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The DirtiesBack in October we brought you our review of director Matt Johnson‘s debut film, The Dirties, which Kevin Smith not only called “The most important film you’ll see all year” but also presented via his Kevin Smith Movie Club.

Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Matt and delve a bit deeper into the film, the issues of school bullying and violence, and scenes that didn’t make the cut. Check it out below.

Infectious Magazine: You’ve had rave reviews so far, you’ve won awards from Slamdance to most recently Toronto Film Critics Award. Has it just been a whirlwind of events ever since the release? 

Matt Johnson: Yeah, since almost a year ago all of us have been on the road. It’s just sort of calming down now. But it was a lot, and it was really fun. It was fun to go to a bunch of different cities, especially Europe. It’s been really great.

IM: I’m pretty jealous! Touring all around Europe like that.

MJ: Don’t be jealous. Making the movie was not fun at all.

IM: It must have been fun at parts though.

MJ: It’s very stressful. We all thought the movie would really suck as we were doing it. We thought we were really screwing it up. To us, it was just kind of like another episode of Nirvana the Band. We were just doing it for ourselves in a lot of ways. We didn’t think anyone would like it. So for us, we were like “Ok this movie sucks, no one is having fun doing it and it’s not going well.” So that was very stressful, for me especially.

IM: Ah, but you guys look like you’re having so much fun in the movie!

MJ: Yeah, well there’s always fun. Nirvana the Band was also not fun. The shooting of that show is 5%, probably less. The shooting is fun, and hanging out with Jay or Owen is fun, but as soon as that’s done, you need to turn all that nonsense into something legible, for lack of a better word. What’s difficult is figuring out how to take two scenes and make them seem like one scene. That’s extremely difficult.

IM: I was reading an interview where you talked about a scene you wanted to film on train tracks? Were there any other scenes like that, that you wished you had filmed or that you did film and thinking back wish had made the cut?

MJ: The train tracks were something they wouldn’t let me film.  I wanted to shoot it and Matt Miller, the producer, wouldn’t let me, and wouldn’t let anyone shoot it. I asked Curt to shoot that scene for me, where I’m running at a train that’s barreling towards me, and Miller called Curt and everyone and said “If Matt wants to shoot this scene, don’t let him.”

The idea for the scene is great. I am coming home from school and I have my backpack, and Owen is with me. I get on the train tracks like “hey look at this” and the train is coming at me, and I’m acting like it’s no big deal, and then I jump off the train tracks at the last second. But there were a lot of scenes that didn’t make it. There’s this other scene we shot where Matt is trying to get Owen to go to some fireworks and Owen’s like “no man, that’s stupid.” And Matt tries to go to the fireworks alone, but he doesn’t make it there in time. Instead, he just watches the fireworks from his car. And that didn’t make it in the movie. But there were some shooting problems with that scene. Because we shot everything, and we could only include so much. So, there’s more that didn’t make it in the movie, than that’s in the movie. I would say the only stuff that’s good is in the movie.

You know what there’s a lot of that’s not in the movie? Ridiculous Nirvana the Band stuff, of me acting stupid, just saying insane situations, trying to get Owen to laugh and just bringing up the most nonsensical imaginative situations that I’m like “hey imagine this.” But we realized that couldn’t be in the movie, because it was just a bit too goofy.

IM: Are you going to have those scenes on the DVD?

MJ: Yes. The DVD will have tons and tons of that stuff. The DVD is going to be amazing.

IM: Any idea when the DVD will be out?

MJ: I think it’s coming out in the New Year. We’re figuring that out now. We’re just figuring out who we’re releasing it through.

IM: You’ve had a pretty good run this past year, haven’t you?

MJ: The secret was when we finished Nirvana the Band I was like, “Good, now I can die. I’m never going to do anything better than this, ever.” Because I had that mindset, it made it very easy for me to ignore my responsibilities and do nothing for a year and a half until I had to make The Dirties. {But] it’s been a really remarkable year for us.

IM: With the success of The Dirties, are you feeling any more pressure for your next film?

MJ: Well, it hasn’t been that successful. For an independent filmmaker, their first movie, the success wasn’t normal. But, none of our lives have changed at all. We’re still making our own movies, with all of our friends, and I’m still in school. It’s very much like when we were making Nirvana the Band. Same style.

IM: I noticed the seagull screech from the foley scene in a few other scenes, and you wearing the shirt made famous in Elephant in a few scenes. Are there any other subtleties throughout?

MJ: Well those are two very different things. That shirt is a direct reference to the message the character is trying to convey about how bad the movie Elephant is. That seagull thing is an inside joke for like….nobody. It’s just a joke Matt is doing for himself. On the DVD we have a track where I go through the DVD and I call out every single reference to everything, and that’s all it is content wise. It’s just me pointing out every single reference. And there’s so many that I can’t even say, because even inside of a scene we would shoot something in a certain style, trying to make that a rip off of a movie, while I’m saying things that are direct references to other movies. There’s so many at the same time that it’s almost ridiculous to think about them all.

I think as the movie goes on you’re not expecting this psychotic character to still be referencing things as he’s losing his mind and trying to kill these people. I think you’re assuming they aren’t references, because for them to be references, for this guy to be doing inside jokes even towards the end, you’re like, “oh man, nobody is that sick.”

IM: I read an interesting theory that if schools were a bit smaller and more focused between teachers and students that these things might not escalate (more individual attention, noticing of behaviors, etc). What do you think of that?

MJ: I think the whole reason people do it is to get attention, and the only reason that anybody would ever do anything that massive is because they feel like they aren’t being respected, or they aren’t getting the attention they feel they deserve. So certainly, I mean, I think that’s a great idea. That way, every student has a personal responsibility to their teachers and feels like “this person is looking out for me” or “this person is listening to me,” I think that would go a long way. Rather than feeling like they are so anonymous that not only can they get away with something like this, but that it’s the only way to make it into the mainstream. They’re doing insane things just to literally fit in, which seems backwards but that seems to be what it boils down to. So, I think that’s a great idea. But I can’t see how that would work. It seems like the school system in both our countries is struggling to keep up with demand as it is. But there are less and less kids these days as the baby boom gets older, so who knows. I think more so than that though, is this issue of American celebrity that all young people are dealing with. Where unless you are important in a media sense, you feel worthless. And people in high school have a way of generating this type of media buzz around popular people that has nothing to do with traditional media. It’s not like the popular kids are on the news. But they have a sense of celebrity and everyone is trying to get at that same kind of celebrity at any level. And being powerless in that environment I think can [make kids] feel like they’ll never have that kind of attention. I think that’s what our film is about is about, is kids trying to get that attention through violence.

IM: Does it seep in, in Canada, that whole media culture that we have here?

MJ: Yeah, American media affects us tremendously. I would say our news is very different, we don’t have news outlets like you guys do. Mostly people get their news from the CBC here in Canada, and they’re not at all sensational. It’s the least ostentatious news network. I think it’s modest in a good way.

IM: That’s probably better, because news really has become entertainment in a lot of ways.

MJ: News in America is political, whereas news in Canada is not. Or at least it isn’t in the same way. I’m sure people may disagree with that, but it’s not political in the way it’s politicized in the States.

IM: I know we talked a bit about your next movie earlier. Do you have anything planned beyond that?

MJ: We’re shooting [the new movie] in June, and after that Curt and I are making a show. Curt got a show, and Jared got a show, and that’s called In The Studio With Jared.

IM: What is one question you’d like to be asked about this movie that you haven’t been, and what is the answer?

MJ:  A lot of people seem to miss the fact that we actually enrolled in actual high schools. Owen and I were in actual high schools, and it was super normal to us. The actuality of being in these high schools, of going from class to class and having people interacting with us was super scary, but at the same time fun and most people don’t talk to me about that. A few news people asked me about that early on, and now almost nobody. So that’s what I would ask, and to answer it I would say, we enrolled in those schools because we wanted to show actual bullies and that was important to us because we didn’t think [there was] any other way to do it.

The Dirties, winner of the Best Narrative Feature and Spirit of Slamdance Award at the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival, is available in select theaters and VOD. You can find more information here.


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Angela Mastrogiacomo

Founder of Infectious Magazine & Muddy Paw Public Relations. Lover of passion, ice cream, and books.

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