For those familiar with largely high-concept comedy work, Matt Johnson is probably not the obvious choice to direct a movie about the BlackBerry, the proto-smartphone you remember playing in the mid-2000s. Not far off: Johnson, by his own admission, hadn’t even touched a BlackBerry before he started working on the new biographical drama.
Instead, it’s what gets him excited about the story. Blackberry The story (now in theaters) was this: the story of the co-founders of Research In Motion (RIM), who, after best friends, turned the tech industry upside down with their connected cell phones. But after these nerdy Canadians team up with ruthless businessman Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), their no-frills pursuit of success turns into a clumsy, multi-million-dollar triumph and then disaster.
Johnson himself plays one of those nerdy Canadians: Doug Fregin, who resisted Balsillie’s promises to blow up BlackBerry’s market share to keep things simple. But Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel), his best friend and the real brains of the operation, couldn’t resist the financial temptations.
think about Blackberry In terms of characters, not technology, it makes it a little easier to reconcile Johnson’s placement at the helm. It probably helps that the cult favorite Canuck comic, best known for its unusually interesting, hilarious, rarely seen web series and CBC/Viceland TV show. Group Nirvanna: The Showthought this business drama more symbolic of life’s absurdity than tragedy. Whatever the case, his third feature is undoubtedly his best; BlackberryIt received rave reviews before its release in theaters on May 12.
We chatted with Johnson about whether Blackberry It aims to make you laugh, cry, or both, and how it connected to this project in the first place and the moving story behind one of its most surprising musical developments.
I’m most familiar with your absurd, very silly comedy work, like Group Nirvanna: The Show. Even the name of it is indicative of your work’s very special sense of humor. What drew you to the more serious story of BlackBerry’s rise and fall?
To be completely honest, it was a little sarcastic. As you said, I was doing very obscure cult comedies. This is my job and I will continue to do this until I die. But I felt that my work was, in a way, very repulsive to the audience – it almost intentionally pushes people away. My first movie is a comedy about a school shooting and my second movie is about the CIA pretending to land on the moon. […] you really want to see [these movies] to see or enter them.
I think [that] For once, I want to do something that captivates the audience – like a movie about BlackBerry. It looked wide enough. That’s why I searched for the movie Blackberry, instead of something interesting. Before I actually sat down and watched the movie, I was very conscious of trying to do something seemingly boring and as accessible as it sounds.
Then I would do some things I like, like [including] The way me and my friends actually talk, and what really matters to me is the 90s culture that I’ve never seen on screen before. [I wanted] What I love is putting in music that you normally would never hear in movies. So it was a bit of a Trojan Horse strategy.
Good way to go about it.
What I really liked was the idea of three relatively unknown characters that really changed the world in a big way and invented all sorts of crazy things like double spacing to make dots and autocomplete when typing someone’s email. I think. [that] this is fertile ground for me to make another one of my films, but in a different look.
I think this turns out Blackberry It is as much a character-based drama as it is a company biography. But there is still a strong focus on the technology itself. How much research did you have to do about the technological side?
We researched in two ways. First, I was trying to understand what this place was really like, because the book we chose had Mike and Jim involved. He couldn’t really go too deep – they didn’t talk about culture in a very real way.
But in terms of understanding the technology, I spoke to Canadian engineers who were there or working in similar industries, and they taught me, in very casual terms, what the difference is between a client and a server-based cell phone. BlackBerry’s breakthrough that made it possible to sit on networks and not use tons of data, [and] what it’s like to shrink data on these devices, and then what it really is.
Have you ever had a BlackBerry?
No, I had never touched a BlackBerry before making this movie. In a way I’m very technophobic – I didn’t have a cell phone [back then]. All these things completely missed me.
But I love video games and computers, and I grew up in an age where that kind of thing, especially the junk side of computer technology, was very interesting. ID Software that creates video games Apocalypse And WolfensteinI was so obsessed [in the ’90s]. My character is in many ways based on John Romero, the art designer of both. Wolfenstein And Apocalypse. I fell in love with that culture more than technology.
Is there a Group Nirvanna the video we made, [where] We were watching the Wii Shop [Channel, the games marketplace on the Nintendo Wii console]- it was updated every week and me and Jay would really get into it. We loved it, so we made a video where we sing a song about all the new titles. And that, I think, sums up my feelings about technology. I like to be so naive about it.
I read an interview with Glenn Howerton said here that you approached Jim as a dramatic anti-hero, a tragic figure, but heard you laugh after every take. do you think Blackberry Drama or comedy or both?
Glenn asked me this in person two days ago, and I thought, oh man, this is insane. He’s watched the movie about four times with massive audiences at this point and that’s why he’s still asking […] I actually think it’s describing what I love, so I think real life is pretty funny.
I think the thing people get wrong about drama, and one of the reasons I’m so allergic to most movies, especially melodramas, is that everybody forgets everybody else is funny. I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t funny. So it’s a comedy or it’s not a comedy – you kind of fall into its trap.
Glenn plays the movie as if the character really meant what he said and really wanted what he wanted. He’s not trying to laugh, but it’s hilarious as we, the audience, say, “I can’t believe this guy is serious about this.” […] It’s just a movie where it’s trying to be real, and in my world, real will always be funny.
YAlthough this is a biography, you mentioned that you wanted to add a personal touch to this movie. The one I like the most is your use of the song.Good morning CaptainIn a key scene by the ’90s post-hardcore band Slint. Pretty obscure way to get such a prominent placement.
Why did you choose to use this song, especially when it was playing in a taxi in New York, in such a hilarious way?
There are two big reasons. First, I was trying to find the soundtrack while making this movie. I was driving in the car with a friend and he was playing all sorts of early 90s music. we were listening tweezersIt’s Slint’s first album and it made us think maybe we should add a little. spider land [the band’s second, final record] in this.
You obviously know the band, but [Slint was] one of the bands i think might be [as big as] Pixies, but they broke up and decided to hate each other. [“Good Morning, Captain”] In a way, it’s a breakup song.
It certainly is!
Blackberry In a way, it’s about a friendship that ends. My character’s relationship [Doug] and Mike… it’s like I’m keeping an eye on this guy. I thought this was a more interesting way to show a breakup. [and that it] It would be very interesting if that man betrayed me because I would never have seen it happen. I was defending [him]! All of these themes are present to me in that song – it seems very much in line with where the movie is going thematically.
And yes, you’re right, it can be a little crazy for a taxi driver to listen to Slint in New York. But, you know, there’s a lot of interesting taxi drivers out there who’d be tuned in to god knows what kind of college radio.
This is true! One last question: Do you know if the real Mike, Jim and Doug have seen the movie yet? Did you talk to them?
We haven’t spoken to any of them but I know they have varying degrees of curiosity about it and they haven’t seen it yet. I’m really looking forward to a screening and Q&A with them in Toronto.
I know Jim is actively asking this. His girlfriend emailed one of the producers, “He read a review and yes, Jim really likes these songs. He really likes Joy Division. How did you know? So I know there’s an interest. [from them].
Your taste in music proves to be on point.
To be honest, I think Jim would be pretty happy, even though some viewers thought he was arrogant or cruel. I don’t think you will see this. I think he’s been lionized in a way, and Glenn’s handling of him is so gentle and he seems like a movie star.
I can’t predict what they will think because everyone has their own vision. […] But I can only hope they have fun and not get upset. But even then, I mean, we tried to tell the truth, didn’t we?
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