Possessing an infinite wisdom into the origins and purpose of our existence is a unique brilliance that not many people have the luxury of possessing. Furthering their abilities, so that they can travel back in time to protect society’s survival from disastrous events, is an intelligence that scientists have not yet been able to achieve, but is an enviable goal they’re still working on. While preserving civilization is a top priority for scientists, society could face a potential downfall if even one person was suddenly afforded a parallax view of their own life, and selfishly attempted to use physics to solve their own problems. That powerful dilemma over whether people would use science and time travel to protect society or use it to their own advantage is intriguingly presented in writer-director-editor Jacob Gentry‘s new sci-fi noir movie, ‘Synchronicity.’ Magnet Releasing is distributing the independent thriller today in select theaters nationwide, as well as on Demand, iTunes and Amazon Video.
‘Synchronicity’ follows daring physicist Jim Beale (Chad McKnight), who has invented a machine that can fold space-time with his friends and colleagues, Chuck (AJ Bowen) and Matty (Scott Poythress). But Jim soon becomes convinced that their benefactor, ruthless corporate tycoon Klaus Meisner (Michael Ironside), will stop at nothing to overtake ownership rights to their machine. When Jim uses the machine to tear open the fabric of the universe, a rare Dahlia appears from the future. But in order to keep the rights to his invention, he must prove that it works by finding the flower’s identical match in the present. Jim soon discovers that the Dahlia lies in the hands of the mysterious Abby (Brianne Davis), who seduces him into revealing his secrets. Convinced that she is in league with Klaus to take ownership of his life’s work, Jim travels back in time to stop the conspiracy before it can happen. But once in the past, Jim uncovers a surprising truth about Abby, the machine and his own uncertain future.
Gentry, Davis and Bowen generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing, editing and starring in ‘Synchronicity’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the filmmaker and actors discussed how they had known each other before beginning production on the sci-fi triller, as they’re friends and frequent collaborators, and were interested in pondering the personal and societal effects of time travel in a movie. Davis and Bowen also mentioned how they were able to relate to their respective characters, and understand the scientific world that Gentry had created, by not only rehearsing and discussing the story together, but also filming on visually realistic soundstages in Atlanta.
ShockYa (SY): Jacob, you wrote the script for the new sci-fi thriller, ‘Synchronicity,’ which follows physicist Jim Beale as he invents a machine. What interested you in penning the screenplay, and what was the writing process like for you?
Jacob Gentry (JG): I made a lot of charts and graphs as I was trying to map out the story, not only with the logic, but also the emotions. A lot of the process revolved around thinking about casting actors like Scott, AJ and Chad. I wanted to see how fun it would be to have them play roles that are so different than the ones they played when we previously worked together. I was also interested in creating a story that’s based in film noir and time travel.
SY: Besides writing the film, you also served as the direct. Was it always your intention to also helm the thriller as you were writing the script? How did working on the story influence the way you approached your directorial duties once you began filming?
JG: With this film, I specifically wrote it so that I could direct it. I think both duties are linked somewhat in my mind. I don’t know if I’m just a writer or director; I’m more of a filmmaker. I think they go hand-in-hand.
But with a movie like this, when we had very little time to shoot it, the writer and director had to trust each other. So I had to trust myself that I did the right thing on all aspects of the film, because we didn’t have time to analyze anything, especially the writing, when we were shooting.
SY: Brianne and AJ, you portray Abby, who Jim forms a personal relationship with, and Chuck, the scientist’s colleague and friend, in ‘Synchronicity.’ What interested you both in your respective roles, and how did you become involved in the film?
AJ Bowen (AB): It’s always a funny thing when you’re talking about being involved in a movie. I have personal relationships with most of the people I have made movies with; we were friends first, and then made movies second. Especially in the case with Jacob and POP Films (‘Synchronicity’s production company), we’ve been making movies together since we were in college.
So there’s not a traditional answer to what drew me to the script. Basically, Jacob calls me and says that he has a script. So I’ll say, “Okay, get my plane ticket, and we’ll go from there.” With ‘Synchronicity,’ I heard about it, and I think I was on a plane a few days later.
Jacob and I are very similiar, in terms of the content that we’re interested in. So when he told me that he was doing a time travel sci-fi movie, I said, “That sounds great, so I would love to be involved.” So I’m very fortunate; as an actor, you don’t often have parts written for you. But the part that I have in this film was written specifically for me. So I was very quick to say yes; there really wasn’t a contemplation with whether I was going to take the role.
Brianne Davis (BD): I became involved in ‘Synchronicity’ because AJ and I were working on another film together, called ‘Among Friends.’ He was talking about how he was going to go back to Atlanta, which I’m also from.
AB: We went to the same high school, right?
BD: Yes, we were talking about how we went to the same high school. He then mentioned how there was a great female part in this movie, and he gave me the script. I think we worked for 14 hours, and even though that’s a long day, I immediately read it as soon as I got home. I couldn’t put it down, as I fell in love with Abby the minute I read it. I think I even read it again a second time that night, because I couldn’t go to sleep.
I think Jacob came to visit us on the set of (‘Among Friends’), and I told him that I love the part. So I put myself on tape one night after working. He then brought me in to read with Chad. I think I was on a plane a few days later. It was a quick process, but as soon as I read the script, I wanted to be a part of the film. The writing’s so great.
The opportunity to play such a complex female character was great. I also love the sci-fi world, so I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this film.
SY: Once the film was cast, were you able to rehearse with the rest of the actors, particularly Chad McKnight, who plays Jim, in order to build the characters’ relationships and backstories?
BD: The good thing was that we had about a day-and-a-half of rehearsals. It was really nice, because I got to see how Jacob works, and what it would also be like to work with Chad. But when we got on set, it was completely different, because we were in a new environment. But it was also nice to have that base established. AJ and I already had a relationship, so it was organic.
Everything happens so quickly when you’re on set, so for me, things like the environment and wardrobe really help me relate to my characters. So I don’t like rehearsing a lot. When I put on the clothes and make-up and I walk onto the set, those things also influence me.
AB: The aesthetic was definitely informative for everything. Like Brianne was saying, we had a couple of days where we got to talk about things. But then we get into the world, which was a really interesting environment to be in. We were on sound stages for most of the shoot. So getting to see what the production designer, Jeffrey Gordon, did also informed our creative process.
Like Brianne also mentioned, getting into our wardrobe also helped us understand our tone, which is atypical for modern cinema. This is essentially a throwback and mix between sci-fi and noir. So seeing the world that we were going to be in really helped us understand what we were supposed to be doing, in terms of performance.
SY: Since the thriller focuses on the two different time periods once Jim successfully completes his experiments, Jacob, as the director, and Brianne and AJ, as actors, were there challenges in maintaining the different timelines, particularly once the further the story continued?
BD: Well, I just really relied on Jacob. I played Abby as two different characters. So I would have to go to Jacob and ask him, which one am I in this scene? He just guided me, and I trusted that.
We were staying in apartments in Atlanta, and my apartment had sticky notes all over it. We would jump around so much, so I used the notes to show what just happened.
AB: Often times as an actor, you have to create a linear and logical process, in terms of storytelling, as you almost never shoot a film’s in chronological order. But due to how unique this project is, not shooting in order was beneficial. If we had shot this film from beginning to end in order, I probably would have been intellectually confused about each moment.
With this film, we knew where we were starting and ending. Shooting it out of order, like we normally do, created an ability to know what we were trying to get. We were trying to live in moments of emotional integrity.
So for me personally, I didn’t have a lot of confusion. It was much harder to talk about the intellect of the movie than it was to actually make it. We would basically turn around and look at Jacob to figure out each scene.
SY: What was the process of finding and filming on the locations used in the sci-fi thriller, as well as working on a soundstage? As a director and actors, do you all prefer working on location, especially on this type of film?
JG: I think filming both ways have a certain appeal. The film is set in a hyper-stylized world, but it also has elements of being set in a retro-futuristic world.
So we shot in buildings in downtown Atlanta that were built in the ’70s, and were based on dreams of what the future would look like. That brought the film into a gritty, urban and futuristic universe that feels like it was created around 1982. But it was based on the idea that it was created then of what the future now would look like.
That idea allows your imagination to fill out all of the elements of the locations. The best science-fiction movies make the viewers want to crawl inside the screen and hang out inside of them.
AB: As an actor, I think it’s beneficial to go someplace to make a movie. Like Brianne was saying, we were making another movie together at home in L.A., about 10 days before we left to make this one. That was a rare thing for me, because most of the movies that I make within the independent film world, you go to where the tax incentives are good. It’s random that Brianne and I are both from Georgia, and the tax incentives there are so great. So for the majority of the movies that I have made, I have found myself going back to Georgia to film them.
I noticed that on the other movie Brianne and I were making, we were having a had time staying plugged in, because we were filming in California. So we would go home at the end of the day, and that’s not something that I was used to doing.
So going to Georgia, and having that specific place that we all went, and having us all stay in this one environment, created the best-case scenario. It felt like summer camp, which I have always described shooting a movie. We all basically got together and went to ‘Synchronicity’ summer camp, and blocked out the rest of the world.
Like Brianne said about putting stuff up on the wall, your apartment or hotel room more or less becomes a headquarter for building the world. That’s really beneficial to me, as it lets you plug in and say, this is the thing that I’m doing right now.
We were all in the same apartment complex. So there were a couple of mornings where Brianne and I would get together before we went to shoot, and would talk through the day. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen if you’re shooting a project where you live. But filming on location allowed us to talk through things, and deepen our conversation. Our lives shifted to focus solely on filming, and discussing one thing, which I think helped the language of the film.
BD: I second what AJ just said. It’s always a blessing to go on location and immerse yourself in that world. I also love shooting on soundstages, because you can see the environment before you begin shooting. I was able to see Abby’s apartment before we began filming.
I remember it was hot while we were filming. But we had to turn off the air (conditioning) while we were shooting. So all of that sweat was real. I think that environment helped Chad and I. Our moments in the film are real, as we were hot and frustrated. But the overall environment was beautiful.
AB: Yes, it was a blessing for us as actors that Jacob allowed us to tour the set before we began filming, like Brianne said. We were building a world in our minds, and then tried to match it the best that we could on the days we were filming, and found out where we were going to shoot.
But knowing the exact geography of the place where you’re going to shoot was really helpful. It filled in the gaps creatively, emotionally and physically. It really informed us as actors that this is the world that we’re in, and this is what we’re going to be doing.
Like Brianne was also saying, we tried to make sure we stay hydrated. We were filming in Atlanta in August on a soundstage, so it was really warm. So I hoped that sweat was required.
SY: What was the process of filming ‘Synchronicity’ independently, both as actors and as the director?
JG: I think that no matter how much money and time you have, you always want more. But filming independently definitely allows you to stretch your creative process. I think limitations are always good for creativity. That’s especially true for something like this, where we really had to make sure the story and the characters’ emotional struggles were solid. At the end of the day, if the special effects didn’t work right, we still wanted the audience to have something to hang their hat on.
We only had a certain amount of time to film in Atlanta, and there were only certain places that were available to us. So we thought about what we could do with what we had. A lot of the production design and cinematography was influenced by the environment, because they were done so close to when we started shooting. Since this movie was so under the radar when we were making it, I had a lot of time during post-production to really explore different ideas.
Brianne’s character, and what she brought to the role, also shaped a lot of what was happening in the film. She had much more of an elegant beauty than what I had originally conceived for the character. So I changed some things, based on what she brought to the role.
BD: I really loved working on this film. I have acted in some really big budget movies, as well as other films that had medium and really small budgets. I think that as an actor, you just have to suit up and show up, no matter what it is. You have to be as available as you can be, no matter how much time or money you have. I actually go into everything like there isn’t any money or time. You just have to immediately commit.
On the bigger budget films, you can shoot about 30 takes, and you’d be so drained at the end of the day. At times, you can be like, I have no idea what I did. The directors who I have spoken to about the process say they usually end up using the first take.
But I feel like no matter what the size or budget is, if you really love the project, you’ll feel like a family. If you’re making a smaller budget film, everyone’s working on it because they love it, and not because of the money.
JG: I think you’re right; there is a sameness no matter what type of project you’re making. You’re doing the same thing, no matter what type of budget you have. A week after we finished this film, I shot a movie for television that had a budget that was several times higher than ‘Synchronicity.’ It pretty much felt like the same kind of thing, in terms of the job that you’re trying to do. There’s just the difference of time.
AB: I always tell people that the difference between independent and bigger budget film is that on indies, you have to make your day in a much more efficient way. You have to attack things creatively, and figure out the best way to get from point one to two. I think that’s always good for creative storytelling. Having limitations is a wonderful thing, because it forces you to be intellectually active and alert.
SY: Jacob, besides writing and directing the sci-fi thriller, you also served as the editor. Why did you also decide to edit the drama? How did also penning the script and helming the film influence the way you edited it?
JG: I love editing; it’s probably my favorite part of the process. That’s especially true with this project, because I learned a lot. I have edited a lot of other projects, but for some reason, I really just let my mind go on this project. I spent a lot of time editing this film, and there were many different versions of it. Some versions were really interesting, while I wouldn’t show other versions to anyone ever. Like the old cliche goes, you write the script for the third time while you’re editing, and I think that’s completely true.
We we were able to heighten some of the film’s ideas through what these actors brought to the movie, and how I was able to support their choices. Also, what Christopher Alender (who also served as a producer on the film) and Dave Jacobson did with the digital effects gave me a different tone to play with while I was editing. I also cut maybe 10 or 15 pages of dialogue out of the movie, because I wanted the looks and expressions to help tell the story. I love editing, because it’s all about finding the right scenes to put together.
SY: ‘Synchronicity’ had its world premiere this past summer at the Fantasia International Film Festival, and also played at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. What were your experiences of bringing the sci-fi movie on the festival circuit?
BD: Well, doing the ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) with Jacob, I got to see how beautiful the movie was. But I didn’t see the entire movie until we went up to Montreal for Fantasia. When I saw it, I was sitting next to AJ. I literally got chills because it was so beautiful.
When you read the script, you don’t completely see it. When I watch my films, I also don’t see myself. I was totally immersed in the love story, and found myself tearing up. That was the first time I saw the movie on the big screen, and heard the music. When I left, I thought, I’m so grateful. But I think AJ has seen it a lot more than I have seen it. (laughs)
AB: That’s the price you pay when your best friend is the writer and director. (laughs) When you live less than a mile from each other, you spend a lot of time working together. There were many nights we spent time on Jacob’s porch when he was editing the film, and we would ask each other, what do you think about this?
I have to say, if you have the opportunity to premiere your movie in a town like Montreal, and at a festival like Fantasia, you should take it. (laughs) It’s a really great place to show your movie.
Like Brianne, I had seen a lot of the film. As actors, one of the things we don’t get to see is the huge amount of work that goes into filmmaking, beyond making the soundstage. That was really important to us, in terms of preparing us for our performances. But there’s also a world outside of the place where we’re shooting. Soapbox (Films, the sci-fi movie’s other production company) did a great job building this other environment that lives and breathes.
Getting to see that was a really wonderful thing. It was also great to start sharing the film with people who weren’t as intimately involved in the process of making the movie as we all were. Seeing them discover this place for the first time, you realize that there are a lot of nuts and bolts that go into filmmaking.
It’s never made by just one person; it’s made by a lot of people. So you’re not always privy to the work that’s going on without you, especially as an actor. As an actor, you’re just tying to hit your mark and say your line right. You also try to develop a really organic relationship to the people who are working you on the screen.
But getting to see the film completely finished was a real privilege, because we got to see that there was a bigger picture. There’s an entire world that exists now. We had an idea about the world, but we really didn’t get to experience it until we saw it on the screen.
SY: The drama (was) released in theaters and on VOD and iTunes (today). Do you all feel that the On Demand platform is beneficial for independent films like this one?
JG: Well, obviously your ultimate dream is to have everyone see your movie in IMAX 70mm at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. (laughs) But with TVs getting bigger and bigger, it’s changing the legitimization of VOD. It’s now becoming a really important way for people to see films. That’s really important for independent movies, because it’s much more difficult for them to get any kind of positioning in the mainstream multiplex.
VOD really gives exposure to this kind of movie. It allows films like ours to reach people in parts of the world where its not playing in the local theater. You can also buy it the day it comes out, so you can watch it three times right when it’s released. I’ve heard that it’s more rewarding after multiple viewings. So I would recommend doing that.
AB: Yes, buy our movie many times!
BD: I think VOD is good, because I have family members who live in smaller cities. So they don’t get to see my work right away, unless I’m on television or in a huge movie. They don’t get to see my smaller films until I get it and can send it to them. So my cousins, who live in small-town New York, can see ‘Synchronicity’ immediately, and they’re really excited to do that..
AB: I think that VOD really elevates the ability to get your content out. I think it’s a wonderful thing to be able to experience cinema from your home, because there are so many movies we wouldn’t catch otherwise. I love that someone can sit down after their long work day and watch a movie on iTunes. They may not have otherwise experienced it if they had to go to the theater, and also pay for popcorn and a babysitter.
I realized that as a father, I’ve seen maybe three movies in the theater the past six to eight months, but I’ve watched many more on VOD. I’ve gotten to experience many more than I would have been able to if I was just going to the theater.
I’m really happy that VOD happened. VOD wasn’t available when we shot the movie (the 2007 sci-fi horror thriller, ‘The Signal’) that Jacob and I previously made together. So not that many people got to see it, and we got labeled as a cult film. But that doesn’t have to be the case anymore. So I think the VOD platform is great.
SY: After releasing ‘Synchronicity,’ do you have plans to make more projects together? Are you interested in creating another sci-fi film together?
JG: AJ and I actually wrote a movie that we shot last year, and we’re very excited about it. It also has sci-fi elements to it, but it’s very different from ‘Synchronicity.’ It’s called ‘Night Sky,’ and I think people will find it to be a cool follow-up to ‘Synchronicity.’
AJ: Basically, when you work with friends and family, you’re always looking for an opportunity to work with them again. I’ve been blessed that I’ve been able to do that. Besides working with Jacob, I’ve been blessed to also work with Brianne again. We haven’t been able to work together again in awhile. But you’re always trying to find an angle to include your friends.
We’re like, things have changed in film, so we might not have a lot of money and time. But what we do have is creative content with each other. So we try to figure out how we can do something with my friends.
Like what Jacob was talking about, that’s essentially where ‘Night Sky’ came from. We were looking to make another movie together, and trying to see if we could make this kind of film on a micro-budget. We wanted to tell a compelling story, but got tired of waiting for money to fall in place. We thought, let’s see if we can go out and make this, and we did.
Honestly, it’s one of the biggest blessings of working in indie films. You go, we’d don’t have money or time, but we have each other. We ask, what story can we tell with each other? More times than not, my experiences have been like that. I’m grateful to have that kind of experience.
It would be great to make, and have, a lot of money doing it. (laughs) But on bigger budget films, you also don’t have the experience of going in the trenches with your family. With ‘Synchronicity,’ that’s basically what it was-it was a group of people getting together and saying, “Let’s trying to tell as compelling of a story as possible with each other.” That’s my ambition for all filmmaking-making projects with people who you love on a deadline with no money, but still be as creative as possible.
Written by: Karen Bneardello