Features | Written by Martin Unsworth 09/06/2022

Meghan Leon & AJ Bowen | NIGHT DRIVE

After successful festival screenings, comedy thriller Night Drive is heading to Horror Channel in the UK. We caught up with co-director Meghan Leon and lead actor and genre legend AJ Bowen to find out more about the film…

STARBURST: AJ, what drew you to the project and Meghan how did you come up with the story?

AJ Bowen: What drew me to the story was Meghan informing me that she'd written a script and written a character for me to play. That sounds like a joke, but Meghan and Brad [Baruh - co-director] and I had worked together before and we all get along really well. Meghan and I share really similar sensibilities about the types of films that we watch. Although I watch a fair deal more horror than she does. But our tone and our sense of humour are very similar. And so when they called me and told me that we're going to make a movie, the answer is always going to be yes, so it was absolutely a no brainer. It was helpful that the script was great, but I would have done it anyway, even if it was shit.

Meghan Leon: Brad and I have worked together for about 12 years. We do a lot of behind the scenes stuff for films and documentaries, and he had directed Dead Night, which AJ and Sophie [Dalah] both starred, and we wanted to co-direct something together. I had been on the set of Dead Night with him and he appreciated my support and input and so it seemed like a good opportunity to work together, and we knew he wanted to work with AJ and Sophie because they have such a good rapport and are incredibly talented and just really chill and roll with a lot of crazy, crazy stuff happening on the set. For the longest time, I haven't owned the car, and prior to the pandemic, I’d take rideshares so I always had that as a setup in the back of my mind. When Brad and I were trying to think of something pretty self-contained and that we could finance ourselves, it seemed like a good setup for the two of them. Thankfully, they both really dug the script and were really game to be trapped in a car with Brad and me for long periods of time. Brad and I wrote the story together and he was the one who came up with the third act twist. So we ended up backwards engineering the script to lead into that a little bit. And, yeah, that was, that was kind of how it all came together

Meghan, what was it like co-directing with Brad?

ML: It was pretty great because Brad is pictures and I'm words. So he shot the film, so he was able to really focus on the camera and the look of things and I was able to focus on AJ and Sophie. Because I also edited the movie that really helped us streamline what we needed and what we were going to shoot and there wasn't a lot of stuff that we shot that we didn't need, because we were able to kind of, kind of look into the future as far as like how things are going to be cut together. So it was a really good partnership because it really played into both of our strengths, and I don't think either of us ever felt like we were pulled in too many directions on set, we were able to focus on the task at hand, which, when it's a small shoot like that, it's definitely a luxury to have somebody else to help make decisions with you.

AJ, your chemistry with Sophie is amazing. What was it like working with her again?

AJ: It was nice not having to play a grown person's father again! Because yeah, there are some years between us but with Dead Night I was like, “This is making me feel too old”. But when we worked on Dead Night, there were a lot more characters on screen. And there were some sequences that become tricky pretty quickly, like from an editing and cinematography place because of coverage. Sophie and I, without even really discussing it, built up this father-daughter relationship that was happening whenever the cameras were rolling whether or not we were being covered. Especially in sequences like a dinner table where there's a bunch of people sitting around, we were doing these things we were having unspoken conversations between the two of us, just in case there was an opportunity if they needed to throw the camera or cutaway at any point in time, there were things that were still logical there were just two human beings sitting there looking down playing Sudoku or whatever. And it was a good energy. And so, with this one, I'm getting to really play together in a very heightened, antagonistic way, and sort of discuss in a more dramatic fashion you know like generational differences. We already share a lot of interest when it comes to like food and music. But there are going to be differences because I'm Gen X and she's whatever the newest one is. And, and so getting to play that out in real-time, was great, and, and it was, it was especially good, because like Meghan was saying the crew was so small I mean, if there was a lot of stuff where Meghan and Brad were in the backseat and Sophie and I were in the front and that's 80% of the crew and cast and so getting to have everybody together made the whole process feel purely collaborative, and that that helps with things.

Meghan, were there any challenges with directing just two people for the most film?

ML: Not really. I had written the script for them, and obviously, Sophie is nothing like her character at all, but I knew the cadence of their voices and how they were able to fluctuate energy in the scene. It was pretty easy. As far as all of the challenges in the movie, the actors were at the bottom of the list.

AJ: Thank you!

ML: They were both really game, we had some weather problems, and obviously we're trapped in a car together for long periods of time. Even when we did rear projection on a set, or on a stage, they were sitting in the car for most of the time and were able to just kind of roll with it. We had pretty unseasonably cold and windy weather, we had some flat tires, some really large mountain dogs and stinky goats and things like that, and everybody was game and rolling with it. One of the things that I'm really proud of with this film was that we were able to really make our days, and there weren't any days where we went into crazy overtime or anything. Even though it was a small crew we were able to keep the hours really safe and short for everybody.

AJ: Yeah, I don't think there was even one day to be honest where we took what the full day would be for a movie at this budget level. We were always done early. There were things that were acts of God and whatnot, you know like a tire blowing out on a super fancy car means you can't just change it. When you're 110 miles away from the closest place, well that can burn your day.

AJ, what's it like to drive and act at the same time?

AJ: Shitty. But it's a developed skillset. I'm into the technical components of filmmaking, and they are what drive my performance. So I always want to know what the shot is; I always want to know what the lens is; I always want to know what you're trying to cut to because it's going to impact what I do. There have probably been like a dozen movies where due to budget or whatever, we had to figure out how to drive a practical car with a camera on the hood with a light blasting you in the face, usually with somebody else in the car and being open to the camera, while also not wrecking the car or the camera or the people. And that can be terrifying at first, but to me, it's really no different than actors who can sing or dance, it's just a developed thing it's like learning how to do it and I've been this one particular weird obscure skill on the resume is from years of doing it, and so it was never really stressful it, and especially when you're working with like a small crew. There were shots when Meghan and Brad are in the backseat and Sophie's with me and we're driving, it makes it possible to be rolling on that and then if a car starts coming down the road and its lights are going to mess up a shot, you can just pause and drive. And then once that's clear, it's cool and we can just keep rolling with it. That also really helped us with efficiency.

What was the worst experience you've had in a taxi?

ML: I had a Lyft driver once who asked me if he could put on the country radio station because his dead sister’s ghost was in the car. Then he started talking about how our how we don't really exist. We're all just an avatar, and this is a simulation and our bodies are on another planet, and how he's played this game multiple times before, so he's probably going to win in this round of the simulation. Part of what makes you able to win is practising sexual purity and not doing drugs, and when I got out of the car, the last thing he said to me was “Remember sexual purity”. I immediately contacted Lyft and said this guy thinks there's a dead woman in the car, this might not be a safe situation for people if he's like hearing voices from his dead sister.

AJ: I don't have anything to match that so I'm just not going to say anything at all!

Meghan, you've worked a lot on the Disney documentaries, what are they like?

ML: They're great. We get so many hours of behind the scenes footage, and it's really cool, you get to be a fly on the wall for all these films and see how they're put together and take a lot of lessons from it without actually having to go through the slog of being on set or anything like that. It's certainly been really enlightening. One of the cool things that Marvel does with their shoots, is that if a story's not working, they're very open to shooting additional stuff and not being married to an original story. I think that a lot of times when you're trying to tell a story you get married to your original idea. And so there's something reassuring that even people at the top of their game are able to have some humility and say, “No, this isn't really working, let's figure out another alternative”. It's been a kind of bare-bones film school but it but it's cool to be able to spy on these sets in a way and see all the goings-on, without having to work the crazy hours and everything,

What's next for you both?

ML: I'm still plugging away on these docs. Brad and AJ and I are jonesing to do another movie, part of the concern, of course, is the pandemic and dealing with all of the safety protocols and everything, especially with an independent movie it's just so difficult. I think we're all in a holding pattern, hoping that things are kind of normalised a little bit.

AJ: A lot of writing. I have a seven-year-old at home so as far as the pandemic goes, I got to become like a de facto kindergarten and then first-grade teacher against my will. And to second what Meghan said, as far as I'm concerned, the perfect world scenario is that Meghan and Brad and I just keep making movies together and grow as collaborators. Whatever we end up shooting next I guarantee Meghan will have written it, and then we'll get it and Meghan and I will argue with Brad that it's okay that it's funny. It doesn't have to be just a straight-up slasher movie. That's our creative process, we lightly argue with each other about what a thing is and then we figure out creative ways to shoot it. And then we end up talking to people outside of the United States about it, two or three years later, it's kind of awesome.

Night Drive is available on digital platforms now. Read our review here. The film screens on Horror Channel on June 11th.

Tune into Horror Channel on Sky 317, Virgin 149, Freeview 41, Freesat 138.