I caught up with filmmaker Jeremy Ungar for a chat on film, the rapid advance of technologies like Uber, influences, Michael Mann, filmmaking ISO and painting with light, lenses, and a realist visual palette (á la Edward Hopper) as it relates to his newest picture, Ride – out now on VOD.

 A struggling actor by day, James (Jessie T. Usher, Independence Day: Resurgence) pays his bills by driving people around Los Angeles for a ride sharing service.  His night starts out like any other, but he can’t believe his luck when he picks up the beautiful Jessica (Bella Thorne, Assassination Nation), and they immediately hit it off. His next fare, the fast-talking Bruno (Will Brill, The OA), convinces James to go back and invite her to join them for a wild night out.  But things take a shocking turn when Bruno, armed with a gun and a twisted idea of fun, forces them on a terrifying, white-knuckle ride that quickly spirals out of control.

Ride really would be the result of Mann’s Collateral getting a technological makeover and mentoring advice from Alfred Hitchcock. I highly recommend checking it out on VOD today and I hope you will learn as much as I did from this conversation with a gifted young creative.

Hi Jeremy. Welcome to The 405! How are you?

I'm good how about you?     

Oh not too bad. Getting right into it what was it that initially inspired you to write Ride?

Well, I'm really fascinated by these new – kind of newer – interactions that technology has created for us. That, you know, before Uber existed, before Tinder existed, if you said to someone "alright, there's this app and you're going to get into a stranger's car and then they'll drive you somewhere and you don't know them and you've not met them". You'd be like "um, there's no way I'm doing that ever."

Yep.

And the way that these quickly become such a part of our lives that  it's so commonplace people do it every day. And that was, I was really just doing that and I also really wanted to write something for myself because my background is in theater… so dialogue wasn't really concerned. I had these kind of charged experiences, most of them have been positives, in most case. I just started this, it's become this native unique space that's kind of right for drama. Then I started writing, you know, some possibilities of what should happen in the new world and I came to this kind of very strong, very manipulative, character and I was really drawn to dialogue that came out, I kind of surprised myself writing it. Then that was really made me dive into this as a project.

Cool. Yeah Bruno [Will Brill] was manipulative to put it lightly. Kind of going off of that, one thing that seemed to me to be very important for the movie, was pace.

Jessie T. Usher as James in the thriller “RIDE,” an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of Rob C. Givens.

I have to say I wasn't really seeing that 180 degree turn that happened about the time they get to the bar. You know, I was watching it wondering, what's this guy going to do, what's his end game, it just keeps wandering for most of it; but I was just wondering what were some of the tricks to sort of balancing the tension throughout the movie?

The pace of the movie is something that is really kind of interesting thing to me because, like I said, my background's in theater and you get a lot of long takes with this. When we shot on the process trailer – which is how we did most of the car stuff – you're strapped to a flatbed truck and you know you have your cameras mounted and you're driving. It really truly did seem like it was theater and we would do, you know, a sure five, ten minute take with two cameras.

Fascinating connection.

So that kind of locked into the pace, you get, just in directing in the scene as you shoot it and any chance you have to adjust that pace is by cutting to a different take. Which you also are locked into a really specific set of constraints because the car is moving, so you have to kind of match the speed when you cut. So it's a really kind unique set of challenges, but I like restrictions like that so it kind of gave me a lot of style and made this sort of a puzzle to put together.

A process trailer. Source:MovingPics.net

Necessity is the mother of invention.

And also we wanted to show that there was something mysterious, immediate and serious right there in the car with them and there is a sense that they are really doing this, because in a sense they are.

Oh, absolutely, I think that was communicated really well. And another thing I really liked about the movie was the realism in terms of the cinematography and the visuals. Kind of in the vein of Nightcrawler in that sort of neon grit.

Oh thank you, that was a huge point of reference for me.

Oh good. Yeah. I was just wondering, what was the process like in coming up with the visuals that you ultimately did?

I have directed this drama as a short to prove that I can do it as a feature.

Oh cool. I respect that proof of concept type of thinking.

In the short, we shot on a barge which was a really good experience. When I started talking with the DP who did the feature – a guy named Rob Givens – who proposed using the pass on a fairy cam. The thing that makes the camera unique is it has a flip flop hub in terms of the ISO. So it kind of belabors 800 which is standard. We did our movie at 5,000. We really tried to shoot the entire movie at 5,000 ISO.

Yeah. That's gonna dramatically increase the light that's captured.

Yeah. It resulted in us getting a lot more light in, but from a process perspective, we didn't have to use as many lights and we were able to be a lot more nimble, also in terms of just loving the lights of Los Angeles. I really wanted the movie to kind of feel like a full character in itself, and with that 5,000 ISO I feel you were able to see so much of the outside res that it really became a key part of our aesthetic.

Absolutely.

So that was one element of that and it also made the choices of cinematography easier. Rather than getting a third package of primes, prime lenses…

Yeah.

…we had our fairy lenses and they are Panavision C Series lenses, you know, they are hard to track down and expensive and so we opted for fewer lenses. In that restriction, in the moment, having those lenses that would give us a lot of the kind of horizontal flares and oblong bokehs and things that made, at least I hope. You remember in one space how visually varied the scenes were? It's the lenses and flares that tend to get that.

Will Brill as Bruno in the thriller “RIDE,” an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of Rob C. Givens.

Oh, absolutely. Switching gears to a question I like to ask everybody, what directors and films have been most influential on your development as an artist.

My favorite question.

Cool. A big one too.

For Ride specifically, I really I think maybe a core question is what would have happened if Hitchcock made a movie in an Uber? You know, Strangers on a Train was really a key point of reference for me and balancing the fact that the character named Bruno is a reference to Strangers on a Train.

Interesting. Yeah, Robert Walker's character. Makes sense now that you say it.

It just cycles round. It comes from Hitchcock being the first director as a kid that I watched that I found the movie so accessible and just loved it so much that that is probably really only the most secondary thing that made me become a film maker.

Yeah, Hitch is great. Vertigo would be a favorite of mine from him.

Then the other really big point of reference for Ride is this early Spielberg movie called Duel. Which is also all set in a car. And it's a super tense film. It's different because Duel is almost nonverbal and Ride is like a real dialogue. But I just feel that there is so much to learn from it in terms of how he dealt with the car and then also just building tension in a confined space. Spielberg was really a master of in that era movie. And that I hoped to really learn something from them.

Absolutely. You know another one that came to my mind when I was watching it was Michael Mann's Collateral

Yes. Tom Cruise.

I loved Collateral. It was kind of unbelievable because it's so similar to Ride but I really didn't think about Collateral at all when I was writing Ride.

Oh really?

I didn't think a ton about Michael Mann. Yeah but I was like I mean I must have subconsciously been, but really it's interesting, I made a whole visual reference back to kind of outline the vision of what the future would look like and there are a ton of images from Thief.

Good one as well.

And so I was thinking intentionally about Michael Mann and probably Collateral was marinating in there but not one that I was at least telling myself to directly thinking of it. It just so happened that it... that you could definitely pitch Ride as Collateral and an Uber.

Yeah. You really could.

The other Michael Mann thing is I loved the movie Thief so much and the soundtrack of Thief was done by Tangerine Dream. And the soundtrack to my movie was actually done by Paul Haslinger who was a key member of Tangerine Dream.

Cool. Didn't realize that.

So I had something that really evoked that movie that was so inspirational to me and I loved so much.

Awesome, definitely. Our last question, what's next for you Jeremy?

There's another script that I am writing right now. That's also about our relationship with technology. It kind of gives more ... the amount of trust we put in technology and with devices and I think I really think our cell phones are really killing us but they are just so fun that we can't tell.

The next script is kind of very loosely about that same thing.