Who’s Driving Doug? is a story of companionship and discovery shared between introverted young man Doug (RJ Mitte), who has muscular-dystrophy, and his driver, Scott (Ray William Johnson). Inspired by the experiences of screenwriter Michael Carnick is a heartwarming – and heart-wrenching – tale of unlikely bonds formed through a journey of self-acceptance.
Tell me about the life of this movie and how has it evolved since winning the Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award, and how it feels now to have it now playing at film festivals. What has transpired in the ten years between?
I went back to school and got my masters degree in screenwriting, and produced some plays and a short film. I’d like to think that I’ve grown as a writer since then. In Dec. 2013, my short film, Rolling Romance, won the Malibu Film Festival screenwriting award where I met producers David Katz and Nicola Carbonetta of Malibu Film Foundation. In 2014, I executive produced a comedy pilot produced and directed by Katz/Carbonetta, and after discovering we work well as a team, we set out to develop my feature script and produce Who’s Driving Doug? It’s surreal seeing the film on the big screen after it was nothing more than a written thought for so long. It’s not at all how I originally imagined it would turn out. In a lot of ways it’s better; in other ways I wished I had done some things better. It’s like seeing a friend you knew in second grade after thirty years. They’re very much the same, but bigger and weathered by reality, and still very beautiful.
The movie is considered semi-biographical. Have you embarked on a similar road trip or journey in your life? Or is the road trip/adventure element allegorical?
I like to make the drive to Vegas with my best friend once every year or so. I have a lot to think about while sitting in the passenger seat during the long stretch through the desert. Lots of story ideas have germinated during these drives. Once I came up with a sci-fi concept after looking at the passing power lines. Many of the funny and awkward interactions between Doug and the denizens of Vegas were lifted from real life. A lot of it was also completely made up to make the story richer. Doug is the obvious reflection of myself on a physical level, but I also feel deeply connected to the other characters as well. I left a bit of myself in every person. Of course, the road trip aspect fits nicely on a metaphorical level. The characters are literally on a journey. It’s hard not to resist that kind of set up.
How was it working with RJ Mitte? What was it like seeing the character of Doug come to life?
RJ was wonderful. I told him on day one that he didn’t need to mimic me in order to deliver the performance. I told him that Doug wasn’t necessarily me, but he was adamant about being faithful to my situation. It was amazing to watch him effortlessly physically transform himself when the cameras started rolling. RJ is not at all like me, physically or socially, but when I watch him perform the role it’s like looking into a mirror – a mirror that reflects a doppelganger much more handsome and charismatic than myself. It’s fascinating and creepy and cool.
The movie looks at themes of reclusiveness and self-perception. Did writing this movie and creating the character change your own self-perception or sense of place in life?
I’m naturally an inward and self-reflective person, and I spent much of my time growing up in my own head. Plus, I felt I had to amp up Doug’s reclusive behavior in the beginning of the story in order to make his arc more pronounced. When you’re physically disabled, a lot of that solitude is forced on you. You might look at a person like me and imagine all the hard things we go through physically, but the social aspect is the hardest part to overcome. I wanted to bring through a sense of desperate loneliness. I was also inspired by Alan Ball’s work at the time, and he loves his self-loathing characters. Let’s just say that they speak to me.
How have viewers with muscular dystrophy or other similar conditions reacted to the film?
The film hasn’t been shown to many people yet. Nobody with MD has seen it, to my knowledge. I hope it’s good enough.
What are you working on next?
I need to start exercising again, and watch the rest of Breaking Bad. I’ve started writing a new stage play, and I have a short film in the pipeline. I also optioned off a script and did some spec work, so here’s hoping they get picked up by someone wealthy and with good taste.