Coherence is a movie that really keeps you thinking. It’s a story that as it unfolds you are never really sure just what to expect. Even when I thought I had a grasp on it would throw me a nice curve and keep me guessing. Lucky for us James Ward Byrkit (writer and director of Coherence) is a straight shooter and damn cool guy. The interview below was to be featured on the podcast, but the audio got screwed up. Fortunately I was able to salvage it enough to transcribe it. Take a look below and be sure to check out Coherence on VOD right now!
Slack Jaw Punks: What is going on man?
James Ward Byrkit: Oh nothing. Just lost in the cosmic universe
SJP: I imagine these press rounds are terrible for you.
JWB: [Laughing] No actually they are really fun…
SJP: Stop Lying! You just want me to saw good shit about your movie!
JWB: Well I would definitely recommend asking different questions.
SJP: What are you favorite brand of trousers?
JWB: Yes! Let’s make it clothing based!
SJP: That’s what the fans want!
JWB: They are craving them! Dying for it!
SJP: I gotta let you know man, I really dug Rango.
JWB: That’s so great to hear.
SJP: Yeah man I had a kid a few years back and Rango was a life saver…
JWB: That’s great. People will tell me: “My kid really enjoyed Rango” and I go I don’t care If your kid liked it. Did you like it?!? I didn’t make it for your freaking kid!
SJP: It really is a good movie! I’m a huge western fan and I can’t really watch them around my toddler and Rango is great that we both can enjoy it. I can only take so much Caillou before I snap…
JWB: Did you say Caillou??
SJP: I did. Do you know what that is?
JWB: I do! [laughing] My nephew is into it. It is unbearable! Lets have a show about that. Let’s just talk about what’s wrong with Caillou!
SJP: The little fucker never stops whining!
JWB: [laughing] He’s awful. AND What is it? He’s so neutral it’s disturbing. Is it human and what sex is it?!? It’s creepy and wrong.
SJP: It’s like crack for kids. They are addicted to it!
JWB: It’s going to mess people up! They are really going to regret it…
SJP: Okay I’m going through my interview check list. I cover: pants, Caillou and praise about Rango. I have covered everything I wanted to talk about.
JWB: Thank you so much Bub! I love it!
SJP: I sat down with Coherence, knew very little going into it and it blew my mind!
SJP: You paced the movie perfectly. Just when I thought I had a grasp on where it was going you would throw me a curve. I loved it.
JWB: It was made for you then!
SJP: It’s a hard movie to describe to some one. I guess I would call a time loop movie..
JWB: Well, “fractured reality” is how we talk about it. It’s not really time travel going on. It’s sort of an anomaly that has made people question their reality and that was a result of me standing in my living room saying “How do we make a movie with no money that feels like more than just a group of people whining about their relationships. We though Twilight Zone use to do that and have this cosmic significance creep in even in the most mundane settings. If they could do it seemed like a pretty good model to give us confidence that we can make it compelling.
SJP: That was my next question. Coherence just seeps with Rod Serling. Obviously Twilight Zone is a huge influence in this movie?
JWB: It was. Mainly in terms of answering the question: Can we get away with a limited amount of locations and characters trapped in a space, or at least feeling like they are trapped in a space. In a way the first act of our movie is what a Twilight Zone would be. A Twilight Zone would stop where our first act ends. Where the second note arrives at the door. When your making a movie you have to go beyond that half an hour, single idea format. That when it sort of kicked in to being very much about all these choices these characters are going to make and ended up being about this specific character that Emily Baldoni and her regrets and her desire to not repeat the mistakes of the past and feeling like she had this life she missed out on. We almost called it the understudy because of that story she tells at the dinner table about how she missed out on this incredible opportunity that would have changed her life. That sets the stage for this character that is going to make a very extreme choice to take unprecedented measures to make sure she gets the life she feels she deserves.
SJP: Speaking of characters, the whole cast did a great job, but one character in particular that I was fascinated with is Mike, played by Nicholas Brendon. Nicholas is known for being the lovable guy on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you sort of went against that. Not that his character isn’t lovable but he has a dark side.
JWB: Yeah, he has some demons. He is a character whose all about being in conflict with himself. He’s going to subvert himself every time. Even when he’s got everything to strive for and everything to hope for he’s going to be self sabotaging. Nicholas got to play a dark version, really an exaggerated piece of his own demons. And that’s where, I think, some really interested acting comes out. Nicholas is really funny, really sarcastic, he’s throwing out one liners, but then he’s got some of the best acting of his career when he’s worries about what he himself is capable of doing.
SJP: I noticed that, besides Nicholas, all the characters all have names that are variations of their actual names. Are all these characters playing versions of themselves?
JWB: Not really. Lauren [ Maher] is nothing like the girl that shows up in the red dress. She’s completely the opposite. She’s really easy-going and nice to be around. Elizabeth Gracen who plays like a new agey, annoying Californian feng shui lady. She’s hilarious in real life. Super smart. Out of the whole cast she probably knows the most about Schrodinger’s Cat and Quantum physics, so she had to play an ignorant version of herself. A much more flighty version of herself.
The main thing was I told everybody I don’t want you to be broad characters. I don’t want the characters to overwhelm the twists and turns of this puzzle, because that would feel fake. That would feel written. I don’t want it to feel like the dialogue was written. I want to feel like natural dialogue that you guys are coming up with in the moment and so in order to do that I had to actually take them to a fairly normal place. Realistic people you would actual find at a party. Sort of smug northern Californians.
SJP: Any time I hear anyone talk about feng shui I want to slap them!
JWB: [laughing] We had a lot of fun with that. I gave her [Elizabeth Gracen] all that feng shui stuff to say. I said “Here’s what you have to do: You have to think of an excuse to go over there and say that it’s all wrong. So Lizzy [Elizabeth Gracen] actually improvised all that dialogue about why is was and all the unresolved energy with the picture. That was great, because I told her she had to be that character she had to find a way to make that sound real even though she doesn’t believe in any of that.
SJP: Okay now I can check Fend Shui of my list of interview topics!
JWB: Yes! Fashion choices then Feng Shui. It’s going great!
SJP: Outside of Big Bang Theory, I know absolutely nothing about Quantum Physics. Did you have an interest in quantum physics? How much do you know?
JWB: That’s a good question. I definitely read up on it a lot. I don’t know if that means I understand it. You can learn an awful lot spending 20 hours looking on the internet listening to Stephen Hawkins. The actually have shows on the internet that dilute it down to a pop culture level that make it, supposedly, understandable for us normal people. The crazy thing about that aspect of science is even the scientist when they talk about it they start to talking crazy talk. They have to use metaphors to explain these very dense mathematical realities that starts sounding like magic. It starts sounded like poetry or philosophy or even religion. That’s pretty interesting because its science and you think of that as hard provable evidence base that you can supposedly touch, but when it gets to that extreme science it starts getting super new agey stuff.
SJP: Coherence definitely hints at the Multiverse Theory where there are infinite numbers of universes that together make up what we known as reality. How much of that do you actually believe?
JWB: That’s a good question. Stephen Hawkins and those guys absolutely believe it. It is the current accepted understanding of reality. I can’t quite get my head around it. Is it literally an infinite amount of places now or again, is that a poetic way of explaining a math equation because our brains aren’t big enough to grasp it. I don’t know.
SJP: It will fry your brain if you think about it too much..
JWB: It really will! And then it will make you think does anything mean anything..
SJP: And that’s when I get depressed and go back to Caillou..
JWB: [Laughing] That’s why Caillou exists! As an anchor or touchstone for us!
SJP: The movie begins with a comet passing by the earth and the character Em tells stories of how when previous comets had passed earth people had reacted strangely to them. Are any of those stories true?
JWB: No. Made them up.
SJP: You bastard. Those were so off-putting I wanted them to be real.
JWB: I know. If it helps you for many, many years comets have been associated with strange occurrences. We did do some research on that. We just updated them to make it sound a little more present.
SJP: I really dig movies that make you think and stay with you after you watch it and Coherence is definitely that. What’s next on your plate Jim?
JWB: I’m trying to write another thing and get a movie I can direct. This one was so fun and so fulfilling on every level. We tried such unorthodox methods and experiments that were complete successes that I just want to jump right back in. It was the most creative venture I’ve ever had in my life. We reached the right audience. Coherence is not for everybody. You have to be sort of dialed in. You have to be in the club so to speak. You can’t be a fake movie lover and try to understand Coherence. Some people watch and I can tell they feel left out and they are left out because they haven’t opened themselves to the joys of films. They don’t understand that Big Trouble in Little China is just as much fun as watching a Gadar film. I want to make films for people who love movies and Coherence is the biggest validation of that.