might ignite. Something always goes wrong and if you’ve done your prep, any problems won’t throw you off.
Now this time around, I realized that you can always tweak something. I was able to play with the color of the film digitally more then when it was film negative and fix a couple of little things. I also tweaked the sound, giving it a richer and deeper structure with help from Elliot Anders who did the sound restoration.
I also added the “Aural Reverse Shot or Angle”. This is a sound element that was coined by visual consultant Thomas Ethan Harris in 2014, when we were conducting seminars at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood.
Review Fix: How does that function?
Simon: It’s a sound element that places in our mind’s eye an image that isn’t on the screen. It’s a clever and cheap way for low budget filmmakers to add depth to their film. For instance, I added the sounds of laughter and a baseball crowd to Terry’s surreal dream sequence at the 72-minute mark. That wasn’t there before.
Review Fix: Any other takeaway’s past or present?
Simon: I’m certainly not the same filmmaker I was 20 plus years ago, but I was definitely on the right track with ALONG FOR THE RIDE and I grew up during that shoot.
Review Fix: How so?
Simon: A perfect example is that is when we were just a few days into the shoot. We were shooting the exterior cantina scenes with Jenny Gago and my Cinematographer Denise Brassard and I had a disagreement in how we should execute a shot. She was very protective of the film and me, and felt she was saving me from myself. Everybody was watching as to who would win this tug of war. J.E. Freeman who played the father Jake walked up behind me and whispered, “Be a Lion. Be a Mountain.” I will never forget that and in front of everybody I respectfully, but forcefully told Denise we would do it my way. Once it was done she admitted that I was right and that she had misinterpreted the situation. It was all good, but from then on everyone pushed a little harder. They had a leader. By the way, she did on several occasions really come through, but after that we were always on the same page. I owe her a great deal.
Review Fix: Any fun stories from on set?
Simon: Besides that one?
Review Fix: I’m sure there’s more?
Simon: On a 13-day feature film shoot there’s nothing but fun stories, or maybe horror stories? (Laughs)
Shooting in the desert in June is not the smartest move, but it did get us free Panavision cameras, free Kodak film stock, free equipment and countless free locations.
Review Fix: How did you manage that?
Simon: That was television off-season back then and so many companies were willing to lend their equipment. It was just sitting on the shelves and so they would help new filmmakers by letting them have it for free. There are no shooting seasons anymore, so that help is gone.
I mentioned J.E. Freeman earlier and he was a very accomplished actor and was used too much higher budget films having co-starred in some major pictures. He could be difficult, by his own admission. He hated waiting around and when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, you’re kinda stuck there often waiting around. One sequence was taking quite a bit longer than expected with Randall and Dylan who played the brothers and he took off. When I got to the moment I needed him in the scene, in the background, he wasn’t there, so we put some foliage in front of the car masking the area where he would have been exposed and we kept shooting. We couldn’t see him, but he was there in our mind’s eye. When he returned he asked what happened and I told him what I did and he never left the set again.
When we were shooting the driving scenes, we were towing the car and the generator on the camera truck caught fire and had to be shut down. No way to get a new generator for a day, so Denise lit the actors with tin foil from craft services and we continued on. You’d never know the difference.
Even though we had permits to shoot on empty county roads where we did the driving sequences the highway patrol shook us down for fees that weren’t require and we had to hire them to watch over us. There was no way to argue with them and we had to keep shooting. I‘m sure our producers would have been arrested if we tried to resist.
Review Fix: There had to be some fun moments?
Simon: I’m really all work when I’m shooting. I think it’s all too important to be cavalier about it. It’s a privilege to direct a film and a lot of people are counting on you, but there were a couple of really special moments. One that I remember is that Jenny Gago, who played Maria, did not want me to see her until she was ready to walk on the set in character. That was really special because she wore a wig from a film that she did with Jane Fonda and Gregory Peck when she was much younger. It was really sweet of her to bring so much to her role. Pepe Serna was on the set for only one day, but he was so much fun to be around. He jokes and laughs and gets everybody in a playful mood. He reminded us that it’s really fortunate and fun to be making movies. I’m happy the work of these five cast members lives on because they put so much into it. The fun for me comes when I see a take and it exceeds my expectations. Becomes something I never imagined.
Review Fix: Is your film still relevant today?
Simon: Yeah, it really is. Something I was hoping for 20 years ago, but could never have predicted. I think because it’s character-based and the problems and baggage of these characters is really universal. Sibling rivalry. Chasing your dreams, but at what cost? The desire to reconnect. The desire for closure or even answers. You look at these two brothers and we believe the wealthy baseball player is the brother that’s got it together, but in fact has some deep dark secrets. And the younger brother that appears to be a loser is really more self aware and together than his older brother is, but searching the world for some meaning, trying to shed his baggage on every trip. They are both battling their demons and the expectations of a father they never really knew. Through this experience they start to grow and learn.
Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy it now?
Simon: That’s a good question. Certain stories are universal, and hold up over time and I think and hope that this could be one. As it screened around the country almost 20 years ago what surprised me was that everyone who saw it brought his or her own interpretation and ideas to the film. Siblings had one experience, parents had another. And let’s face it we all have baggage, right? (Laughs)
Review Fix: What’s next?
Simon: I have a lot going on. I continue to lecture and write. I have a book coming out July 2020 that was inspired by my comedy documentary “I’m No Dummy”. I recall you were one of the first to review the film. https://reviewfix.com/2010/03/no-dummies-here/
In regards to my next film project I always had an answer for that question, because it comes up a lot. But now, I just say I don’t know. That’s because I’ve been wrong about what’s next at least 50 percent of the time. Sometimes what’s next ends up being third or fourth, so I just say that I have a handful of projects I’m working on. What I can tell you for sure is that you and I will speak about what’s next, sooner than later, I hope. (Laughs)