“It’s technically possible by the laws of physics, but it’s highly implausible,” he explained while talking to Bleeding Cool last week. “Once I started to research it for this movie, I learned it was more complex and compelling than I even imagined.”
In the film, Chad McKnight stars as Jim Beale, a scientist on the verge of creating a stable time travel portal. To do it, he needs a special material from a corporation interested in the technology. But he may have already accomplished it. Just without him knowing that is is an eventuality. And that corporation might be trying to confuse him in order to get their hands on the portal.
“It’s great for movies because movies are a duration.” Gentry continued. “You are literally spending time with a film.” He compared it to modern editing programs, which allowed filmmakers to see the duration, and the time spent, as a graphical whole. Those programs also made it easy to manipulate the audience’s perception of time. With that temporal relationship so closely married to the film experience, time travel became a natural cinematic concept. “Movies have really kept it alive,” he added. “Being able to see time in different way can really inform the story.”
It can also be a great challenge to write about. In building a puzzle, Gentry noted that he became “locked into the timeline” of setups and payoffs. “You can’t go on different roads because you’re locked into the timeline,” he said.
For McKnight, it added an extra layer to task of production, which already breaks up the timeline of a film with the constraints of filming out of sequence. “The emotional mathematics really depend on my scene-partner,” he said. “It was kind of parallel to the character.” He praised the script for creating a parallel for him as an actor shooting a film and the confusion his character experiences as he travels along his own timeline.
“We spent a lot of time with our script supervisor,” joked actor AJ Bowen, who plays Beale’s assistant Chuck. He added that, as in all films, preparation is key. If done correctly, a performer can focus on the reality of the moment being filmed. “It’s not an intellectual process,” he said. “But discussing it is.”
The film recalled the future as predicted in the great sci-fi films of the 1980s — a look now referred to as “retrofuturism.” Gentry said there was “something romantic and something seductive” about that future despite its dystopic underpinnings. “That’s not something that I want for the future of my life,” he added, though the cityscapes in Frtiz Lang’s Metropolis and the Star Wars prequels invite the viewer to guess what is happening behind all those windows glimpsed as the main characters navigate their lives.
“It’s like that fascination with film noir. It’s Leonard Cohen singing a song and you imagine him and Tom Waits drinking whiskey and smoking ten thousand cigarettes,” he continued. “I just wouldn’t want to live there.”
“It’s good for the opening credits of True Detective,” added actor Scott Poythress, who plays out-of-sorts lab assistant Matty.
“It’s what Philip K. Dick calls ‘the central dislocation,’ Gentry continued. “For this movie, it’s this analog retrofuture so we can get to these characters and these emotions.”
Adding the emotions is an impressive score by composer Ben Lovett. He and Gentry have worked together for nearly twenty years and discussed that analog retrofuture as an element they could incorporate into the score. “A lot of my favorite film scores had these analog synthesizers,” Gentry explained. Though the works of Tangerine Dream and Wendy Carlos in film like Sorcerer, Legend, The Shining and Tron all feature an unreal electronic sound, they were realized with synthesizers that still generated those tones with analog methods like vacuum tubes. It creates a different quality from the full digital synthesizers widely used today.
Lovett went to Asheville, North Carolina and recorded near the Moog synthesizer factory, using some of their instruments to realize the score. He came armed with playlists from Gentry, revealing the sort of tonal qualities the director wanted. From there, he experimented with the sounds to get the right emotional underpinnings for the story. “With Ben, it all comes from a narrative driven place and the emotions of the scene,” Gentry explained. “He knows the story as well as anybody.”
Committing that story to film was often challenging, but actor Michael Ironside offered Gentry a particular challenge on set. “I’ve been such a huge fan,” he said of the familiar genre actor. “I wanted [to hear] the tales of making Total Recall and Starship Troopers. But Ironside would always come up to me and start to tell me these stories right before we started rolling on a scene he wasn’t in,” Gentry said with a laugh. “It was the biggest Sophie’s Choice in my life: do I listen to this story or do I make this movie? It was one or the other.”
The group found him to be a warm and helpful presence on the set. Bowen said, “There’s an alacrity to him. Like how he chooses to say a certain word. There isn’t anything that he does that could be better or more efficient.” He added that while it tends to be true that one should never meet their idol, Ironside proved to be a joy to meet and to work with. “He’s never phoned anything in,” he continued. “He has enough freedom that every single thing. Even when he wasn’t shooting, he would [help us] toward the performance we wanted. We didn’t want to let him down.”
Synchronicity opens tomorrow.