It’s easy to strip what Matt Johnson and Jay McCarrol do to its bare bones: they make movies with their friends. Their editors, their producers, and almost all of their actors are close friends from film school or childhood. “There’s a very small group of friends who for the very first few months of this movie were just rallying behind Matt’s idea,” musician Jay McCarrol tells me. Matt and Jay have been collaborating on projects for a long while now and their latest collaboration is Blackberry, an award winning dark comedy starring It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Glenn Howerton and How To Train Your Dragon’s Jay Baruchel.

Blackberry follows the rise and fall of the Canadian tech giant, from its invention of the smartphone to its demise at the hands of the iPhone. Mike Lazaridis (Baruchel) and his bestfriend-cum-business partner Douglas Fregin (played by Matt Johnson himself) go into business with Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton): a hockey-obsessed, furious, and very serious businessman. As their business grows, man-child Doug and his band of engineers face off against businessmen and COO’s who try to stop their movie nights. Mike, a man desperate for perfection, navigates a for-profit world that seems against him, battling Jim who only wants expansion. We know how the story of Blackberry ends – we don’t use them anymore – but Blackberry takes a uniquely human approach towards technological subject matter.

“We never used to prepare. Ever.”

Howerton plays Jim as a crippling self-serious man, intent on expansion, with no real personal connections, but – in all this – he’s uncomfortably human. Even though he keeps doing awful things, keeps lying and cheating people, Blackberry’s Jim Balsillie comes across as deeply pathetic. His egotism, rather than arrogance, is performed as an insecurity. In a particularly great scene Glenn starts screaming at a hockey board meeting: “I’m from Waterloo, where the vampires hang out.” After I bring this line up, Jay tells me: “We got to watch him do that like six times from the hallway outside and it was an absolute joy. It was amazing every time.”

Howerton is an outsider to the small group of Canadians, a Juilliard-trained American who none of the crew had worked with before. “He genuinely, honest to God, kept to himself,” Matt tells me when I ask what it was like to work with an “outsider”: “I think it was kind of his Juilliard training that dictated that … because his character was an outsider and we all had such an insider feeling on set, he quickly picked up on the fact he wasn’t supposed to be inside that.”

Three blackberries in all their key-boarded gloryHeidi Atkins with permission for Varsity

Despite having worked on several projects before, this was a new frontier for Jay and Matt in terms of size and planning. “In the early days we never used to prepare. Ever,” Matt tells me. Fresh out of film-school, the pair started a web series, meaning that they didn’t have to work out lighting cues and scripts, instead adopting a documentary aesthetic that has followed them through their careers. But Blackberry had more people involved and a bigger budget; they had to be more prepared.

“When I had a copy of the script I liked, Jay and I recorded it together and we acted out every single role,” Matt explains. “And I storyboarded the whole movie, every single shot, and then we filmed it and edited it together like a little mini cartoon,” elaborates Jay, before being cut off by Matt who adds: “It was a two and a half hour cartoon.” The “animatic” altered the dialogue as the pair improvised new lines and developed characterisation. Eager to give his friend “a huge amount of the credit,” and insistent that he was “being far too humble,” Matt told me: “Jay was so involved in the characterisation of these characters,” that he ended up helping to cast nearly all of the roles.

“The goal is to have nothing left in it at the end that wasn’t in the dream.”

Despite his hand in so many other aspects of the film, Jay’s principal aid to the film is its fantastic score, composed almost entirely of what he referred to as “bleeps and bloops,” that is to say, the noises that come from computers. In true Jay and Matt fashion, this was done with an immense amount of trust. Matt describes the fact that “because we know each other so well and because he [Jay] was so involved in the sort of prenatal part of the movie, he doesn’t need to wait to start scoring … [he] just writes songs with no knowledge of where they’re going to go.”

An original iPhone, killer of BlackberryHeidi Atkins with permission for Varsity

Johnson credits this collaborative style of filmmaking as hugely strengthening his talents. “One of the side effects when you work with your friends is that a lot of attention does need to be paid to their ideas … you are really forced to engage with criticism of everything you do: your script, your acting, how you’re directing.” Talking of an early idea for their TV show, he describes how: “all our friends hated this idea, to the point they said if we did it they would not be our friend anymore. Because we had to defend an idea we believed in, it helped us to – not only strengthen it – but figure out why it was good.”


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Matt tells me the best way to imagine the way he makes a movie is through thinking about dreams. “We all, my friends and I, feel like we all went to bed and all had the same dream and then, when we’re talking through ideas, it’s as though we’re all putting it back together. If you’ve ever tried to put a dream back together you’ll know what I mean. It’s like: ‘was there a rabbit there? No, no, it was an ant,’ and then all of a sudden the ant’s a part of the dream. The goal is to have nothing left in it at the end that wasn’t in the dream.”

Blackberry is a film about the hiccups of collaboration, a real horror story about people who struggle to work together tearing something apart, but beneath the movie is a much more heartwarming story of a group of friends who really trust each other and really enjoy making films. Jay gives me this poetic nugget of wisdom: “When you are in touch with whatever it is that you’re doing, even if it’s not completed yet, you have your vision. Usually the vision has a nucleus – like the pilot light of truth – that you’re following. If you are in touch with that then you can just check it against anything that is coming into its orbit … Luckily, in our very tiny group, we all have a very collective agreement on what that invisible torch is that we’re chasing.”

Blackberry will come to UK cinemas in October.