Sarah Dumont goes meta with ‘Drive All Night’

Photo provided by Peter Hsieh

Sarah Dumont (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,The Royals)shines as Morgan in the visually incredible ‘think film’ Drive All Night. Drive All Night is now showing at the Cinequest Film Festival.

Drive All Night, written and directed by Peter Hsieh, follows Dave (Yutaka Takeuchi), a reclusive swing-shift taxi driver, whose night takes an unexpected turn after he picks up a mysterious passenger, Cara (Lexy Hammonds), a young woman hiding a dark secret. As she makes him drive through the city on a series of bizarre excursions, things get increasingly more surreal the further into the night they go. Sarah Dumont plays Morgan, a sympathetic waitress who works at a diner that Dave often frequents, while Johnny Gilligan plays Lenny, an obsessive hitman guided by strange visions, who pursues our protagonists through the night.

Check out my Q & A with Sarah.

How would you describe Drive All Night?

 Sarah: I think it’s a film that makes you think. It has a lot of open questions throughout, it’s not one of those movies where you start watching and I don’t know how you watch movies, but I can guess what’s going to happen in the first 10 minutes or you get to maybe the climax and you know exactly how it’s going to end. It’s not a movie like that at all. It makes a lot of meta statements. It’s beautifully shot and there’s a lot of acting in the silence. It’s a movie that definitely makes you think but is extremely visually stimulating at the same time, it’s not like an action movie, you’re not running around and shooting off guns but there’s all this nuance, things kind of happening all at the same time as you piece it together and then the film ends. You can sit down and watch a movie with three different people and three different people will tell you how they thought it ended. It would be all different answers. It’s more of an art film…  it is truly new noir, so it fits into that category but it’s more of an art piece. It’s really beautiful to watch, it makes you think. 

And it’s interesting because we shot it pre-COVID and the meta statement that is with the film, there’s this voice and they never really tell you who the voice is and I remember asking Peter  when we were filming like, ‘who is the voice behind the camera?’ and he goes, ‘I don’t want people to ever know. I want them to all guess.’ And I’m like, ‘even us?’ And he’s like, ‘even you.’ But you hear this recording and it shows up more than once during the film. I watched the finished cut right before we started doing press and it really struck me how true that statement is, especially now. It’s always true but especially now, and I think that’s kind of the driving force of the film and the statement that’s made is desperate people will always act out of fear because they’ve been conditioned to do that, to act that way their entire lives. I think that that’s kind of this burning question that’s happening with Yutaka’s character but it’s also this burning question of humanity and it’s a statement that you can’t actually argue with. In this last year, after George Floyd and the pandemic and the other day at the salon, all these things are so true. I don’t know if you want to call it ironic or synchronicity or just serendipity, I don’t know, but it is kind of that burning question and statement that drives the film and it kind of drives life. That just really stuck out to me when I watched it the other day for the first time, I was like, ‘oh, oh yeah, that’s interesting.’

It’s visually beautiful, but it’s a think film, it’s an art film.

Photo provided by Peter Hsieh
Do you think your character, Morgan, also acts out of fear?

Sarah: I think all humans act out of fear on a regular basis, on a very, very regular basis. I don’t think that it’s so obvious that she’s acting out of fear, I think it’s more- it’s an undertone of it. She could have stepped in and been like, ‘yo, this girl’s crazy…’ I think people act out of fear all day, every day. We just don’t want to admit it to ourselves.

How would you describe Morgan?

Sarah: Morgan seems, to me, to be a girl who probably would have gone really far in life had she not met some douchebag who left her a single parent, working at a cafe in San Jose. She seems intelligent, she clearly has an eye and an intellect for art in written ways to make a whole book on quotes and things that she’s seen on bathroom stalls. She’s definitely a deep thinker, but a sweet person.

Have you ever found anything on bathroom stalls or walls that has really like that you can remember, that’s like stuck with you?

Sarah: I feel like cheated because there’s this place on Santa Monica (Blvd), it’s technically on Holloway (Dr.), but it’s Santa Monica (Blvd) and La Cienega (Blvd), where they intersect this place called Barney’s Beanery, and when I first started coming to LA, I’d stop there to pee when my mom dragged me up here to castings when I was 14. But they have these bathrooms that are covered in all these cool old photos of Sunset Boulevard and I feel like at one point, when as a teenager, they just stopped taking off the graffiti and just kind of embraced it. Not only have I written stuff on that wall, but a mirror was broken there probably back in like 2008, 2009 and someone had written on the wall, like some cliche thing- it was like, ‘you’re beautiful, you don’t need to look in the reflection, your reflection doesn’t determine your beauty.’ And I remember that sticking with me for a long time. And then coming back in there to use the bathroom, a few days later, and seeing someone had written back ‘we need the mirror, dickheads, stop trying to be deep.

Photo provided by Sarah Dumont
Can you just explain Morgan and Dave’s relationship, or is it meant to be ambiguous?

Sarah: It’s meant to be nondescript but I think that it’s not like Lexy’s character (Cara) like ‘who is she, where is she from?’ You’re really not meant to know. I think that everything in this film is open to interpretation, but I think it’s so obvious that it’s fine. Obviously, he comes in for coffee, all the taxi drivers do, and they have a friendly relationship. She calls him at one point, she has his number and, and they’re friends and it’s a platonic relationship and I think that both of them kind of want it to be something a little bit more but neither of them have the cojones to do something about it. It’s a platonic friendship but I do think that both of those characters have some kind of attraction that they’re not really sure what to do with.

They have a platonic relationship but that doesn’t mean that there’s no potential there…  it’s possible. You can have an attraction and never act on it or you can but, yeah, there’s definitely something and I think both of them are a little unsure. She’s like, ‘maybe I’m too young for him, I have a kid,’ maybe he’s not going there with this and I think that he also has a very strong instinct that like, ‘yeah I like her but there’s no way she likes me back.’Like let’s not make it weird you’re the only place open.

What was it like working with Yutaka and kind of creating that ambiguous relationship?

Sarah: I am a big believer of not doing crazy amounts of prep work unless you have to do something like, say, Margot Robbie playing Tonya Harding. Obviously, there’s got to be tons of prep, you’re playing a real person, a public person, you want to embody somebody or when you are doing something really physical like stunt choreography. I want to try to get it as close to perfect on the first shot as we can because I want them to all be my friends because the best people to hang out with at Basecamp is the stunt team. But other than things that are extremely physical and when you need to really sell something like that, I’m a huge believer in not doing a ton of prep work other than knowing your lines. I don’t practice them out loud too many times before getting to set because you get married to an idea of how the other person is going to do it, you just need to meet them and Yutaka’s very sweet and reserved. I spent quite a bit of time in Japan when I was very young, I started modeling there when I was 14. We had a ride over from the hotel and we kind of bonded over that… and I was talking about how I love how polite Japanese culture is. I think it is the funniest thing in the world to me because it’s only if you’re truly loved, you hold hands and touch other people. You don’t yell, you don’t complain, you always bow. Everything is honor and politeness. But then, when you’re crossing the street on these crosswalks and an ambulance comes through, the ambulance is even polite and, (in Japanese) ‘excuse me I’m so sorry,’ over the loudspeaker and no one moves for the ambulance. They’re like, ‘no, no, it’s my turn to walk.’ So, we kind of had like a little bond there, and then we ran the lines. As we were doing our stand in for blocking, and then just shot the scene and I just think that it’s so much better that way when you can do it that way because it just happens organically and all the reactions are very there. I think we’re both kind of believers in that concept which works beautifully when you’re working together with someone and they kind of like to do the same style. He was very present when we’re shooting and I really enjoyed that. I like to think that I’m very present as well. And it was so easy, like, it was so easy to shoot with him.

Photo provided by Peter Hsieh

Sarah: Lexy also surprised me as well. Lexy and I did the same kind of approach, like we did not even run the lines. And when we did, we did them without inflection while blocking and then did the scene but where I’m like, ‘wow, that’s really personal,’ it’s not scripted. It was just her unnerving, not blinking, super crazy intensity thing that she does with her eyes. It’s not even put on, it’s just an aspect of her personality that only comes out when she’s being that character, but it is unnerving. And the way she asked me, like, that was just my honest reaction, ‘wow, that’s really personal. Okay, you’re weird.’ She was great, just a lot of fun. 

It was great shooting on such a bare bones crew like the ultra, ultra low budget and everyone who is there like from the PAs, the ADs, the cameras, the grips, everyone was just so excited to be actually doing their craft and making a film. I think I was meant to actually stay two nights and we ended up shooting it all in one and I went home early. They were all kind of worried like, ‘Oh, we’re so sorry, is it okay if you stand in for yourself?’ And I’m like ‘yeah, look, I’m not wearing high heels, I can be my own stand in.’ And it was just a lot of fun. Everyone was laughing and making jokes and getting along and we ended up going through it so quickly and having such a good time, it went by so fast. We started at sundown and we ended as the sun was coming up and then it was like ‘hey we just got two nights worth of work done in one, you can go back to your hotel and we can fly back to LA now.’ 

It was a good time, and William is really talented, the DP. I was very pleasantly surprised by that. When we started shooting, I wasn’t in the first shot, it was Yutaka and Lexy coming in  and I’m just looking and I’m like ‘holy shit, you’re good bro.’… Dude, a movie can get ruined at so many different points. Really, movies can live or die on an editing room floor. It’s like sometimes they spend all the budget on the actors and maybe try to save some money on the fight choreography and like so many things can go wrong with a $120 million budget. So when you’re on an ultra, ultra low budget film, it’s been my experience that it’s more fun because everyone is actually really wanting to be doing it because they want to be there. They’re not doing it for the paycheck, so it tends to be more fun. But it is a pleasant surprise when you’re like, ‘oh, and everybody’s good? Sweet!’

Photo provided by Peter Hsieh
Now, this is also Peter’s film debut, right?

Sarah: Yeah, this is his first film debut, it is really his first everything, and I was asked a question, I think last week, when we started doing press, about how I felt about Cinequest being online and I’m like ‘oh man, it’s great because a heck of a lot more people get to see it.’ Usually film festivals are one of those things where it’s really only for movie buffs and people who live locally to these festivals that get to see them and now more people can see it. But I also hate watching myself on a really big screen. I think probably from a modeling background, I just tend to l focus on things that don’t matter like I don’t focus on my acting, I’m just looking at how giant my pores are. But, as for Peter, I’m kind of bummed for him because I feel like that moment when the filmmaker writes something, directs something, they really broke their backs to get it done, get the funds and get everything done and this was first for him. I feel like he kind of got robbed of that moment of sitting down and watching the movie on the big screen with all the people around and the claps when you walk up and do the Q & A. I’m bummed that he didn’t get to have that. 

Because Peter was still new to all of this, what was it like working with him as a new director?

Sarah: I’ve worked with a couple of like newer directors, and also when I was a model, newer, up and coming photographers and it’s a coin flip. Either they’re new and not jaded yet and much more open to collaboration, or you get the arrogance which just comes from the insecurity of getting high strung and they’re like ‘I want it my way and it’s got to be this way or it’s not gonna be right.’ Peter was obviously collaborative and really open to stuff. Yutaka had a really valid question and he stops shooting and comes over very politely and he’s like and they start talking and Peter waved me over to come join the conversation, which I thought was great. And Yutaka was expressing, he goes ‘I’m not understanding my motivation of why would I bring her here. She’s obviously a little cuckoo and there’s some kind of chemistry going on with Morgan and Cara. Why would I bring her to the one place where I know Morgan works? I need to know the motivation.’ And Peter’s like, ‘what do you think, Sarah? Do you think that we need to do something, can you help out a bit?’ And I thought that was bizarre in the best way. I’ve never had that happen where a director comes over and is like ‘hey how do you think we could fix this, I’m open to hearing anything.’ I was like, ‘because it’s the only place open. So you guys can shoot just a few over-the-shoulder shots of him looking at different restaurants that are closed down.’’

The more willing people are to collaborate, I think, in a creative industry, the better. Creative people are all over the place, so we need one strong person, usually on a movie it’s the line producer, you know, there’s always going to be the bad guy that has that hyper structure to keep it all together. But the more that people can drop their egos and ask questions and be open to collaborating and then having a director who’s A. open to it and B. has the disertion to be like yes and no, good idea, bad idea, it’s more fun. It’s why I fell in love with it in the first place, too. I quit for just over a year, thinking I really wanted to have a quote unquote ‘normal life’ and I missed it so much. I was absolutely miserable, and I had to come back to it and I think it’s because of that.

Is there anything else that you would like to add about the movie, the game, the festival, anything?

Sarah: Just please watch it. It’s such a great, great, great, great crew of people, cast and crew, that worked on this film, especially Peter and William and everyone in San Jose. They really put their blood, sweat, tears and their last two pennies and rubbed them together to make this happen. Support independent filmmakers and artists and I know everyone is strapped for cash, it’s COVID like, half the country’s still out of work, but keep this kind of art going, help out the good people in the industry that deserve a leg upSo, buy a ticket and watch it, people. I will buy my ticket too.

Sarah Dumont, Yataka Takeuchi, and Lexy Hammonds. Photo provided by Peter Hsieh

The film’s Executive Producers are Christopher Au (Bulge Bracket) and Sam Chou. Chou’s game development studio, Windy Studios, was the lead producer on the companion Drive All Night mobile game. In the game, players follow Cara through a series of locations and adventures that are alluded to, but never seen in the film. “Peter created such a rich, visually-stunning world within the film. The game allows you to enter that world and explore things we couldn’t fit into the film,” said Chou. The free Drive All Night game is available now in the App Store for iOS and Google Play Store for Android.

Tickets for Drive All Night at Cinequest’s virtual screening room are on sale now at:

Drive All Night makes its World Premiere in competition at the Cinequest Film Festival, running March 20-30, 2021.