To watch the Vintagent exclusive trailer for The Passenger, click here.

“Oh the passenger, he rides and he rides,” sings Iggy Pop in his seminal song The Passenger. It’s an apt title for a new film about loss and rebirth, and in essence, it’s grief that’s along for this motorcycle journey. A release date for The Passenger, a Psychogenic Films production in association with Novelty Hat, has yet to be determined, so we’ll have to settle for this Vintagent-exclusive trailer. Presented by Langlitz Leathers and Harley-Davidson, the production also includes Brian Awitan, Jeff Elstone and Gentry Dayton. It was Gentry, during the early days of the Covid pandemic, who essentially came up with the premise for The Passenger. “Obviously, the pandemic left us all with nothing to do but contemplate, and ask ourselves some bigger questions, and wrap our heads around the idea of loss,” Gentry says of his initial idea. He continues, “Loss is something we all experience, but oftentimes that loss comes with answers, a reason why. In contrast, there was a point in my life that I happened to experience a type of loss of a friend where the questions were never answered and I’m not sure they ever will be. I wanted to express this level of pain and suffering in the film, all while making a film with motorcycles, which is a pairing I’ve never seen before.”

Riders passing through the American landscape is an old theme, but the Passenger has a new perspective on the healing power of the journey, and the landscape. Here Wil Thomas and Gentry Dayton ride through the Oregon desert. [The Passenger]
In other words, as producer Brian Awitan puts it, “we didn’t want another cliché testosterone buddy/boob flick always associated with motorcycle culture.” Jeff Elstone picks up the thread. He and Gentry have been friends for more than 15 years, and they met through the New York City underground fashion world, working together on photo shoots. Although Jeff is not a motorcyclist, he’s been surrounded by friends who definitely are. Gentry, who worked on the 2016 motorcycle-based film 21 Days Under the Sky, is one of them. Motorcycles have always been a part of Gentry’s life. He grew up in York, Pennsylvania, rolling around on a skateboard or a BMX bicycle. He says, “The Harley-Davidson factory in York was a staple in our town and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t see motorcycles everywhere.” For a young Gentry, they also offered a distraction during Sunday church services. “Sitting in the back pew, I’d look out the window and watch groups of motorcycles fly by us. I always thought to myself, I want to be doing that. Naturally, Harley-Davidson was the choice and the chopper scene specifically let me pair my creative side with riding so it made sense.”

Gentry Dayton in the wilds of Eastern Oregon. [The Passenger]
For Jeff, who grew up in New Jersey, instead of motorcycles it was music and music videos that drove his passion. He’d borrow his parents’ VHS camcorder for his first forays into directing and recording. And the music, that was metal, post-punk and new wave. “Photographer/director Floria Sigismondi has done some incredible music videos,” Jeff says, “which was really what inspired me to want to make films in the first place. The first time I saw her work, something in my brain opened up in a weird, beautiful way and I knew I wanted to create that same kind of experience for others.” Important filmmaking influences, he says, also include, “Jodorowsky, David Lynch, and Werner Herzog, just to name a few.”

The burden: pushing a recalcitrant motorcycle (Wil Thomas’ ‘homage’ bob-job Knucklehead) as a metaphor for moving through suffering. [The Passenger]
In the early days of the Covid lockdowns, Jeff quarantined with Gentry’s family. Jeff explains, “That proved to be ideal because we were able to interact with each other daily,” and he continues, “Once we knew things were going to be shut down for a while, we just started brainstorming about creative ways of taking advantage of all this free time that we suddenly had. I remember this big piece of paper that we started using in the early days with all kinds of random words and adjectives scrawled all over it. It took some time to refine the ideas and really figure out what it was going to be about, but we just started to build it from the ground up one piece at a time. What I thought was just going to be a fun little pandemic project started to evolve into something more serious. I would say that the shutdown was crucial because it afforded us the time to really devote ourselves to developing the concept and also researching locations, putting together a proper crew, budget, etc. It was definitely tied to that window of time and I think the film itself also reflects that mood.”

Wil Thomas. [The Passenger]
During the fall of 2020, much of The Passenger was shot in Oregon. Langlitz Leathers plays a role, as do many of Oregon’s forlorn landscapes. Cold weather riding scenes also help provide much of the mood. Of the actual moviemaking, Jeff says, “Oh yeah, there were plenty of struggles. We basically shot during one of the last possible weeks in the year before things turned too cold. So, we were on the razor’s edge of having to cancel and maybe it would have never happened at all. In particular, the snow sequence was dodgy as hell and the bikes were sliding all over the place. And then shooting out of a pickup truck in the cold and a minivan with the door open and one of the bikes a few feet away at high speeds. (Key cast members and riders) Gentry and Wil (Thomas) were beasts. I also recall the starter on Wil’s chopper breaking down a few times. And that’s not even getting into all of the complexities of shooting during peak 2020 Covid. But the entire crew was unbelievable and everyone was super motivated to make it happen. Honestly things could have gone a lot of different ways, but somehow it all came together almost poetically in the end.”

Riding choppers through the snow: no ‘trailer’ shots here. [The Passenger]
Recalling Jeff and his passion for music, he’s proud to have worked with two talented artists on the film’s score. The first is Jarboe, or Jarboe Devereaux, who was a member of industrial rock band Swans. Jeff has a Swans album cover tattoo on his arm, and he says, “Working with Jarboe was literally a crazy dream come true.” Electronic music composer Kris Force is the other. “Kris is also brilliant and managed to pull together some very talented musicians. (Jarboe) and Kris created something that I think is really moving, evocative, and absolutely perfect for the story,” Jeff explains.

Gentry Dayton. [The Passenger]
While the The Passenger is about loss, journey and rebirth, when Jeff talks about the film, he says it is first and foremost about grief. And grief is something he sees, “as a universal experience that binds every human being together. Mental health was definitely something that we wanted to address. Also, the value and importance of friendship in hard times. It’s a lot about nature being this magical force and Wil’s character definitely personifies that, but it’s also gritty at the same time.” Gentry adds, “A good friend of mine once said, the worst thing that has ever happened to you, is the worst thing that has ever happened to you. I can only hope that this film can speak to everyone watching — at whatever level they may be on. The film is a journey; physically, mentally and emotionally.” Grief and friendship, motorcycles and mental health. Definitely not traditional fodder for a biker film, but as producer Brian Awitan says, “That is one of the exciting challenges of working within motorcycle culture — the prospect of revealing a new dimension that appears to be fixed,” and he wisely concludes, “All of us are made not only of what we have but what we have lost. And loss is not a subtraction. As an experience it is an addition.”

The scrub of the American West is like a scouring pad for the soul. [The Passenger]
Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He’s a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics