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An Ex-NFLer Made an iPhone Movie About an Uber Driver (And I Liked It)

"9 Rides" was filmed in less than a week last November.

Matthew Cherry / YouTube

Cabbies have long been an obsession of filmmakers. Whether it’s Robert de Niro in “Taxi Driver” or Jamie Foxx in “Collateral,” directors and screenwriters are drawn to people who drive lots of different people around.

In the last few years, however, fewer and fewer people are taking cabs. Instead, they’re hailing rides from Uber and Lyft on their smartphones. But given how recent and how rapidly this shift has taken place, there haven’t really been any movies about app-based car services.

Matthew Cherry, a former NFL player turned indie filmmaker, saw an opportunity in this premise. Last fall, Cherry was getting ready to make his second movie, and then a key member of his cast backed out because of another commitment. On the fly, Cherry wrote a new movie. It was about an unnamed Uber driver and his fares over the course of a New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles.

Cherry’s final product, “9 Rides,” made its debut at SXSW on Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater on South Congress. Shot entirely using iPhone 6s in 4K quality over the course of a few days this past Thanksgiving, the film tracks the soon-to-be-married driver and uses the various people he picks up — a teenage girl with divorced parents, an older couple, a troubled younger couple — as lenses through which the driver looks at his own relationship. The film’s dialogue was almost entirely improvised by the cast, like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” without the gallows humor, but it followed a 19-page script that Cherry wrote.

My mini-review: “9 Rides” is a smart and original movie that doesn’t get too caught up in its premise to tell a compelling story. If anything, the narrative moves from ride to ride smoothly, and Dorian Missick, who plays the driver, knows when to get involved and when to let his fares take the lead. A few vignettes were stronger than others, the unequivocal best one centering on the obviously abusive relationship of two passengers bar-hopping on New Year’s Eve. The iPhone 6s, two of which were used for each scene, were deployed at angles that make the car look a lot bigger than it is (and it’s a GMC SUV), which keeps things from feeling claustrophobic.

In an interview with Re/code in the lobby of the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Cherry said that he uses Uber all the time (he lives in Los Angeles and he doesn’t own a car, so, duh) and always thought those rides “would be an interesting backdrop for a film.”

“I sit in these cars, and a lot of times [the drivers] are overly talkative. So, they’re just telling their whole life story,” Cherry said. “I just always think, they have so many people coming in and out. And it’s always so intimate, and it’s always just set up where you’re forced to interact with these people.”

Another thing about “9 Rides”: The cast is almost entirely black, including Missick and Cherry himself. Re/code’s Johana Bhuiyan has previously reported on the anecdotal experiences of many Uber and Lyft customers who are people of color, many of whom feel that the ride-hailing apps are less discriminatory than conventional taxis.

When asked about this, Cherry said that his casting decision was “very deliberate.”

“In the taxi industry, well, I used to play football, I’m a little bit taller, my shoulders are broader, and so it’s always a little harder to get a cab. Even if you got a suit on, it doesn’t matter,” Cherry said. “So yeah, African-Americans are using the ride-sharing apps a lot more because it’s not as discriminatory … I wanted to frame it within a realistic context.

“The other day, when we were trying to get the movie finished and I rode in like, eight Ubers in the same day, everybody that got in the car was a person of color,” he added.

Finishing the movie in time for SXSW was an ordeal in itself, Cherry said. In fact, the reason that he filmed “9 Rides” in such a rush was because he wanted to make sure that he could enter the movie in time for the Austin festival. Cherry touched on this in a Q&A session held after the Friday night screening, explaining that filming with iPhones gave them maximum flexibility inside and outside of the vehicle used as the Uber car.

“My biggest goal was to demystify the process and help push that conversation forward,” Cherry explained.

Here’s the teaser trailer from the movie:

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