Matt Sadowski’s newest film Pretend We’re Kissing (you can check out a review here) has been racking up awards since it was released in June 2014, and is now available across Canada on iTunes. Both filmed and set in Toronto, the film deals with the story of a young man too wrapped up in himself to find any satisfaction in relationships. It’s a love story for our nervous generation that Sadowski, who both wrote and directed the film, is the first to lump himself in with.
Complex Canada sat down with the young writer/director to talk about his life as a Power Ranger, why he still loves John Hughes, and what it’s like to be a Canadian filmmaker on the rise.
Hi Matt. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to Complex Canada about Pretend We’re Kissing. I wonder if we could start with a run-down of your history in film.
Sure. I got my start as an actor. Well first I was in film school, the University of Western Ontario, where you actually never got to touch a camera until post-grad. So I bailed.
I auditioned for a Tim Hortons commercial. It was my first audition and I booked it. Balanced behind the scenes and in front of the camera stuff for a long time. The last acting gig I had was on the 13th season of Power Rangers, shot in New Zealand. While I was in New Zealand and doing a show where I didn’t feel was a serious artist, I wrote a script. This was in 2004. And that script, with 15 different names, those scripts became Pretend We’re Kissing.
When I got back from New Zealand in 2005 I decided not to do anything on camera anymore, and pursue directing and writing. My first recognized project was a documentary about John Hughes called Don’t You Forget About Me. Then I tried to get Pretend made but a bunch of obstacles stood in my way and a lot of it had to do with not having a full body of narrative work. The agencies I was applying to called for a very specific set of accolades or recognition. So I made a bunch of shorts, and went to the National Film Institute where I actually did get to touch a camera and make film. And all that got me to be a candidate for the Telefilm micro-budget, and that’s how I got the money to make this movie. And that’s 15 years condensed into 90 seconds.
What was your intent with making Pretend We’re Kissing?
I wanted to make an independent film that still has a commercial sensibility, but thats an intellectual answer. I wanted to make a film that felt more authentic to my version of romance than I’d ever seen in a romantic comedy.
Romantic comedies get bad raps. The films about relationships that people love, some of these great films like Annie Hall or When Harry Met Sally go on the Romantic Comedy list, but when you say Rom-Com people think the worst. I wanted to flip it on it’s head.
How does Pretend We’re Kissing compare to your previous films?
That’s an easier question for people that have seen my stuff. I think all my stuff is sentimental but there’s a dark truth underneath. Whether its about severe loneliness or disassociation with people, or anxiety, those are themes in all my pieces. That’s why I really like John Hughes’ stuff, it was always really serious material that really mattered to you when you were an adolescent. A candy coated veneer with real dark shit underneath it.
What worked and what didn’t with the film?
Out of all my work its the only piece I’m really satisfied with. Its actually a really weird feeling. I think what pushes people for success is that you always want to improve your work, not to say there’s not improvements or that my next film won’t take what I learned, but all my other stuff I’m not as proud of.
We shot the film so quickly that I’m surprisingly satisfied with what I came out with. If I really had to pick it apart there was one scene I really wish I had a close-up. Everything you see in the film is what we shot and everything is on purpose. There was no ‘you know what would be fun, a steady-cam shot, an extreme wide.’ Every scene in the film over ten years: ‘This is how I’m gonna shoot it, no matter what.’
Any discoveries after finishing the project, aspects you didn’t see before?
For sure! I always knew I was making a painfully honest account of when you’re desperate to hang onto a connection, but I didn’t get how hyper-nervous the film is. And for me, I was writing it in a period when I was so riddled with self doubt that I didn’t really feel present. I dont feel like an overly anxious person on the outside, but it really comes through in the film. I wasn’t aware while making it. It just felt honest and true because it reminded me of the place I was at. That seems to be what people pull out of it, and call it cynical.
Cynical? Not true to life?
Well some people say cynics are true to life. Other people say they’re assholes.
Fair enough. Could you take us through how this film gestated? What was the arc of its initiation as an idea to a completed film?
The kernels: there’s two. I don’t know about other artists but it usually takes me three consecutive ideas that build on each other before i can concretely form an idea. The very first kernel happened before there was a sequel to Before Sunrise. I watched that film, I love that film, I love Linklater and how it’s 9 hours of their time together condensed. The only things I didn’t like was that I couldn’t relate to Ethan Hawke’s character, because he was uber cool, and I really felt that if he had not gotten on the train, that undoubtedly the next day would have been total crap. That to me is interesting, everybody can have an hour or one great day. Everyone gets that in their life, but it’s about the next day. How do you hold onto that? People in marriages have to deal with this.
Then I had a string of relationships I just know I screwed up, said something when I shouldn’t have or didn’t say something that I should have. It wasn’t until I was in the relationship that led to my marriage that I realized that all those eff-ups, all those bad decisions I made were really my own. Up until that point I thought ‘we just didn’t really work out’.
There’s this episode of Seinfeld where George does everything opposite. It wasn’t until I was in my current relationship that I decided: ‘everything I don’t want to say, I won’t say. Everything I do want to say, I’m just gonna say it!’ And now we’re married for ten years.
So one was a reaction to films I loved but didn’t relate to, and the other was having a kind of muse in a love that felt genuine to me enough that I wasn’t forcing myself.
What’s your favorite part of the process of directing?
I really like casting. Its such a special moment when an actor comes in and without ‘performing’ makes your character come to life because they happen to be perfect for the words you’ve written. Sometimes people come in and perform and they’re incredibly talented, and then someone comes in and reads the words right off the page as dryly as possible and you have an emotional reaction. That’s my favourite part, discovering the right people for the role. My job is so much easier after that.
What other roles in film are you interested in pursuing?
I think I’ve pursued enough. Im looking forward to just zeroing in and concentrating on directing.
Whats an insight into film specific to you?
I think that I spend a lot more time thinking about and watching other people than I do in my own life. Sometimes to my detriment, but it makes me a keen observer of things that make compelling or relatable characters. I hope that comes across. It’s generally the feedback I receive.
There’s a total cliche: ‘write what you know.’ I never knew what it meant until I started doing things that were under scrutiny. I think people think it means write what you think about or write what you like. Write what you know means write what has happened to you. All my characters are reflections of emotional things that have happened to me or people I’m close to. Every gesture and tick is how the person across from me on the subway was tapping their foot in the morning. I spend a lot more time looking out than in.
Do you think you made a limited film, or is this supposed to be something universal?
The film itself is universal, but the characters are limiting. Anyone can watch the film and get hope if they feel hopeless in love, or watch it and go ‘I thought I was the only one that thought that, I’m happy I’m not alone.’ But I think that if you don’t identify with the characters in the film it’s not as rich an experience. But… people like it. It won the audience award in Maui, and I don’t have a single family member there! Couldn’t even stack the jury.
The major themes of the movie, once I move away from its genre as a rom-com, or what its characters are doing and its techniques, seem to me to be context and on the other side, the opposing theme: fate. There’s this continual obsession with fate and all of its permutations. The film and its characters are obsessed with both, our context and how fate decrees our context. Comment?
Huh. My only real belief on fate is that you can’t do anything to change it.
And this. This is a big theory. The only time that you ever get to have any sort of satisfaction of being in the right place is when you feel deja vu. I don’t really go through this in the film, but I think what everybody is trying to figure out is if they’re in the right place at the right time with the right person. And you just have to give up. Sometimes deja vu moments happen in awful circumstances but to me, and in the film, it’s ‘this needed to happen for something else to happen.’ So the major theme of the film is that personal epiphany: every person I’ve been with and failed with is someone I had to meet in order for me to be with the person I needed to be with, or to be the person I’m supposed to be.
What’s the next project, and what did you learn from this one?
I have a bunch of things up in the air right now. I’m working on my next original script. It’s called She Smiles At Him. Its still in the romance, awkward funny angle but it does so in a world that’s more True Romance. Less Woody Allen more Tarantino.
What did I learn? I need to have more shoot days. I learned that nobody cares about your budget as long as it looks good and you tell a unique story…
I’d like a bigger budget though.
Matt Sadowski’s Pretend We're Kissing is available now across Canada on iTunes or on Demand on Rogers and Bell. It will be available in the US in October 2015 on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Instant Video, Sony Entertainment Network, Xbox Live, and Vimeo-on-Demand.