SYNCHRONICITY director Jacob Gentry says his fascination with the future of scientific discovery kicked into high gear when the Large Hadron Collider began accelerating particles and trying to unlock the mysteries of the universe. At the same time, he dove deep into other mysteries, specifically the Film Noir classics of the 40s and 50s. He imagined his own private dick, in this modern age, as a scientist trying to unravel clues left by in the trail of the very science he created.
A SciFi punch to the brain, SYNCHRONICITY follows scientist Jim Beale’s corporately funded experiment to open a wormhole and see what comes through. This sort of irresponsible science is the bedrock of thrillers, but in this case, it also serves as a backdrop for a tantalizing love story in which scientist Jim falls for the ‘bad girl’ Abby, who may or may not be involved with the CEO funding his work, then goes back in time to warn himself not to fall for her, only to fall further for her himself. It’s a delicate balance, because on the one hand, this is a film that actually slows down enough to explain the concept of jumping parallel timelines to the audience (which is like cotton candy to me), and yet allows itself to hijacked by the love story so much one of the characters actually says ‘this is all about a girl, isn’t it?’ It was one of my very favorite films at Fantasia last year and it is getting its theatrical release today, as well as on VOD and iTunes.
Arthur C. Clarke famously remarked that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Time Travel, while theoretically possible according to the laws of physics, is so far beyond our current technology, that often films with at its center become exercises in wish fulfillment. But director Gentry’s scientist is different. He actually had no plans for anything on the other side of the wormhole, he just wanted to get there to prove he could. “As much as we’d all like to imagine ourselves saving the world by killing Hitler,” considers Gentry, “we would probably do something more akin to finding the girl or guy that got away.” And when presented with an impossibility, wouldn’t a scientific genius attempt to use physics to solve the problem? “What is the mathematical equation for feelings like jealousy or longing?” asks Gentry.
I had a chance to speak with director Jacob Gentry about the film and film noir and femme fatales and this particular mix of genre grit he has stirred up, to create one of the most satisfying mind-bender SciFi films in year.
BEARS: I always love time travel stories that loop back on themselves and you see the same scene from a new perspective. Tell me a bit about the writing process. How did you approach structuring that and what to reveal, and how to make it fascinating both (or all three times) through?
Gentry: It involved charts, graphs, schematics, and whole lot of coffee. You have to map out the logistical math of the structure on one side, and on the other side you have to chart the emotional math of the character’s journey. There was a constant back and forth between the two, but ultimately if there was a stalemate the emotional side won out. We also had to be careful to not get too repetitive, so if the audience sees a scene all over again it had illuminate something new each time.
BEARS: Horror is fascinated with the “Cabin In The Woods,” but it seems like your film has found a great SciFi equivalent – warehouse in the urban jungle. Can you talk about the use of place in the film? Did you have these locations and write to them? Or if not, how did you set the film and what were you looking for.
Gentry: It was a bit of both. The exteriors were based around a section of Atlanta designed in the late 70s by architect John Portman to be a vision of the future. Which became our primary design principle in creating this world. It was as if the movie was made in the late 70s early 80s but set in 2016 and what they thought the future would look like. So we built most of the interiors on a sound stage to match that idea – a sort of retro-futurist analog scifi-noir.
BEARS: Speaking of noir, the film feels more stylized than most SciFi films. I’m guessing you have some pretty strong inspirations outside of the typical SciFi canon (i.e. PRIMER or such). What was on your mind writing and on your mind shooting? What did you draw from them that we could be on the look-out for?
Gentry: One of the biggest influences from both a narrative standpoint as well as an aesthetic standpoint was Alexander Mackendrick’s SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS. A later period film noir that the plot isn’t crime related. Everything from the crackling dialogue and character dynamics to James Wong Howe’s revolutionary cinematography. One of the first movies of its kind to shoot on location. Simply one of the best movies ever made. It contains a very grim worldview, but truly compelling nonetheless.
BEARS: I love Brianne Davis’s performance. I wrote my original review: “as the film progresses and we realize that she is dealing with two very different Jims, her performance reveals itself as even more of a triumph. It’s a bit like watching Carrie Ann Moss in MEMENTO for the first time: you are desperate for a second view because you know you are being toyed with by a master.” Can you talk about directing her and dealing with that issue, where the opposite character is constantly giving you energy that in your character’s world, makes no sense? It’s not an easy task by any means. And did you and she discuss her place in the pantheon of Femme Fatales?
Gentry: Casting Brianne fundamentally changed the character of Abby. She was always meant to appear as a traditional femme fatale at first, and then we would upend the basic tenets of that trope once the time travel afforded a parallax view of the character. She was originally written as brash and aggressive with much more of a sailor’s mouth, but Brianne brought a sort of elegance and grace that actually heightened the mystery and made that reveal much more compelling.
Here is the trailer for SYNCHRONICITY: