Currently directing all of the episodes of Marvel’s Moon Knight for Disney+ (which they cannot talk about, damn!), the indie filmmakers who have built a cult following with their big idea terrorfests Resolution (2012), Spring (2014) and The Endless (2017), deliver their most ambitious trip yet, Synchronic starring Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon in the Avengers films/series) and Jamie Dornan (Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades films)
So, which character is Benson, and which one is Moorhead?
Justin: We don’t want to be evasive, but genuinely, I don’t think either one of us were the characters in the movie.
Aaron: No, we’re hopefully not making avatars of ourselves in movies. Those are movie characters, but you always put something personal in it. There are always just little pieces of it in ways you feel about the world and ideas, but it’s not a holistic character thing. But, if I could be anything, I’d be the animal control guy in the hotel room. He seemed like he had fun.
Can you discuss the spark for the story in Synchronic?
Justin: I think the spark was being a big fan of Alan Moore novels and graphic novels, as well as Kurt Vonnegut novels and the science theory as well as the way it is implemented in science fiction. That idea of eternalism.
Aaron: I just remember when we first thought of the idea of taking a pill that allows you to see time the way that physicists describe it, even though we can’t quite fully comprehend it, it sounded terrifying and exploring that kind of cosmic terror seemed like a good premise for a movie.
Why is it set in New Orleans?
Justin: The reason it’s set in New Orleans is for the legality, the way that synthetic drugs, at least the ones that are sold over the counter… That part doesn’t work everywhere in the world. I think that there’s something like that in the UK, but it’s not really everywhere. It seems to be more of an American head shop, smoke shop phenomenon. And there is no other city with as much interesting, diverse history as New Orleans in the United States.
The film explores the nature of time as a central theme. You’re too young to be nostalgic, but can you speak to your relationship with time?
Aaron: Time generally scares the hell out of us because it’s this ultimate enemy against which we all fight. We’re all going to die someday, and nobody can completely comprehend it. We spend a lot of our lives running away from it and a lot of our lives being scared of the eventual end. I don’t think everybody should just walk through traffic because they’re not scared. And so, because it’s the thing that is central to everybody’s existence and plays on that primal fear of terror, it’s something that just keeps on popping up in all of our work.
Further on the central theme, did you find that the nature of the plot allowed you to take liberties with realism in terms of how things were presented on the screen?
Justin: The way that the perceptions of the user of Synchronic are shown, the objective was that it would be seen as not something that you identified as being psychedelic or how psychedelia is typically shown in cinema; that it would feel like a perceptual shift. But the user’s environment actually was changing around them as one may experience it.
There was that, and then there was also trying to keep the phenomenon of the drug within the world of the movie, keeping it feeling like it’s something that could have actually happened in our own world and you just never knew about it. So, for example, the drug, there’s plot reasons why you understand the drug hasn’t become a huge worldwide phenomenon with governments and the press commenting on it. And in that way, it sort of feels like it could have existed in our reality… we just didn’t know about it.
Did you guys spend time with paramedics to get a feel for the job?
Aaron: Justin and I both did ridealongs with some paramedics at a college. They were very low-key. It wasn’t a day of running gurneys all over the place, but we asked a whole lot of questions. We each read a couple of books written by paramedics. Justin read Paramedic and A Thousand Naked Strangers, I believe. It’s funny because the movie is not centrally about being a paramedic. It just involves the experience of being a paramedic and we didn’t want to get it wrong. I think a lot of it was just this idea that we didn’t want the very first time that we’d ever seen the back of an ambulance to be on set. We wanted to actually be able to speak to what they were doing. But a lot of, for example, the intricacies of being a paramedic outside of the emotions of being it, are left off-screen, because it’s just a movie that has people being paramedics as their job, as opposed to being a movie about being a paramedic.
This is a big step up in terms of the type of cast you have attracted. How did that happen? And how was that? Especially after you both played the leads in your last feature The Endless.
Justin: There had been many years where we had tried to get slightly bigger budgeted movies. We never made a big budget movie yet, but movies that had a little bit bigger of a budget to them, because, for example, the cast had sales value and all of that. And what you do is you submit the script to the proper channels, their reps, their agents. We don’t know if anyone ever actually read those scripts. We don’t really have the kind of clout that commands that. But there was this one agent named Houston Costa, who just randomly saw The Endless at the movie theater in Los Angeles. He liked it, and he was very complimentary of it. And he ended up just really being bold and proactive in getting Synchronic into the hands of actors who could get the movie made. That was basically it.
How do you work as co-directors?
Aaron: We make all decisions together. We do a lot of preparation and we don’t really split up the work in any way. We prefer it that way. And you can just kind of imagine us as like a director with four arms, like Goro [from Mortal Kombat]. Well, I guess with two heads and four arms. We try to build on each other’s decisions rather than segmenting off any part of the creative process. Also, there’s just so much to do on independent film. It’s just really wonderful to have somebody that’s in-sync with you, that’s doing it with you.
Have you found that since the success of Ari Aster and Robert Eggers films that your work has become more palatable to investors and audiences?
Justin: You know what, that question makes me think that if you asked Ari Aster or Robert Eggers, how hard it was to get their movies made, I bet the answer is almost impossible. I think that that’s just the way you feel when you conceive of any independent film project, no matter what the winds of the marketplace are. And also, another thing that makes me think of actually, is that, even though you have a gigantic success, financial success of something like The Witch, when people talk, when they say, ‘I want a movie to be commercial or mainstream in independent film’, they’re oddly not talking about The Witch still. They’re talking about something else. And even though The Witch is the most commercial for an indie genre film.
Aaron: It’s either in-studio stuff, something that’s amazing, but isn’t written in old English… like Andy Muschietti’s It… But in independent horror films, weirdly, the way to reach the biggest audience, is to make The Witch or to make Midsommar. Make it bizarre. Its strangeness is its commerciality.
Justin: That is to say, I’m assuming that when someone says commercial, they mean ‘I want this to be more likely to be financially successful’. And if that is the case, if that is the objective, then you would make your movie more like The Witch or Midsommar or Hereditary.
Aaron: We are pretty darn happy that one way or another everybody has been saying it, horror is undergoing a bit of a renaissance right now. Whether or not that makes movies easier to make, we’re just happy that people are really wanting to see them.
Synchronic- New to Blu-ray, DVD & Digital