"The Vast of Night" is an ambitious and enigmatic science fiction story set in a small New Mexico city from the 1950s. Taking place over the course of an evening, as most of the city is concerned with a high school basketball game , a local radio DJ (Jake Horowitz) and a telephone operator (Sierra McCormick) realize that something strange is happening, something with perhaps an extraterrestrial origin.
The film, available on Amazon Prime from Friday, is Andrew Patterson's directorial debut. He debuted at the Slamdance Film Festival 2019 before moving on to other festivals, including the Midnight Madness section at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. Amy Taubin, writing for Film Comment, declared the film "An exhibition of visionary intelligence in films", comparing it to notable premieres such as "Donnie Darko" by Richard Kelly, "Primer" by Shane Carruth and "Following" by Christopher Nolan.
Around Slamdance, "The Vast of Night" caught the eye of Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, who was there that year to debut his "High Flying Bird" and receive the festival's Founders Award. He sought out Patterson and, although he has no official title or role in the film, Soderbergh became a friend and mentor of Patterson.
Patterson, who will turn 38 in June, is at a standstill during the COVID-19 crisis in Oklahoma City, where he has a commercial production business. He has already filmed another film, a thriller of revenge on beekeepers, but now he is not sure if he wants this to be released before the other projects he is currently developing.
With Soderbergh in New York and Patterson in Oklahoma, the two recently connected via video conference to talk about advice and influences.
Jake Horowitz in the film "The Vast of Night".
Andrew, you said that you sent "The Vast of Night" to about 18 festivals before joining Slamdance. What kept you going through that phase?
Patterson: It was the whole year of 2018 and it was very difficult for me. Because that was the only feedback I had. I had no mentor or connection to the film industry. No agent, no manager, nothing. We started with Sundance, South-by, Tribeca. Each of them said no. And then, on a whim, in late 2018, I sent it to Slamdance. I did it on my phone. I just clicked and went back to what I was doing, thinking that they wouldn't accept my film, either.
And, to answer your original question, how did I get through this? You know, I have a wonderful wife who kept saying, "You did something nice here". I had some wonderful producers on "Vast of Night" called Adam Dietrich and Melissa Kirkendall, and they were very supportive. But a lot of it was just being patient and putting up with it.
Steven, when you saw the movie just before your debut at Slamdance, what impressed you most?
Soderbergh: In my mind, there are three components to the direction that a filmmaker must understand. The first is narrative, the second is performance and the third is the camera. There were very good people who had a very good career knowing one or two of these things. But it is rare to see someone I considered to have an understanding of all three, and a very meaningful and sophisticated understanding, not just in one film, but in a first film. As Andrew's career develops, I’m sure we’ll have a sense of what other things he’s interested in watching the films he’s making. But it seemed to have an extraordinary level of skill for someone who had never appealed before.
One of the things I was thinking about, Andrew, when we were preparing for this was to talk about what you were using as Rosetta stones while working on developing, filming and finishing this. I usually have a lot of homework that I watch over and over to analyze how they are doing certain things that I like. What were you looking at?
Patterson: I love that question. I don't normally speak with shorthand, because I don't normally speak to other directors. I think you can immediately see a huge influence: "All the president's men", the phone characters who need to discover something bigger than themselves. That was a huge kind of influence from the North Star.
For me, visually, it was also a movie recently released, called "71", Yann Demange's 2014 film. When you hear that and then look at "Vast of Night", you can almost see a film like that. For example, when we steal that look and the structure a little bit, a movie that takes place over nine or 10 hours in a general location. That was really important to me.
I think that when I feel like I have cracked the idea of “Vast of Night”, it was me thinking that there were two big ones. The first was the look of "71" by Yann Demange, the second was the call from Melvin Belli (Brian Cox) in the middle of the film "Zodiac". When I saw that (David) Fincher had dedicated himself to “Zodiac” to not let you see the other side of a call, I thought it was brilliant. I remember sending a message to one of the writers ("Vast of Night"); I said, "Why don't we stop the movie in the middle of the act and just get a call?" And I said, "If we could do that, this film could be special".
That was my structural starting point for the film. These three in particular, and probably the fourth, would be something like a mix of any of Richard Linklater (films), a film “Dazed and Confused”, directed by characters, “Before sunrise”, “Before sunset sun ”, watching characters interact with each other, especially in the first act of a film. I think you can get away with it a long time ago – just by watching two people get along. That's why we spent time on "Vast of Night" to do about 20 minutes of two characters interacting. That would have been something I picked up in any of Linklater's films.
Sierra McCormick in "The Great Night"
Andrew, when the film finally opened on Slamdance and Steven held out his hand, what was your first thought?
Patterson: I don't want to embarrass Steven. I'm just going to pretend he's not on the call. But it was a little difficult for me to believe initially. I worked in movie theaters and was a projectionist (in 1998) when "Out of Sight" hit theaters. Unfortunately we did not receive "The Limey" in Oklahoma City. But then (came) "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic" and then "Ocean & # 39; s 11" and "Solaris" and so on. So, I kind of had the vision of your films on the lookout through the projection booth. I made 35mm copies of his films when I was 19, 20 years old. So when we got the call, when my team says that Steven wants to watch the movie, I initially thought he wouldn't. Why would he want to watch my movie? This occurs at the end of the year of 18 rejections at film festivals.
So we got to Slamdance and he's there, he still wants to get to know himself and he's seen the movie. I felt a little like – I once read Paul Thomas Anderson talking about Steven Spielberg wanting to talk to him about "Boogie Nights" and he said it looked like he was being called into the principal's office. In a way, it seemed that way to me, for him to want to talk to me was surprising. It was the first sector meeting I have ever had. I didn't have a meeting with an agent or manager or publicist or anything before that. It was really a special time to tell someone whose work I admired: "OK, here are some of the things I did".
Steven, I suppose you have questions of your own for Andrew, in addition to just giving your support.
Soderbergh: I had a lot of questions about how he got these very complex strings. But I also wanted to know something about him – who he was, where he came from, how he grew up and all that. We were in a coffee shop or something; I just remember it was high. One of the first things I wanted to know was: What else are you working on? What do you want to do? In your opinion, what is the five-year plan?
I think the way I responded to the film, I looked at him as, well, this guy will have no problem getting a job. Like I'm throwing money at this guy. So we talked a little bit about it. I think it is useful to demystify, if possible, the business for those who are starting to navigate it.
I just wanted to be a sounding board, if I can help. If someone comes up to me and says, "Wow, those three things tell me three different people, what should I listen to?" I'm happy to use the experiences I had to say: "Well, I think that sounds reasonable. I think that sounds like a bull … And the middle one looks like something you've missed and gone beyond.
Because it is sometimes difficult to know where the north is, especially when people say things they think you want to hear. And so I have a real empathy for anyone in that situation.
One of the first things I did after “Sex, Lies” came up at Sundance and Cannes: I went back to Charlottesville, Virginia, and got married. In my life, I have drastically separated myself from the parts of the company that I really thought would not be useful to me. It didn't seem like going out and becoming a Hollywood social person would really help my progress as an artist. So, I really stepped away from that and enjoyed my feeling that Andrew was, like me, a kind of regional filmmaker who, despite living in New York, spends a lot of time living outside the film business. .
Steven, you had …