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Interviewing Scott M. Phillips is a bit like being in his new documentary, Simultaneously Coincidental. The 40-year-old filmmaker arranges to meet at the 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW Caribou Coffee, one of his movie’s prime locations, and then drives in circles through Shaw, Columbia Heights, and Logan Circle in his Chrysler New Yorker, an activity also featured in the film. “I’m just more relaxed talking when I’m driving around,” he explains.
In the documentary, which debuts this Saturday at the Goethe-Institut’s Forum, Phillips’ companion is his friend John Lamm, who’s also the subject of the film. “John likes to drive around, and be driven around, so often that’s what we do,” says the filmmaker. “If we’re not walking around, or listening to Steely Dan or Miles Davis.”
The two met about 13 years ago. “It was at a time when we were both involved in drug-culture stuff,” Phillips recalls. “He was really smart and weird and scary.”
Lamm quit drugs, followed by Phillips, who says they then “became much better friends.” But Lamm had one more mind-altering experience ahead of him. In Prague in 1999, he was involved in a collision that left him in a coma for three-and-a-half months. That he woke up at all is no small surprise, and his post-coma lucidity is remarkable. But he has what Phillips calls “some impulse-control issues” and what another longtime friend characterizes as “no inhibitions.”
“A lot of people can’t deal with that,” the filmmaker admits. “People want to avoid him. And that’s kind of sad, because he’s acutely aware of it.”
Phillips began his first film, an “abandoned Super-8 documentary,” as a student at Massachusetts’ Hampshire College in the ’80s. The New Jersey native moved to D.C. a few years later, starting a band called Sarcastic Orgasm.
Currently a massage therapist who lives in Petworth, he again began studying filmmaking—now digital-video-making—in early 2004 at the Corcoran College of Art & Design.
“This project started off as a bigger, broader one that I’m still sort of working on,” he says. “A sort of Slacker-style documentary, multicharacter. For school, I needed to streamline and focus on something I could complete. And so I started focusing on this project. I realized I had lot of material on John Lamm, and there was something there.”
The resulting movie is essentially a biography of Lamm, concentrating on a few major (and violent) events. “I know all the story,” Phillips says. “I knew the story I wanted to tell. And I didn’t want to go too far outside of the story. I never wanted to go find a expert, or do a tangent thing about traumatic brain injury.”
The key to the film, Phillips notes, was capturing Lamm’s voice. “I just wanted to take it from his point of view. The important thing for me was the way John can tell a story. He almost time-travels, and he’s right there, back in that moment.”
Lamm and the other four characters were shot on Mini-DV, without being directly miked. “The less awareness of the camera, the more talking to me, the better.”
The director didn’t reach far, however, for some of the film’s music, industrial rock by his own one-man band, Chikmountain. “It was there, and it was available, and I didn’t have to ask anybody,” he says. “I’m a real DIY kind of person.”
Phillips did add one element of outside commentary: songs about controlling anger sung by the late Fred Rogers, the children’s show host. “His lyrics are so great, and they’re so right-on for adults as well as children. I’m such a fan. They recently put his stuff on CD, and I went out and got all of it.” —Mark Jenkins
Simultaneously Coincidental screens at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, April 22, at the Goethe-Forum, 812 7th St. NW. For more information, call (202) 289-1200.