MATTHEW JOHNSON Director of THE DIRTIES: Exclusive Sarasota Film Festival Interview
THE DIRTIES is part of our Independent Vision Competition presented by Factory 25. Click here to buy tickets for all the Independent Visions Competitions films!
Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and the Spirit of Slamdance Filmmaker Choice Award at this year's Slamdance Film Festival, Matt Johnson’s THE DIRTIES is guaranteed to be one of the most talked about movies of the year. The film tells the story of two best friends, Matt (played by Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams), a pair of misfit high school students who love making and talking about movies. Unfortunately, they are also the victims of systematic bullying at the hands of The Dirties, a group of classmates who constantly humiliate them. As the boys fantasize about revenge, THE DIRTIES becomes a richly layered portrait of a friendship confronted by school violence in all of its terrible permutations.
SFF 2013: I've heard you describe THE DIRTIES as a "fake documentary". Would you elaborate on that for us?
MATTHEW JOHNSON: It's as simple as it sounds: shooting a narrative film as though it were an out and out doc. I think it's different then a mockumentary because our characters exist in the real world and we keep a very close handle on how things are constructed. Nothing happens outside the world of two kids filming themselves and editing it together on a computer in their basement, and those limitations force you to do some cool stuff in explicating a story, things a traditional narrative could never do without taking huge formal risks.
SFF 2013: Reviewers and audience members have described THE DIRTIES as one of the most accurate portrayals of school violence even created. Would you talk about both the psychological and physical violence in the film, and how it was inspired by Columbine?
MATTHEW JOHNSON: We didn't want to show another version of hollywood bullying, where everything is over the top and seems way too insane to be real. That wasn't our experience when we were in school. To get at what's really going on in school we did two things: we watched tons of home video footage of bullying (some shot by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine shooters), and we filmed in real schools with actual students. Because we wrote from what we saw in these films and re-created these scenes in the real world, we thought we could get at something more honest and less ostentatious than what every other high-school movie shows.
SFF 2013: Tell us about filming undercover in schools.
MATTHEW JOHNSON: It's actually not as exciting or illicit as it sounds: Owen and I were admitted to certain schools as though we were students and we could film in a lot of our classes, but everyone on the faculty side knew what was going on. More then anything it meant we could talk with real students on their level about bullying and show people outside of that world the norms and attitudes are inside those walls.
SFF 2013: Who do you feel is the audience for THE DIRTIES?
MATTHEW JOHNSON: I have no idea. From the screenings we've had so far it seems like film-students and high school teachers are the most die-hard supporters of the film, but I think anyone who knows or works with teens can get something from this film. Our ultimate goal was to give audiences a different perspective on school violence and bullying, and if we can start a conversation about that issue in a new way we'll consider it a huge success.
SFF 2013: What are some of your inspirations, overall, as a storyteller?
MATTHEW JOHNSON: My friends. Everything I do is just an attempt to make them laugh. When I'm cutting things together I'm only thinking about how they'll react.
SFF 2013: What's next for you?
MATTHEW JOHNSON: We're shooting another fake-doc about the CIA in the 1960's, but it's still a big secret at this point. It will be the best movie we ever make.
SFF 2013: What would you say to aspiring filmmakers?
MATTHEW JOHNSON: Making movies like this is so cheap. All young people should be doing this.