Full Interview With Coherence Writer Director James Byrkit

Full Interview With Coherence Writer Director James Byrkit

Full Interview With Coherence Writer Director James Byrkit

I’ve had a monkey on my back of late. And when I say a monkey on my back you have to literally think fevered dreams and the rest of my waking life devolves to maybe 40% CPU throughput. So basically what that means is I’ve been walking through my life as a shell of a human. My brain has been working through the chaos that is the movie [amazon text=Amazon&asin=B00MFE0UIG] and it wasn’t going to stop until I got my thoughts out on paper. And yesterday I finally posted my walk through and explanation of the movie – and finally I’ve gotten over half my brain back… and funny thing? I actually slept well last night! hahah.

Anyway, I contacted James Byrkit, the writer and director of Coherence maybe a year ago now? Can’t remember. And after culling through his spam he saw my email and was kind enough to write back. At which point I hit him up for an interview and he was kind enough to agree to it. If you don’t know Byrkit, he wrote and directed Rango and Coherence. He also spent a great deal of time story boarding most of the Pirates of the Carribean movies. But I don’t think anything prepared him for talking to me here today! hahah. I will say this – once you are done reading the interview, make sure you head over to my Coherence explanation and lend your voice to the discussion.

I will say this you really do need to see the movie Coherence before this interview will make any sense to you. I did do an overview of the movie out here if you need to get a little more context. But the best context is just seeing the movie. Which you can do on Google Play, or with Amazon Prime, or iTunes… you have lots of options.

Taylor – In an interview when Coherence first hit the streaming circuit you were asked, about the desire to hunt down funding for the film, and your response was along the lines of – “hell no”.  Pardon my paraphrasing. To that end, Mark Duplass has been outspoken on this front – have you seen his recent SXSW talk about the fact that the calvary isn’t coming, that you are the calvary? (http://sxsw.is/1IkIley) Is it your hope to continue in this independent space as opposed to hunting for major funding?

Byrkit – I would really love to make another independent film and we’ve been trying to get the next one off the ground. It’s interesting. COHERENCE was embraced in a tremendous way by an audience of young, smart, supernerds, people of high creativity looking for something outside the norm. Which is fantastic. Of course, that demographic just happens to be exactly the subsection of the population most likely to engage in piracy. Which means the likelihood of getting funding to do something like this again is almost zero. The crazy thing is that it’s actually harder for us to make a tiny indie now that COHERENCE proved how smart our audience is.

Taylor – To my own audience here on taylorholmes.com, I want to say this loudly and clearly… buy Coherence. If you like my blog – go buy it. Never watch it that way, stream it or bittorrent it… whatever. But buy it so that you can send some encouragement Byrkit and Cooper’s way. Being a geek, like Byrkit mentions here, I get what he’s saying. I hang out on Bitport.io personally. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t support the really great directors out there. If we want to see more work from these guys, we can’t just keep ripping them off. </soapbox>

To continue with the interview… By my math, or my logic, or my Schrodinger’s Cat, or something… At the end of the movie when Em believes she’s found Kevin again, I assume she has given up on the hope of finding the rest of her companions, right? She is settling for finding the one person that matters… yes? Because it’s almost a mathematical guarantee they will never see the rest of their friends again. And as a follow up… as the writer, is that Kevin? Kevin A that is. Kevin Prime.  

Byrkit – The story is about choices.  Even micro-choices create a new universe. So Em goes in search of a reality where she got to have the full conversation with Kevin about their future. This is not the Kevin she showed up with. Because that Kevin took her lack of a “yes” as a “no.” She’s simply looking for a world where she said “yes.” The question is: can she insert herself and stay?

Taylor – So wait, WHAT?!? This answer is one of my favorite correspondant moments since I’ve started contacting writers and directors directly. When I first started thinking about this movie’s ending I just assumed Em was hunting for her real boyfriend. But this answer showed me how wrong I was. You can read more about how this changes the way you should be viewing this movie here. And lately I’ve been corresponding with one of the writers (Bradley Cooper) for the movie Time Lapse on Twitter and he’s just blown my mind about a few things about his movie which you can read about here. But damn, if today’s technology isn’t the coolest thing ever – the fact that I’m able to get this kind of access to these guys and have such a cool dialogue like these about all these fantastic movies is really transformative in the way you interact with each of their works.

Anyway, continuing on… The idea of using cue cards with motivators for your actors as opposed to a fullon script is awesome, until your actors can’t improve well enough to make it believable. With Coherence, this wasn’t a problem at all, you could have told me it was all scripted and I would have bought it. How? Brilliant actors? A ton of takes? Brilliant editing? All of the above?

Byrkit – Choosing the right actors was definitely key. The whole experiment would have crumbled with a different group. Not only do you need actors with individual improv skills, but the right group dynamic. Every personality you add to the mix is like a new active chemical— it could blow the whole thing up if it doesn’t react well with the compound.  After that, the key was having an intuition of when to direct, and when to step back and let them run with it. You’re constantly revising the narrative as the night develops, and making a million mental calculations an hour to make sure this unscripted, eight-headed creature follows the path you intended. Finally, yes. Brilliant editing by Lance Pereira (Most known for editing several of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies). If people knew what was involved in editing this, Lance would have been nominated for an Oscar.

Taylor – What did Emily Baldoni, or any of the other actors say when they found out that in the story the people they were acting along side with weren’t the same people they had been interacting with just hours before? Was there an epiphanic moment for them when it clicked? I’m assuming they weren’t in on that until shooting was well underway, no?

Byrkit – The actors got freaked out in stages. The first night of shooting the actors were introduced to each other, the lights went out and the note arrived at the door. They couldn’t even believe what was happening to them. So tense. Stunned. But they also realized that they were going to be pulled through a story that had all been planned out for them. So they were pretty giddy showing up for night 2. “What’s going to happen tonight?” That’s when the book arrived and the half the group came back with a tale of the people they saw in the dark space. So the question was: are we in danger? The third night, they were confused, but really enjoying it.  The fourth night was when we planned for them to (hopefully) feel that things were approaching incoherence. We wanted them lost in the funhouse. By the fifth and final night, they were all best friends and didn’t want the shoot to end. And only eight months later, at the first screening, did the cast say “THAT’S WHAT WE WERE MAKING???”

Taylor – Do you have a followup lined up in this same space of indie, low budget, magic? Or have you gone back to your previous world of storyboarding for Pirates of the Carribean big budget movies to pay the bills? (I only ask, because I would very much like to hear that a new Indie from you and Alex would be fantastic news.)

Byrkit – See 1

Taylor – And see my above mentioned soapbox. If you are reading this, go rent it. Buy it. Email the guy 20 bucks. No, I am not hyperbolizing here. I mean it literally. Think of it like a passive kickstarter – mail him money – and voila, out come new amazing movies for our “smart” and “torrenty” demographic. Yes, we can collectively steal. But we can also collectively blow minds too.

You know what we should do as a community? We should setup a paypal account that we just start flooding with money. Then when we see someone like this who is discouraged by the thievery going on all around them, we mail them a check that is big enough to fund another Primer. No? I’m for real right now. We put up some voting buttons, and then as a community we knight the next Shane Carruth, BLAM! Totally feeling that right now.

Tangent finished… I don’t know what’s coming over me today. Anyway, back to Byrkit. I’m currently doing the work of watching and rewatching your film with the goal of trying to timeline and locate the various copies and where they went/were going… (as much as is physically possible) do you have any hints? Or maybe a master mind map you’d like to share?!  hahaha. 

Byrkit – We’ve learned to try to not spoil an audience member’s personal interpretation of what’s happening. That said, there are two ways to watch the film. Two ways we intended, anyway. And debated and planned for a year. One way is to simply follow Em from the first shot to the last shot. This is her story. It’s fairly simple (although she unknowingly interacts with exactly 5 different sets of Hugh and Amirs). The other way to watch it is to use the cuts to black as a signal of something much more complicated unfolding. You wouldn’t believe the amount of debate going into those cuts to black, by the way. How many frames, how the rules work, how the audio should ring out. Amazing. Thanks for the interest! All the best.


Byrkit and I have exchanged several followups (read, he can’t get rid of me, I’ve friended his mother on Facebook, it’s starting to get real up in here) and he reiterated his commitment to doing another indie film…

“Thanks! And don’t worry- every ounce of my energy is going to getting something else off the ground- indie or otherwise.  The support helps a lot!”

Which is encouraging. But I really mean it that we (the smarter, younger, hacker type community) are going to just burn ourselves if we keep stealing good content. We have to give back to the creators or they will stay at the bottom of the food chain forever. Coherence was a wicked awesome movie, and we really need to reward that kind of creativity.

Anyway – go rent it, buy it, see it, and then argue with me about it over at my coherence deconstruction devolution review. Keeping the post in the recent comments section is a way to move the post up the ranks for Google… and then its a way to get Byrkit more play over all.

As a side note – I’ve just started helping out over at filmshortage.com and have just had my first short film interview and post put up with Chloë Bellande. You should check them out and show ’em love if short films are your thing. (Hint, a ton of good indie directors come from the short film community.) And with that I bid you adieu