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March 29, 2014 | posted in Filmmakers
For James Ward Byrkit, films combined many of the things he loves. He would “draw stories and write strange music to go with the weird images,” he says. His drawings landed him in Hollywood where he drew storyboards of action sequences for two “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.
As he began working on “bigger and bigger movies,” he says, he “always wanted to get back to the purity.”
When he’s directing, he loves being on set and “feeling the energy of the space, the immediate danger of making a mess and figuring it all out in the moment,” he continues. “I love randomness, and dealing with the unknown.” This is coming from someone who painstakingly mapped out every action on a storyboard.
So, for his latest film “Coherence,” he was craving the chance to try an experiment he had always envisioned. He got rid of “everything on film that slows me down,” he says. “Including the script. And the crew.”
Not to disparage big crews and great scripts, but he admits that a large part of filmmaking actually consists of waiting around -- resetting, relighting and “a million things that aren’t shooting,” says Byrkit. Just the opposite of theater, where he also spent some time, “when it’s all about the actors and the ideas.”
He decided to shift the focus to the actors for this sci-fi film, his first feature as a director. There was no script; instead, each day each actor would receive a set of notes explaining “general motivations and the backstory for their character.” Each actor would be familiar only with his or her character, but know nothing about the other actors’ notes.
Byrkit shot the film over five nights. “After the first night, the actors realized they were in good hands, and that fun things were going to happen to them,” he says. “They became so utterly committed to the process.”
Some reviews have called the film “cerebral;” there is also lots of talk of quantum mechanics and theoretical physics, but Byrkit says don’t let that scare you away. “It’s just a funhouse with twists and surprises and a puzzle and lots of mind-bending,” he says. “… Don’t worry if you find yourself as lost as the characters.”
The film received “a tidal wave” of support from Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, a festival specializing in horror, fantasy and sci-fi films, where it won the Next Wave Best Screenplay award. “For the first time, I’m seeing what kind of impact a film can have on people starved for this kind of experience,” recounts Byrkit. “I’ve had so many people come up to me after a screening, their eyes wide, their minds blown and they just need to talk about it.
“And that is absolutely amazing.”
— Anne M. DiTeodoro
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