Arriving in theaters and drive-ins today is Synchronic, the latest collaboration from filmmaking duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Starring Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan as Steve and Dennis respectively, the film is centered around a pair of paramedics working in New Orleans who keep crossing paths with victims of a psychedelic synthetic drug known as “Synchronic.” Beyond some odd side effects, as it turns out that the mysterious drug also has the ability to alter space and time, and after receiving a life-changing diagnosis, Steve becomes obsessed with Synchronic when he realizes the drug has also affected Dennis’ family in some pretty devastating ways.
Recently, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with both Moorhead and Benson about the real-life inspirations behind Synchronic, and they discussed the personal nature of their filmmaking, exploring relationships and why New Orleans was such an important component in their latest film.
Be sure to check out Synchronic this weekend, courtesy of Well Go USA.
So great to speak with you guys once again. I really enjoyed Synchronic immensely, and I loved that it very much felt like it was in the wheelhouse of what we've come to love and expect from you guys. But also, it was something very different. Can you guys discuss the inspiration behind Synchronic itself and how this drug became a catalyst for this storytelling? One of the things that hit me when I was watching the film was that it reminded me of this synthetic fad that was going around a few years ago, where people were getting really messed up on it.
Justin Benson: Oh, for sure. It was definitely inspired somewhat by that industry of things like Spice, and I think the other one's K1. The most infamous one is bath salts. But it's the designer synthetic analog drug industries, which are these substances that they sell over the counter in head shops and smoke shops that are basically just chemically different enough from the legal version of the drug to sell over the counter and put a little label on them that says, "Not for human consumption." Or, "Research purposes only." You start looking into it and find out that the bath salts thing is really exaggerated, and there's a lot of misinformation about it. For example, the guy who ate the person's face, unfortunately, that person was not on bath salts. That was incorrect reporting. But there is still something really fascinating and dangerous about these substances that is, where do I put it? They're just not researched at all.
You can almost say that there is research into an illegal drug in the sense that if it's been around for decades, many people have taken it. Now, there is some presumption of what's going to happen when you take it, and the long-term consequences and the short term consequences of that. But with designer synthetic analogs, we just don't know anything about them, and thus was born in Synchronic where I was like, "Hey, what if you took one out and it made you see time as Einstein described it or as Dr. Manhattan sees it, or as Alan Moore oftentimes describes it in his voice?"
Jamie's great in this, but I really feel like this film is Anthony's vessel, and he's very much driving the narrative in some really interesting and compelling ways. Can you talk about working with him and using the struggles that he's facing, where his time is so limited, but then ultimately what he's doing is playing with timelines, as well? I just thought there’s this really interesting juxtaposition in your story between this guy who has been given this diagnosis, but ultimately, he's really living beyond the scope of time, with this drug.
Aaron Moorhead: Yeah, I think a lot of it is this idea of the fact that at a certain point, every single one of us has to reckon with the fact that we're going to die. It's true, and that's easy armature stuff you learn when you're about five, and you explore your entire life. He actually is a character who's now on a real timeline. He's actually watching his time seconds tick down towards some nebulous, inevitable, probably painful death from cancer. And putting it on an actual timeline for him makes him reevaluate what he finds important. So of course, that idea of being able to look at the end of your life on any kind of an actual, physical timeline, that idea plays very, very nicely with somebody who is now able to view time as we say in the film, like it's a record. It's a solid state thing, it just matters where you put the needle, and you can go back.
He can't personally go back and save himself, but he can do something with his time to give it what he considers to be meaning. So, that's why we wanted to make those two things play with each other, about him looking at it and seeing his actual time until he dies tick down, and messing with time itself in order to make a potential sacrifice for his best friend.
I think there's a really great way that you guys have found these opportunities to explore different dynamics in male relationships, whether it's with Resolution or The Endless and now with this film. Can you talk about that? Is that your way of exploring the collaborative connection you both share, or is it just happenstance that you guys tend to go into these kinds of stories with the films that you guys do?
Justin Benson: Yeah, obviously, anything anyone writes, you have to from some extent, take it from the fabric of your own life or your own experiences. That said, we've never done anything that was autobiographical in a way that can easily be checked. Also, it's weird because the script was written in 2015 and it's made in late 2018, so it's hard to even remember which parts of that were truly autobiographical to you in some way. Actually, it's funny, when we made The Endless and we're in it, and those characters happen to have our names, someone asked me once if it was like a metaphor for our career and our relationship, and someone asked Aaron once if it was a documentary and stuff like that.
It's funny because those two characters are probably the farthest things away from us than anything we've ever done. Literally Spring might be closer, I'm probably more like Louise than I am Justin in The Endless. But, there's also this other thing too where it's weird because we have so much material that we just haven't been able to get made and I don't think any of that material features two male leads, it just happened that way. It's an uncomfortable thing where it like you don't want to be the person whose known for expressing the viewpoint of just characters who are like you, so it's just a weird thing that happened. But since it has happened, it's always really nice to hear someone say something like, "Hey, I felt like that was a somewhat unique take on a male point of view." So, at least there's that, but you do wish there were others.
Aaron Moorhead: Genuinely. And tacking onto that is, all of our movies will always just be about probably a central relationship or centrally about relationships. But as Justin said, it is basically coincidence that three of the four have been primarily male because it's just the way that the business winds have had blown. It's just hard to get the other projects off the ground, and so it's just coincidence.
I know a lot of films go to New Orleans to shoot because of its production value, the benefits and the aesthetics. But I think the city itself almost feels like a character in Synchronic in a way, because it really adds to that, "What the hell is going on here?" feeling. Was that something that was hugely important to you both when choosing to film the movie down there?
Justin Benson: I mean, there is probably no other place in the planet where the line between life and death is blurred so much. It's such a spiritual place and it goes back so long. And the idea that Anthony’s character going through a story who is learning to find comfort in his own inevitable death, that we're all going to have. New Orleans is such a beautiful place in such a perfectly thematic way. The city has seen different ends, but on top of that also, it's like when you first look at certain things in New Orleans. You look at something like voodoo and you see it through a prison of scary things, or what scary movies have made it out to be. But you take a closer look and you examine voodoo, and it has a beauty to it, a beautiful spiritual examination of life and death. And in that way, New Orleans is very similar to the way Steve, Anthony Mackie's character, is viewing his own existence.
I'm glad you mentioned seeing New Orleans differently. I really loved that for as odd as some of the locales are, there was this one scene when Jamie and Anthony were sitting there by the water and he was just taking in the skyline. I thought that was just really nice because we don't often see characters that just take a moment and steps back like that, and shows their appreciation for New Orleans.
Aaron Moorhead: I appreciate you saying that because New Orleans is also an extremely consumptive place. You go there to lose your mind, to drink and eat and listen to great music and have long conversations and stay up late and all of that. And so, it is hard to, as you say, step back and appreciate the city during that consumptive process. But we found ourselves while making the movie just thinking about how lucky we were to be there making movies and getting lost in New Orleans. That is absolutely incredible. The moment that you're talking about was always in the script, but you feel it there, you really do. And it's funny also, because Anthony’s character calls it “delicious.” That word, in that moment, you can feel how there's sustenance there too in that city.