A Black Rift Begins to Yawn is one of the most gorgeous films of the year. The genre beinding Slamdance premiere has elements of science fiction and horror while it tackles themes of isolation and paranoia. Recently, AIPT spoke with director Matthew Wade and leads Sara Lynch and Saratops McDonald from the movie. The full unedited interview can be found in the video below.
AIPT: How would you describe A Black Rift Begins to Yawn?
Matthew Wade: You’re watching a dream about somebody losing their grasp of reality, is how I would describe it. So viewing it the way that you would, I guess, remember a dream kind of giving yourself over to the sensation of it, rather than trying to approach a traditional story or a traditional movie.
Sara Lynch: I would have to definitely agree with that assessment. I think that reflects kind of how we shot it too. As Matt was working with us as actors, we kind of just had to submit to whatever this mood was that we were creating and being a little unsure of what the outcome was going to be, which is really a different way to approach it, but really cool and fun and surprising.
Saratops McDonald: I would agree with everything that they’ve said for sure. I think just in the difference between what was filmed versus the final product, it was really interesting to see that. I think that oftentimes people are left with more questions than maybe answers, which I think oftentimes will make them feel a little uneasy or unsure of their actual grasp of the story, which sort of reflects the point, of just isolation and confusion and where reality stops and begins again.
AIPT: Matthew, what was your inspiration behind the movie?
Matthew: Originally, it was kind of a straightforward mystery story that was a little more narrative with kind of your traditional arcs and stuff. But then as we started shooting it, I started becoming more interested in the performances and sort of the way that Sara and Saratops were sort of interacting together. So I would say the intersection was a novella that I wanted to write that was sort of, excuse me about this conspiracy theory and how a conspiracy theory when left sort of run wild can become dangerous and can sort of begin to isolate and disintegrate somebody’s sort of consciousness.
So the seeds of it came from the Black Knight satellite, this kind of conspiracy theory about an alien satellite that’s rotating the earth and has been there for 5,000 years and going down sort of the rabbit holes and stuff, you sort of see how people really latch on to one idea and you see it more and more for the last year or so, how a conspiracy theory can plant into somebody’s brain and just kind of take hold and deteriorate their perception of reality.
And I thought that was a funner idea than trying to be like, here’s the story, here are all the pieces you missed. Here’s how they all fit together because when you’re remembering a dream or something, you’re not like, “This was the plot and the theme of the dream. It was just, this was the experience of the dream. This was how I felt during it. Not that I can tangibly say one way or another. We try to make a movie that was like that as best we could, like Saratops was talking about while still fighting with the idea that audiences are kind of prime to see a movie in a very particular way with a very particular structure.
AIPT: That leads into a question I had. Non-traditional is kind of an understatement. Were you ever concerned about maybe losing the audience?
Matthew: For us, it was we wanted to make a movie that we wanted to see and if it was something that we were happy with, that was sort of the direction I wanted to go. I mean, all of my films when I shots and my first feature have all sort of… They either have people that seem to love it or hate it. And I’m okay with living in that balance. Those are the kinds of films that I respond most to are ones that I either have to argue with people at a party about the merits of or I’m the only one that’s like, “I did not like this movie.” And everyone else in the world thinks it’s the greatest film ever.
So, I think part of it is just for us, we were really conscious, especially with like my DP, Lila Streicher and my gaffer, Chaz Gentry, and our sound guy, Jacob Kinch, all of us have worked together enough to know that if we start to feel like it’s too familiar to something else, we kind of pull back and we’re like, “Okay, if this has been done, maybe we should go a different direction and try something new.”
Sara: I will add that we have a collection of screenshots of negative reviews of not just this film, but previous work, just the same as we have good reviews. We feel that if it’s divisive, that means we’re doing something cool.
AIPT: What attracted you to the script?
Sara: We were both kind of onboard from the very beginning, we were kind of playing with the idea of doing a project together. We weren’t really sure what it was looking like just yet. It kind of started out as something a little more experimental. And as we talked with Matthew and as he developed the interest in this mystery story that was unraveling between these two women, we were along for the ride. So it was a very organic, I would say.
Saratops: I’ve never been in a film before and I didn’t have any clue what I was signing up for. So they had asked me to be in this film and I thought maybe I would have a line. Then they gave me the script and it wasn’t until then that I realized that I was one of the lead characters. So I had 100% of my trust in them because if they thought I could do it, that’s a lot of trust, a lot of belief. And I mean, I’m game for any strange life experience, and I trust their artistic visions and I trust them as very professional artists. And so I was more than excited from day one until the very end. So I loved it.
Matthew: I wrote the parts for them specifically too. I kind of approached Saratops. I was like, “I have this idea for a film I want to make.” I worked with her for 15 years. So she was onboard anyway, whether she wanted to be or not. And then I basically was like, “Hi, I have this idea. I want to do a film. I want to know if you’re interested?” Knowing that Saratops is also an artist in other disciplines, those people are easier to bring into the fold of a film because they’re used to doing the work they’re used to the time. So I wrote the parts for them. So the fact that it’s like Laura and Lara, it plays off of the fact that they’re both go by Sara and Sara and both redheads and all of these sorts of… Those aspects downplayed into the story structure when I was writing it too.
AIPT: How did you two prepare for the role?
Sara: Yeah, that’s a good question. I was lucky enough to be involved in a lot of the aspects of the film. We did the production design together. I did the costumes, we did all the condition scouting. So I was able to spend time in this universe before we came together to shoot. So just on top of learning my lines, I just really felt like I was already immersed in this universe. And it felt very natural and exciting to kind of drop into it when we first started shooting.
Saratops: And I was kind of a little more, I don’t know, hurried about it. I was in an accelerated bachelor’s program in college. So I only had one week breaks over which we filmed these. So I very quickly had to switch from memorizing things for school and exams to, okay, tomorrow, we’re going up to the cabin to film these scenes, cram as many lines as they could in from the script and just in between every scene also just kind of trying my hardest to memorize lines. So it was pretty jumping into the deep end at every turn for me. But as an artist, you’re either game or you’re not, and that’s just kind of how it is. You just have to show up.
Sara: I actually prefer to work that way, especially with dialogue. I feel like if you don’t have a ton of time to rehearse, you have a lot more freedom on the day because really all you know are your lines. So I find the actors are listening more and you’re just more in tune with your actual environment. So I think we got some really cool stuff that you wouldn’t get if we had a bunch of time to prepare before.
AIPT: What would you want audiences to get out of this film?
Matthew: I think a lot of this came from being at film festivals and jumping in and watching, like experimental film program or I have to give a shout out to Camera Obscura in Petaluma, they’re this little festival, they just curate stuff that they see throughout the year. And they played a handful of challenging experimental films. And I really just liked being in those worlds where the audio and visual aspects, whether you understand what was going on or not narratively, it kind of just absorbed you and hypnotized you.
And those were the kinds of films that I really respond to just as much as, from superhero movie is these sort of moments where you’re watching a film and you are absorbed into it, but you don’t know why. And you don’t know what it means. It doesn’t necessarily matter because just like experiencing a dream, you are taking something from the experience or you’re not, but just give yourself over to the film and let it jack into your brain however, it chooses to do it is all I can really say.
Sara: We certainly have an unforeseen parallel at this movie. We shot it in 2017 well before any of the COVID stuff. And it’s been so strange to look back on this last year and see so many similarities with our project and the reality we all went through. So it seems now we have a cool opportunity to kind of work through what we experienced in this last year. And maybe watching this film will help people make sense of that. I’ve kind of experienced that myself, rewatching it with this fresh perspective, post-2020.
Matthew: And in my opinion, the films or any fine art piece that seemed to strike a chord in my heart or my psyche are those that I seem to struggle with, the films or the artworks that make you walk away asking more questions than giving you answers. I think the longer it can hold your curiosity, the more it can impart on you. So I think, if people are struggling with this film or struggling to understand it, you can always find really interesting aspects, but for me, the more difficult a project is to trudge through, the more meaningful it is, if you particularly even make it to the end or even better yet, if you sit around afterwards and sort of try and make sense, find some personal meaning in it, et cetera.
AIPT: Are there any future projects that you’re working on?
Matthew: Kind of a more straight forward after all the things that you just said, I’m kind of writing a more traditional genre, horror film right now, sort of a family horror movie, but kind of a family haunted house drama, I guess, but still in some abstract elements, but after we making too kind of more artistic films, kind of want to do something a little more rock and roll horror genre. Anyone else?
Sara: Now, I also developing a pilot. It’s probably a very long way off. It’s sort of a dream project based on growing up in this area and the life experiences of people in these small towns. That’s kind of all I want to say about it right now.
AIPT: Did they scare you away from acting, Saratops?
Saratops: No, I loved it. They were so supportive and incredible and encouraging. So, I mean, I’ve told them both, if they would ever like to have me onboard again, I would more than love to participate. I thought it was an incredible life experience. I learned a lot about film and about myself always, but I’m pretty much game for any artistic endeavor and I’m a really big fan of jumping into things both feet first.
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