James Ward Byrkit is a name that you’ll probably be noticing quite a bit of over the next few years. In fact, you may have seen his name before, if you’re the type of filmgoer that stays for the end credits. He was an illustrator/storyboard artist on big films such as Mousehunt, and two Pirates of the Caribbean movies: Dead Man’s Chest & At World’s End. He performed similar duties for Rango, but also co-created the story (with director Gore Verbinksi) and performed several small voice roles. He’s also made several short films of his own.
His first feature, Coherence, has been garnering glowing reviews from critics and positive buzz from film festival audiences over the past few months. The film went into limited theatrical release on June 20 and will be available via Video on Demand on August 5.
I recommend that you see the film at the first opportunity to do so. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Byrkit a few questions about Coherence.
366 Weird Movies: How was it going from big-budgeted productions (Pirates of the Caribbean; Rango) to doing a low-budget, ‘bottle-show’ type of project?
James Ward Byrkit: It was wonderful. I love working with big crews; you get lots of toys and resources, but I was craving the opportunity… I wanted to get back to the purity of working with actors and a story just as intimate as possible. It was exactly what I needed to love the project.
366: The film is very clever & smart… How long from conception to shooting did Coherence take?
JWB: At least a year of planning and mapping it all out, figuring out all the puzzle pieces and plot twists. We did not have a script. There was no screenplay; there was an outline that we created and then just shared with the actors little bits and pieces each night; they’d get a notecard with things for their character to do.
So we had a really structured secret outline with very clear plot points that had to happen and figured out all the plot twists and character arcs and things like that, but no script.
366: How was the casting process, in terms of finding the right chemistry, the right people for the role, etc.?
JWB: I had to cast people that I knew, who’d trust me, to come over to my house to experiment with me. I took a long time with my co-writer, Alex Manugian (who also plays Amir in the film). We’d look at photographs of our friends and kind of mix and match them and decide who felt like a couple, who felt like they’d be old friends. You really have to cast the right people because they have to be very smart and very quick on their feet. Most of them had never met each other before, so they arrived completely in the dark and within minutes, had to pretend to be lifelong friends, married couples and lovers. It was choosing personalities who seemed like they’d merge well together.
366: Since all of the dialogue was improvised by the actors, were there times when you had to abandon certain paths and start anew?
JWB: Again, we had a very thorough outline, so I knew what I needed to happen each night. We pictured it like a funhouse – you know where the door Continue reading INTERVIEW: JAMES WARD BYRKIT, COHERENCE