Arriving in theaters and on VOD platforms everywhere this weekend is Jacob Gentry’s Synchronicity, which reunites the director with Chad McKnight, AJ Bowen and Scott Poythress—three co-stars from his first genre effort, The Signal. This time around, McKnight stars as a scientist who has invented a machine that can create a wormhole, and both Bowen and Poythress play his wisecracking labmates who help the film’s hero put all of the intricate pieces of Synchronicity’s puzzle into place.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to catch up with Gentry, Bowen, McKnight and Poythress at the press day for Synchronicity and discussed with them their experiences reuniting for another cinematic adventure and so much more.
I think it's really ambitious when you can make a movie like Synchronicity because when you think sci-fi, a lot of folks automatically think “big concepts that usually require a big budget.” And this movie, along with Predestination and Timecrimes, proves that you don't need a huge budget to tell really interesting science fiction-driven stories.
Jacob Gentry: One of the coolest things about multiple views on this one, for me, is getting to see—I'm going to say it first this time—the word "tropes." We've been trading that around a lot today. But seeing how we were able to deconstruct those tropes, like the femme fatale, for example, it starts off, and you think it's going to go one way, but as things progress, the story goes into a more romanticized idea of the possibility of fate, and a hopefulness that even if something doesn't happen, there's just so many endless possibilities still out there. That, to me, is such a different experience.
Synchronicity definitely rewards multiple viewings, and that was by design. It's kind of risk, because first of all, you have to make a movie that people would want to watch a second time. But we definitely put a lot of stuff in there that we knew people wouldn't necessarily get the first go-around, and that it would reward multiple viewings, because I always like that. My favorite movies are the ones where every single time I watch them, I see something different that I didn't notice before. You get something more out of a movie like that.
As actors, when you're going into movie like Synchronicity, where there are a lot of ideas and themes at play, how do you initially go into something like that? How far do you guys have to dig in to wrap your head around the story, the concept, and how your characters evolve and devolve throughout the different timelines?
AJ Bowen: I approach pretty much everything the same. This was different because we got to show up on set and work with some of our closest friends. The trust level that's already there was huge. We go off and all do our own research on our own things, and then we bring it together, knowing that it's probably going to be a pretty well-thought-out thing that comes from it, that the camera needs to capture.
That was a big part for me, just trusting who I knew I was going to show up with on set and work with that day, as opposed to the freelance world we all live in, where you are going off nomadically, working with people you never meet until you show up on set sometimes. You don't know what it's going to be like, so this is very different and it makes a difference.
Jacob Gentry: I did months and months of research on the script, but between when we started pre-production and when we were actually going to shoot was a very short amount of time. This all worked because there was a trust I had with these guys; I've worked with them before, and they've never let me down in terms of crafting their characters and doing their research. They came up with these characters and they had so many ideas. A lot of it was just making sure I had the camera in place.
Scott Poythress: So many times on a film, it’s just show up, stand at your mark and say your lines. Literally, we've all been on sets where that's all they want from you. Just memorize your lines, show up, say it, and go home. The opposite of that is being able to have the forethought that I might get to play. We get to show up and not worry about the marks and the lights, and Jacob lets us have fun.
AJ Bowen: The only time I feel pressure working with these guys is right up until we're about to start shooting, because I just want to make sure that I'm not letting them down. When there's such a high level of trust, I don’t have to question a lot on set. And the working relationship between Chad and myself, not the output, but the input for us was exactly the same as The Signal. We had this fast shorthand.
For Synchronicity, getting to go back and wear a very different costume and have a very different dynamic between us was a real drawing point for me. Also, knowing that Scott and I just got to go and be funny together, and we watched Chad have to carry the whole damn picture himself. Didn't you have a 34-page monologue at one point, Chad? The whole screenplay is basically a Jim monologue.
Jacob Gentry: Chad really had a lot on his shoulders with this movie, because not only was he in every scene, but sometimes he had to play multiple versions in the same shot. We did a lot of old-school trickery and old-fashioned techniques in terms of the camera—when he would change clothes and run behind the camera, or run through a fake set wall that we had built, so that he could play one character and then run out of the shot as they were doing something, and then come back in the shot. That’s a lot, especially when he still has to play the character, keep the science in his mind, the time travel, the emotional reality, and the math of it all, too.
Chad McKnight: I always have fun with these guys. It's easy. I don't really put that much thought into those scenes [laughs].
Scott Poythress: Yeah, it shows [laughs].
Chad McKnight: The other stuff, it was hard. Going into it, you read and read, and you have your choices, and it's that constant thing where you have to have faith that you can let all that go, and really do pay attention to what's going on. I didn't know Brianne [Davis] that well, so the scenes with her, you have to honor what she's going to bring. You can't just sit there and force your ideas.
And for me, it was crazy how aligned the challenge was with me going into this project with what was going on with Jim Beale in the movie. It's great. A lot of the confusion you see up on stage with me processing everything was legit. Where are we going here, and what's happening to me, and why am I physically reacting so viscerally? Having these things played out in my own self as well as it was happening.
I don't know if Jacob's that much of a genius that he knew what was going on, because he didn't tell me what we were doing in those scenes, or if he just sort of let it go, or if in editing, he was like, "Well, find those moments," but it was my third time watching it last night and I really like this movie. I wasn't sure with everything, but the puzzle contained in this story is always fun to see unfold, but really exhausting too.
The more you see it, the more you really do pick up on those little moments. One thing that I noticed the second time I watched it was the way that you conveyed the future. It felt like you were doing it as an homage to the way films of the 1970s and ’80s depicted the future, because it was sort of lo-fi high-tech.
Jacob Gentry: Retro-futuristic? That's exactly it. Because it was a time travel story, and it does deal with parallel universes, I liked the idea that this could almost be an alternate version of our world. Some of my favorite science fiction movies are from that era, whether it's Blade Runner, E.T., Outland, Alien, or even going back into the early 1970s, like Silent Running.
I wanted this to fit somewhere in that era, what they thought 2015, or 2016, or 2017, would be like. How they would predict it. The only cheat we did was with the cell phones, but even those we tried to make them as archaic as possible. That's the only thing that some of the more predictive science fiction movies never got right was that they didn't know we were going to be so tied to these cell phones, so that was the one place where I feel like we cheated a little bit.
That approach gives this sense of romanticism to the whole movie, like a smoky romanticism. I'm a big fan of science fiction movies where you feel like you really just want to hang out inside of them, and just crawl into that world, and those are the ones that I connect with the most.
AJ Bowen: Way back when we first moved to L.A., Jacob and I started discovering that you could go to the pharmacy, and there were these bins of two movies for a dollar on DVD. They were always things that we had never heard of, and every time I went in, I would buy one, and we would watch it, and we would start noticing stuff. We just came up with this phrase, "Look at all that future shit." Realistically, we were talking about an aesthetic.
For example, I really dug Beyond the Black Rainbow, because it was kind of, "Look at all that future shit." It doesn't look modern at all. It already looks dated, and there's this aesthetic to it, with that type of movie, with the way the 1970s and 1980s saw the future, that trying to describe it intellectually is a bit of a brain-buster. But I do think that this sort of vibe in this film instantly makes it timeless instead of it becoming a thing that ends up being dated in a couple of years, and that’s so cool. Those are the films we all love.