Three Imaginary Girls

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Linas Phillips & Davie-Blue in Bass Ackwards

Photo Credit: Victoria Holt

Another favorite of mine at SIFF this year was the charming road trip movie Bass Ackwards. I grabbed some time with Director Linas Phillips and his co-star, co-writer and friend Davie-Blue to talk about the experience of making this film.

While Linas is a self-described brat and I was never sure what was true and what was said in fun, the interview was fantastic and I can’t wait to see what these two do next.

I thought Bass Ackwards was great, and the thing that really made it great (in my opinion) is that Linas’s character was so loveable that you want him to be okay. You’re really rooting for him to make it.

Linas: He doesn’t seem annoying? Because he’s not getting his shit together?

No. I feel like everybody’s been lost like that at some point…

L: Everyone’s been annoying? Annoying doesn’t exclude empathy, maybe.

I didn’t find him annoying at all. (turning to Davie-Blue) Did your character find him annoying?

L: Or did you?

Davie-Blue: No, I think she wanted to have sex with him. But I do kind of find him annoying, personally. Well I don’t know if annoying is the word. I guess, yeah.

L: Frustrated with? No?

DB: Yeah, I guess it is frustrating to watch somebody not take the bull by the horns.

L: Right, but I think maybe he comes off like someone who shouldn’t be acting like that. So maybe it’s less – because if they’ve always been like that, and they’re forever going to be like that, there’s no reason to watch them.

DB: Right. So it’s actually effective. Put some fire under everybody.

L: It’s like a contradiction that he can’t do anything, but he seems like he should be someone who can.

DB: Yeah, it’s the challenge that he has, and you have hope for him. It’s exactly what you’re saying.
Yes, I was sympathetic towards him – right off, for an unknown reason.

DB: And you see his potential. You want to help him.

L: I think earlier on in the scene at the wedding where you see him talking to this little kid, even though it was just something that we shot spontaneously, I think it was really important to have that in there. One, because it was so real that it helps with the authenticity, and if we didn’t have that in there, it would have been harder to show his nice side immediately. You see it very quickly, you find out so much about him in this short scene with the kid.

He’s interested in kids, and he’s doing a wedding – but there’s something not right, I mean he could be like a weirdo who just flirts with all the girls at the wedding. I think I’ve done that when I’ve shot weddings for real.

DB: That moment when he says, “Do you wanna go now?” to that little kid, giving him a chance to run off, is so unique, because that requires such a sensitivity and most grown men would not have that sensitivity and observation and love for a little person. And so you learn that not only is he a nice guy, but he’s a special guy. It’s a very touching moment, I think.

L: Yeah, I never thought of that. I just thought, ok FINALLY he’s letting the kid go. Because he’s kind of annoying him, or making him feel a little awkward. But I also think he really liked the kid. And he’s just enjoying it. Like in the way that you’re like tricking someone, but it’s not as mean as that.

Like, I have a thing where I just like to tease my grandmother or make her wear something weird. And it’s not hurting her, she likes the attention, because hardly anyone ever talks to her, but it’s kind of got that kind of energy.

DB: My dad is like that.

L: Teasing people? I love to just…mess with people. I’m a brat. That’s what it is. I asked Liz if I was mean, and she said, “No, you’re just a brat”.

So you said that scene was spontaneous, how many scenes did you…

L: Forty-two.

Forty-two spontaneous scenes?

L: No, sorry, what’s your question?

Was it mostly scripted, or did you just do what felt right at the time?

L: It was a real mixture. The beginning was written, although there is stuff in it that’s not scripted, and then once we started shooting we came up with other ideas. Some of them happened a year later, so some of the stuff on the road trip was scripted afterwards. I was basically trying to save a movie that felt half-finished. I just thought it needed more fleshing out. Whenever we were shooting, it was pretty loose.

Like I think we had stuff written for us when we’re in the hotel, when Georgia and Linas were playing cards, but then we didn’t follow it exactly. I think it’s good just to get it written down, even if it’s bad. Because a lot of times things when you write them, there’s no way it’s going to sound good.

Like the Alpaca scene? That was one of my favorite scenes.

L: I think people are sometimes thinking they’re performing for an invisible person – but they just don’t have anyone around. They’re alone in their life. Because it’s kind of performance, the way that he’s doing that. It’s almost like too much, like I know I’m on camera or something. But yeah, that’s an example where I think if it were written down, we’d be asking why we’re filming it.

But also, what else wasn’t scripted? Um, the girls on the road in the bar, those moments weren’t scripted. They just happened when we got there.

DB: One thing that I wanted to say about that too was that [the film] was very low budget. And just had like a tiny, tiny crew. Very often it was just Linas and his DP, so it wasn’t just the dialog that was improvised, it was everything. You can’t really write a script and then shoot it – unless you have enough money to do that. And we just had to take what we could get. So, I mean, the dialog changed.

L: Yeah, if you’re writing it in a certain way where you’re planning it out more, you’re going to be so frustrated when you have this small of a movie. Like even later on when we added a scene with me and Georgia, where I’m asking her to go on the road with me, that was actually shot this past December in Boston – nowhere near Seattle. But that was just because we were out there, and we had to find someplace where it could work, so we just banged on people’s doors and asked if we could film a scene there.

Yeah, that scene definitely needed to be there, so when Linas sees her later, his reaction makes sense.

L: And that we came up with later too, that stuff was shot much later. There’s a shot where I start driving over the Brooklyn Bridge in 2008, and in 2009 I finish driving over it.

We basically had a few ideas and we shot a little bit for each one, and it didn’t really work, so we came up with the Jim character. So it’s organic, but even stuff later could have happened within the first chunk of filming if we’d had more time…and I’d been smarter.

The Jim character is really interesting to me too, because he’s not exactly a likable guy. He’s very strange and abrupt, but I think it really played off your c
haracter’s gentleness. I mean, he just gets in your van and says he’ll go where you’re going, and then he’s cock-blocking you at the bar…

L: There’s actually going to be a sequel called Jim: The Cock-blocker.

That would be awesome.

L: That kind of would be a funny comedy. You know? Jim just cock-blocking people? And then every time he’s just like, “What?”

Yeah, we kind of show the worst version of Jim, I guess. Parts of his character are very similar to how he is in real life. But I guess I just see him as a character that operates outside the laws of social constraint and behavior – because he’s never mean. He is just someone who’s very free. And that’s one thing the Linas’s character isn’t.

Yeah, I felt like you two could be good for each other. I did really enjoy all the characters you met along the way, especially Paul Lazar. I was pretty excited to see him in your film. I love that guy!

L: That scene where we did the impression was a hard scene; it took a long time. There were wide shots where we’re both doing the scene, because he still didn’t really get it. I was just trying to get to it.

So did you have that impression in your mind, then?
[Note: The impression was of a Lithuanian Christopher Walken]

L: Yeah, because I used to do it for real when I did stand-up comedy years ago, and I thought it would just be good to have there. My Lithuanian is so bad, I’m sure even Lithuanian people wouldn’t understand it. I kind of cringe when I think about them seeing it.

He’s really good [Paul] – I know him be cause his wife was a teacher of mine at NYU. He cast me in a play, actually. But then he got a movie, and he didn’t end up doing the play, and I ended up not liking the replacement director, so he always felt about that.

And then we were going to do a two-man show together; we rehearsed a couple times, but I didn’t think it would be good. So it took many years for us to finally be able to work together. But yeah, he really liked my first film, Walking to Werner.

So did you actually take the road trip with your DP?

L: We really were driving across the country, and we towed the Shorty most of the time. We shot from the back of this pick-up truck when I was driving; I didn’t drive it too much though, in real life. Like 5-10 miles at a time. Sometimes, 20 – if we couldn’t find a place to pull over and hook back up. It was a real pain in the neck to undo the tow rig and everything.

We put a lot of work into the car too – these guys, Bug-Aid. They fixed it up. The guy who sold me the car, in Montlake Terrace, is going to come to the screening tonight. He’s all excited. He sold it to me because he bought a flat screen TV.

Are you guys both originally from Seattle?

L: No, I lived here for 4 years and made films here, so I just seem like a native.

DB: I’m an LA native, but I grew up in Seattle. This festival was kind of the beginning of me really falling in love in with film and wanted to be involved in it.

L: She used to work at the festival too, that’s kind of how we met.

So what’s next for both of you?

L: Well, tennis shoes. I’ve always loved tennis, so Davie & I are going to open a tennis shoe shop.

DB: We got a lease in SoHo, this kind of tiny little…

L: Because people need tennis shoes!

DB: Yeah, everyone wears them.

L: Even if you don’t play tennis, it’s fashionable.

DB: There’s not just for tennis. They’re also for skateboarding, basketball, etc.

What’s it going to be called?

L & DB (in unision): Tennis Shoes….Too.

L: Five Brothers Tennis Shoes?


L: I’ve been just writing and trying to figure out what film is next, but it’s probably going to be this film, Rainbow Time. Which is hopefully going to star my brother who is mentally handicapped, and his name is Rimas.

It’s about him living in a home for mentally handicapped people, and it’s a buddy film. There’s a new volunteer at the house, and they start creating a TV show together called “Rainbow Time”. Rimas is a complex character, a very cranky guy – hard to be with sometimes, but he’s very funny and endearing. And he’s obsessed with Happy Days. So yeah, Rainbow Time, hopefully this Fall or Winter.

DB: I’m also writing a screenplay right now – my first screenplay. So I’m in that process. It’s exciting and fun.

Can you give me a hint about it? Or are you not ready to talk about it yet?

DB: It’s about a young woman who is lost in her life, and so uptight and disconnected from her own self-communication, and the tragedy of that – but also her awakening. It’s called Fancy Goldfish.

L: And she’s obsessed with Happy Days, right? You stole that!

DB: She’s obsessed with GOLD FISH. She loves gold fish.

L: You stole that idea from me. She sent me the script and it’s all about Happy Days, and I was like uh….

DB: There’s going to be a lot of children in it.

L: Kids are good on camera.

DB: I’m a teacher and a nanny and a baby lover. So I’m excited about that challenge of creating spaces that are really safe for children to improvise and really express their truth, which is so magical. We’ll see if it’s possible. You know what they say – no children in movies. They say, no children, no animals – so I have the goldfish, I have the babies, so we gotta get a boat.

L: I thought kids were good in movies.

DB: I know; you’re a radical.

L: Kids and motorcycles. I thought that what’s it’s about.

Can you talk about the music in the film and what you’re listening to now, what inspires you, etc?

L: Samba.

DB: Well my mother is a jazz singer, Rochelle House, and I’ve been listening to her album a lot lately, and my brother just cut his second hip hop album, so I’ve been listening to that. Raven Matthews is his name. His crew is Faded Theory – teenagers in Seattle.

L: We should make a documentary about him and get it into SIFF! That’d be good exposure.

DB: Yeah, let’s do it now! Let’s do it about him not having enough money to go to college.

L: I don’t think you need college.

DB: Yeah, you need college! You can’t say that if you went to NYU.

L: Yeah, but I still can’t pay off the loans. I just stopped. There’s this great band called the Bill Collectors. It sounds like an iPhone ring, and it just plays on and on, every Sunday morning.

Actually, I just listen to Bob Dylan and Neil Young mostly.

DB: How about Janelle Monáe? Have you been hearing her? She’s a young soul/hip-hop/pop spiritual Diva coming up out of Atlanta. And she is INCREDIBLE. She always wears a tuxedo and does James Brown dance moves, and just weaves together incredible inspiration from all these genres. I think she’s going to be a big deal.

L: Have you heard of Amy Winehouse?

DB: I have heard of that. I think I have, yeah.

L: I think we should, because she’s “up and coming”, we should try to get her to do a tennis shoe for us.

DB: Yeah, with a heel. Maybe she can be in Fancy Goldfish and Rainbow Time.

L: She should be the lead in Fancy Goldfish!

But also, if we could mention Lori Goldston, that’s awesome. She’s a musician here in Seattle and she did the soundtrack with this woman Tara Jane O’Neil (who’s in Portland) to Bass Ackwards.

{Bass Ackwards screened at the 36th Seattle International Film Festival this year, is screening at Northwest Film Forum June 12-17, and is currently available to watch on Streaming Netflix}