Fantasia: Jacob Gentry, Chad McKnight, AJ Bowen on Synchronicity
It was a very exciting time at Fantasia this weekend when we got to attend the premiere of Synchronicity plus catch up with the team behind the project and talk sci-fi and time travel. I met up with writer-director Jacob Gentry, lead actor Chad McKnight and co-star AJ Bowen.
Jeremy Lefebvre (JL): Let’s go over the name of the movie. What does Synchronicity mean?
Jacob Gentry (JG): It’s actually the definition that fits the themes of the movie. ‘Synchro’ and ‘city’ are two things that are seemingly disparate and that actually come together and mean the same thing.
JL: Tell us about yourselves as filmmakers – you made The Signal back in 2007 and now this! How’s the process of continuously evolving into bigger projects?
JG: I think its a matter of making different movies with different aesthetics, themes, and genres with my friends. I love working with these guys, and it’s fun exploring these different aspects. Getting to make The Signal was great and now making a film like this is different in a lot of ways, and similar in a lot of ways.
JL: You guys are friends and have made some impressive work, how did this come to be?
Chad McKnight(CM): Well they’ve been friends for a lot longer than I have, I only came on board for the last 12 years. I started working with them in 2003 for The Last Goodbye. It was great, and we shot that in Atlanta like all the other ones. Since then it’s been easy.
JL: Working with a team like this, is it like going back and catching up with family or is it a completely different experience every time?
JG: It’s these guys but also Scott Poythress, who plays the third friend of the trio in the movie. It’s Benjamin Lovett the composer, Chris the producer and visual effects guy, and Alex Motlagh, whom I’ve been making movies with for years and years. I met him in the dorms in college.
JL: I always like getting the contrasting opinion between going to film school and not. What is your take on it?
JG: I think it’s unique for everyone; I know some people that film school has helped. If I had to redo my experience, I probably would redo it the same way. I went to the University of Georgia because that’s where I got to meet people like A.J. and the other people I work with. I did theatre, but I kind of had to make D.I.Y. movies because the college I went to didn’t have film classes. I got to pick up cameras right at the start of college and at the start of the digital revolution. We stole cameras from the journalism department while we were in the theatre department, and we would get together on the weekends and make movies with actors and friends, like Alex the producing partner from the journalism department. It helped us learn, sort of by accident, that the only way you’re going to make the kind of movies you want to make is by making them. Just make movies.
A.J. Bowen (A.J.): It was fundamentally essential for me to have a future career. I was in a liberal arts program, which wasn’t very conservative and we all sort all ended up there. I though I was going to be a musician but I lost my scholarship and ended up in Georgia. We just ended up there at the same time.
JG: We kind of made our own film school.
A.J.: We really did, so we had a lot of equipment that we could quietly steal and put back in place when we were done with it. We also all wanted to do different components as part of the collaborative process. Like Ben always want to be a composer, Alex wanted to produce, Jacob was the director, I wanted to act and write, Scott was an actor, and we all sort of learned how to do our jobs together. But more essential to that was that we learned to communicate with one another, and that started shaping our sensibilities. We would discover movies together, and we would go through our really pretentious phase together. We would do something that was totally black and white and was totally shit. We would get through this. The acting was shit. But that allowed us to figure out how to do this for no money and no time. It forced us to be divorced from ego because we got to have all of our fights together. Over the years, like three decades ago, when Chad came on, we found a family member that spoke our language and that allowed us to have a codified, uniformed language.
JL: And this went into the process of Synchronicity where it helped all the pieces come together.
JL: And how was the process of writing Synchronicity, where you had to keep track of many different Jim’s due to time travelling?
JG: I mean, it was really difficult, and it was late nights with charts and graphs, because you don’t only have to chart the logical math but also the emotional math. I made so many charts because there was a lot of math involved, and I invented the script with the help of a physicist named Sean Charrol, who gave me some cosmology notes. He looked at the script, and just made sure that the physics were at least passable so that if an actual physicist watched this movie, their ears wouldn’t bleed. You want to be responsible with the science but ultimately it’s a fantasy, so you need to be responsible for the audience being engaged, and make it seem as if these people know what they’re talking about and that the movie is using real scientific concepts. If the science is right I feel that it can get you emotionally connected a bit better. With linear narratives you can just keep coming up with things that are happening, but with time travel movies you kind of have to build it so that if you change something down here you have to change something up there and vice versa, so everything has to be contingent on everything else. But even if everything works and makes sense, it doesn’t matter if we are not engaged with what is going on and what the characters are going through.
JL: Because you want something to talk about, you want to stir a conversation.
JG: That’s right. For the movies I like and even the ones I don’t like, conversation is everything. That’s great film school.
JL: And for actors, how is it to focus in on one of the Jim’s versus on another, or even being hit by all these obstacles?
CM: It was challenging. I really relied on him (JG) if I was off. And I think he did that well. Not to say I was not aware, but it was hard. Knowing that the third Jim was coming up next, you had to keep a toe in each emotional life, so that the emotion was there and wasn’t distracting from the story and it didn’t get boring or too moody. It pays off. It was the first time I saw it last night, and everything that was done with the editing, and what Ben did with the score, and everything that Chris and Alex did with producing and the effects was great; I saw something where movie making all comes together. It bails you out as an actor too. Whether your moments are fake, or whether you’re too much in your own head, it all came together and it’s a little more forgiving, when seeing it. But the questioning going in was a puzzle and a challenge, and thats what’s fun at the end of the day. Figuring that out.
A.J: It was a much easier gig for me, because my primary job during the shoot was to support Chad, so all I had to do was go in and talk to a friend and make the emotions resonate. It’s a lot easier to do when you’re friends and you’ve been in the trenches before, with the whole process of making a movie and taking it out on tour with festivals. When it’s shoot day and it’s Chad, Scott and me, you know no matter what the technological challenges, you’re going to get something that is real and you’re going to enjoy it.
CM: Yeah, I would advise to anyone who’s trying to make movies that take two or three weeks, to just shoot with people who you are familiar with already so you can skip all the hurting everyone else’s egos and feelings off camera and just yell, and still be fine on camera.
A.J.: We have always said this for years, and that is that the day you wrap shooting is the day that you are ready to go shooting. Because by that time you’ve spent so much time on those shoots communicating and dealing with everyone’s egos. We did that ten years ago, and now when we make a movie now we don’t have to think about it. Well, only Jacob has to think about it. We can actively engage and be ready.
JL: Any last words for your audience?
JG: We hope that people get to go see Synchronicity. We are playing in upcoming festivals. I hope that it inspires interesting conversations and that it can be a fun sci-fi movie to watch.
The second screening for Synchronicity at Fantasia is on July 30th at 12:45pm.