Interview with Jacob Gentry
Writer/director Jacob Gentry has slowly been making a name for himself in the independent film world. His film The Signal has a bit of a cult following (me included), he has done some more mainstream friendly stuff for MTV and now his Sci-Fi/noir/time travel film Synchronicity is about to hit theaters and VOD on January 22. He was kind enough to entertain some questions from me recently. Who knew that a fun interview could end up teaching you about large *Asian colliders?
Time travel films are usually really easy targets for people who like to find inconsistencies. Was it difficult for you to ensure that all of the story threads lined up?
You know, I didn’t really think about that until after I was done with it, and then I was terrified for anyone to see it because it is, like, such a gotcha genre. I was actually talking about this last night. I think I was just sort of betting on the fact that I had done enough of the work and if someone thinks that there’s inconsistencies, maybe they need to look closer. It definitely is something where I’m sure you could find stuff, I mean, we’re flawed as filmmakers and there are definitely concessions that I made to the emotional part of the story. So, if it was a choice between logistically making sure something worked perfectly to the tee or making sure a character conflict or emotion worked, I would always go with latter. It is definitely a gotcha genre, but thus far, no one has said, “Well, you know, how could you do this if you did that?” I’ve seen the way almost flawless time travel movies have gotten picked apart and I got terrified. I remember when there was a lot of people trying to pick apart Looper and they were like, “Why don’t they just drop them in the ocean?” I’m like, “Oh no! I’m dead. So dead. They’re killing Rian Johnson and they’re going to kill me.”
I felt like, much the same as your film The Signal, it was really more of a love story, overall. Am I correct in taking that away from it?
That’s definitely one way to take and if that’s how you take it, that’s fantastic, yeah. I mean, are you talking about a love story with Synchronicity or both of them? Aren’t all movies really love stories.?
I suppose. I just felt like Synchronicity was a love story in disguise, if you will.
Yeah, I mean, I always love those kinds of movies that you go in for a genre movie, but then there’s so much more going on. There’s actually a kind of different movie hidden in there. I think that as long as you don’t feel betrayed and you don’t feel like it compromised the contract with the audience, it can be wonderful. Of course, there are movies that do it fantastically. Like, The Professional. I was trying to do that. You’ve fulfilled the genre expectations, but in the middle of the movie, sandwiched in there is this really intimate story between these two people and I think that’s kind of what I love. But you still have to kind of pay off the genre expectations in some way and that was a little of what I was kind of getting tired of. A lot of independent science fiction wasn’t paying off the genre that they were promising that they were giving me. They wanted to make it, they wanted to obfuscate the genre because they were afraid of it. I always enjoy the films of Quentin Tarantino where he’s like, this is a revenge movie and we’re going to get revenge.
I always thought Kill Bill was a love story.
Oh, absolutely. So many of my favorite genres, it’s just a matter or proportion. The Terminator is a love story, but the proportion of other elements is a little higher. So, I think it’s just a matter of what the takeaway is, but I think you need that character. That basic, human character dilemma. I think most of the best movies are that way. They have that at the heart of it, you know? Especially science fiction because you need something to ground you and especially stylized science fiction. With Synchronicity I’m throwing so many concepts, scientific concepts, these sort of bigger ideas in this stylized world and you need something that can ground you. Something that you can relate to, so you can better think about those bigger ideas.
I liked that the characters were flawed, as normal people would be, and you’ve already alluded to other films like that. So, was there a specific inspiration for this particular story?
You mean movie wise?
No, just anything.
I guess, essentially, there are three main inspirations. The first one is, around the time I was starting to write this, they were really starting to do some amazing things with the large Asian collider* and I just kind of became fascinated with these scientists and my armchair view of what was going on. Simultaneously, my lifelong obsession with film noir, post war 40’s and 50’s, really kind of went into overdrive at the same time and I thought, ok, the scientists of the Asian collider are like cosmic detectives; they’re trying to solve the unknown mysteries of the universe. I was like, what if there was a way to combine the two preoccupations that I have? And I said, “O.K., detective tropes,” and just kind of went from there. The third thing is, Back to the Future 2 isn’t my favorite time travel movie, it’s not even in the top five, but it has my favorite time travel element. It has one of the coolest, interesting and most unique time travel things, which is that Marty McFly gets to see the first movie from a different view. I really just thought, what if you could take that and the result of that being, when you saw the other movie, you saw something that you didn’t see before and what if I can make a whole movie like that? What if I can hang my hat on that?
That’s very complex, but you seem to do that. You tend to play with less linear ways of telling stories. Is this how you prefer to tell a story?
I do like the idea of an interactive movie. I like the engagement in a movie. Time travel, of course, is non liner by nature and something like The Signal, which had some non linear aspects to it, that’s sort of part of the perspective. I think it’s just sort of part of the story. The last thing I was working on last year was straight forward; it’s not a puzzle, it just goes in a straight line and it’s really exciting to do that. I’m always looking for new challenges.
Speaking of The Signal, you and Mr. Bowen have been working together on almost every project you’ve done so far.
A lot of them, yeah. I didn’t work with him on the series I did for MTV, My Super Psycho Sweet 16. I did three movies. They were sort of John Carpenter meets John Hughes slasher movies. Chad McKnight, who was the lead in Synchronicity, was in that and Scott Poythress (Synchronicity) was in one of those too, but not A.J. I think that, at certain times, depending on what our hair or our beards are like, people have thought we were brothers. (A.J.) He’s obviously more handsome, that’s why he’s the one in front of the camera. Maybe he’s an avatar. I think it just kind of works out that way. You like working with people where you know their strengths and you can help support their weaknesses.
I was just curious why you thought the two of you had such a successful union thus far, but I guess you just answered that.
I like writing for him. He’s fun to write for because I know he’ll always get the dialogue in a way that no one else could.
Well, he was a little bit of the comedic element in this movie, which was needed at times, but it wasn’t over the top and that was nice.
Yeah, he’s got the most “movie” lines and no one can give a movie line like A.J.
O.K. One more question: was Michael Ironside always in your mind for the character of Klaus or did you just get lucky?
Probably the latter. I definitely got lucky to work with him. I didn’t have anyone in mind when I first wrote the character, but once he got the material and was interested, I definitely got to work with him and adapt it to his strengths as well.
He seemed like a perfect fit, so I was curious.
It was definitely lucky that I got to work with him, but I definitely worked as much as I could on tailoring the character to him.
*I had absolutely no idea what a particle collider was or that there were countries vying for building the largest ones. Here’s a news article speaking on the subject if you’re interested.