James Ward Byrkit – Coherence


Some filmmakers agonize for ages about coming up with an idea for a film – researching and developing it to the point where the finished project can appear artificial.

Not so James Ward Byrkit with “Coherence,” a sci-fi thriller about eight friends attending a dinner party on the night of an unusual astronomical occurrence – he just “thought it up one day and wanted to make a movie.”

Of course, if you’re one of the creative minds behind co-writing the award-winning “Rango” and a storyboard artist on a few of the ”Pirates of the Caribbean” films, then you’ve already got a big leg up over any obstacles that might come your way.

Byrkit goes into more detail about co-writing and directing “Coherence” (made by Bellanova Films and Ugly Duckling Films) for Moviehole below:

Moviehole: How is this project different from the other films you have worked on?
James Ward Byrkit: It’s sort of a reaction against all the years I worked on movies where we planned everything in advance. I wanted to get back to the purity of working with actors in a room and holding a camera, so it’s completely different from those (other) movies. Everything was immediate and improvised, the actors had no idea what they were getting into – they were told to come in with hair and makeup (done) and show up at my house, to be ready to make dinner and serve themselves.

They (actors) would get a notecard every day with their motivation and backstory for their characters and they wouldn’t know what (direction) the other actors got. It was all in the moment, completely real and completely new, they didn’t know what would happen.

Also, I picked people I knew, creative people who could generate things, they were all extroverts and all funny – I knew them as friends and had worked with them before, none of them had met each other before, I had to pick people who seemed like they were married or were longtime friends. We built it (story) like a funhouse; I had a plan for the night to put them through twists and turns.

Moviehole: What were the most challenging things about it?
JWB: Well, making it very quickly was hard, sometimes I missed having a crew and there were a lot of items and clues to keep track of.

Normally, you’d have many people on set keeping track of these things, we didn’t have that, so we needed enormous energy to get through the night – it was physically difficult to get through, I had to bend my body in strange ways to get the camera in position to get the shot. The people were great – it was controlling the energy of the room to keeping everybody from talking over each other the whole time, because you’ve got extroverted people.

Moviehole: What kind of reaction are you hoping for with this film?
JWB: I hope it reaches the kind of people who like it – there’s an appetite for a lot of people craving a more intelligent type of science fiction, and we’re just hoping it can reach those people. I’m also really fascinated by Ray Bradbury, I’ve got a big book of his.

Moviehole: How do you come up with your ideas to write scripts?
JWB: This one was really based on a lack of resources – when you don’t have a budget, you just have to work with what you have. I said we are going to make a movie in my living room and thought, what kind of night would be compelling to watch, like maybe a “Twilight Zone” episode – they set mind-bending stories in ordinary places.

Sometimes a lack of resources is the best creative push.

Moviehole: Do you look up to any screenwriters or directors? Who are your idols?
JWB: Screenwriters like John Logan (“Rango,” Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” series and the upcoming “Bond 26”) is a big influence, he just has this amazing grasp of story, the characters’ emotions – he’s able to write crowd-pleasing commercial movies that still have this great intelligence.

Moviehole: What is your directing style – minimal or very hands on?
JWB: I adjust throughout the project. I had started out as a visual director with huge visuals, spaceships, people flying, etc. – sometimes that’s the right approach. But I love working with actors and the reality of a screen; the naturalism of the performances in “Coherence,” is what makes it unexpected.

Moviehole: Would you work with art design on a film again?
JWB: There’s a few people I would still do art for – Gore Verbinski, and I helped Marc Webb with “The Amazing Spider-Man,” I’d be happy to work with Marc again. Last year I helped Sacha Baron Cohen, I’d work with him again, I worked with him on ”Grimsby” last year.

Please mention my co-story writer, his name is Alex Manugian, he actually played Amir in the film – he’s the guy who inappropriately brings an ex-girlfriend to the dinner party. He’s great, we worked on a lot of things together, we sold a script to Disney together, worked on ”Fraggle Rock,”(scripting the film) together and we are working on a script for Paramount.

Moviehole: New future projects coming up?
JWB: No more pirate films right now, I want to jump into direction again, I had such a good time on this one. I’m just writing right now, I have a couple of scripts I’m thrilled with, a little bigger but compared to other science fiction they are much more smaller and character-based. A crazy time-travel story is one – the other I can’t talk about.

Moviehole: Any advice for would-be screenwriters?
JWB: Go to Moviehole.net and read it every day.

“Coherence” opens on June 20 with screenings in seven cities – the website is at www.coherencemovie.com.